We had the most amazing day on Saturday (28th Sept) at Stretcholt Equestrian centre. We competed in our first Grand Prix. They say work until your idols become your rivals. Well that became true! It was us and Anna Ross on Delgado in the class, so a very small class. It was so cool to be competing against my trainer/boss. It was far from perfect but we got from the beginning to end and we came away with 66.4%! My goal was to get over 60%, so to get an international qualifying score first time out was amazing!
I can't thank this horse enough. He gives me a lovely feel in the arena and was really with me on Saturday. Onwards and upwards and can't wait until the next one!!
It really takes a village to get us to this point. There are so many people to thank who have helped along the way!
I'm still so thrilled to have competed in my first U25 Grand Prix at Myerscough Premier League in March. Its surreal to be competing at that level but there is a long way to go! The movements come up so quickly and its really hard to get the balance right between being under control and having enough energy to do all of the different movements.
We have been scoring low to mid 60's and hopefully this is only the start of a long journey up the ladder. To learn how to improve I have been watching top riders' tests and comparing it to my tests. I find it is a really useful way to see what needs to be improved and what to aim for! This can be done at any level and any test, YouTube is a gold mine of information and a quick search and you can find any test you want. It's also a great way to learn tests, especially if you don't have a test sheet close to hand.
A lot of work to do and its just the beginning but I'm so excited for the journey!
Picture from my inter 2 at the Dressage Ireland Winter Finals.
Divine Equestrian have been very kind and supplied me with 2 new hats recently. An everyday Uvex and a Kask show hat.
The Uvex is only £99, so a better price tag to justify replacing when needed (especially as I ride so many youngsters) and super lightweight and comfy. It has an adjusting dial on the back and dries in no time if it gets damp and sweaty. I keep in on when it is super sunny for shade on my face. It's not one of those hats that is so hot you have to take it off as soon as you are off the horse! There are also air vents that can open and shut.
The Kask had its maiden outing last week. I am totally in love with it. I have been admiring and wanting one for ages. I'm so lucky to have one now. Again it is lightweight and super comfy. I'm hoping we will have a long and successful career together.
In the middle of April I moved down with 6 horses to Devon, so that some of the mares could have Embryo Transfers whilst remaining in work and competing. Whilst being here I have made the most of giving them a variety in their training. We have been going for long hacks and finding big hills, been cantering up fields as well as their usual lunging and schooling. It has now been 7 or 8 weeks and the horses are really starting to show the benefits of the variety of work. They are so much fitter, having changed shape and are in a much better mind set.
They are finding their work in the school much easier and becoming braver when out competing, as they are coming across tractors, cows and even a herd of sheep running down the road towards us whilst out hacking!
It has been amazing learning about breeding and the Embryo Transfer work done by Newton Stud. Watching scannings and flushings and learning about a lot of stallions and what stallions would suit what mares. I was even allowed to choose for one mare, which with help from the Newton Stud team chose Quantensprung who is beautiful with long legs and an amazing canter. Fingers crossed for a successful embryo because it would be so cool to meet the foal next year!
The past few months for me have been full of young horses, backing and riding them on. It has been a huge learning curve for me and getting a lot of use out of my 'brave pants' and 'sticky bum' breeches which have been kindly supplied by Divine Equestrian, thank you!! It is really interesting how different young horses are. Some of them, from the first ride look like trained dressage horses; in a good outline and understanding my aids, where as others have taken longer and rely on my voice commands to understand for a longer period of time.
With all of the young horses that I back, I start with the same system. Then from the way they react, alter and change it. Seeing what each horse needs. There has been one horse which did not pick up lunging very well and so we have been running round the arena leading him at walk and trot. When it came to cantering we taught him to follow another horse. It has worked well actually. It's a first for me and quite funny to have whoever is the lucky handler for the day running around with him whilst I am on!
The second half of last year, we have backed 6. We have a 'Class of 2017' picture with the 4 still at the yard! It has been so rewarding and although there are scary times, and every sound you hear or movement could be a potential disaster, one day you can't canter left and the next day you can! Small things feel like you've won a medal!
At the moment we are coming out of the danger phase and I'm starting to ride them like proper horses, getting on without lunging, starting to run through baby tests and when someone else rides them for the first time it makes me so proud. It is a phrase you hear me say daily at the moment! Which has to be a good thing.
It has been exciting times at Divine Equestrian too, with a huge winter sale happening. More brands being added all the time to the sale and the ever tempting price match. A great time to get a deal and be kitted out ready for the new year! It's been nearly a year of working with Divine Equestrian now and their support has been invaluable to me and I'm looking forward with continuing to work with them.
The climax of my 2017 season was the Young Rider Europeans. I chose to take Lara and had an amazing time in Roosendaal, Holland. Lara did the best trot work that we have ever got in the test and felt amazing to ride and work with, then when we went into canter were a little out of sync which meant mistakes in my changes, which affected our scores. However we did not disgrace ourselves and posted respectable scores for Team Ireland. The German and Dutch teams were unbelievable and truly inspiring. Their accuracy, consistency and power were another league and I watched them as much as I could hoping some of the talent might “sink in”!
Since then both horses have been having an easier time and just stretching and hacking, so I have been making the most of the time to get other things done. My HGV I took a few weeks later and really enjoyed the challenge and passed with 5 minors. Looking forward to driving the horses to shows in the bigger lorries!
At the end of August, I visited the Divine Equestrian stand at the Midway championships. It was lovely to meet Carrie and the team and the stand was amazing! I spent over an hour admiring all of the shiny and sparkly goods. My favourite was the hats, two of my favourite brands, Uvex and Kask. Becoming very tempted by the Kask hats, I am sure it won’t be long until I am wearing one! There was such a variety of colour and most customers that came into the stand (knowing what they wanted to buy) left with so much more! It was such a nice atmosphere and highly recommend going and visiting the Divine Equestrian stand and Carrie whenever they are out and about. They are extremely helpful and accommodating.
This week I am heading over the Cavan Equestrian Centre in Ireland for the Dressage Ireland National Championships. I am not competing this year but have the pleasure of scribing. I have been put in the write for the Grand Prix which I am thrilled about. Good luck to everyone who is competing and I am looking forward to catching up with everyone, in my smarted Divine Equestrian gear of course!
It’s been a very busy few months, lots of competitions and training for me and my horses. My horse Dutchman and I have moved up a level and getting closer to our goal of Under 25 Grand Prix. We have been debuting at Inter A, Inter B and Inter II with success but not amazing scores yet. Both of us are still really green but we are muddling our way through. Every time we go out we are making progress. Anna, my trainer will be teaching me to do something and although I am listening (and trying to do as she says) it takes me at least 10 times to actually understand what she wants me to do or what I need to feel. I am thoroughly enjoying the journey though and the many eureka moments. I am so lucky that Jack (Dutchman) finds the exercises so easy when we get them right. It is one less thing to worry about! My aim is to improve our scores and qualify for the Irish Nationals at Inter II. Lara has been training well, she is for sale and we have been very busy with people interested in her and trying her. I think she is secretly loving the attention!
A last minute withdrawal from the PSG class at a British Dressage show running at Cholderton meant that Lara and I could squeeze in and compete. We hadn't gone out since we were in Spain in March so felt a little rusty in the busy warm up. All my competition kit was still abroad with the lorry, as I had to fly home after the international with Jack and couldn't bring tailcoat, hat and boots all on the plane home. With thanks to Jess who I work with and others I managed to find everything I needed (hence not as smart as usual in the picture, its not my outfit!).
We went in and had a clear round, I was very pleased as it was the first time that Lara felt like she knew her job in the arena. I was aiming for a score between 65 and 69%, as that is where we have been before, even with a clear or nearly clear round but we managed 70.78% and won the class! I was so proud of her and it was great to know that our few months of training had paid off and worked in the ring too. We crossed the 70% barrier for the first time at the highest level I ever have before. Very exciting and extremely grateful to Lara.
I had a fantastic week in Compiegne. Jack and I gained invaluable experience and I really enjoyed watching the 5* nations cup where some of the world's best riders were competing. We were there until Sunday morning, meaning we only got to watch the first round of the nations cup, the riders all rode the Grand Prix. Then they went through to either the Grand Prix Special, or the Freestyle which I got to watch on live stream whilst in the lorry driving to Germany albeit not the best connection!
There were at least 8 arenas at the showground, and I took Jack into all of them to ride around and desensitize him. I felt it helped him a lot to have to go and get on with his work without getting distracted and it really helped in his tests, so some real progress made there!
We did not achieve our best scores at this show, due to some rider errors (losing stirrup in the middle of the changes) and also some surface water on the arena which made for a bit of tension. However, it was a great success for his first international and hopefully many more to come. Thank you as always to Anna Ross for giving me the opportunity to travel with you and taking me to the most amazing shows.
Unexpected but great week or two. Jack and I have gone out twice more at PSG level to practice for our international debut. With scores of 68% and 69%! Very happy with our progress in the ring, I think we have come to a good method of competing: we have been doing a warm up class to show him the arena and get some of the spooking out the way. Then I know what he will do in the next test and how to handle it. It seems to be working so far!
Unfortunately whilst we were on route to Madrid, we found out that the show had been cancelled. So we had to turn round and come home and make a new show plan.
This week I have been training a lot at home, the youngsters and both Jack and Lara. I also had a treat from my sponsors at Divine Equestrian. Going to be trialing and taking lots of photos so watch this space!
Alex Baker, 25 year old Irish international dressage rider; works for Anna Ross. Competing International Grand Prix. Keep up to date with my progress!