Monday, 27 July 2015

Championnat de France 2015 - Day 3

Day 3 and it was even more of an effort to drag ourselves out of the tent at 6 to get going. We decided to pack all the camp stuff away as we needed to head off after Ali's second competition and there was no way I'd be able to do the drive too late in the day without falling asleep......

So it was back to the dustbowl. Was quite amusing that all these people who arrived clean and shiny were now starting to look like, well, people who'd spent 3 days camping and being around sweaty horses......I had rinsed through Ali's riding gear the night before but it wasn't looking too pristine!

We did the usual hanging around and faffing, although Éowyn was quite happy messing around plaiting the horses' manes (apart from Kinna's as she hasn't really got any).

Then it was away back to the monster ménage. We saw some more costumes on the way, and even a few attelages.

 Kinna got bored waiting whilst the kids did some archery warm up on foot and decided she's like to eat Carole's hair .....
The Poney competition on the second day was a bit different. Someone (presumably one of the Important Guys In Charge) had decided that they should do a Hungarian type thing, where instead of targets spaced out along the run on the ground which is what Ali is used to, there were 3 targets higher up, two of which are angled. (More on that here, if anyone's interested). Needless to say, this did not help improve her score, and quite a few of the kids ended up with zero runs. Never mind, all good experience.

Kinna was still pretty lively, all four feet are not meant to be off the ground at a mere canter ;-)

So Ali has the honour of being last at the Championnat. Or 13th out of 13, unlucky for some.......but she had fun, and it was a great experience. Unlike the drive back down to our place in the Dordogne, which was just long, even without any striking agriculteurs this time. Need a rest now!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Championnat de France 2015 - Day 2

So after the usual crap night's sleep in a tent (better than last time because we had an air mattress, but still not ideal as I was sharing with both the kids who are fidgety buggers) I was up at 6 to get sorted for day 1 of the competition. We had breakfast (remembered to bring proper tea bags this time so no thé pas bon for me), rounded up the horses, loaded them and set off back to Lamotte.

Obviously the car park was miles away from the event, and the trailer/lorry park was miles away from that, so it was back to the dust and dangerous cyclists again. It was pretty busy even at 8am and Kinna's teddy bear ears were flicking all over the place taking it all in....
It was also pretty warm already, Éowyn and the dog were running through the sprinklers to cool off!
We arrived back at the monstrous indoor school to find the usual chaos of yelling people, yelling horses, barking dogs and flying arrows just to add to the excitement. One of the Important Guys In Charge (wearing his official gilet to make sure we all knew how important he was) came over and opined that Ali's arrows were "too pointy" so we had to hurriedly scrape the points off on some concrete.
Then it was time for a quick warm up as they were in the first "pool" (the way they pronounced the English word made me think they were talking about chickens at first) and they were off. Predictably, Kinns wasn't too keen on going away from her friends into the dark recesses of the manege and did some suitable prancing about and snorting, but eventually deigned to actually go down the run. When it came to the cantering runs, she decided she'd rather gallop, and Ali found the wall at the end coming towards her rather rapidly.......!
But she managed to pull her up without running over any Important Guys In Charge or small children and at least the speed got her some time points. She even managed to get some arrows in the targets, including a 4
Still finished last though by the end of the first day's competition. But then she's had nowhere to practise in the UK (I'm working on that). Johan did better in the second "pool", Kinns had slowed down (a bit) by then.
And Carla on Quetsch did pretty well too.
We emerged blinking into the heat of midday and set off to yomp back to the trailer with the horses then go in search of food. Lots of fancy-dress dressage going on, like a quadrille but with various numbers of competitors. Some good costumes on show!

Also, sadly, a lot of gadgets on show, they even allow de Gogues for archery....
After lunch it was back to the nice cool manege for the Club 1 competition. Kinna had to come along and watch her mate Idaa strut his stuff.
Then we decided it was time for ice-creams. By this time Éowyn was flagging so I took her back to the campsite for a shower and a rest. Naturally she crashed in the car on the way back and was then bouncing around all over the place.........luckily they had some games to keep her amused.
No meschui this time so once the others were back we went out for a pizza and came home for an early night. Which would have been easier had some of our fellow campers not stayed up late drinking and yelling....even the bloody sheep on the farm were loud. I hate camping!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Championnat de France 2015 - Day 1

We've just got back from a manic few days at the French National Championships.  This happens every year at a purpose built Parc Féderal near Orléans in central France. As with everywhere in such a big country, it looks a lot easier to get to on the map than it actually is. Especially when the French agriculteurs are on strike, blockading roads with tractors and setting fire to roundabouts......

So it took us rather longer than planned to get there, most of the day in fact to get from Caen to Lamotte-Beuvron, just south of Orléans. A journey my satnav promised me would only require 3 and a half hours.......

But we arrived eventually, to find the place hot, dusty and packed. The Championnat is for pretty much any equestrian discipline there is, even horseback archery ;-) My fellow blogger Martine was there a couple of days earlier for the Equifeel competition. There was also western, TREC, endurance and hunter as well as the usual showjumping, dressage and eventing. Obviously there were horses everywhere, so you needed to get out of the way sharpish when one of them decided to object to leaving its friends/going into an arena/standing still to be mounted etc. You also needed to move out of the way of the hundreds of people who, unlike us, knew just how big the place was so opted to travel (when not on horseback) on various bicycles, golf buggies and even a few segways. And they didn't seem too concerned about doing things like looking where they were going.......

We met up with John and Carole from the stables and then went along to the briefing about the competition the next day. Well, OK, we stood around in the enormous covered arena where the targets had been set up and waited for the briefing to start.....luckily there was a lot of sand around to keep Éowyn amused ;-)
The briefing eventually happened, it basically boiled down to "turn up tomorrow ready to start at 9", and then we set off to find our digs for the next couple of nights. Turns out
we were camping on a sheep farm about half an hour north of Lamotte. Along with the gang from the Domaine de Gauchoux where we went to the archery competition last month. So the company was good, and so, as it turned out, was the food, since we'd arrived on the day they were having a mechoui (like a hog roast but with lamb). Lovely :-)

Sunday, 12 July 2015

In-hand clinic

Had a nice morning with my friend and trainer Trudi Dempsey at the Swang Pony Centre and a lovely little pony called Alice. She is 7, but pretty much untouched. I went to meet her as she was tied up waiting to start work and she really didn't seem keen on people in general, and me in particular! It's so easy to forget that not all horses are trusting like mine......She was OK with me scratching her neck, but wasn't at all keen on me going further back than her shoulder, and any move towards the rear end was met with a sharp step away!

Anyway, we took her into the school, she really wasn't at all reassured to start with. We swapped her rope headcollar (which was one of those ones that tightens over the nose) for a sidepull, and then had a look at her conformation and how she moved. As with most cobs, she is solidly built and so probably wouldn't find it as easy to flex and bend as a finer, larger horse. She was also very tense in the neck, due to her anxiety about the total strangers in charge of her.

Trudi started by showing me how to do some simple neck flexions, just asking her gently to move her head first to one side, then the other. It was immediately apparent that she found this easier to the left. I led her around to see if she would stop and start when I did (bit sticky at first, but she soon started looking to follow me) and back up (needed quite a lot of energy the first time, but she quickly got the idea).
Then I had to combine the asking for bend with moving forwards. Again, she was pretty quick on the uptake, and after a very short time she was lowering her head and the tension in the neck was lessening. We worked on flexions both towards and away from me, and stopping with the slightest lift of the rein. She was very responsive. When she got a bit "stuck" I was able to change the bend to the other side and she would carry on walking.

I was very impressed by how quickly she decided to trust me and let me move her around. At first she didn't want me anywhere but where she could keep both eyes on me, so we had to start with leading from the front, but she soon realised that it would be OK to let me stand by her shoulder instead. However, the back end is still a no-go area, that will need more time I think!

By the end of the hour, we had a far more relaxed pony who was starting to step under with her hinds as we circled and was stopping, backing up and moving off from the lightest of signals. She lowered her head of her own accord and accepted scratches and strokes on her poll and ears. There were a few yawns too! I turned her out in the field next door and she promptly wandered over to the other ponies and went for a lie down. Lessons are obviously  hard work ;-)

Trudi took some video so I could see what her feet were doing. As you can see, at the start, we got stuck a few times. It's amazing how little bend you need to get those hinds really stepping under the body.

After that we stayed to watch some other lessons. There was another in-hand lesson with this rather gorgeous chap

......and a ridden lesson which was very interesting. The horse was falling in to the inside when circling and spiralling but with the simple addition of some outside bend when on the long side of the arena, it helped the horse support itself better in the bends.
What was really interesting was that the rider started off thinking she needed a lot more rein contact to get the horse to listen to her but when Trudi showed her that less is more and how to lengthen the reins a bit the horse seemed a lot more relaxed and responsive.
So a great morning and lots of things to take home and try with my lot :-) And hopefully we can get Trudi to come and do a clinic at the new yard now we've got somewhere to work.......two of my new fellow liveries came along to watch today and found it very interesting :-)

Friday, 10 July 2015

We've moved again :-)

Last Friday saw myself and my mate Alick hitting the road with the horses to take them to a new home. Remember the French couple I met t the Western clinic a couple of months ago? Well they keep their two horses at a yard literally down the road from us which I never knew existed. I called the owner and she had just lost 4 horses so actually had space for us. Not only that, but in a huge field on the side of a hill that hasn't been fertilised for cattle for years and, the best bit, they don't have to come in at night. Ever. Not even in the winter.

So I made plans and we moved them at the earliest opportunity. 'Twas a nice 6 or 7 mile hack over there, through the woods I used to ride in as a kid......
Rather nice view on the track overlooking Wotton too....

...and when we arrived, some of the other liveries were around and they were very welcoming, including the French couple, Cécile and Julien. Nice to have someone to practise my French with :-)

Took the horses up to their new field and they seemed to settle in very quickly. They are sharing with a TB, a 20 year old cob, and a cheeky chestnut fluffy-footed cob called Blaze who took an immediate liking to Gandalf and herded him away from the girls!
He doesn't seem to mind, and the bromance is still going strong. Blaze reminds me of Chester, the same curiosity and occasional attempts to take over, but responds well to being told "no". Also has an impressive moustache!
Gorgeous views from the top of the field, not that the horses care, but we love spending time up there
And everyone else there has been very friendly and seem very relaxed and laid back. I have even been given the go ahead to do some horseback archery :-)

Happy days.......

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Gauchoux Open day 3

We were up first thing on Sunday, despite the late night involving beer and cognac, and it promised to be a hot one. The last day of competition was the Hunt Track, followed by the FFE Club competition that Ali was entered for.

The Hunt Track is basically a cross country course but with targets instead of jumps. A lot of these were 3D targets in the shape of the various creatures they like to pursue in France (although they usually go for it with big guns). Have to say, looked like a lot of fun and I really want a go at it one day!

We picked a nice spot near the start under some shady trees and waited for the action to start. Was actually quite difficult to photograph due to the white tape marking the track everywhere and having to be careful where I stood since the targets were on both sides and I didn't fancy getting hit by a stray arrow!

Ali ended up appointing herself head groom for the German team and spent most of her time holding on to various horses and passing up bows and quivers, and at one point being in charge of the wolf dog who tried to follow his owner onto the track!
A TV crew showed up in the afternoon and once they'd been told to move since they went to stand in one of the danger zones, they shot a load of footage of the competition and did some interviews, one of which was with Johan, so Kinna got on the telly (sort of)
Only one casualty, one of the Hungarians came off when his horse took exception to a plastic wild boar and he broke his wrist. For once, the pompiers showed up within minutes and took him off to hospital.

It was a great competition to watch, for the same reason we always go to Badminton on cross country day. There was even a Qabaq shot, where the target is above your head:
Quite a lot for the riders to think about, there was an optimum time and you lose points if you are too slow but also if you go too fast. A lot of them borrowed eventing watches and spent a lot of time checking them.

After everyone had been round, there was of course the prize-giving....
Then it was time for the Club competition, a bit of an anti-climax after the international one, but Ali and Kinna were up for it. She didn't do very well, largely because she was more focussed on getting Kinna to listen to her and stop at the end when she should, but then Ali really isn't very competitive at all.
She is keen to improve her shooting though, and Adam from the British team is always keen to help, so after the comp it was back to the training.....
We ended up with Kinna in hand as John was doing the club élite comp with the other horse and we didn't think it'd be a good idea to leave her on her own, so naturally she got drafted into service when Ali was practising her back shot
So another long but fun day, rounded off with a meal for all the competitors who hadn't had to rush off home, and a meeting of the new French branch of the IHAA

Great fun weekend, think I need to go and photograph some more competitions abroad, there's talk of a stage in Germany next summer :-)

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Gauchoux Open day 2

Saturday morning saw us up and about early. We seemed to have been camping in the lumpiest field ever. Note to self: airbeds are NOT optional when camping......but sanity was restored with a trip to Luc and Isa's tent who had the camping stove to make us tea :-)

First thing was a reconnaissance of Sunday's hunt track, after her overenthusiasm the day before, we decided to get Ali to take Kinna round the track to make sure there wouldn't be any surprises on the day....
She was absolutely fine and sprang along with the funny-coloured ears flicking round at all the strange looking targets, but she didn't spook at any of them :-)

Thankfully the day dawned cloudy, so the temperature was lower, just as well since the Korean track was in a different field with no shade trees to get in the way of the photos though :-)

After lunch the left-handed group were on last again, but I didn't need to catch Kinna this time!
The organisers had asked all the competitors to bring a blunt arrow along with them, and on Saturday evening we found out why, there was an extra competition just for fun. The target this time was a plate!
It was a knockout competiton and only a few people managed to break a plate to get through to the second round. Ali had a go but just missed it.....
...but Johan hit the plate, didn't break it as he wasn't using a blunt, but made a neat hole in it so they gave it to him to keep as a souvenir :-)
The evening light made for some nice photos.....
 ...and it was nice to see one of the competitors competing bridleless!
So once a winner was decided by the second round being timed, we then all went off for more apéros and a pleasant evening drinking beer and cognac and talking about horses. Ali stayed up even later than me talking to the German team and a very drunk Pole....