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Last week me and Scottie travelled to Keysoe for our first ever training camp and I had a fantastic time. For those of you who don’t know what a training camp, think about pony club camp, but for adults. You and your horse stay away with friends and get to have different types of lessons with different instructors.
I had a really good time, some fantastic feedback and I am really pleased with Scottie, despite a rather major mishap! Scottie loaded and travelled well, despite getting a tad stressed when we stopped to pick up fellow EquiMind sponsored rider Claudine and Satilia. Once we arrived, he settled instantly into his holiday stable and tucked into his haynet, despite everything going on around him. I was quite lucky really, because Scottie was stabled next to a lot of horses he knew from previous yards we had been at. So he knew them, but because he’s not part of their herd, he wasn’t clingy to them, which made life easier.
Everyone was split into groups of 6, based on your ability. We were in these groups for Cross Country and Gridwork/Polework, but split in half for show jumping and flat lessons. In my big group I was with two people I knew well from previous yards, which was nice, it’s always nice to have friends in your group.
My first session on Thursday morning was Gridwork and after a very dramatic start to the day, involving 2 loose horses galloping around the lorry park whilst I was waiting to go into the arena and one of these horses galloping at us, we made it safely into the large outdoor school. After all the drama, Scottie took quite a while to settle but I gave him plenty of space away from the rest of our group so he could regain his head.
After a walk and trot round on both reins, the instructor called us all into the middle and got us to do some stretches while in the saddle. She talked about how important it is to stretch before you ride as any tension you are holding will affect your horse. She then laid out a row of trotting poles and had us trotting down them, focusing on straightness, balance and rhythm, coming on a different rein each time. After an initial hesitation where Scottie had to check out the poles to work out what I was asking him to do, he trotted over them beautifully. He even shocked me with how straight he was staying over them!
The instructor was really nice and said I was doing everything right to help build his confidence, keeping my body straight and still and encouraging him with my voice while he thought about what I was asking him to do. Scottie was really dropping his head and thinking about what he was doing. She also said that she thought Scottie was the most difficult horse in the session, which I found interesting as I don’t consider him a difficult horse at all. But compared to the other horses in our group, he is certainly the least confident and needs you to give him time and encouragement to allow him to work things out.
Next the instructor laid out some canter poles and I trotted Scottie through them first, giving him time to check them out, and again he hesitated and came back to a walk over the first few before picking trot back up over the last few. Second time round he trotted through them perfectly and by this time, the rest of the group was starting to canter through them. So next time round Scottie picked up canter off the corner but instead of pulling him up, I put my leg on and encouraged him over the poles.
After doing both the trot and canter poles from both directions, alternative ends of the canter poles were raised. I have never ridden Scottie over raised poles, only lunged and long reined. So again I approached them for the first time in trot with plenty of leg and lots of clicks. Again we slowed to a walk and picked our way through them the first time before coming back round and trotting over them beautifully. The others were now cantering towards them so I decided to have a go too. I picked up canter just after the corner, sat up straight (albeit perhaps a bit defensively) and kept my leg on, squeezing him forwards. He jumped through the poles, rather than cantering them, but he was really pleased with himself and was really concentrating on what he was doing and really using his back.
We finished by walking them off on a long rein (in our case on the buckle of the reins), which Scottie almost ruined by catching a glimpse of the horse in fronts reflection in a window, spooking and performing a few very bouncy canter pirouettes while I scrabbled to stay on while shortening my reins. But luckily I did stay on, much to everyone surprise and we finished by talking about the session, where I was told I sat and rode the straightest out of the entire group (which was a shock) and doing some breathing exercises and how they can help relax you and your horse.
Cross Country Session
I had our cross country session in the afternoon after the gridwork session. I was a bit nervous about this as it had been so long since we have done any (probably 2 years) but after our gridwork session I was feeling better about it. Scottie seemed to be mentally in the right place for it and once on the course and meeting the instructor I felt even better.
He asked us all about us and our horses experience and said that since all our horses were relatively green, that we would start with basic cross country skills and getting the horse to do these things slowly and calmly. The first thing we headed off to do was a ditch. I was told to have really long reins, basically at the buckle, hold the neck strap and just walk calmly towards the ditch and let the horse work out what they have to do. One of the horses went over with very little encouragement, shortly followed by the next horse. Scottie was now very close to the ditch, giving it his full attention and really wanting to do what the horse horses had done and join them on the other side. Probably partly due to my nerves, my leg wasn’t quite enough to encourage Scottie over, but with a lead from the instructor Scottie leapt over it and cantered off to join the others.
Another of the horses was really struggling with the ditch and during this time we went over the ditch several more times, with the occasional lead from the instructor, with the jump getting smaller and smaller each time. The final time we crossed it, we weren’t following anyone else. Two horses were already across the ditch waiting for us as I walked Scottie towards the ditch and he popped over it with very little encouragement before cantering towards his friends looking very pleased with himself for being so brave and clever.
Next we moved onto steps. Once again, we were told to have really long reins and just hold the neck strap. The nearest steps to where we were, were two fairly big steps, fairly close together. Now Scottie had been up steps before with very little drama or fuss. So after watching the first horse go up, he happily followed with very little encouragement from me. Although he did over jump the first step and bash himself slightly on the second one.
Now I can’t remember if it was our second or third go up the steps, but Scottie was feeling very confident and took himself to the bottom of the steps first. With my super long reins, I wasn’t able to give him the check I wanted to give him (and I think he needed) and he made two massive leaps up the steps, throwing me forwards and causing me to loose a stirrup. After a couple of strides of canter, I hadn’t managed to sit up and with no one else at the top of the steps for Scottie to turn to for reassurance, he panicked and took off at full gallop.
I was still holding the neck strap and had one stirrup, but he was far too bouncy for me to regain my balance, let alone pull him up. I knew I was going to come off before he calmed down and when I saw that we were heading towards a huge, solid jump, I remember making the decision to take my other foot out of the stirrup and just let go. A stride or two later I hit the ground with one of my legs getting tangled with Scottie’s as he galloped off, causing me to roll sideways.
While I was still laying down I heard Scottie galloping back towards me and he stopped a few meters away, one of the girls said he was completely shocked to see me on the floor and looked very guilty. Once I was up I realised I had travelled a good 100m+ in those split seconds and found my whip and one of my stirrups near by. I got back on and with no one now wanting to have another go at those steps we made our way towards the new water complex. Later one of the girls told me that he wasn’t just galloping, he was broncing, doing handstands.
My knee was really hurting and I was quite shaken up. That was easily the worst fall I have ever had, but I know that there was nothing I could have done. It’s annoying that after watching the last weeks Blue Chip All Star Academy episode about the safe way to bail, I was in no position to be able to attempt that! I might have got away without getting tangled in his legs.
After this, I didn’t feel up for attempting a huge amount on the cross country course for two main reasons, 1) my knee was really really sore and 2) I was tense and doubting how much I wanted to do and since Scottie is a worrier I would have struggled to have got him over anything new anyway. So we spent the rest of the session doing things he is confident doing and watching the others do a bit more. We had a great time going in and out of the water, which is something Scottie actually quite enjoys, much to the surprise of the instructor. We were walking, trotting and cantering through the water with no problems at all. The instructor also made sure we went up all the smaller steps we passed on the course and I was relieved that Scottie’s confidence with steps hadn’t been affected at all. And the last step of the session we did, he almost stepped up rather than jumping it, so it was a really positive end to the session.
The instructor said some lovely things to us at the end of the session, he said I am a much better rider than I think I am and that I did a very hard thing to get back on carry on. He also said he really liked Scottie because he is very genuine and wants to please, but he is a worrier and he worries about me as much as he worries about himself. So that was really nice to hear. He also suggested getting Scottie back out as soon as I can to somewhere with lots of small steps and ditches and just hack around the course doing things we want to do and building our confidence with the basics. So although I was frustrated to not have done any real jumping around the cross country course, this experience has made me feel better as he said that if your horse can jump, he can jump, but its often things like water, ditches and steps what will build your horses confidence cross country.
Afterwards I took Scottie’s saddle off at the car before hobbling back to the stables with him. He walked very slowly and quietly next to me and several people commented on how guilty he looked, which is quite sad really, as although it was his fault for overreacting, I know he couldn’t help it.
Show Jumping Session
Our show jumping session was Friday morning and by this time my left knee had doubled in size and was very stiff and sore. Luckily for me, my smaller group for Show Jumping included a rather nervous rider and someone who had had a fair few refusals at cross country yesterday. This meant that I felt okay coming in and saying that I would be perfectly happy just doing cross poles with fillers in this session. Whereas, had I been with different people, I would have probably felt more pressure to jump higher.
Scottie was very tense at the start of this session and I think it must have been from where I was quite tense from pain as once my knee loosened up, he started to relax into it more. Once we had warmed up, the instructor put up (well down) a nice small cross pole with some terrifying fillers at the side. From quite a way off Scottie took a dislike to the fillers and although I got him fairly close to the jump, without being able to fully use my left leg, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get him over it.
So the instructor decided to put the jump down to just a single pole on the floor, which Scottie was then happy to walk over. After the other horses had been over this, she raised one side and then put in another pole to make a cross. By this time, everyone was jumping it happily, so we moved onto the next jump. The instructor decided to continue her pole, raised pole, cross approach, which worked, but I don’t think it was needed for the jumps which didn’t have any fillers in them.
Since I was sore I decided to stick to trotting into the jumps. However, Scottie was full of energy and was enjoying life and just seemed to know where he was meant to be going and was determined to take short cuts and canter at them. So I spent a lot of time walking around the school and then asking for trot once we were looking at the jumps.
The 4th jump was the second part of a double and was the only other filler jump with some funny looking traffic lights and zebra crossing. This filler was covering half the jump. Scottie was not fazed by this at all, trotting over the pole happily and when the non filler end of the pole was raised, he decided to jump the filler rather than the pole.
After we had all jumped the traffic lights jump, we jumped the 4 jumps as a mini course, finishing with the blood jump. Scottie went really well, albeit wanting to go a lot faster and jump a lot higher than the jumps needed. However, with the final jump, we did have a silly refusal. I think coming round the corner Scottie thought he had finished as where he had been pulling around the first 3 jumps, he had steadied up and despite me giving him a good line into the final jump he just didn’t seem to lock on to it until the last few strides and just came to a stop. Again, I think if I hadn’t been injured, I could have ridden him forwards more to let him know that we hadn’t finished, but on our second attempt he hopped straight over it.
It was a nice session to make sure we were both still happy and confident with our jumping after the day before, and it was nice to see Scottie so confident with new fillers and wanting to do more and go faster. But it wasn’t much of a lesson. It was more like a schooling session with someone putting up jumps for me. But at the end of the day, that was probably what we both needed. However, if we hadn’t have had the fall the day before, I would not have been impressed with that having been my lesson.
Our flat lesson was our final lesson of the camp and it is the one in which I felt I got the most instruction. Once again, Scottie was quite tense, which again I think is partly due to my soreness in my knee. But he did settle after a while. After watching us ride for a few minutes, she said we were all doing too much. She said she didn’t want to see us do anything and not get a reaction.
Soon Scottie was moving off my leg much quicker and it really improved our transitions and the quality of our trot. Whereas often with Scottie, applying leg results in going faster, we focused on holding him with my core, so that I could bring him off the forehand and encourage him to lift himself, rather than just drag himself along.
She also had me prepare for our canter-trot transitions with my core before using my voice, which meant I didn’t have to do much (or anything) with my reins and a much smoother transition. So all in all, a very productive session.
So on the whole, I don’t feel like I learnt a huge amount at camp. However, I feel like it has done a lot of good for Scottie’s brain. Despite it being hot, he never felt tired after a session, but every session we had, he had to think for himself to work out what to do, which I think will have really built his confidence as has made him really pleased with himself! And it’s also boosted my confidence knowing that I am doing everything right with him to help him build his confidence. So it has been a great experience for both of us and I hope to go again next year.
If you are looking to have some fun with your horse and get some training, then I can highly recommend the adult training camps. You can find out more about them on the Facebook group here.
**All these photos were taken by Eric Randall**