Graduated and Raring to Go: Off to camp

Since last time, Heather's confidence jumping has come on in leaps and bounds. Here she explains how she got on when her and Socks decided to try out a spot of cross-country.

I knew this day would come. It has finally happened. Socks has found a boy who isn’t smelly and isn’t only good for using as a shield for spooky things.

My little bear is in love, and it’s with one of Rachel’s horses, Squirt.

Ah, young love! 

Ah, young love! 

I approve, and couldn’t ask for better in-laws!

7th-9th July: C&DRC Camp, Milton Keynes Equestrian Centre

At the beginning of July, we went to our Riding Club’s camp at Milton Keynes EC. The facilities are fantastic, and the clubhouse even runs on solar power!

On the first day, I’d just completed a week of early shifts, but soon perked up at the prospect of a hack out with Kerry and her mare Flo around the surrounding countryside.

We ended up going both over and under the M1, which was exciting – and I was so proud of Socks for being so brave, even if she couldn’t understand why the cars going under the bridge weren’t hitting her. Bless her!

A boozy Chinese takeaway followed in the evening and it was great to get to know some of the members of the club I hadn’t met.

We fell asleep serenaded by Socks and Squirt squealing at each other over their stable doors. We had to separate them in the morning, but by then it was too late. They’d already got married.

At breakfast, while loading up my plate with bacon and croissants, I gave myself a pep talk.

“I am NOT going to fall off,” I told myself. At the prospect of our first cross country in over a year, I was more nervous than I thought.

“No, you’re not,” replied Rachel, who I didn’t realise was behind me.

First, there was showjumping, with Rowena Ockenden-Day. Luckily, Socks and Squirts’ marital bonds only stretched as far as the field – at work they were true professionals.

My target for the session was to jump the wall, but I was also adamant that we weren’t going to have any stops.

I rode in on a mission, and deliberately jumped all the scary fillers during our warm up, and rode more positively than I had in years.

Rowena was fantastic, getting us to calm down and slow down.

Socks showed her enthusiasm for this idea by nodding vigorously, spraying Rowena right in the face with green gunge from her mouth, mid-sentence. I’ve never laughed so much! Luckily, Rowena found it funny too.

That session felt like a giant leap forward for us – for the first time, jumping felt like a joint decision. Whilst riding a course at the end, we were coming toward an oxer around 95cm.

A (very much quieter than usual) voice in the back of my mind said: “But Heather, what if she stops?”

“I want to jump it!” I thought. And apparently that was our best fence of the round.

Then came the wall, which was Rachel’s target for Squirt, as well. Both horses flew it, without missing a beat. Marriage obviously agrees with them!

Jumping AND smiling!

Jumping AND smiling!

To the cross-country 

After lunch was cross-country with Tiny Clapham. Fresh from show jumping, I was excited, but as we got down onto the course, I got more and more nervous.

Tiny took a while to suss us out – I told her that we hadn’t done any cross-country in over a year because we’d lost our confidence, but as long as we started small and built up, we’d be fine.

I think she was trying to work out if I was going to be a massive wimp or not, which was fair, because I was too!

We started over some nice, small logs, then graduated to some plastic tubes that were terrifying, but our only stop of the session. Hurrah!

We did steps, ditches, steps into and out of water, and even a step with a ditch at the bottom which I never thought we’d be brave enough to do. After that, we were away. I had the time of my life!

We even jumped some 90s, which after I wasn’t allowed to do my B test on Socks last year, was a huge achievement for me.

She felt like we could jump anything, but I didn’t want to push it. Squirt was also a star, jumping his first 100s! Even better, Tiny joined the growing list of four-star eventers that I haven’t fallen off in front of.

We celebrated with prosecco, and I was even happier to find out that Rowena had chosen me for the most improved show jumper!

Making mum a believer 

Next morning was dressage with Matt Cox, and Mum’s turn to ride. I was a little late to the session, arriving just when Mum and Matt were having their pre-session brief.

“Don’t believe her!” I called, running (very stiffly) across the grass. “She could ride this horse at Elementary, she just doesn’t insist!”

And, Matt agreed with me. Maybe now a Grand Prix rider has told her, Mum might believe in herself a bit more?

My rest was short lived, as Rachel very kindly let me have an extra lesson on her other horse, Josh.

Rachel competes at Elementary, working on Medium, with him, so I was excited to learn all I could from him.

The first thing I noticed was that he was a lot bigger than I’d thought. Standing next to him to be legged up, I noticed that his withers came above my head.

This was the first time it occurred to me that this might not be as easy as I’d initially assumed.

I wanted to ride some lateral movements so that I could be sure that I was teaching them to Socks correctly.

Josh was awesome! He’s so powerful that I was soon knackered, but he was the perfect gentleman, trying his hardest to decipher what were probably fairly muddled aids from me – I have crooked hips as a result of some surgery I had when I was younger, and I take for granted how used to my crookedness Socks is.

This was most obvious when I asked for a canter leg-yield and got a flying change because my right leg was in the wrong place – oops!

Me and the gorgeous Joshy

Me and the gorgeous Joshy

Even if I didn’t quite manage a half pass, I was so grateful to get the opportunity to learn so much from such a special horse.

I now know what shoulder-in is supposed to feel like, and mine and Socks’ is coming along a treat!

The icing on the cake was that Matt awarded me a rosette for getting on an unfamiliar horse and riding lateral movements – something I didn’t think would be much of a big deal until I was sweating like a pig and gasping for air!

We had the best weekend and I can’t wait to get out jumping again – but that’s a job for August, as we have a couple of things planned first.

That’s for next time, though – see you then!