In this month's issue of Your Horse magazine, it's the final part of our 'Hairy Hopefuls' series, with trainer Alison Short. This series is all about normal horses with normal riders who are achieving great things together.
Here, we meet duo Sarah and Jack, who have a great partnership. Sarah tells us about the training challenges she faces with the super quick and clever Jack, and how her trainer, Alison Short has helped her overcome her competition nerves.
I love this horse. I saw one similar to him at the Welsh sales, and when my last good horse went blind I started calling around the local breeders. I knew exactly what I wanted – a Section D that was a tall and light for the show ring.
Also, I had no money so I needed something cheap and didn’t mind if it was marked so long as it was sound. People thought I was mad!
Tamrik Stud invited me to come and see Jack, he had damaged an eyelid as a foal but had incredible presence and was an arrogant little monster. I fell in love with him and they allowed me to take him and pay him off gradually. I much prefer to have my horses from babies as it's easier to start them yourself than to undo someone else’s mistakes.
Time is a real issue for me so I’m thankful that he can live out when possible. However keeping him fit enough and mentally prepared is difficult, so I’m grateful that our yard has a lot of very hilly hacking to help with fitness.
I train with Alison Short as often as is possible. She's an excellent trainer who understands Jack better than I do and makes every training session really count. She also appreciates the breed and his limitations. She finds great ‘work-arounds’ to help us out with things Jack finds mechanically difficult and invents ways to fool him when he tries to be over-helpful.
Jack’s biggest flaw is that he’s a right ‘smarty-pants’. His brain works faster than mine and he anticipates movements and wiggles. In his eagerness to please he tends to pre-empt me and this causes us to be not quite true in the movements if I am not riding evenly, or with enough preparation for the next movement. I tend to use one leg and forget about the other when I'm stressed and I let him down by allowing him to fall out, or overshoot with his bottom.
For example, when we come off a corner, he's immediately wondering if we're doing a shoulder-in or a half-pass and this is a particular issue if he knows the test and is one step ahead of me. He’s a shocker for learning a test and I really have to watch this in terms of his anticipation. The audio training that Alison sends me helps me to subconsciously deal with this.
We're currently working towards riding an Advanced Medium test and so Jack (and I) are learning to ride changes. Alison's brilliant at explaining the mechanics – it's hard to teach a horse to perform a movement if you don’t know how to ride it yourself and there are no hard or fast rules about what will work with this horse – or any horse.
Jack is well known on the yard for being a complete idiot. However, he loves a good party and is impeccably behaved at shows which really helps as I suffer with awful ring nerves. He’s a consistent performer and if our scores aren’t what we hoped for then is it always my fault. I tend to freeze up and forget to ride in a coordinated fashion in the ring which is where the audio preparation from Alison helps. She prepares me for shows by giving me tailored audio tracks to listen to at home to help me to remember where and when to put in tricks to tidy up our test.
My collecting-ring nerves are the worst and working in at big venues, alongside professionals on leggy warmbloods isn’t easy. Alison has helped me to deal with this negative attitude and ride confidently and purposefully in the warm-up.
We're lucky to be really close to both Brendon Stud and Hickstead. We rode some unaffiliated mediums to build my confidence in preparation for the summer qualifiers and we’ve had two affiliated outings so far this year. We've managed to win both Bronze sections with 64.85% and 61.82% at the early Brendon Stud shows which should have given us an Area Festival ticket, and hope to have time to squeeze in two more outings before the Area Festival qualifications close.
Onwards and upwards!