Graduated and raring to go with my horse Socks

Introducing Your Horse's newest blogger

I’m Heather, I’m 22 and recently graduated from Newcastle University. When I was 17, and it was clear that our little pony Lego wasn’t big or sound enough for me to compete any more (as much as she would have loved to have continued running around and jumping), we found Socks, a 16.1 bay thoroughbred mare, whom Mum and I now “share”. I knew as soon as I cantered her that she was my horsey soulmate! She has a wonderful attitude to her work, but can be quite spooky and sharp. We originally intended to get eventing, but we quickly realised that we had an aptitude for dressage. In our first year together, we qualified for two BRC team championships in dressage and went to the Pony Club Novice Championships.

Then, I went to university. I clung on to anything equine, riding for my university BUCS team and coming back some weekends for area competitions. My mum did a fantastic job of keeping Socks exercised for those three years, but her work commitments and other circumstances meant that her schooling was slightly patchy, and our competitive aspirations were put on hold somewhat. My plans for this year are to try some Elementary tests and some affiliated Novice, and to build our confidence jumping to possibly attempt an ODE – whilst at the same time editing and redrafting my novel and progressing in my job at a well-known gym chain.

CWA Milton – Pony Club Dengie Winter Championships, Dressage

At the end of 2016 there was an outbreak of equine herpes in our area, so from October to December we were grounded. On the 8th January, with the all clear and raring to go, I thought it would be an excellent idea to start back with a dressage qualifier for the Pony Club Winter Championships at a level we were barely scratching at during the summer, let alone after three months at home with a very varied workload. Mother was going out for lunch (how dare she) so I enlisted the company of my lovely Fairy Godmother and off we went, me telling myself not to get too stressed out, we were only there for the exercise.

Which, as I found, was exactly the right attitude.

As soon as we got there, we were passed by two riders in various championship and professional squad gear. Any hope I might have had at being competitive died, there and then. I decided that we were going to go for two calm, uneventful tests and play safe. There were eight riders in my intermediate class, and three in my open, so I was at least guaranteed a rosette! Determined to stay chilled and crossing my fingers that it would transfer to Socks, we tacked up and got on with it. Just forget it’s a qualifier.

All credit to my horse, because she was an absolute star. After three months without coming off the yard I was expecting us to be hysterical, spooky, and probably escorted off the premises and asked not to return. Calm and composed was the order of the day, and Socks calmed down quickly, starting off with a rhythmic, bouncy trot I was totally surprised by. Asking for more forwardness and impulsion I knew would be a step too far – you don’t get to have your cake and eat it. I wanted to remain in Cambridgeshire, thank you very much.

“What is this? I bet Valegro doesn’t have to put up with this. AND WHERE’S MY HEATED RUG RAIL?!”

“What is this? I bet Valegro doesn’t have to put up with this. AND WHERE’S MY HEATED RUG RAIL?!”

Fast forward to the tests: there were pigeons flapping in the trees. They were terrifying. The rubber from the surface hit against the barrier. It was terrifying. Someone moved in the gallery. It was terrifying. Yet somehow, we managed to keep a lid on it to place sixth in the intermediate for 62.4% and third in the open for 57%. Now, any other time of year, I would have been fuming with those scores. I have been known to stamp across a field exclaiming probably too loudly that “it wasn’t that bad!” But, right then, I was so thrilled by a) not coming last in both classes; b) not getting eliminated; c) displaying two (maybe) passable tests after a break from competition (let’s not discuss the canter movements); and d) coming away with a (default) qualification for the open! As my mother says, there’s a lot to be said for going to a qualifier on the right day.

The judge’s writer came out afterwards to talk to us which filled me with optimism – all the things that were missing today were things we were grasping in the summer. Now we have the qualification, we can really focus on getting that score up to one I don’t feel embarrassed telling people and make a proper go at areas. First qualification in about three years, what a fantastic start to the year!

I am, however, starting on a contract with more hours this month. Hopefully, with the days gradually getting longer we can put some proper work in and it won’t be a problem. Hopefully. Join me in praying for no frost?