Posted in Dressage, Training

Flying Changes and Mind Games

Toward the end of last year, Nonie and I started work on the changes. Flying changes!!! Being deemed ready to ride this brand new movement felt like a huge accomplishment, it felt like we had arrived! Having now started them, I can’t help but feel that my initial eagerness belied my naivety. I have come to understand that the changes are a challenge which require strength, relaxation and timing. There is an additional layer of challenge because you either complete one or you don’t. Sure there are varying levels of excellence within this movement however learning to ride the changes is vastly different from other skills where you are able to gradually develop them. For instance, when beginning shoulder in you may feel a glimmer of brilliance before it slips through your fingers, you continue to build upon that feeling until suddenly you can ride a whole long side in shoulder in.
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The changes started well under the watchful and analytical eye of our coach Dani Keogh, but when we started to work on them on our own it was a different story. We would warm up well and progress on to school the flying changes. After achieving maybe one or two each way that were fine Nonie would brace against me, take over and speed off. Maybe because she is an exuberant horse, or more likely this was the natural result of me asking with a far bigger aid than required. So I would go home and read articles, watch videos and find a new exercise to try. I would try it a couple of times with success but then Nonie would again take over.
The reason we were struggling with the changes wasn’t necessarily that my position is weak or because Nonie’s canter needed more jump and strength (although in some respects it does), rather it was because whenever tension would enter in the canter work, particularly on the right rein Nonie would push in through her her right shoulder allowing her to brace against me and avoid my aids. Ironically this is the exact issue that Dani had spent a large chunk of time working on with us in our last lesson. Who’d have guessed!
It’s not the first time that I have learnt a lesson in this way where I’ve been told something a million times and then suddenly the lesson clicks and the light bulb goes off! Eureka, we have understanding! I suspect a few factors play into this. I belive that timing is essential and that in order to deeply understand a lesson, we must be in a place were mentally we are ready for it. On the other, it may have more to do with hearing the lesson explained in a way that makes sense. You know how 4+5 equal 9 but 3+6 also equal 9. Or maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.
So I took  a few steps back to focus on the prerequisites for a good change such as the transitions, the balance, the tempo control and keeping her wrapped around my inside leg, and only occasionally asking for a change. This approach did help to create some progress. However I sensed that my mind was also holding me back. This sense came more from past experiences of my mind having got in the way than a true understanding of exactly what was happening at that point in time.
I suspected that a phone call to my performance  and mindset coach Danielle Pooles from Dressage Plus would be helpful. So that was exactly what I did. I have sought Dani’s assistance previously with great success. Anyone who has ridden dressage knows that it takes a great deal of athletic ability, but it equally requires great strength of mind and the ability to remain clear headed under pressure. When learning a new movement or in other situations where our equine partner may be unsure, it is up to us as the rider, to step up and be the leader, and gently guiding our horse to understanding.
Talking through the difficulties I was having with Dani helped me to figure out exactly what was going on, bracing against Nonie, holding tension in my thighs and my mind going blank at the vital moment I needed to ask for the change. We then worked out a strategy, including breathing at critical moments to help manage these issues. I got to try the strategy out the very next day and low and behold I was excited about the prospect of riding the changes rather than being nervous about how she would respond. We only got a quick ride in due to me leaving work late but we managed a calm easy change on each rein, no more speeding up into the change no more barreling down into the reins after the change no more excessive use of aids.
The changes are not yet perfect, but they are certainly improving and at the end of the day that’s all you can ask for. Little improvements each day add up to big changes in the long term (pardon the pun!). This experience has reinforced for me the importance of mindset. Riding is as much a mind game as it is an athletic pursuit.
Until next time, happy riding! x AP
Posted in Equestrian Fashion

15 Signs that you are a true equestrian girl

Equestrian girls, we are a unique breed and  pretty easy to spot. 

1. Your social life is restricted to hanging out with friends at shows and clinics and dates with your boyfriend/partner (if they are lucky).

 

2. You have an agreement with your partner that if they are to make a proposal of marriage they will offer you an engagement horse rather than a ring.

3. When most girls were dreaming about their wedding day you were dreaming about your Grand Prix debut.

4. Your dream car is a Dodge Ram 1500.


5. Couture to you means Kask and Asmar Equestrian.

6. High flow diesel is one of your favourite things in life.

7. You know that life would be simpler if breeches were considered ‘professional dress’.

8. You wouldn’t dare deviate from your strict 5week shoeing schedule for your equine partner but your shoes are at least two years old (and maybe they’re even falling apart).

9. Your horse owns your money.

10. You didn’t think twice about paying $800 for your bespoke made to measure Celeris boots (you know they are an investment), but $100 for jeans seems pretty ridiculous.

11. You are seriously considering a petition to your local TV station to have the football coverage replaced with coverage of the Longines World Cup.

12. Your partner knows to add at least two hours on to whatever time you told them you’d be back from the barn.


13. Your significant life events (graduation, birthdays, marriage etc) have to fit in around your competition schedule. Not the other way around.

14. When someone mentions protection your first thought is about bandages, brush boots and shipping boots.

15. The closest your nails get to a mani/pedi is being chopped off nice and short to keep the dirt out from underneath them. Besides long nails are errr impractical…

16. Your wardrobe is 3/4s breeches and shirts from your favourite brand.

Until next time xo AP.

Posted in Dressage, Training

The Soundtrack to Our Rides

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Back when I was a young lass… I’ve always wanted to be able to start a story this way, so a story about what happens when horses and technology collide seemed like a good time to do it. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have grown up riding horses and as a child of the nineties I rode sans iPod. As I finished uni and moved away from home rather than riding with my mum, I often found myself riding alone. I began to listen to music more and more. Over the last few years, I have fluctuated between riding to a soundtrack and riding in the ‘silence’ of nature.

I take great pleasure in the ability of music to influence emotions, whether the song personifies joy or transports you back to a particular chapter of your life and the emotions that were prominent during this time. As a bit of a nerd, I was thrilled to realise that this has previously been described by the likes of Aristotle and this observation is supported by science. These emotions can take hold within our bodies and can influence us physically, so of course if you do choose to ride with music, careful selection is important. Here are a few of the tunes I love:

The question on my mind at present is not whether it is enjoyable to ride with a back drop of music, but rather should it be done at all? Here is my take:

The Benefits:

– Having music playing whilst you ride can be beneficial in increasing the riders relaxation. In the past I have had great difficulty striking the balance between maintaining a strong and effective position and being relaxed. During these times music has helped to achieve this.

– The right song can really help to improve the quality of the paces by acting as a goal post for rhythm

– Breathing! Bailey Notle of @joyful_dressage discusses the importance of breathing and how a good sing along can assist. I know I have certainly been guilty of this when I have the arena to myself

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The Negatives:

– I have noticed recently how distracting riding with music playing can be. When working on new or harder movements where I need to think about the process and the sequence of aids I need to apply, I have needed to pause my music in order to be able to focus.

– I do often wonder if having music on whilst riding is potentially dangerous. However I have come to the decision that so long as you aren’t blasting your ear drums out or riding along the side of the road you should be fairly safe.

– I also find myself questioning how it may impact upon my ability to connect with my horse. If we our connected to the music does this prevent us connecting with our equine partner, or does it in fact serve to enhance this connection? I feel that Nonie and I have an excellent relationship, and I am not convinced that the absence of music with all its benefits would have enhanced this.

So I am sitting on the fence on this matter, I’d love to know what you guys think.

Posted in Dressage, training aid

Equestrian Staples – Whips

Those who know me know that when it comes to my horse no reasonable expense is spared, and really when it comes to your horse pretty much everything is reasonable, right?
One thing I have never been able to bring myself to spend much money on however is the humble dressage whip. After all how much difference can there be between a run of the mill $15 whip and a $100 whip?  Especially when for some unknown reason my whips seem to continually go walk about. This would become expensive very quickly indeed.
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Anyway recently my one remaining whip began to unravel, literally, and I decided to bite the bullet purchase a Fleck Whip.  I have previously heard rave reviews about how well balanced the Fleck whips are, but I had always been quietly skeptical.
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My attempt at repairing my whip with electrical tape and bailing twine (aka the most important tools in a equestrian girls tool kit)
After a quick browse online I decided upon the plain black ‘My Whip’ which seemed reasonably priced at just under thirty dollars. At this price I figured I could justify two, that way I could keep one on hand for daily use and another in my car for when I travel.
Other than the great price, there are two things that I really like about this whip. The first is the nice grippy handle, which still manages to be light. The second is the amount of ‘bounce’ in the whip itself. In contrast to the brittle feeling of the cheaper whips I have used in the past the Fleck whip has a much more supple and soft feel. I think this possibly gives Nonie a softer aid, however I’m not so sure she would agree.
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For those of you who just can’t go past a good bit of bling never fear, there are plenty of sparkly options too!
Hopefully my new whips won’t get lost any time soon, but if they do I certainly only replace them with  a Fleck whip.
Unit next time happy riding! xAP
Posted in Entertainment

Great Equestrian Reads

Ok, confession time, I am a total bookworm. Or at least I am now that I have wrestled my way out from under the mountain of text books and journal articles that were common place during the days of my undergraduate degree. Since I was a young child I have relished in the experience of being transported to another world just by simply picking up a book.
Confession number two is probably unsurprising, but I never quite grew out of the ‘pony mad’ stage, so of course I love nothing more than to bury myself in a good equine read. Sadly well written equestrian novels are few and far between, particularly if you have already read your way through the classics by the likes of Pullein-Thompson sisters.
Since I have done the leg work, I thought I would share a few of my favourite reads with you. Where many other equine novels fall short, these novels excel, they place the horses and the riding front and centre of the plots. They are also far from your average, 12 yo child with a big dream, stumbles across an outrageously talented and conveniently cheap horse, who just also happens to be wild and untrainable, for anyone except that 12yo child that is. And best of all these titles are available on Amazone for Kindle, which means no waiting!

1. The Dressage Chronicles by Karen McGoldrick
The Dressage Chronicles accounts the journey of young and optimistic Lizzy who quits a sensible desk job in order to pursue her passion whilst working for her idol Margot Fanning. This series is exceptional in the way that the writer describes the daily struggles of working with horses, the accidents and mistakes and the occasional triumphs.

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2. The Eventing Trilogy by Caroline Akrill
In the Eventing Trilogy we meet Elaine, who stumbles into the world of eventing through a combination of luck and hard work. The novels follow her journey from working for the eccentric and broke Fane sisters to training in one of the countries elite eventing programs. Originally written in the early 1980’s, these books allow you to slip in the world of eventing and hunting in England, with just a suspicion of romance.

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3. Ride Every Stride by Amy Maltman
What is perhaps most unexpected about this novel is the way the story begins. Jed is a young man at the lowest point of his life when he secures a job as a groom at an elite barn in Canada. While his hard dedication and determination ultimately see him become head trainer, don’t be mistaken, this is no Cinderella story.

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4. The Eventing Series by Natalie Keller Reinert
Jules Thornton loves her horses and the sport of eventing and has raw unharnessed talent, but her bad luck and financial woes might just be her undoing. She is a character who can’t help but get in her own way and you’ll be rooting for her to succeed every step of the way.

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Happy Reading!

Posted in Dressage, Training

I’ll be a good rider when…

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‘I’ll be a good rider when…’ This is a game I used to play a few years ago and it’s about as useful as its companion game ‘If only…’ At that time the script in my head was ‘I’ll be a good rider when I am competing at elementary level’. For quite some time, on three horses, travers had been my Achilles heel and in my mind at least, being able to compete at this level represented overcoming this seemingly insurmountable challenge. But, when Nonie and I actually got to that level, something switched for me. It was as if someone had flicked a light on and I understood that it no longer meant as much to me as it had before. Not only did I realise that riding or competing at a particular level would never make me feel as though I had achieved the coveted status of being a ‘good rider’, I also learned something far more important about myself and my beloved sport.

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I realised that what was more important to me as the love that I have developed for learning the intricacies of the sport of dressage and growing the bond with my treasured mare.  Having embraced the feeling of discomfort that comes with learning a new skill, opened the door to something more. It enabled me to appreciate the brilliance that arises when a new movement clicks, or the feeling you get when you find that new gear within a pace. Best of all I now know that things only feel better as Nonie and I both gain strength and learn to relax within the work. Its been exciting to learn that as we continue to challenge ourselves, with a little patience and persistence these improvements we will continue unlocking bigger and better feelings. As I have let go of the stress of needing to be at a certain level in order to be ‘good enough’ it has created room for Nonie and I to develop a stronger relationship, the value of which cannot be underestimated.

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Posted in Dressage, Training

Daring to Suck

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Daring to suck… It’s a seemingly bizarre concept that resonated deeply with me. I was listening to one of my favourite podcast’s (check it out here http://summerinnanen.com/frr-37) when I stumbled across this idea.

So what does ‘daring to suck’ actually mean? In a nutshell, it means giving something a go even if there is a possibility of not pulling it off, not getting the outcome you were after, or failing. For me, daring to suck is an action which is in direct opposition to fearing failure. Why is this important? As someone who identifies as having perfectionistic tendencies, I can see how my fear of failure has held me back at times. Whether it be something as simple as not riding that movement that is tricky and feels super uncomfortable or not entering that competition because you might make a mistake. Looking back, I can also see that my fear of failure kept me competing at prelim/novice level for way longer than was altogether necessary. I wanted everything to be perfect when I took the step up to prelim. This is a real problem because life is not perfect, particularly when you add a horse into the mix.

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Over the last two years, I feel that I have become much better at embracing imperfection. Here are some things that I feel have helped me along in this journey:

Understand why things feel uncomfortable. For me one of the most useful things in understanding this was understanding the four stages of learning: unconscious incompetence (that is we don’t know anything about what we cannot yet do), conscious incompetence (we know what we can’t do), conscious incompetence (we know the skills needed and we can use them but a high degree of concentration is required) and finally unconscious incompetence (we are able to apply the skills effectively with little conscious effort being required). Sure, there are times when something that is normally effortless becomes incredibly hard, but for the most part discomfort comes about when we are learning a new skill. I’ve found it particularly useful to link discomfort in my riding with the understanding that I am learning something new, or strengthening a skill.

Push yourself to do things which are uncomfortable, but not unsafe. Many of you will be familiar with the concept of the ‘comfort zone’, the ‘growth’ or ‘stretch zone’ and the oft forgotten ‘danger’ or ‘panic zone’. While there is a need to push ourselves to doing things which are beyond our established skills, we need to be mindful that we do not push too far and create a dangerous situation. In doing this having a coach who knows your level of skill and can push you is invaluable. Get to know what it feels like when you are working within the growth zone, for me things feel uncomfortable, challenging and requires a lot more conscious effort, but it never feels unsafe.

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Let go of the idea of perfection and give yourself permission to make mistakes. It doesn’t exist anywhere, let alone when you bring an animal with its own thoughts and feelings into the picture. Don’t be afraid to try new things, whether that is trying a different exercise, playing around with the timing of your aids or even seeking the input of a different coach. A few years ago, Nonie and I got to a stage where we could barely ride a 20m canter circle despite having compete successfully competed at novice and prelim. With limited access to dressage coaches in the area, we struggled along on our own for several months, rides would frequently end up with me in tears and questioning my ability as a rider. I eventually contacted one of the local western trainers who had a good reputation, and she helped Nonie and I make some changes that greatly improved our straightness, Nonie’s obedience and my confidence to lead Nonie. Her strategies were not classical dressage, but they worked.

The dressage coach that I train with now lives about 800km away, so we get her up to run clinics once every couple of months. In between clinics I am training on my own, which sometimes means that I have to use my knowledge and skills to figure things out on my own. Sometimes this means that I make mistakes or do things that don’t work, but I have learnt that this is much better than trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And generally we get things to a point where they start to improve.

So join me in embracing imperfection. I’d love to hear about a time when fear of failure has held you back and how you have dared to suck!

Posted in Equestrian Fashion, Uncategorized

Summer Staples

After a short break over Christmas, I went through by equestrian wardrobe and realised something truly tragic. I had nothing to wear! Well practically nothing. All of a sudden, breeches that I had owned for a few years were ready for the bin, and I was left with very few pairs to wear. It also became apparent that I had no comfortable short sleeved shirts. Naturally I have been stocking up on some staples, and over the next few weeks, and I want to share some of my favourites with you.

Lets talk breeches…

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One of my favourite pairs, my pink and grey suede breeches, are from Wilson Equestrian (http://wilsonequestrian.com.au/product/wilson-equestrian-jodhpurs-grey-with-pink-seat/). Not only are they are super comfy and but they are on the cheaper end of the spectrum at just $64.95. These breeches are super hard wearing making them perfect for everyday use, and the grey is perfect for hiding stains and marks (great if like me you aren’t the tidiest of people).

The other thing I love is the abundance of pockets on these breeches, the generous back pockets easily fit even a larger phone (like an iPhone 7), while the front pockets are perfect for stashing treats like sugar cubes.

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Stay tuned as I share more of my favourite items with you all.

 

Posted in Dressage, Training, Uncategorized

Rain Rain Go Away

As an equestrian, my relationship with rain one of love-hate. While I can accept that regular doses of rain are necessary, bringing with it wonderfully lush grass, providing respite from the oppressive humidity and filling up rain water tanks and bores, there are also several negatives associated with the rain. When summer starts and brings with it several days of seemingly endless rain my heart sinks a little. Here in North Queensland, we are currently in the thick of it, so I thought I would share some strategies which have enabled me to retain my sanity in the rain.

When the inability to ride in your rain soaked arena becomes an issue, the obvious recommendation is to build an indoor… Just kidding, clearly this is outside the budget of many equestrians. Having an arena which doesn’t drain well has forced me to become both more creative and make the best of a situation. I am lucky to have wide grassed verges around my agistment centre and regularly make use this area during the summer rain. Although, the area is not wide enough to ride a 10m circle comfortably, it is great for riding transitions within the pace and lateral work such as leg yields, shoulder in and travers.  I also like to make use of this time to do a little bare back riding, I find that this helps me to engage the correct muscles within my core as well as allowing greater feel of my horses back.

When the ground has reached a point of complete saturation and riding just isn’t an option there are still things that you can do to get that horsey fix. Some strategies you could try include:

– Reviewing what progress you have made towards your goals and setting new ones

– Reflecting on your most recent training sessions and considering any areas of your riding that require more attention

– Visualising aspects of your training on which you are getting stuck or that you want to improve upon

Working with Danielle Pooles a performance coach at Dressage Plus (http://dressageplus.com.au/) has helped me to develop these skills.

Now I love my mare dearly, but I do on occasion wish that her skin was not quite so sensitive. Sensitive skin combined with two and a half white socks, quickly growing grass and bucket loads of rain is a recipe for greasy heel. Obviously a stable where she could get high and dry would be the simplest solution but until I have my own property, I will have to settle for dreaming about my future barn. In the meantime, to prevent greasy heel, I use a combination of antibacterial washes (such as Malaseb), drying her heels and pasterns and then lathering them in Pottie’s cream. Despite my best efforts in the past, there have still been two occasions that I can vividly recall, where she has developed a mild case of greasy heel resulting in her normally elegant legs looking more like those belonging to an elephant from the hock down! Fortunately around 18months ago Mum stumbled across Mud Guards (http://www.mudguards4horses.com), which are a pleated canvas wrap (similar to gaiters that hikers wear) that fasten just above the fetlock, that help to keep the pastern and heel dry as well as keeping the sun off. I have used these over the last two ‘wet seasons’, they have saved me time, money, stress and best of all no more elephant legs!

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Nonie enjoying the fresh grass in her Mud Guards.

I hope these ideas help you to make it through to winter with the least amount of drama possible. If all else fails enjoying stomping in a few puddles and wait for the rain to pass!

Posted in Uncategorized

The Story of Us

Nonie came into my life in less than ideal circumstances. In 2010, I was a slightly dramatic 22yo, in the second last year of a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics. I’d just broken up with a boy who at the time I thought was the love of my life (second of course to horses) and lost a really special horse, Gilbert, to melanoma.

Not long after Gilbert passed away, I also lost my competition horse at that time Sullivan, a Percheron x warmblood. We’d taken Sullivan out to a competition and he just wasn’t himself. I struggled to get him moving in the warm up, consequently the tests were flat and lackluster, but what was more alarming was that he hadn’t broken a sweat. We realised that he had anhidrosis. Over the next month, mum and I tried everything under the sun, we added herbs and supplements to his feed, we even added stout to his feeds, an old wives’ tale which proved fruitless for us. The heat and humidity of summer on the Sunshine Coast meant that trying to keep him in work all year round just wasn’t an option. We discussed a few ideas, maybe keeping Sullivan in work during the competition season over winter and getting a pony for me to ride during summer. Ultimately, we realised that Sullivan would have to be sold to someone living further south in a cooler climate. Needless to say, I was devastated.

Anyone who has ever bought a horse will understand the frustration that is part and parcel of ‘the horse hunt’. I’d be down this road before, but it was different this time. I’d had Sullivan for about three years, bringing him on from a horse who struggled to trot in a straight line, to being almost ready to compete at elementary level. But with the decision made, mum and I scoured Horse Deals, Facebook horse sales pages, the internet and we put the word out amongst our local equestrian community that we were on the hunt. I swooned over educated schoolmasters and lusted after youngsters with talent to burn, however they were all well outside our modest budget.

After trying several horses locally without so much as a skerrick of luck, mum stumbled across a small add in Horse Deals with the headline, ‘4yo Sir Rocco Mare’. Pictured was of a gangly baby with a barely there stripe on her face, but she was almost within our price range and within a 45 minute drive so mum gave the owner a call. Her then owner was a lady was in her 50’s who had bought Nonie as a green 3yo. The combination of green horse and green rider plus more feed than was needed, resulted in her owner having a fall, losing her confidence, and the purchase of an older experienced mount. In a twist of irony, the horse she purchased was advertised on the same page as Nonie.

The day we went to try Nonie, the stockman who had been riding her threw on a swing fender saddle and warmed her up for me. I started to put Nonie through her paces, they were light, she could walk, trot and canter and she could turn, but that was about it. I remember asking her to move up a gear in the trot but the only answer she knew was to brake into canter. I left feeling just like I had after the last five horses I had tried, frustrated and disheartened! She was a sweet mare, but she was so green. If I got her I would be starting all over again. While I now love the whole process of training horses, as a younger more impatient rider, I just wanted to feel like a ‘real’ rider who was doing the fun stuff, the lateral work, the flying changes and more. I felt like I had just started to reach this level with Sullivan and it had all been snatched away from me.

My dad agreed to contribute to buying the horse on the condition that my coach felt she would be suitable for me. This being done the last, the final step was a vet check. I returned to my textbooks to prepare for my impending exams, as mum towed her off to have the vet check done, I clearly remember the thought that entered my brain ‘I hope she fails the vet check, I don’t think I want this horse’. Looking back, I can see now that this was because I was grieving for Gilbert and wanting no horse other than my Sullivan. I never told either of my parents about this until fairly recently, Mum was horrified and would never have bought Nonie had she realised this. As it was, Nonie passed her vet check with flying colours and that was that we bought her. She stayed with my coach for about four weeks to make the transition a little easier for me and to teach her some of the basics. One sunny day following a patch of rain, mum asked me to take out a clean rug to put on her, she handed me a few carrots and off I went. I can pinpoint the beginning of our partnership back to this moment, after gobbling up the carrots Nonie started licking me. A seemingly simple moment, nonetheless that was when my heart opened up to the possibility of loving this horse.

One thing that stands out to me as I look back on this process was my reluctance to make any decisions – I felt paralysed by the knowledge that any decision I made would be the wrong one. So it was rather fortunate that things worked out as they did and Nonie and I ended up together.  The last six years has produced a partnership that has been more rewarding than I could ever have anticipated. We recently started the flying changes and are preparing for our first medium level start in the new year. I can’t wait to see what the next six year will bring as we continue our journey down the centreline.