Competition Season Begins

administrator HOYS Ambassador

It has been an incredibly busy month, and we are now underway with our competition season for 2017 – where has the time gone?

I was really lucky to go to Canada for the first time for a week of coaching at the end of March – it was busy and intense but it was great to see improvements in the vaulters. Canada is a beautiful country and I am so fortunate that I get to see so much of the World because of my involvement with horses.

We had our first national competition of the year at the start of April, the first one of the season. It was great to see how they have developed mentally and physically, and I was so happy with all of their performances. It was also the first opportunity for my vaulters to perform their new routines and as a result some of them were a little nervous. However, it was great to have a run out before we headed to the first international competition of the year in Saumur, France the following week.

Saumur is always one of my favourite internationals and it really signifies the start of the competition year. Our horses all travelled very well out to the competition – we have got them into a really good routine when they travel and we know what works for each of them. For instance one of my horses can’t travel with a tail bandage on as his tail becomes irritated and infected and our horses (personally) actually travel better without travel boots. We have learnt over time where each of our horses travel best in the lorry too which makes a big difference. We make sure that we know each of our horses travelling habits. For instance a couple of my horses when they are on the lorry won’t drink water, and that is ok. It just means that we need watch them closely and monitor how much water they are drinking when we stop.

As I mentioned previously, Saumur is always one of my favourite competitions. The venue is stunning and we always get great crowds to the competition there – the fact that the food is also amazing is just a bonus! We were really lucky that our vaulters put in great performances with some of our vaulters achieving the scores they need either to progress to the next level of competition or to achieve qualifying scores for this year’s junior world championships. The competition was topped off with one of our junior vaulters Kerri finishing on the podium. We also learn every time we go to competition and on this occasion, Billy (our team horse) lost a little bit of weight whilst travelling and having the two competitions so close together so we had a tack slipping issue on day one with our team. This wasn’t a major issue though and we know now to monitor Billy’s weight more closely in future and try and space out his competitions more.

We are really happy that after having a couple of busy weeks of competition and having the long travel our horses are looking so good! Now they have a short break before we build up training again for our next national and international competitions.

Just like the Vaulting season the showing season is now well underway. The National Shire Horse Show in mid-March proved a great success, and whilst being a fairly recent addition to the Show there were a record number of entries and with the NPS Spring Festival and BSPS Winter Champs taking place over the past few weeks we are now in the build up to the Horse of the Year Show 2017.

Preparing Your Horse For Competition

I was really lucky to be invited to talk at a client evening presented by Simon Constable Equine Vets recently, where I discussed how we prepare our horses for competition and how we keep them in competition fitness. I looked at this in relation to three aspects; planning, training and knowing your horse. All three of these sections are equally important and interlinked. I will give a brief overview of what I discussed:

Firstly I discussed planning. We sit down throughout the winter months and look at the diary and highlight what competitions, all being well, we hope to compete at throughout the year as this provides the shape for our season. Then we plan our training and our preparation around these competitions to make sure that our horses are getting suitable rest and recovery and to make sure they are not being overworked, whilst identifying how many days/ times a week we would like to train with them and making sure that their work is varied.

Next we look at training making sure that our horses are physically fit and capable of doing what we are asking of them. I spoke about my horse Captain Jack and the fact that when we first got him he needed to build up his muscle tone and improve his self-carriage; we were sure not to have his training too intense, too fast as that would have risked injury. Now after two years of competing together we are starting to see the results of training him in this way – two years ago he was scoring 6’s and now he is scoring 8’s. We were in the fortunate position where we could take our time with his physical training and we looked at the longer term goals with him. Now I can’t believe how great he looks and we have seen great improvements in the 55% of the Vaulting horse score which is ‘quality of canter’ just by taking our time and building up his muscle tone.

When it comes to physical fitness as well I discussed checking our horses over every time we groom them, recording their vitals (making sure you know what your horses usual temperature is so that you can monitor changes), having a good relationship with your vet – these points can all help when it comes to preparing your horse for competition and keeping your horse in competition fitness.

I also talked a lot about not just having your horses physically fit for competition but also making sure they are mentally fit as well, and capable of coping especially with the competition environment. The mental aspect of fitness is something that we constantly work on with our horses at home and how much emphasis we put on this really depends on our different horses. With my horse Billy he has always had the ability when it comes to quality of canter but with him we need to focus on his confidence on the circle and making sure he is at ease. With my horse Tyke it took us a lot longer before we took him to his first competition to make sure he was mentally ready for it. I discussed at the presentation different things that we do to work on this – the relationship between the horse and the lunger, setting up practise competitions/ going to different arenas, for us as well even a small change like keeping our horses together in the same field through the winter has improved their confidence.  I also spoke of the nutritional aspect of fitness and what has worked for us with our horses.

Next and most importantly, I discussed knowing your horse and finding out what works and doesn’t work for each of them. I outlined the challenges we face at home of having horses of varying ages and breeds and how we tailor their training and competition fitness to each of our horses. I also discussed how important it is to trust your instinct when it comes to your horses.

I am now off to South Africa for a few weeks of coaching which I am so excited about – I’ll keep you updated with how I get on! For now, good luck to anyone contesting the HOYS qualifiers. I hope to see you at HOYS in October. And if you haven’t yet purchased your tickets – what are you waiting for?

Hannah Eccles

HOYS Ambassador