This would be my first senior squad weekend and Barik’s first squad outing too. Although Barik will not be up for selection just yet as I feel he is too young for now, but this would be a great experience for him. Hopefully it will help with him getting over his venue excitement in the long run by seeing more places and being away from home.
Bury Farm is located near Leighton Buzzard in Buckinghamshire so we left on the Friday in order for us all to recover from the long drive. I was taking Barik for his first official squad weekend and a first for me as it would be my first Senior Squad training weekend. My Nan, Delwyn Hall and friend Krissie Jones were also coming as they are my designated crew for the season.
Finally arriving at Bury at around 4pm still in the daylight, giving us plenty of time to look around and settle Barik before we departed to find our lodgings for the weekend at Luton Travel Lodge (not somewhere I shall be returning to or recommending!).
On returning to feed and bed Barik down for the night, there were a fair few other horses and riders arriving. Barik and I went walking around in the dark in the outdoor sand school so that Barik could stretch his legs, whilst his stable was sorted out (thanks crew!). Pony all sorted and in his pj’s with some horses now for company and we were off back to get into our own beds.
Saturday 18th Feb
The Travel Lodge was very nosey and none of us had a very good sleep at all so we all looked pretty blurry eyed on arrival at the centre.
Other riders and crews were arriving that morning with their horses, so the endurance stable block was very busy with people tooing and froing. Barik was bright eyed and busy watching everyone. Off we went for walkies to stretch his legs before the first days activities of the Squad weekend started.
We all had our schedules for the weekend emailed to us in advance so we all knew where we should be at certain times.
8.30am Everyone was to report to meet in the meeting room for briefing of the weekend. I am now the baby of the senior squad. A casual wave over to some of the Young Riders I knew and then full attention to be paid to our chef d’equip, Andrea Baker, and logistics coordinator, Stevie Martin. Everyone was introduced to each other starting with management and team officials then all riders and their crews.
All riders were put into groups for the weekend. I was in group 4 with our Team Leader, Sue Higgins, and other 3 group members (sorry I can’t remember all your names).
9.00am All horses were to have an initial trot up by a crew member (no riders allowed) in front of Chef d’Equip, Team Farrier, Team Vets and Team Physio. Krissie would be trotting up Barik for me in straight lines and 20 metre circles in front of the Team Management.
For the rest of the day we would be working in our groups doing various activities.
9.30am Group 4 would be reporting to the chef d’equip, Andrea Baker in the meeting room. Here we were to discuss our fitness logs so far, competition plans for the season, and future prospects. We were also assigned a task of questions to complete as a group and present to the rest of the squad.
10.15am Next task was to meet up with Stevie Martin for crewing and trot up techniques and tips. Nan and Krissie are both widely experienced in both these having competed in endurance for many years, but it never failes to learn for techniques to improve oneself. Krissie once again got to trot Barik up and back with a thumbs up from Stevie on her technique. Barik then had to wait patiently (not his strong point) while we watched the others and discussed.
11.15am Vet/Farrier/Physio assessment for Group 4. Lee Clarke was the first person for us to see from the Team Management. He gave Barik a thorough checking over looking at/feeling all his muscles particularly those of the back. Small areas in which to improve on but overall was good.
Onto seeing the Farrier, Chris Pell and the two Team Vets Anna Maria Naghy and Charlie Briggs. Chris had been the YR farrier for a few years whilst I had been on the Team so I at least knew one friendly face from the Senior Team Management. Chris, however, had never seen Baz. So onto another trot up by Krissie for them to watch, before they all three examined him. Small notes were made to Barik’s log sheet and we had the Q & A to some questions Nan and I had.
12 Finally it was our groups turn to ride in the indoor arena with Pam James an instructor and selector. This would be the second time only that Barik would be in an indoor school, well with me anyway (not sure whether he would of done in his past). This was to be the exciting part for Baz as he would be in an arena with another lot of horses. We were the first combination into the arena which gave us time for Baz to look around and chill out a bit before anyone else came in. All three indoor arenas are housed under one roof so Baz could clearly see the YR’s schooling their horses as well as hear all that was going on.
Once our group were all in the arena we could begin our ridden session with Pam. We were to work on how to pre-warm up before a ride, and how to focus the horse on the task before the ride. Barik is always full of energy and does rush around and quicken (comes from his racing background) so we were concentrating on slowing down and getting him listening to me rather than all that was going on. Circular movements progressing outwards and spiralling inwards as well as transition work was what we were focusing on individually. As the time progressed Barik gradually became more relaxed rather than his usual rushing self. His head carriage became lowered as well so that his overall outline also improved.
Usually at the start of a race ride I warm up in the three gaits and it has not really occurred to me to use schooling methods at a warm up. However, it certainly seemed to relax Barik effectively and get him listening to me as the rider. I think this was most beneficial for Baz as well as me.
1pm Break for lunch.
That afternoon we would all be doing the Prelim 7 dressage test. Baz and I had only practised this once beforehand although I have competed this test before with Chador. I was one of the last riders to ride this test so I had plenty of time to read through it again.
It is strange how I can have the pressures of a Championship race to do and not feel anxious but give me a 4 minute dressage test to do and I’m a bag of nerves!
In the warm up arena Barik became chilled, supple and he was on the bit. His gaits were even and he wasn’t trying to rush, this all changed however once we went into the test arena.
Andrea Baker would read the test for me, just to make sure I didn’t take a wrong turn. It all started wonderfully but once Barik had his first canter our paces got steadily quicker and quicker. Typical little racehorse exploded into canter on both reins so the test itself probably did not take the full 4 minutes to do. We at least managed a square halt and BREATHE! I think I had been holding my breath as we went round the arena, thank goodness it was all over.
4.30 Lee Clarke would be showing stretching exercises we could do with our horses for both seniors and young riders. These included carrot stretches, this is something Shandy became very good at very quickly back we were with the young rider team. Barik on the other hand has never done these, so it will be something to practise in the future. Lee gave us useful stretches to take away and practise from stretching the legs to back stretches, with tips of how to and how not to as well as how the horse will cheat particularly when doing the carrot stretch. I’m sure Barik will enjoy the carrot stretches and I can probably practise a bit with Djelanza (my colt) as well as recap with Chador when at home.
5.30 Everyone was to go back into the meeting room to discuss when going abroad and what paperwork is needed. This sort of information is always important and useful to know as qualifications, rules and regulations are forever changing. Never realised how many forms were needed to go abroad with from health papers to quarantine regulations luckily that’s all for the horse and the rider just needs their passport and an FEI license (if its an FEI ride).
Once all was finished being discuss, Barik got a walk out and run round with me then he was put away in his PJ’s for the night with plenty of feed, hay, water and some HorseQuencher too. Whilst we all went to that evenings buffet which was being held in the café. I got to sit with my Group and discuss our group questions about “The qualities/skills of a good crew”, this all happened whilst the buffet was being laid out. By the time Stevie finally said grubs up there was a mad rush to the front by all the starving riders and crew. Best bit had to be dessert with a variety of choices too!
Back to Travel Lodge for another not very quiet night with traffic and noisey guests.
Sunday 19th Feb
So I must of eventually fallen asleep and got a few hours although I still felt very sleep deprived. Barik on the other hand looked very alert and watching everyone as they walked past from the comforts of his stable. Time for walkies whilst his stable was done by my trusty and much appreciated crew!
9am Into the meeting for our team presentations. The groups do their presentations in reverse number order, so Group 4 got to go first. Sue, me and another one of our group members got to go up and answer our question of “Qualities and Skills which make a good crew. When a crew has saved the day/ride”. Qualities we decided on were such things as; being able to map read, reliable, understanding the sport, being capable of looking after the horse, calming the rider down (I get overly competitive so it’s a good skill to have) and many many more.
Each of us had different scenarios when our crew had saved the day such as having the spares to meet on route, time keeping, controlling the horse etc. Our talk seemed to go well and was over before we knew it, either that or I just spoke my bit very quickly.
Each group had a different question to answer so nothing was repeated. Can’t remember all questions but they varied from physical, mental qualities need of the horse or rider, good conduct and etiquette of rider/team.
10.15am If the weather was good we were to ride on the grass tracks with a mock vetgate. However, the entire weekend had been wet so we went into our individual groups to have a mock vetgate in the indoor arena. With limited space this was a lot more difficult but managed to get it done. Barik was far more chilled out then the day before as I found out when he went into his vetgate and could present immediately. Being in a new environment and having to face something different definitely seems to have worked so far but this is all quite different to at a ride when there are many horses racing round.
We were then all debriefed and our squad weekend was over. Barik and I enjoyed it thoroughly and I met some great people which have made going into senior squad not nearly so daunting. I am all too excited for the possibilities of the future and wish Barik wasn’t so young so I could try for Team now. But it will all come with time, some more experience for Barik this year with our endurance season fully planned.
Look forward to seeing some familiar faces at the future rides and perhaps another senior GB squad weekend!!!