How to get over pre-show nerves…

Patrick, my dedicated NHOH[1], grimaced. “That cyclist is overtaking you.”

“I can see that,” I stared at the needle on my speedo, currently wavering around the 20mph dash, “but a horse is only as good as his last journey. And Floyd, getting in that tiny tin box is going against millions of years of evolution…”

As I recited the same fact for approximately the 37th time that journey, I could feel Pat’s eyes glazing over.

I used to get awful pre-show nerves (well, in all honesty, I used to get awful pre-getting-on-Floyd-every-time nerves), and since the day I bought him, I did always wonder how I’d cope with the run up to our first competition. Turns out there’s one easy solution: tow your horse there in a trailer. I spent the week before our first competition waking up in cold sweats about the journey. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t think about anything else but towing (as both the lovely Jo at my yard, and Patrick can attest to – I think I ran my route plan past them about 18 times).

The actual dressage? The warming up with other horses? The going out somewhere strange without Nat for the first time? Nope. I was – can you believe it – actually looking forward to those bits. Because those bits mean we’ll have got there safely.

Before leaving for the show, I popped Floyd on the lunge.

“Just to get any exuberance out,” I said to Pat, trundling over to the lunge pen with Floyd in his headcollar.

15 minutes of non-stop bouncing, boinging, bronc’ing, leaping and skidding later, I was a paler shade of grey than before. Pat looked slightly concerned.

“Does he normally do that?”

“No,” I said, trying not to be sick.

As usual, Floyd loaded like a pro, quite happy to dive head-first into his hay-net. Approximately two seconds later, he realised he was on his own. In something that wasn’t quite up to his normal standards of a luxurious Equi-Trek or spacious 7.5 ton lorry. We closed up the ramps, and Floyd began the process of trying to forcibly unload himself, using his back legs.

I got ready to cancel our entry and chuck him back out in field, just as Laura, another lovely livery, looked over: “Just go. He’ll be fine.”

And fine he was. We crawled our way to the venue, taking all the back routes. Floyd eventually stopped kicking, obviously quite hungry after his morning rodeo act.

When we arrived, my initial rush of elevation was quickly replaced by fear and an army of butterflies in my stomach. “Oh shit. I have to ride him now. Shit. Where’s Nat? Maybe I’ll just lead him round instead.”

Luckily, Chief Groom Pat stepped in, and took over the role of being dragged around while Floyd scoffed his face with grass. I got myself dressed, managed to get Floyd dressed, herded my entire family to a safe place to watch, then went into the warm up.

I chose Wokingham Equestrian centre for our first show as I spent many years riding there, and know the manager well. So, with a leg up from Pat and a quick wander around on the lead rein, Floyd and I started our new warm-up routine that Nat had cracked for us early in the week.

We spent a lesson alternating between collecting him and pushing him out in the trot – and it’s worked wonders. He comes into the contact so much better, and stays settled quite happily. I have much more in my hand, and I’m not having to constantly ask him to move into the bridle – I can simply control the pace and direction, and let him hold himself up.

I’d entered us in both the Intro and the Prelim classes. Yes, we’re working at a solid Prelim level at home, but I had no idea how he’d react in a show environment. Well, in standard Floyd fashion, he reacted no differently at all. Star. As we were due at a 30th birthday later that day, it was very much a jump off, untack, and leave the second we finished our tests. So, when I found out that we’d won not just the Intro, but a very full Prelim class too, I was gobsmacked.

I’ve poured so much time, love, work, effort, stress and determination (and money), into this horse. And it’s paying off. He worked well, and he got lovely comments from the judge and people at the show. Above all, he has the most fantastic attitude. I could do everything that I’m doing, but without his intelligence and workman-like attitude, we’d never get as far as we do.

Eventing camp

Never one to be slowed down by bank balances or major commitments at work, Floyd and I kicked off a super busy autumn with one of Nat’s camps.

It was held at Boomerang, and for two days, we had intensive lessons in show-jumping, pole work and gridwork, cross-country technique, and finally, cross-country.

We’ve been on a couple of Nat’s camps, and every time we learn a million new things – about each other, about our partnership, and about how to ride. This time was no different. We arrived with a different mentality to all the other camps: excitement about what we can achieve, rather than pure terror about getting on and riding.

Floyd, as usual, excelled in every sphere (though this was rarely helped by his numpty rider). Whether I was asking him to jump over 1m out of a grid, or pop over solo fillers, he tackled it all without hesitation.

At dressage camp the previous month, we’d already had a sneaky go around the cross-country course[2], so when it came for the final session, I wasn’t too nervous. Pat had turned up to take photos and cheer us on too, which was a good confidence boost. Floyd loves cross-country, and will happily bound up and down and over everything I ask. We do have one issue though: water.

He’ll go through it. He’ll go into it. He’ll come out of it.

But ask him to jump out of it? Then it’s a shoulders-back, sit-up moment. Floyd is a sensitive dear soul, and doesn’t like the feel of water on his belly. Fair enough, neither do I. However, Floyd’s way of displaying discontent isn’t too fun. The first time we jumped out of water, we were in mid-air when Nat shouted, “SIT UP”. It’s never a great moment when you hear this, and on landing, Floyd rodeoed us around. This time, the reaction was much less extreme, but still involved a fair amount of bouncing about.

“Well,” Nat said, “at least he doesn’t try to buck you off going into the water…”​​

Why red light means go

During Nat’s camp, we had a special talk from a fellow rider, Jane Clark. Jane does photonic light therapy – something I’d never heard of until she came to talk to us. I won’t try to explain it – science isn’t my strong point – so you can find out more about the technical side on the website. But I saw it action on a friend’s horse, and I couldn’t believe the difference.

I’m a bit of a hypochondriac when it comes to Floyd, and like practically every other horse owner, I want him to feel at his very best. We ask a lot of our horses, and it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re happy and healthy.

So, I asked Jane to come and have a session with Floyd. He was slightly tight through his shoulders and had soreness in his back caused by shoulder tightness and hindquarter tightness. But when Jane tested his hindquarters, I couldn’t believe it. He reacted so strongly that he almost sat down, and it was the same on both sides. Jane pointed out that it’s not uncommon for a horse of his age, and for one that’s been building muscle and putting condition on, to display this. And as he’d reacted the same on both sides, at least I knew I was doing the right work equally.

Jane set to work with her lights, and Floyd munched away on his hay-net. By the end of the session, Jane tested him all over again. When it came to his hindquarters, he didn’t move a muscle. There was no reaction at all – his muscles had relaxed under the treatment.

The next day, I took Floyd out for a stroll around the village. As we trotted up one of the steepest hills on the route, I realised that he wasn’t struggling at all. My TB was suddenly turbo-charged! It was amazing to feel the full power of his ever-growing bum, now that it wasn’t tight and sore. I’d definitely recommend getting in touch with Jane – it’s fascinating to watch.

Floyd when I first got him, March 2017, and in September.


[1] For non-#twittereventers, that’s ‘non-horsey other half’

[2] What else would you expect at a dressage camp full of eventers?


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