Training at Blandings

Today I travelled over to Blandings Farm in Suffolk with Flash and his owner, where we hired the facilities for the day and practised each of the three competition phases. We had visited Blandings previously a few months ago when we attended a competition, but today’s trip was very different as we could take as much time as we needed and there was no pressure to do everything perfectly.

The first thing that Flash’s owner did was to practise her dressage test – I don’t play much of a role in this phase so I sat at the side and took photographs, and set up the cones course next to the arena.

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After the dressage practise was done I set up the camera, hopped on the carriage and we navigated the cones. My job here was to be the back-stepper to balance the carriage around the tight turns.

Flash becomes quite excitable in this phase so his owner was trying to encourage him to slow down and take it at a more steady pace – he managed this incredibly well today but we did have a couple of accidental canters!

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Lastly we drove around some of the obstacles – again the aim here was to keep him steady. To begin with we just walked around the obstacles (a route had been planned for us in advance) and then progressed to trot. Flash became a little bit impatient at times and started bouncing, but for the majority of the time he behaved perfectly. His one issue is with upward slopes – it is easier for him to go faster up them and he has tendency to leap forwards into a very fast canter – being a strong horse it isn’t always easy for his owner to bring him back again…

Overall it was a good day and very beneficial to Flash’s training; having been helping with this horse since November and seeing him progress from his former crazy self to how he is now, I am aware of how far he has come and seeing his training has been very interesting for me.

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My first ever carriage driving competition!

For the past few months I have been helping out with a driving horse called Flash; he is about eight and is a 14.3hh Trotter cross Welsh section C.

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His owner drives him out on the tracks near the yard and I go along as her groom, holding Flash whilst she climbs on and off of the carriage and helping with crossing roads.

The whole experience has been very exciting as Flash gets quite excited and often takes off in his huge extended trot (or occasionally breaks into canter)!

Recently I had the opportunity to accompany them to a driving competition…

This particular competition was fairly informal, so there wasn’t really a dress code and there were fewer obstacles than there would be at a larger show.

It was split into three phases – dressage, cones and obstacles.

In the dressage phase I didn’t really have to do anything as it was down to the driver to remember the test and control the horse, so I just stood on the back and observed. Due to him being half Trotter, dressage is Flash’s weakest phase – although he did score more highly for his extended trot!

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In the cones phase I had much more to keep me occupied – as the horse has to turn tightly at speed to negotiate the cones, the carriage must be balanced to prevent any wheels from lifting off the ground – this can be achieved by the back-stepper leaning on the inside of the bend to put more weight over the inside wheels.

The aim is to get around the course of cones without knocking any of the balls down: we went clear in this phase which boosted our score after the dressage.

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The final phase was the obstacles – in this my job was very much the same as with the cones – although some of the turns were tighter. Flash is amazingly good at dodging his way around the course, however apparently he can sometimes get too clever and try to decide his own route!

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Luckily it all went well and at the end of the day Flash came second.

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The video below shows our round – there were a couple of occasions when I forgot the route and didn’t lean the right way, but I thought for my first time as a back-stepper I did ok!

Out in the trap with Buddy

This past Saturday I went out for a hack with Leon’s owner in the trap with Buddy, her driving cob. It was the second time that I have been with them, and makes an interesting change from riding!

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I have to admit that Viv did most of the tacking up while I just stood trying to make sense of the harness – although I did help with hitching up the trap. This blog post contains some of the things that I managed to learn about the tack.

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All of Buddy’s harness is synthetic, so it requires much less maintenance than a leather harness and just has to be washed down after he has been out.

He always wears a thin head collar underneath his bridle – this is in case of an emergency and we carry a lead rope on the trap with us for this purpose too.

The picture below shows Viv attaching the breeching to the shaft. The shafts also have catches on them which prevent them from sliding too far forwards.

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The next picture shows the heel chain – this attaches the traces to the trap.

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When moving uphill, Buddy takes the weight of the trap through his shoulders, whereas when travelling downhill he carries the weight on his hind end.

The video below shows some clips from our trips out – please forgive the chatting in parts!

A quick note: there won’t be any posts about Leon for a while due to the fact that he is going away for professional training – he was previously broken into harness and Viv would like to be able to drive him in the future as she cannot ride him.