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Five Days at Talland - The Sequel

You might remember that I wrote about my fabulous 5 days at Talland School of Equitation during the winter. I’d never been away from home before and not only did I learn loads, I had such an amazing time that when I was given the chance to go back for another 5 days, of course I jumped at the chance! Instead of driving 100’s of miles through a snowstorm though, this time I was adding to the adventure and going by train.

It turns out trains and I don't quite mesh. It was all good and life was fine, up until I left my brand new gorgeous Gatehouse Chelsea hat on train when I changed at Gloucester. I was so upset and never did get it back – it ended up probably seeing much more of the country than I have. The last part of the journey was to be by taxi, but my taxi driver had abandoned me at the train station because we got in 10 minutes late, not a good start at all. Luckily a kind woman saw me on the EDGE and let me have her taxi, which I couldn't have been more grateful for. I was safely delivered to Talland 20 minutes later and so excited to finally be there. I've never been happier to get out of a car.

This time instead of swirling snow it was absolutely sweltering and there was a whole new shipment of people! Quite a few of the students I’d got to know had left which I was sad to hear, but they had come to the end of their course and I loved connecting and meeting the ones I didn't know, and they were all lovely. What’s really striking about Talland is that it’s a place for people from all over the world to come and be together, all for the love of horses. You walk into a family atmosphere right from the start. I knew that I was going to help out with yard duties again, for me, being involved with the horses all day meant I was still learning so much, and just added to my visit, so I finished my night off with yard duties, gorgeous gooey chocolate cake and a Disney movie, you could say it was a pretty awesome welcome back.

Monday moring it was up and at em at half six, to be on the yard by seven. As it is summer now, it means horses are coming and going in and out of the fields and it’s just about the most confusing thing I’ve ever witnessed. Two students and I were sent into the gelding's field to grab seven, and it was just about the funniest thing ever with these two lads chasing this really stubborn horse Bouree around the field and it lapped them so many times. Then I was like the horse whisperer or something, I literally stepped towards him and slipped a rope round his neck, and he was going nowhere. Win for the girls.

My first lesson of the day was on a gelding named Seb, a newbie at Talland, so not many people had gotten to ride him (making me feel special). In the lesson with Mike, we worked on how to figure out different ways to adjust to riding a different horse or tackling a perhaps more challenging horse. Seb was lovely, however he was very inclined to do his best imitation of a wayward giraffe with me, but he was very forward at least. Under Mike’s instruction we found out that I was being too nice and letting him get away with being a little monkey, so I had to get more demanding of him yet know when to soften when he was soft. In the end we actually ended up working quite nicely, and he was so interesting to ride too. The horses I’m currently riding prefer to go way below behind bit and curl up if they’re being an idiot, however this was the complete opposite of what I was used to.

My private lesson was on a mare called Dior, and her very name had me already knowing I’d love her- and that I did! We were with an instructor I’d never met before called Gerry Sinnott, Irish Olympic rider and what an amazing instructor. We worked on half pass in trot and getting a clean change. The clean change didn’t go as expected as Dior got herself in such a state getting so excited about it all that we had to leave it, However, her making it difficult meant that I HAD to have her in the right position and then ask, rather than with a wing and a prayer as I have been before. The half pass was amazing! She was so sensitive it was just effortless to ask, making her the perfect horse to learn it on. I also made a surprising discovery. I collapse to my left all the time, and my left hand creeps higher than my right (weird) it turns out that when I collapse my left shoulder is so low that my left hand has to come up to be in line with the right but when I straighten my shoulders again my arms stays in place meaning that now the shoulder comes up so does my hand to accommodate the new position. I gave Dior lots of treats because she was awesome, I wanted to steal her. With the big BHSI exam the next day we were all running around like headless chickens, I’d done about twenty nets and I helped plait up (well I held a horse's head while someone else plaited up lol) and the rest of my day was a haze of hay and sweeping!

Tuesday was a busy day for all; we'd prepped all the horses that were to be used in the BHSI exam the day before but there was still much to be done. Getting up on the yard very early, we hayed and fed before a frantic tack up for some of the students that had to warm up all the horses for the riders coming in to take part. It was up to those not riding to walk with them as they rode to the school giving the horses a last polish as they moved so they were impeccable.

Finally, it was time for me to jump on for my first lesson, and it was to be on my old pal Tommy the Grand Prix horse! I was very excited, I was with Gerry again who is just fantastic. The very first thing we worked on was my position- putting my knee straight, sitting on my inside thigh but relaxing my butt so that I can still plug in my seat bones and stopping gripping so much with my thighs and knees. I explained to Gerry that I am riding a schoolmaster at home who is actually quite complicated and I really would like to be able to produce a clean change. We worked on the timing and rhythm and when and how to apply the aid for the changes, which Tommy found only too easy. We looked at knowing when to begin them and when to end them and trying out the threes and twos and fours. Next, we worked on rein back which was really useful, because whilst my Halen can do an amazing moonwalk, it's often sideways when I ask! I'm very proud to say that that day I filled over 30 haynets, and felt I seriously deserved the awesome Chicken Kievs and perhaps the nicest gosh darn Victoria sponge with cream I had ever tasted.

The next day started with a bang, that was for sure! The heavens had completely opened, soaking everything, water was pouring from the sky but nothing was going to stop me from having my jumping lesson, I am after all, "here for a good time not a long time", as one of the students said. Most of the other students had opted out, preferring to stay dry, leaving me and one other girl to be Mike's class for the day. I was on a mare named Bree who was quite the “character”. She immediately told me what was what and of course I fell in love with her. The lesson, once I had picked myself up from getting on one side and literally falling off the other, went amazingly- I've had a few problems with my confidence into a fence recently after a bad fall, but Bree was a joy to jump and so easy to adjust into a fence. It was good practice for knowing when the stride needed changing as she was willing to do anything to get over that jump. The students at Talland are so lucky to have so many amazing horses at their fingertips. After that I had a lecture which was really interesting, talking about navicular which I actually didn't know much about at all.

Next, I had my lesson with Hillary on a lovely gelding named Beckham, who was a real sweetheart, and I soon fell in love with him too. We worked on half pass mostly, getting the aids spot on and making sure the quarters weren't leading. This lesson really helped me get a good feel for what I should be looking for, another really good thing to take home to Halen the schoolmaster at home.

At last it was time for my 1st Pammy lesson. I arrived 10 minutes early because I was too scared to be late, Pammy is just lovely but she doesn’t hold with people being late, I think. I was on dear Tommy bless him, and the first thing that we worked on was my seat. It had gone backwards slightly since the last time Pammy had seen me. I hadn’t had the opportunity to practice much with sitting trot , as the two horses I had mainly been riding since my first visit were both coming back into work, one of them also being very green and they weren’t strong enough to hold a sitting trot so that I could practice. Pammy had me working on some leg yields from the centre line and direct transitions. It’s great when you can feel things click into place and I have to say this happened a lot during my week. After a sound scolding about my position Pammy sent me over to watch Suzanna Hext's lesson to really study her seat because hers is very very good. Suzanna was amazing to watch, everyone around you at Talland just seems like magic on a horse. I am determined to be good enough to have someone think that of me one day too.

Thursday began with a group lesson, and I was so pleased to be on gorgeous Dior. Dior had quickly become one of my favourites, with natural sass and an awesome attitude I felt we really clicked, she was definitely the one I wanted to steal. We worked a lot on lateral work, beginning with leg yield, and slowly as time went on, moved on to shoulder in and then half pass. I did a lot of lateral work throughout week as I want Halen and I to ace it when we move up the levels. Richard, who is a really good instructor, found that I needed to look more at the outside leg inside hand thing for the half pass and not collapsing over my hip. I also really kept in mind what Pammy said about my seat so I intermittently practiced my sitting trot until I felt confident enough to do a full circuit of the huge arena doing it.

Next up was my 2nd lesson with Pammy on simply the most wonderful gentle giant 18'2 horse called Olly. It wasn't till I was in the arena that I found out not only was he an ex Grand Prix horse, but he had taken both Pippa and Charlie to international level! I was beyond excited to be riding him so off I went merrily warming up this absolute legend of a horse and Pammy told me she was going to let me play for today as this was a once in a lifetime experience and the chance to get a proper feel for things. We started off with tempi changes, and before I knew it Pammy asked me for a line of ones; so there I go across the diagonal legs swinging like there's no tomorrow and he's doing it- he's doing ONES underneath me and I can feel it like wow. Wow. WOW. !!!

My first canter pirouette was actually an accident, I was just trying to get him to really collect and sit and suddenly we were turning so I decided to just roll with it. How much fun was I having! I was beginning to feel real fancy, and then before I knew it under Pammy's instructions me and Olly were doing passage and piaffe too. What an awesome, awesome experience! By the time we finished I was surprised my face hadn't cracked from the massive grin plastered all over it. This was the sort of experience you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere and here’s little old me, at Talland, just doing it!

My final lesson of the day was with Pippa on Beckham. Now I love Beckham for lessons, because no matter the pace he is in, it’s just like sitting on a rocking horse, even me with my barely passable sitting trot could sit it eaaasy. In the lesson we worked on changes and timing when to get them, and really feeling how you've got to almost exaggerate the aids when schooling because it has to be really clear what you want, especially to begin with. We also worked on my seat, making sure I could feel my bum bones underneath me, then my legs, then my seat, then finally my head and shoulders.

Friday, my final and last day, started off with a good bit of fun! First off was a showjumping lesson with Gerry, and I was going to be on Bree again! She’s such a baggage I love it! When I was in the saddle, I thankfully managed to stay on this time as I was a bit more careful than before, but she was such a good girl. There’d been a massive storm the night before so the school was seriously flooded, what better time to school water jumps eh? Gerry set up a course and it was so fun to ride on Bree because she’s so happy to jump it’s interesting playing with how you want to make her jump. She will go off any stride and doesn’t care whether she jumps it long or short. I did pansy out a bit and didn’t do the biggest fences because I just am not confident enough in my approach to a fence to tackle something as big as 1.15m on a horse I don’t really know, especially when I’ve just had a massive dent in my confidence, but that will come with time! I actually thought I rode one of my rounds quite sedately but Gerry promptly informed me that just because I’m from Barnsley it doesn’t mean I can just gallop around a course! Oops!

A little later I got the chance to quickly polish my boots and watch Pammy ride for a bit, and soon enough it was time for my last Pammy lesson of the week. I was back on Olly again, and I was allowed to play with him for a bit (I did a few lines of ones, no biggie lol). This time though I was trying too hard, I didn’t realise that in my pirouettes I was making the circle much too small and he was swivelling, whereas I wanted his back legs describing a 6m in diameter circle with his front legs on 8m, and I had to look to the outside, put my weight on the inside but push his quarters in using my outside leg, hard work! Once I had that down we were up for some trot, which surprisingly I managed to sit okay. All that practice was starting to pay off at last. I did my passage and piaffe again this time trying to go more forward, but still keeping the elevation, and it actually worked, but I was ruby red in the face after that. This is where I want to be, I want to be creating this and can’t believe I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to feel this so early in my riding career. Olly had worked hard, so it was with a cooling hose down in the wash box that the gentle giant finished his work day.

Not long after, it was time for my lesson with Pippa on my adopted baby Dior. We didn’t have a great start, literally just as I was closing the door to the school Dior stuck her nose in it with perfect timing; scraping all her muzzle up and I felt terrible for letting her get hurt. Luckily Pippa managed to fiddle with the noseband so it wasn’t touching, Dior was given a sugar lump for her troubles and didn’t seem concerned. In this lesson we were working on leg yields from the centre line to track as I will be starting elementary soon and wanted to get the feel of nailing that movement. We found that I needed much more inside bend, and to really go for it so that the horse steps under and crosses, but still guard with the outside hand so the shoulders don’t fly out the side door. We managed some really lovely ones, and then once she had a stretch we did a couple half passes which were super fun, now that I’ve learned how to do them I can’t stop! Once again, I need more inside bend, but I really found getting the horse straight on the diagonal line then asking for the move really works well because it means I can really make sure the quarters don’t lead nor get left behind. Afterwards I took Dior for a cooling off walk down the drive and once I’d got some stuff on her muzzle, it was time to hose her off and put her away for the last time. I was so sad because I just wanted to take her with me! I mean she’s an amazing dressage horse and she’s done courses up to 1.20m too so we could have had so much fun together.

My goodbyes to the team at Talland were emotional, I had an EVEN BETTER time than last time because everything was familiar, it was almost like going home in a way, and I feel like part of the Talland family. I’ve made memories there that I will never ever forget. It has literally become my home away from home, never has a place made me like getting up at six in the morning, I don’t do mornings normally. Thank you to everyone at Talland, and to all the horses at Talland that I semi adopted during my stay, for making it, quite literally, the best time of my life.

If you're looking at improving your riding then get in touch with Talland School Of Equitation - from single lessons to bespoke courses on the flat or jumping the facilities and instructors are fabulous and you'll leave determined to go back.

Alanna xoxox

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