If you’ve read my previous blogs about the amazing times I have had visiting my new 2nd family at the wonderful Talland School of Equitation, you’ll be able to imagine how excited I was to return last month, not only for another few days of lessons, hard work and great food, but with my competition horse, Van Halen this time! Yes! I was actually taking my own horse so that we could benefit together. Our adventure started on the Sunday when Halen was bundled into the transport and I went as groom because our car was waiting for a repair again. I felt so grown up to travel and arrive with the most beautiful horse and couldn’t wait to get started the next day. Once he was settled in a lovely stable and munching happily on his evening net, I went to see what the others had kept for me to eat, I was starving. I wasn’t disappointed and tucked in to some gorgeous beef stew, followed by the nicest Victoria sponge I think I've ever had!
The next morning was early and up and at ‘em, I was one of the first on the yard (a shocker I know mum lol sorry) and I went to check on Halen straight away. He was quite happily munching on his hay but as usual he was quite disgruntled when he was not offered a treat straight away (spoilt but we love him). Happy that he was content I joined the mad dash of bringing in and I was very proud that I managed to get two horses out of the field when six others were crowded around the gate. Quite the accomplishment I’m told!
After I’d helped to skip out and feed, I enjoyed an enlightening lecture about coaching and training; we spoke about how there was no such thing as a naughty horse and it is entirely based on trust, a concept which I completely took on board and I was bursting with questions afterward about how this could be applied to Ella, my green project horse, and her training.
My first lesson of the day was on Beckham with Gerry Sinnott, Irish International and Olympic rider. Now I adore Beckham, I really struggle with my sitting trot and I swear Beckham’s trot is the easiest to sit in the world. We worked mostly on collection and my seat, with Gerry asking me to exaggerate the correct position. Actually, what I thought was exaggerating was in fact a correct position and shows how body aware you need to be. We also did some walk pirouettes, and boy was I surprised to find that I had the aids completely wrong! Gerry said it was the same aids as shoulder in, and it turns out your inside leg is supposed to encourage the horses front leg sideways and your outside rein positions the withers, I had been doing more a quarters out than a shoulder in before because I’d completely misunderstood. No wonder my poor horse felt like he was trying to do knitting.
Next it was time to get Halen tacked up ready for his first session. Even though he’s black he has quite the talent for getting his pristine white socks poo brown and sure as fate, his were disgusting when I arrived with his tack. I was on a mission however, and managed to restore them to white just in time, I’m proud of how amazing he looks and love to show him off at his best. I got so many lovely comments about how shiny he was and how much he looks like Valegro, at this point he was gaining so many admirers I thought I might not get to take him home.
We were with Gerry again, and this time we had a look at our connection. We really worked on getting him relaxed and me using my seat to push him up and into the bridle, in fact I can still hear Gerry now, “push that saddle up his neck Alanna!” My hips will never be the same. My sitting trot seemed worse on Halen, and Gerry spotted that the minute I’m on my own horse I grip with my knees rather than stretching the knee down as I did with Beckham. So we worked on getting me relaxed. Gerry seemed to really like Halen though, and even said “he’s handsome- and he knows it”. Of course, it would be my horse with the narcissistic tendencies!
My last lesson was on Dui and I was with Gerry again I even asked him if he was beginning to get sick of me yet. Dui had a proper bee in his bonnet, so the lesson got interesting at times, especially when we tried some sequence changes. This is what is great about the horses at Talland, they are all schoolmasters but they’re not machines. You still need to plug in and learn to ride the horse you’re on today, and that’s when you’re really learning and of course we got there with the changes.
It was in this lesson on Dui that I really seemed to crack the walk pirouettes. My problem had been that I was making them too small previously, but it was like I had a light bulb moment and it clicked. My shoulder ins had improved too, and my sitting trot was getting there. It just takes so much more to sit Halen’s blooming bouncy trot.
I helped on the yard for a while after that, my poor hips had given up and my body didn’t know whether it was hot or cold. I got quite a few funny looks filling Halen’s net because it’s bigger than me but that’s what he has. My boy is hungry after working hard, bless him! We swept and fed the horses, and were all quite happy to trudge to dinner (Halen’s Equerry mash took ages to cook according to Halen and he wished to put a complaint to the chef- that would be me the cheeky monkey!)
For dinner we had Bolognese which was so tasty. But the pudding. THE PUDDING. I don’t even like carrot cake right? But that was the nicest DARN carrot cake to grace the earth. Heck it could give chocolate cake a run for its money (YES IT WAS THAT GOOD!). Finally I had a lovely warm shower and then fell into a small coma, ready for the day ahead!
Day two was a great start, I scuttled out onto the yard ASAP to go see Halen and get him fed. Again he was aghast at the poor service I was giving him, his mash should have been ready made thank you very much! First on the agenda today was to sit in on a lecture. Funnily enough I was put in the stage 3&4 lecture rather than the stage 1&2 (I was flattered), and it was with Toby which I was pleased to hear because I found his lecture the day before really interesting and thought provoking. Today was much like a continuation of the previous one, but we spoke about people’s natural phobias. For example, I have an irrational fear of spiders though they’ve done nothing to me, and this related to when you’re instructing someone who’s not confident. They might have an irrational fear of falling off even though they might not have fallen off before and Toby spoke about how we can relax someone by getting them to talk or talking to them and how you need to be very calm too.
I then sat down with Toby during his lesson and watched him instructing, writing down useful exercises like turning on the forehand to get the horse off the leg if it’s not responding to your leg, and when he had a moment after the lesson asking him questions. Toby was really great at explaining, another thing that’s so great about Talland, they are keen for everyone to do well, and if you’re interested, they’re interested in helping you even when you’re not actually in a lesson.
After that it was a mad dash to get lunch, you cannot beat a jacket potato and cheese, one of my favourites yum, before I went to retrieve Halen. As I walked him through to the school, again he was showered with compliments. I’m not joking, I could see his ego swelling to bigger than Talland’s cross country course! This lesson was with Pippa, and I was super excited as I had mentioned to Gerry that our changes were pants and he said that Pippa would help massively with them as she really was good at teaching them.
First, Pippa asked me to have Halen going in a nice canter and worked on getting him to do some direct transitions to walk, and then asking for walk and not doing walk. Doing this meant I really got him sitting on his hocks and balanced. I had to keep that canter when asking for the change and also keep him a lot straighter when asking for the change rather than asking for too much inside bend and I swear to god it just clicked. We got one(!) dummy change and all the rest were as clean as anything. Pippa Hutton is the QUEEN of teaching changes.
My last lesson of the day was back with my main man Gerry, and this time I was on a chestnut named Bud who hadn’t been with Talland for long at all and OMG I fell in love with him. He was a cheeky monkey in walk, gurning and sucking back but in the trot and canter he was an absolute dream. We looked again at my seat (Gerry took my stirrups again, this is torture of a minor people!) and showed me an exercise that helped me with my sitting trot. He asked me to think about “down, down” rather than “up down” as a horse trots and it really helped me sit deep. We also did direct transitions, and he said that I really needed to be firm and say ‘no HALT’ and NOT allow the horse to trot, I got there in the end. Finally we had a look at my half passes and how I could change my position to make sure that Bud wasn’t quarters leading or trailing, and I had to sit straight and lead the direction with my head rather than turning my whole body. I really found it helpful to look in the big mirrors they have at Talland to make sure my body was doing what I thought it was!
After helping on the yard and checking the lad it was time for dinner. The food was once again banging and pudding was raspberry cream cheese cake my gosh I ate a solid third of it and I don’t like berry stuff, but it was that good! I passed out asleep pretty quickly afterwards though.
Day three started off quite frantic. It was exam day and all the horses had to be beautiful. Never before have I seen socks so white and plaits so perfect. Halen was very pleased to see me especially as I gave him many more treats to keep him going this time. My 1st lesson today was with Hilary Hughes, and I was to ride Beckham again. Hilary really worked on me getting him in a good frame, getting me to take advantage of the fact that I can sit his trot. We also had a look at lateral work, and she had us polishing up on coming down the centre line and leg yielding to the track which we managed to ace.
All too soon the lesson came to an end and I had 20 mins to get Beckham untacked and Halen tacked up, so as you can imagine I was running around like a headless chicken. I still managed to get Halen in 5 mins early and start warming up (pat on the back for me, you do not be late for Pammy).
Immediately Pammy called me over and asked who I was riding and we had a long chat about Halen and even my mares at home, and I was properly told off for getting too technical in my language. Me saying he blocked me through the withers MEANS that his neck is too high and that he was tense in his neck and that is how I should say it as people are more likely to understand what they need to do to fix that. We worked on getting a good connection, making Halen really round but then giving. AND WHOA! STOP THE BUS! Pammy said I had really improved my sitting trot! Well, I almost burst with pride, it’s still not great but I have done so much hard work I was so happy she noticed. To be fair she notices everything!
THEN Charlie Hutton came and sat watching me and Halen for a bit and he actually analysed my seat and I found out that I was trying so hard that I was becoming a tense ball on his back and bounce around horribly! I was also clamping down with my knee but the minute I got thinking about it and it was pointed out, I relaxed it and it improved again! It is just getting me to relax and stop interfering so much, as that shows when my sitting trots wobble and what I need for the marks is consistency.
It was so amazing, I think I was little star struck that not only did I have all of Pammy’s attention on me but I also had Charlie’s on me too. And with riders of that calibre sat there helping me, one for literally nothing, it was AMAZING! Talland is just teeming with talented instructors and riders, seriously, there is no other place like it.
Afterwards I took Halen out for a little hack to cool him down with Raffi and he was such a good boy. He really enjoyed it too; had his ears pricked the entire time!
My last lesson of the day was on a horse called Wizz with Gerry, who was very difficult to get round and relaxed. It was really useful to learn how to get a difficult horse to cooperate but I did it. Gerry worked on my seat too which was made really interesting by Wizz as she was like a table, she is soooo much wider than all the horses I ride who are medium and medium wide so it was a great learning experience.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon watching Pammy lessons and jotting down exercises. I even got to watch someone who has trained with Rothenberger and he was amazing. We had a new cook tonight who made stew and biscuits for tea which were actually lovely, but the highlight of my day had to be my Pammy lesson and just hearing that A) she liked Halen and B) that she thought my seat had improved, it made my millennium! X
Day four. So this morning I woke up, bouncing and ready for the day only to discover that my alarm hadn’t gone off and that I had slept in! I have never in my life got dressed so quickly! Rushing to the yard I swear Halen had his arms folded and an eyebrow raised asking “what time do you call this?” while pointing at the clock. Sorry Halen!
Before my first lesson, I sat in on the stage 3&4 lecture with Richard Preston, who talked about feeding and worms. It was very technical and some of the lingo flew over my head, but I picked up loads I didn’t know about worming and antibiotics. It is amazing how much you get to take in.
My first lesson of the day was with Hilary on Dui, and oh my gosh he was such a good boy! He literally felt like he was floating in his sitting trot and he was just generally brilliant. Hilary has us work on collection, really making the trot small but keeping the energy then pushing him on. We also had a look at some half passes and we crushed it of course. Dui is a real dude and I always learn so much riding him.
My next lesson was with Hilary again and I was back on Wizz the huge mare, luckily this time I thought to put on her double and wow it made such a difference! Yes she was still difficult to get on side but it worked much better. We worked on some shoulder ins which have improved so much and then moved into looking at some half passes. I find her much more difficult to sit on as she is so wide but my seat relaxed after a while and I began sitting much better. Finally we ended the lesson on some direct transitions of canter to walk that we absolutely smashed; we couldn’t have done it better, suddenly this mare that I’d found so very hard to ride was listening and perfect. Wow.
After getting Halen’s socks white and gorgeous it was time for my Pammy lesson and test riding session. I got him in nice and early meaning we could have a great warm up whilst we waited for Pammy to finish her previous lesson. I think she was really surprised we were ready- she asked when I would be ready to go through the test and I was just like now if you like.
So we set off Elementary 53, with Pammy “judging” me and Hilary came over because she wanted to see my lad in action and ended up writing. It actually ended up feeling like the best test I’d ever ridden, I even had to do it without a stick as Hilary mentioned to Pammy that I'd said Halen sucks back when riding a test, so that was promptly confiscated (more abuse people!) . It was so funny though, I’d done a downwards transition and forgot to properly prepare and it ended up sloppy and all I could hear was Pammy booming “oh you wicked girl.”
Then I did the rein back, only I’d misunderstood the aids and tipped onto my fork to do it and Pammy almost fell off her seat in horror! Once I’d had a ‘very’ thorough explanation, we did it again and aced it. Boom! I tell you what though both Pammy and Hilary loved our medium canter- I just didn’t quite have him enough for the downwards transition and he changed, the monkey! So we did It again only Pammy had me change my aids so that I had my outside leg back and I used my inside leg to pull him up so he couldn’t change. We then looked a little at my seat and I was really pleased with how I sat, it’s really improving and I managed it on Halen who is the bounciest twit going. He was so amazing- such a good boy he was really on my side today. I was so proud of him.
Day five. It was super cold on the Friday morning, but I was mega smug because I had gloves! Obviously because I had this advantage, the students sent me down to the fields to bring in some geldings, and that day was the one time Rembie decided he’d really rather not, and after a good twenty minutes of chasing the exuberant horse around we eventually caught him, and I trudged back up the track to the stables. During all this I had been letting Halen’s feed soak and Halen was very quick to tell me that just wasn’t good enough and the his breakfast should have been my only priority! He made some absolutely adorable faces though, so I let him off for being cheeky!
First up I had a lecture with Richard, looking at the structure of a horse’s foot and also how shoes can affect the hoof and how it moves, which was really interesting to me as only Halen has on shoes out of my three beauties, and even then, that’s only because it protects him from harsher surfaces like road surface that we don’t go on often enough to get used to. Mum always says if they need shoes they can have them, but if they don’t why would you.
With a bit of time to spare, I decided to sit and watch some Pammy lessons and take some notes before my first lesson of the day, and can I just say wow. A girl was in there practicing a dressage to music and she had used Anime music that was really dramatic and on the mark, she was dressed to the absolute nines and her horse was a chestnut dream- I was actually drooling. It was lovely to watch, but because I was enjoying it so much, I lost track of time!
Rushing down to the yard I tacked up Beckham and we rolled up to the school-thankfully with time to warm up. We were riding with Marie, who I’d not had before so I was excited to see what we could do. We worked on counter canter and how to hold it (as Halen is prone to a cheeky change) and leg yielding whilst guarding against head tilt, which I needed to then translate to Halen. We also worked on sitting trot (shocker, am I right??? Lol) and I felt as though I was really getting it, especially on Beckham who is so easy to sit to.
After some lunch, it was time for my Halen lesson with Pammy that I was really excited for. In the test riding the day before his head had really tilted in one leg yield and his medium trots just straight up didn’t happen, so that was on the agenda today for sure. Pammy had me completely forget the bend and just get him to move over properly, and she thieved my stick off of me so I couldn’t cheat lol! For the medium trot it was all preparation preparation preparation, and really setting him up so he can push off just right. She then got me bit flustered because my dressage language is too ott- I need to dial it down and make it simple or else I won’t be able to explain what I mean, I totally need to be able to properly explain myself if I want to do journalism! Thanks, Pammy!
Finally, after packing up my things from my room and leaving Halen’s kit outside his door ready for travelling in the morning, it was with a kiss on the nose for my beauty boy and hugs all round that I clambered into the car and headed home, thoroughly exhausted. It was the most amazing week of my life, and I feel like a different rider at the end of it and not only did I get to work on specific issues Halen and I have, we really improved as a partnership. I had so much fun, ate so much food and the experience has been made even greater by having my Halen by my side experiencing it with me. Thank you so so so much to the amazing people at Talland, who made my stay amazing, and thank you to the incredible instructors who have put up with my ditsy brain process for a week and not killing me. I truly feel like I have learned so so so much, and Halen and I are ready to go back out there with a bang!