If you’ve read my previous blogs about my incredible times at Talland School of Equitation, you will be able to imagine how excited I was to be going back- returning to not only the food, lessons and hard work but this time returning with my baby horse Ella (posh name Golden Girl). Ella had never been away from home before, and had only been out 3 times all together including lessons and her first competition. So, you could say she was a wee bit inexperienced, but really what better atmosphere to get her REAL journey as an up and coming competition horse started than Talland School of Equitation?
Arrival and Day 1
Our journey began on a Monday afternoon, after a bit of work and a LOT of patience getting Ella to load onto the box, she actually travelled like a dream. Once we arrived at Talland, she unloaded and went into her allocated stable happily with a nice net, so I tootled off to get reacquainted with old friends and make some new ones over dinner. I might have mentioned before, the food at Talland is awesome and true to form, I had some delicious sausages, and fab chocolate cake followed by some TV and bed, exhausted, and I hadn't even done anything yet!
Up early I went straight to the yard and gave Ella her breakfast, some sneaky cuddles and her (noisy) treat ball, everyone had a lovely day listening to Ella booting the ball around her stable, oops!
My first lesson of the day was on Dui, I rode him very first time I visited Talland and I wanted to steal him, I really do adore that horse! All three of my lessons that day were with Gerry Sinnott, Irish International Olympic rider. Before we started Gerry and I discussed what we would be working on. Knowing I have an important test coming up with simple changes, I asked to work on them. I was really struggling at home to get Halen to relax into the downward transition. Dui is trained to advanced medium so he really knew what he was doing, I learned to get the rhythm just right so we could just plop into walk, without it feeling tense and difficult like it can do with Halen. Then we had a look at some lateral work, where I had to leg yield Dui without letting him getting tense, and a big part of that was Gerry just getting me to relax! I had to put my outside leg back and my weight in my outside stirrup and move to the side and Dui was such a good boy he really tried hard for me. I really felt like my seat has super improved.
Next was my lesson on Ella. I shined her to perfection because I’m so proud of her and I love showing her off at her best. I decided to lunge first because she was really giving me hyper vibes but surprisingly, she didn’t actually do much on the lunge. I had to wonder if it was only the calm before the storm, Ella can be sharp, very very sharp and I’d spent months getting her calm and rideable. Would she cope with so many changes and a huge indoor school? I got on her after a bit and luckily we had the full run of the school to let her go around and just get used to the new atmosphere. She took it in her stride so I was mega pleased with her. I explained to Gerry that Ella was really sensitive and inclined to rush off, especially in canter so he had me trotting a 20m circle and then a 15m in the corner, and then as I come to face the wall ask her into canter so the she backs off and doesn’t just bomb off at 200mph. We went through this a few times and then when I went onto the left rein it was really funny because Ella apparently objected and bronc’d. Bless her it was so cute I started laughing!
We then had a look at her lateral work and the first thing Gerry said was “have you taught her to turn on the forehand?” at my blank face he told me to get off and asked me to stand on her right side, take the right rein in my right hand ask for some right bend and then put my left hand on her side where my heel might be and push her back end around whilst saying over. She caught on mega quick, and then when I got back on her she managed to do it really well!
Next we tried going onto the 3m line and leg yielding to the track, Gerry found I was asking for too much inside bend and was forcing her onto her shoulder. He had me keep the aids nice and calm and relaxed and she responded really well. I could see in the mirror that she wasn’t even trailing her quarters! I was so proud of Ella for being so brave and trying really hard, AND Gerry was impressed by Ella saying that she was quick on the uptake and a lovely girl. He laughed at me when I explained I was really pleased because it meant so much to me, I felt like I was presenting my child! Gerry joked with me about the diamonds in her browband, asking if they should be real in that case? I was teased so much about her sparkly, blingy browband but she’s so beautiful she can pull it off! Finally, to cool off and relax I took her down the drive and back as it is a lovely little walk.
I was excited for my last lesson of the day, I was riding an ex Grand Prix horse named Donald who was an absolute sweetheart. It was like riding a ball though because he’s a Spanish horse and I hadn’t ridden one before. Definitely a strange feeling after a warmblood. We had a look at collected canter which was a bit difficult because I struggled to actually get him out of walk. I was throwing everything at him to get him to move, but actually he responded quieter aids as that was how he’d been trained, and once I got that we managed it so yay! We tried tempi changes after that and yep apparently I can't count Maths isn’t a strong point). I did nail a line of gorgeous 3s in the end though so I was like yes!!!!! It was just so difficult to get the timing spot on.
I brushed off Donald and Ella and put them back in their big rugs so they were all comfy, and then I got to hang out with the students, working and then eating (cheesecake to die for!) That night was the Talland dressage competition and I was cruelly made to do maths yet again (I was going to riot) as I was put on scoring duty with another girl but we made it a bit of a social event so we all had dominos and fizzy pop and music and lots of laughs trying to get the same scores added up.
To watch the Day 1 video below, just click on the picture
Was very busy as it was time for the stage 2 exam, so horses and stables had to be SPOTLESS. I ended up waking up a tad late so was last one on the yard, oops! Ella forgave me pretty quickly once she had her scratches and some more hay. She was also verrrrrrryyyyy appreciative of her breakfast, managing to get it all up her face lol. After haying and sweeping, we grabbed some breakfast and I brushed Ella and gave her lots of love, and then I had to wash a coloured who was filthy. This is why I have shiny black horses gosh darn it. Not long after it time for my first lesson of the day on one of my favourites, Olly the ex Grand Prix horse who is massive! I loved riding him before, so I was really looking forward to getting back on him. In our lesson with Gerry we kicked it off doing shoulder in to loosen up the horse and once I got that to a T, getting the positioning and aids perfect we tried half pass where Gerry slaughtered me for letting the quarters lead. Gerry and I fixed it however, and I swiftly learned how to position Olly so the quarters behaved as they should, then we went away and began the tempi changes. Now this is where it is abundantly clear I am incapable of counting. I thought Gerry was going to come at me with a metal pipe, but I eventually got my thinking cap on and got right to the ones! That was so much fun, it was like skipping on stilts! My main problem was my accuracy, and according to Gerry my sat nav needs fecking fixing! Good job Gerry has the patience of a saint!
I gave Olly lots love and left him in a fleece to dry, and went for some lunch before my next lesson on Dui. Today it was this lovely tomato soup and ‘make your own’ sandwiches, but I ended up just taking loads and loads of bread to dip in the soup- BIG mistake! I had stitch within the first five mins of sitting on Dui.
In our next test, apart from a simple change, Halen and I have a medium trot down the centre line right at the end of the test and this worried me a bit. Dui was the perfect horse to practice it on as he made you work for it but he would give you that medium if you asked correctly. So we did some across the diagonal first, winding him up like a clock and then the second I was straight I had to just GO (I've since worked on this on Halen and let me say wow!). Once we nailed that we practiced coming around the corner in walk onto the centre line and going into trot then medium where I have a lot less time to wind him up, but I still had to ask for a lot more than I was because the horse just needs to set off which was challenging for me as I tend to accept a modest medium too often when there is so much more in the tank. We tried this real fun trick where you go down the centre line, half pass 3m to the right, then 6m to left, then 6m right then 3m left like a zig zag. Now that got tricky to judge but Pammy Hutton came over and had a chat with Gerry about how when you want the top marks you should leg yield after each half pass for like a step to get the quarters back where you want them, then do the other half pass. Finally, we got to do the changes, and I managed a line of fours, and was congratulated on what was apparently my first proper diagonal line! #Crying
Next was to be my lesson on Ella with Pammy. I really went to town on Ella, I’m talking polished shiny feet, a dousing in show shine. We were in 20 mins early and I could feel her relax underneath me as time went on. We commenced the lesson and immediately Pammy had me half halting in the trot and getting the rhythm in trot on my terms rather than waiting for her to do it on her own (which she does do beautifully but I can't count on her to just do it). Then, we worked on turns on the forehand with Ella, before using what we’d just been doing to get her to settle on her hocks, and started doing walk to canter and canter to walk! My jaw almost hit the floor! I couldn’t believe it, we'd never done those before! I was thinking okay Ella gosh darn you go girl! We had a look at her leg yielding as well and I think Pammy wanted to beat me after threatening to buy curtains if I looked at those god damn mirrors again. The trouble is you get so used to using them that you have to really concentrate not to. She said my seat has improved but I still was too hollow in the back (gosh darn it, I’d been working so hard) but she loved Ella! Said she was a great buy and that she was quick on the uptake. We took a look at half halting in the canter as well, our very first one. We finished a tad early as Ella needed to absorb everything and let it settle in. I took her for a hack around the farm along the track by the cross-country course (she was an angel obviously) but I had to hose down her legs after traipsing through the mud and she entered the wash box with no hesitation, something Halen needed convincing to do and I wondered about after the loading issues.
Finally, after getting her settled we finished up around the yard, sweeping and cleaning tack and then we got to go for tea where the Bolognese was superb and we all sat eating sweets, polishing boots and watching movies.
On day 3
I was up nice and early and raced to the yard, I even managed to be first there! Ella was very pleased to see me and I’m telling you I was having the time of my life making her breakfast with warm water, makes me feel like super horsey.
My first lesson of the day was with Gerry and I was on Dui again, and I completely NAILED the timing of a flying change across X, which is difficult on Dui as he gets soooooooooo excited. We had a look at collected trot, sitting him in the corner then asking for a lot in the long side before coming back again as I wasn't sure what feeling I was looking for on Halen. We also had a look at the simple changes, where I had to stop him from bouncing into it like Tigger and just let him drop into the walk, because before I was over collecting him.
Next I rode a horse named Woody who was trained to inter 1 and he was a real character! Whilst I was tacking him up Gerry wandered over to come check on us in the stable and as he appeared in the doorway he said "Alanna what are you doing? You're half an hour late."
I think I did my best goldfish impression to date.
It was only when Gerry started sniggering I realised he was joking and my heart started beating again. Naughty Gerry almost gave me a heart attack!
Woody was really expressive and it was a real challenge for me to sit to him, so as you can imagine we worked on my seat a whole bunch, my hips hurt after that. In the shoulder ins Gerry taught me a way to bend the poll by turning my inside hand and that changed the whole game. And he showed me how to change over my whip without drawing it like a sword and I managed a line of fours fairly quickly, having to count out loud to help me. Maths to the rescue! Spend 4 days at Talland, learn how to count!
The last lesson of the day was with Pammy again. Pammy and I focused on getting Ella to relax, and I had a quick anatomy lesson on where the horse’s spine goes as I thought it went in a different place to where it does lol (I'm sorry mum). To get her to relax I had to pat her in the middle of the neck and it worked. Literally in canter if I patted her, she relaxed to the extent that she broke, when she’s normally going at top speeds. We allowed her to break for once as she was responding to me, but we would correct it in the future once Ella was confident in what I was asking. Ella was perfect, and I made sure that my eyes never strayed to those mirrors! It got so bad and I was so focused that Pammy thought I wasn’t listening at one point, I really was!
For dinner we had curry and banoffee pie which I didn’t think I’d like because fruit in a cake is just wrong to me, but lo and behold I loved it! However, halfway through watching the movie that night I conked out completely and needed kicking awake!
My last day started off with me scooting onto the yard late, and straight away I was by Ella’s side, checking her over and fetching her fresh water and hay, though her fav bit was probably the treat bowl and her breakfast.
The first lesson of the day was on Woody again, and Gerry and I really hammered my seat, establishing it in canter first before attempting it in trot. I had to slide my leg waaaaaaaay far back and it almost felt like I was perched on the horse like a clothing peg but Gerry explained over time my seat will be able to relax and I can really sit down. It wouldn't be Talland visit without some no stirrup torture would it? So with that Gerry told me to cross my stirrups and I was forced into using muscles I wasn't even aware I had to sit to that bouncy trot, but I got better and I know it’s helping.
This was followed by a lesson on the absolute sweetheart ex Grand Prix horse, the legendary Tommy, who I did some walk pirouettes on, trying my best not to let him step out as Halen does. This was so interesting to do as I literally hadn't known what feel I was looking for in the walk pirouette. I knew how to ask for one but I wasn't sure whether what I was getting on Halen was right so this was a major lightbulb moment for me. Then we popped him into canter and fixed my seat again, and then tried it in trot as Tommy is less bouncy. We also had a cheeky look at the changes, trying my best not to let him anticipate and change before my say so, as Tommy believes he is being oh so helpful there bless him!
Ella’s lesson with Pammy was absolutely awesome! After a warm up, I went into sitting trot and after the two lessons with Gerry on my seat I actually managed it! We tried some walk to canter/ canter walk as well and OMG I didn't even need to use the wall to stop she just popped into walk! (I’m sorry for all the exclamation marks but it was that sort of lesson) In my previous lesson with Pammy, to get Ella to back off and sit on her haunches for the downwards transition I had to aim her at a wall and ask at the last minute, so Ella knew I wanted stop and I wanted it NOW. Then we looked at the leg yielding, and how I needed to ease her gently across and not ask for too much as she was liable to throw all of her toys out of the pram if I over stressed her about it all, and then we tried shoulder in once the leg yield ended and she took to it so well! Some head throwing but she managed it; I was so pleased! Pammy had us in a relaxed canter without breaking which we managed, but then Ella bless her thought we were cantering every time we sat, so we worked on Ella allowing me to put my leg on her side without it meaning go forward at top speeds haha!
It was my last night,I’d had an absolutely amazing time at Talland, with gorgeous burgers for my last dinner just making everything perfect. I was so sad to be leaving again.
The next morning, Ella and I left literally before breakfast so I didn't even get a lay in! Ella loaded like a pro to come back, I've never seen anything like it before she was a twonk but it was all business right then, I guess she was as tired as me!
When I left that morning there were hugs all round, as I have made some friends for life. I'm sad to be leaving my home away from home behind, but unbelievably happy with what I have come away with. Ella is quite literally leaving a different horse to the one I brought, and it's quite funny having Pammy and Gerry's voices floating through my head every three seconds now when I'm riding. I have so many fun exercises and bits to try out on Halen as well, the Gerry in my head coaching us through things and making me laugh and the Pammy in my head giving me a hard time but making me a better rider for it, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Talland is a place that makes you realise your dreams can come true. I've truly had an amazing time, and I have learned so much - I'm already counting down the days till I go back.