I recently experienced one of the most memorable moments in my life. It was an almost indescribable mixture of sheer joy, thankfulness, relief, and surprise when my horse and I finally marked a 70 in a reining run. I’d be a wealthy woman indeed if I could bottle that feeling; one lightning rod capturing five years of training in a series of reining runs gradually building to that single achievement. And no, I’m not talking about doing this on a Futurity horse or an expensively bred reiner but on a 17 year old family pet that came into reining training as an 11 year old. And here’s where is all started.
It was all a bit of a long shot as Ché was an 11 year old, and I wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth, but never say never!
I’ve been captivated by horses ever since seeing one as an infant. This is my very first conscious memory and I’ve been lucky enough to have long and loving relationships with two grey ponies, one of which is American Quarter Horse, Snippers Soul Rebel (aka Ché). I bought him as a five year old in October 2000 almost by chance as I was actually about to give up riding because of early-onset arthritis. But it was love at first sight and the rest is almost history. He was a huge challenge to ride for the first two years, being very forward going and quick thinking. But I persevered as his previous owners had made me promise to learn western, and to compete him.
It took me ages to pluck up the courage to enter our first Western Equestrian Society (WES) show at Hideaway Farm in 2002. I nearly die of embarrassment when I think of it now as I had no western attire and had been very misdirected in how to ride him, but we got placed (in western pleasure if you can believe it). We then started attending WES clinics with Bob Mayhew and getting our act together. A couple of years later we got placed first in Horsemanship by judge Adam Heaton at the WES Hartpury Show, where it wasn’t unusual for us to do four or five classes a day. I was over the moon and Ché went on to do well as a WES all around horse, enjoying success in western riding, pleasure, reining and trail.
As Ché improved so did I, and weirdly my arthritis became more bearable the more I rode and got fit. The knee operation I was supposed to have never happened and as I became stronger so did the relationship between us. In 2006 I decided to concentrate on reining as it was so exciting to watch. We commenced on a fairly ill defined programme of training which mainly consisted of attending clinics with various trainers, each one adding a distinct piece to our jigsaw puzzle of knowledge. It was all a bit of a long shot as Ché was an 11 year old, and I wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth, but never say never! Along the way we met some fantastic people, many of whom have shared with me the highs and lows of getting to grips with an incredibly complex discipline including the usual stuff such as time after time forgetting the pattern, being so nervous you can’t think straight, or the frustration of getting a particular manoeuvre right and then another going belly up.
It’s no secret that Ché lacks fashionable reining genes but he has inherited two vital ingredients, a great mind and a fast athletic constitution. Together, we’ve proved that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks and at the same time have an amazing amount of fun. Ché’s particular claim to fame is his speed control and the correctness of his circle work. In the show pen or just out on a hack, he’s always a hair trigger away from laying down some awesome speed – and it’s not just because of my ‘hot bottom.’ His great, great, great grandsire was the legendary grey Native Dancer, who featured on the front of Time Magazine in May 1954, and was arguably one of the greatest US racehorses of all time.
Remember, success isn’t always measured by where you end up, but by the distance travelled from where you started out. Ché has helped me achieve the almost impossible and we are now enjoying hacking out in the New Forest. However we may still have a go at some ‘prime time’ classes in future as he’s a horse who loves to show in front of a crowd of whistling, stamping, shouting supporters. The louder the better as far as he’s concerned, and who am I to argue with that!
Some Thank You’s
Two things in particular kept me going on my really difficult journey to a 70 score. First, the sheer fun and delight of riding a horse like Ché. He’s intelligent, forgiving, forward going, sometimes very cheeky, but most of all just loves working. And secondly, all the great supporters and trainers I’ve met on the way to whom I owe enormous thanks.
So, thank you to Bob Mayhew, for getting us started in all the western disciplines (and WES Area 13 run by Anne Batley). David Gray, for sorting out our lead changes when we were completely stuck. David Deptford, both for breeding Ché in the first place and starting our sliding stops. Shane Borland, for getting us running our large fast circles, really fast so that Ché can plus this difficult manoeuvre with confidence and consistency. Jane Muir, for recognising our ambition and creating the Garden of England Winter Series Clinics and Shows that took us to another level. Francesca Sternberg, for getting us looking better in the show pen. European clinicians Jan Boogaerts and Alain Kronshagen for their overall support at the Winter Clinics, for finessing us and sharing a judge’s perspective. Erwin van Looy and Nikki Peters for their tremendous support and encouragement.
And finally, the most important person for us both, Doug Allen for helping us bring it all together, for having patience and for being an inspiration. Even if I faltered in my self belief, Doug never once lost faith in us getting our 70 score. Ché now thinks the Sterling Quarter Horses barn in Bodiam is his second home and always loves the huge amount of attention he gets from the staff.
Kiki’s Success Tips
In case you’re wondering what has worked for me, here are some tips that may work for you:
- Build a relationship with your horse - this can take time. Some people can ‘click’ with a horse really fast, but however you do it, making a genuine and positive connection comes in handy when you want the horse to give you 110%.
- Take responsibility for your own learning – take notes after each clinic or lesson, focus on what works, have a flexible approach to your training needs and don’t be scared to train with a variety of trainers. Each one will challenge you in different ways.
- Focus on your self-belief - have a goal no matter how small, build your confidence but above all, find a trainer who really believes in you and will give you quiet, sensible support at shows.
- Train your brain - I work full-time, don’t live where I keep Ché, and the arena we borrow is someplace else entirely. Training can be difficult but I can access my notes and play reining runs in my mind whenever I choose. The brain can hardly differentiate between reality and vividly imagined states so use your imagination to practise your manoeuvres.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself - I sometimes see folks beating up on themselves (or worse, their trainer) when then come out of a run. Instead try keep a sense of proportion and focus on what went well first, and then focus on what you can immediately improve on. Recognise that mistakes are mostly rider error and sometimes caused by lapses in concentration, so make sure you stay focused and hydrated.
- Find your inner core - I make a point of not being phased by who else I’m competing against but instead I compete against myself, i.e. ‘Can I do better this time? Can I correct my errors from the last run?’ I rarely know who I’m competing against and I never watch others before my run. I run the pattern through in my mind in slow motion, preparing to correct any manoeuvres if we mess up.
- Find your mojo - you and your horse may excel in a particular manoeuvre, use it wisely and it can get you out of a whole lot of problems if things go pear shaped.
- Put stuff into the ‘Phucket Bucket’ - if things go wrong in the show pen, it’s already history so learn to move on instantly. Focus instead on the opportunities you still have left to shine in front of the judges.
- Give thanks - never take your horse or the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful sport for granted.