Plans on hold

As of last night (16 March) British Eventing (BE) fixtures are cancelled until further notice. The importance of public health measures is paramount and other things need to take a back seat for now – the board of BE have undoubtedly done the right thing.

For the people whose business this is, either as riders, organisers, staff, or running trade stands it’s going to be a very hard year; for the spectators and the BE volunteers it’s going to be frustrating to say the least.

For me and the lovely Max it means a delay to his return to/ my debut on the Eventing field, which is extremely disappointing and frustrating, and the uncertainty around the current situation is making it hard to see just what will be possible this year – even travelling to training venues may not be possible.

We’ll stay working and doing what training we can and keep you updated with our plans as they evolve, but it’s possible I might need to delay my birthday until after the 2021 season: 80by41 just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Things are looking up

We’re coming to the end of a slow period for Max and me, and looking forward to better weather for us both, turnout for him, and lighter evenings to allow us to train more consistently.

I’m starting to make plans for our first outings over XC fences, prior to our planned affiliated competition(s) in the Summer; there’s a lot to learn, tons of training to be fitted in, and some extra financial juggling to do but I’m feeling really encouraged by the people around me: the yard staff and other liveries, friends who want to come and watch, competitors at last weekend’s BE80 at Poplar Park, and my coaches, who are all inspiring and supportive.

The Eventing world is full of superb elite athletes, and those who are ‘naturals’ or have being riding and competing for years, as well as the newbies and nervous, and there is so much positivity and encouragement out there that it makes the slow and frustrating times bearable.

In the last 9 years from first seeing riders go around Gatcombe and meeting Eventing legends I’ve loved the sport and hoped to join in, but it seemed so remote; not once has anyone said ‘this isn’t for you’ and I’m grateful for the encouragement when it’s a daunting world to join (even at the shallow end). These are dreams I thought I’d never realise and we’re not there yet, but I’m feeling hugely positive about the possibilities in front of us. Here’s to the challenge! #80by40

Never waste a crisis

In my case, my horse Max was out of action with a tweaked muscle, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go Cross Country schooling when I knew I would be on another horse anyway. After a few weeks of rest for Max and planning for me, we were back on board. I’d been able to take advantage of the enforced rest period by playing a concert back in Blackburn to earn something to offset the cost of my fun-but-expensive hobby, and we were back on board gearing up for half term.

Trying to fit my riding around my job is a challenge (mainly due to odd hours involved), so half term was a perfect opportunity to book in some clinics for detailed work, particularly looking at jumping and polework. Max and I went to two sessions, one local and another up in Suffolk and gained a great deal out of both. There are lots of things to work on, but Max loves his work and enjoys jumping, so issues can usually be overcome quite quickly. At our second SJ clinic we had a bit of a disagreement about the first fence of a related distance – when we finally cleared it we did achieve the required six strides to the second fence, as shown by the very straight trail of horse poo from one to another! One really important thing that I took from that lesson was to be more confident in myself and what I’m doing: something that I’m not always good at (like the bravery mentioned in my previous blog), but the encouragement of those who’ve coached me so far is so very valuable and certainly helps to instil some confidence!

Just before the second SJ clinic, we were in a flatwork clinic with Sharon Hunt, who gave us some really useful tips about my position in the saddle and we had a really enjoyable session working on it. Luckily in the current situation of Max being in light work we can work on this, as jumping is out of the question for the next month. Instead of as much schooling sessions as I’d hope we’d be doing, we’ll be using the time for more planning and improving my core strength and hope to be out and about again at the beginning of April – meanwhile the Eventing season has begun, so I’ll be off to cheer on the competitors at Poplar Park Horse Trials on Saturday and pick up a few tips for our own #80by40 challenge!

Up and over

As you may know, unless you’re reading my blog for the very first time, my name is James and my day job is as musician, leading the music at Chelmsford Cathedral. I’ve been a fan of the Equestrian discipline of Eventing for just over 10 years and from my first experience of watching the Cross Country (XC) phase I’ve wanted to do it.

I’m not by nature a particularly brave person, so it came as something of a surprise to find myself drawn to something that requires a good deal of nerve, and even talking to other riders in lessons lots didn’t particularly like the idea of jumping showjumps, let alone fences. My jumping experiences have been mixed: I’m not a natural, I think it’s fair to say, but I’ve worked hard to improve and it’s quite a thrill to get off the ground; there’s a very satisfying feeling to work your way around a course of jumps. It’s quite a long way from playing the organ or conducting a choir, and there aren’t many transferable skills, but I love the contrast and it’s give me a unique angle (hence the name of the blog).

In order to prepare to compete at a One Day Event I need to get over some XC fences, and thanks to an inspired birthday present from my parents (a year before the target of my #80by40 challenge to compete at British Eventing’s 80cm level by the time I reach 40) I headed to Poplar Park in Suffolk for training. It’s a fantastic venue with conditions that allow for riding through most of the year, and we had bright blue big Suffolk skies for the day of the lesson. After a warmup showjump instructor JonJo and headed out to the XC course. Time to get brave!

A no-nonsense style from JonJo got us up over our first fences and the school horse they’d given me showed the way to go! We were up steps next, and then down (probably the kind of fence I’d had most questions about when watching riders go XC) and over a log into the woods. It’s fair to say that it’s a thrilling to ride as it is to watch and despite the drastic difference in scale (!) I thought of Pippa Funnell’s advice after her winning Burghley XC round: “Be brave, be positive, and be very attacking.” It started to fall into place, and although that was very much the start, it was confirmation for me that I love it as much as I hoped I would, and (who knows where I got them from) I do have some brave pants in the drawer after all!

Making the best of it

Firstly, apologies for being so quiet on the blogging front; the month after Christmas is usually a quiet time and I’d hoped to be writing more, but there was quite a lot to do and I didn’t find the time.

The last two months have been up and down; the weather has been atrocious and Max has had a couple of health issues: firstly a muscle tweak which put him out of action for three weeks in January and now we’re looking at a further three weeks of light work following scoping and treatment for gastric ulcers. It must have been quite unpleasant for him, but he’s certainly responding to the treatment and a stable full of hay must be a bonus! In the meantime I’m making plans and riding other horses so that we can pick up where we left off soon. See the next blog (out today!) to find out what we were up to at half term (clue: it involves jumps).

It

Getting back to it

Work has rather overtaken me from a blogging angle: it’s a new thing and I’ve not quite got into my stride. There will be more blogs on a regular basis from now, and the post-Christmas effects are all settling down into a more manageable pattern. Since Christmas I’ve had some great sessions with Max, including two brilliant jumping lessons, but he’s been on box rest for the past week and he and I are both a bit bored by it. I’ve made good use of the unexpected time and our diary is looking a little more planned. Fortunately it seems that it was only a mild injury (a pulled muscle) and here’s hoping that he trots up sound tomorrow and can be eased back into work. The Eventing season is over the horizon, and with it training events that we need to get to. Everything is crossed!

Half a year with Max

It’s been a busy month with work, and difficult to fit in much decent exercise with Max, and on top of that, turnout has been restricted by the awful weather. Despite that, we had a brilliant jumping lesson yesterday: Max jumped well – he knows his job and loves it – I began to improve my position over the jumps (already improving but there’s always more one can do!), and he didn’t worry about brightly-coloured fillers or even 5-foot Bertie Bassetts! Learning more about Max’s character will hopefully give me an insight into how our partnership can develop most quickly, although I know that it will still take at least a year for us to get to know one another properly. We’re on the point of having a plan for the season to work to, but in the meantime we’re signing on for as much as we can do and look forward an every busier six months ahead!

An organist goes eventing

My day job is a good one and creative: I’m Organist and Master of the Choristers at Chelmsford’s Anglican Cathedral, meaning that I have overall responsibility for the music at services and concerts, and I direct the Cathedral Choir, a group of boys and adults that sing five times a week in central Chelmsford. This is quite an indoors job and getting out with the horses is a great feeling whether it’s on my day off or after work. Time spent out riding or cleaning tack is good thinking time and the hours in the open air give me lots of perspective on the things I’m dealing with at work. I’m so glad that my work colleagues and members of The Chelmsford Singers, my other choir, are all supportive of my equestrian project; I’m going to need plenty of supporters on the sidelines!

Some people have worried about the possibility of injuries- I rather think that’s life and I’m confident that it’s all going to be fine. Do come and watch me ride as and when we’re out competing, or hear one of the choirs in action some time!

The Eventing Organist

Hello and thank you for reading this. My name is James, and I’m a professonal musician, specialising in the organ, piano, and choral conducting. I’m also a keen equestrian, having been properly introduced to horses just over ten years ago. Quite soon after I was also introduced to Eventing (the multi-discipline sport of dressage, cross country, and show jumping all in one) and I was hooked from that first encounter at the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe. Since then I’ve wanted to go Eventing and it’s remained something of a dream until recently. After a few tough years I came to realise that the best way to improve things was to concentrate seriously on my riding, and in time pursue my Eventing dream. Heading towards my 40th birthday (in November 2020) I wanted to find an achievable but stretching goal, and this is it: to go Eventing at BE80 (entry level for affiliated Events) before my 40th birthday – just after the end of the 2020 season.

Just over four months ago, I bought Max, a 16.1 Irish Sport Horse who has formerly evented, and we’re starting to build a partnership with regular lessons and schooling as often as I can fit it in around my work at Chelmsford Cathedral.

We’re now 12 months away from my 40th, and this is my blog where I plan to chart the progress that Max and I make towards our Eventing goals. Please join us and follow the journey #80by40 #EventingOrganist