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Tuesday 4th May - Wednesday 5th May, 2021 #SSCup

Natalie Ireland: Winter prepping

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We’ve had a pretty quiet winter this year, between working an hour from home and the horses, it’s been a bit of a juggling act. Oscar had a holiday from mid-September until the beginning of December, as he wasn’t feeling quite right at the end of the season. He doesn’t get fit as easily as he used to now, so I think he was starting to feel a little tired, which meant I decided he should have a long break. We took his shoes off and he turned into a woolly bear; he certainly didn’t look like eventing was his thing.

In December, I got his shoes back on and we started walk work, with hacks on weekends and school work during the week. He loves hacking so I try to do as much of my schooling and fitness as possible out hacking, but unfortunately that’s not as often as we’d like with the short nights. Over a few weeks, I’ve built up Oscar’s fitness, constantly monitoring his improvements with the help of my equine heart rate monitor and the KER Clock It Sport app that I was involved in the development of whilst in America. This app is really useful, as you can assess the improvement in heart rate during the same piece of work at different time points, and I can also have the HR reading on my watch whilst I ride so I can check how hard he is working. I find it a very useful piece of kit, especially for when I start canter work, as I want to be careful to just push him enough. [Find more tips on horse fitness here]

We have been doing some schooling at home, especially working on the engagement and suppleness, as he is not quite as strong in these areas as he once was. I am very lucky that we used to compete at medium dressage, so Oscar absolutely knows what is required of him when he gets into a dressage arena, meaning I don’t have to school too often. Like I say, as he is older now, I find that I spend more time managing his workload to keep him fit and healthy, as opposed to teaching him new tricks.

As we get nearer to the event, I am going to start doing more canter and jumping work. We were out at the British Riding Club Winter Show Jumping Area qualifier at the weekend, and competed as part of the novice team. It’s fair to say show jumping is our weakest phase, and very much the bit we just want to get through. However, Oscar still gets extremely excited about it all and was his usual exuberant self at the weekend. We had a clear in the first round, but an unfortunate pole in the second; I think we will have to work on breaks over the coming months! Despite this, we had a fantastic day and our team placed third out of thirteen teams. From now, we will go out jumping and cross country schooling a few times, in preparation for our pre-Mitsubishi Motors Cup event, which I think is going to be Northallerton (1) at the end of April.