Written by Arabella Clegg
1. How has the 2017 competition year been for you so far?
The year started brilliantly in January with the Paralympic Committee lifting the Blindfold rule for equestrian sport - so thank you to all those who supported my Beat the Blindfold campaign. Szekit and I have had a very positive and successful year so far. As always my trusted team of callers; The Scoobies, have been instrumental in enabling this to happen. We have been competing and winning at Inter 1 and Prix St George in able body competitions. I am so proud of the team and, of course Szekit. This year we won two Regional Championships at Elite level able bodied and were thrilled to take first place on the podium at the Equimasters in France. The high spot of the year so far has to be qualifying for and competing in the French national Championship able bodied at Le Mans. We now stand 14th in France at Amateur Elite level.
2. What is your favourite venue/competition of the calendar year?
My favourite competition of the year is at Equita, Lyons. It is such a lovely event as there are all different disciplines and fabulous shopping. Unfortunately I am not competing there this year as the timing was too close to the National Championships, but Szekit and I hope to compete there again next year.
3. What has been the main challenge this current year and what are your plans for the winter?
My main challenge this year has been mastering how to ride my Freestyle. This is tricky because as well as hearing the music I need to hear my team of callers. I found this the toughest part of the Nationals, as having qualified through to the third day to perform the Freestyle, then trying to find the balance between the volume of the music and the volume of my callers, something that is never easy especially in a big stadium.
4. How do you keep your horses fit and healthy to compete at this level?
Keeping Szekit fit and healthy to compete at this level requires a good training programme, diet and down time. I always try to vary Szekit’s work and keep his training sessions short and efficient. A good warm up and warm down is essential to ensure that he is balanced, loose and supple in his body both before and after the dressage gymnastics of the day. Szekit also has the luxury of having a shaitzu masseuse whose magic hands soothe any stresses or strains. He never works for more than 6 days in a week and always gets to hack out and be a horse at least once a week. I absolutely insist that he is out in his paddock for a minimum of four hours a day for some horsey down time. As an equine athlete I try to keep Szekit’s home environment as clean and dust free as possible which has been helped hugely by the use of the hay steamer. It is harder when we go away on competitions for us to control his environment however we always have the ‘Go Steamer’ with us and this means that at least I know his forage is dust free.
5. Explain a typical day on your yard and your facilities.
Horses love routine so we try to keep to a schedule. The day always begins with steaming hay which fills the yard with a lovely aroma which I think has become for the horses a little like the smell of perking coffee in the morning for us. The boys are then fed their hay half an hour before they get their hard feed. Once breakfast duties are done and all tummies are full the horses are put out into their respective paddocks to stretch their legs, roll and generally frolic about. At which time boxes and beds are cleaned ready for the evening.
I generally train Szekit in the morning as the arena is quiet and, like me, Szekit likes to get into his P.J’s early evening and works better in the mornings. Lunch is served at midday and dinner at six so the hay steamer is operational most of the day much to the delight of our yard cats who like nothing more than to sit on the lid and warm their bottoms.
Generally the horses are tucked up and put to bed by eight in the evening, all with carrots and treats for a bed time snack.
6. What are your main aims for 2018?
This winter I am going to continue with Szekit’s Grand Prix training with the hope of taking him out at Grand Prix level in 2018.
7. Highlight of 2017/ any personal bests?
One of the big highlights this year was Szekit and I being asked to represent Elegance in a commercial for a Grand Cru Chateau in Saint Emillion, France. This was such a surprise and such a lovely experience. The other highlight of the year was that over one million people on Facebook watched a little film of my riding an Inter 1 test that was taken by a member of the audience at a championship in Pompadour. I was so touched and moved by this as it meant that all the hard work and effort that my team put in was not going unnoticed.
8. Are you OCD about anything in particular, or would your groom/s say you have any quirks?
Oh yes - my groom would say that I am totally OCD about Szekit’s tail. He has a beautiful tail that I will not let anyone take a brush to and which I spend far too much time detangling with my fingers. I think that she would probably also say that I am the rug queen as whenever we travel the lorry is full to the brim with rugs for every eventuality. She sometimes comments that there might not even be enough room in the lorry for the horse himself.
9. If you were stuck on a desert island, what 3 things would you want with you?
My horse, my dog and a rug
10. Do you or your groom/s have any other use for the haygain products?
Aside from being a very useful heater in deepest, darkest winter, the Haygain machine is super useful for storing rugs in when travelling!
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Becky James BSc MSc explains how we know that horses love steamed hay!