Monday, October 4, 2010

4th October After the test...

I am sitting here still so disappointed, but I’ll go back to the beginning.
Over the last couple of days pre test, Remy had been training well, on Saturday I was a bit worried that maybe we had taken a too ‘softly, softly’ approach with the build up of the work and that maybe we should have put a bit more pressure on earlier in the week and been able to back off closer to the time but on Sunday he was in top form and my worries we put away.
Sunday was also trot up day, Remy showed off at the trot up even more than he normally does with about 100 people watching so off course he passed with flying colours and I had to have my running shoes on so I could keep up with him! We also got back into the main arena on Sunday, this time it was set up like it would be for the test. Remy was very cool about working in the big stadium and took it all in his stride, one less thing to worry about. Then came draw time and I was pulled out as 6th starter, most people I know are never happy with their draw, either too early, too late, after someone too good, not good enough, during the hot part of the day, the list goes on... so needless to say I wasn’t overly thrilled with mine but these are the things you cant control and you have to get on with doing the best job you can regardless.

We were at the stables for 5.20 Monday morning so I could plait Remy before taking him out for a little leg stretch @ 6. I do this so that he is a little bit loose when I get on him for the test and get down to work a bit quicker. In the time between riding him the first time and getting out for the test I watched a video of a test I rode in training shortly before leaving and took time to really concentrate on my test and what I would be doing. During this time I felt like I could nearly get sick with nerves but as soon as I started to get changed the nerves were gone and I felt ready. I was then telling the others that they needed to keep it together!
On the 15 min hack it takes to get to the warm up ring, Patrick reminded me of the things I needed to keep in mind... stay loose, keep focused.
Warm up went really well, Remy was loose, forward and listening, our work strategy had been right. I felt cool, calm and collected warming up, a new experience for me under these conditions to be honest but something we have worked a lot on also.  Then test time... I got my last minute advice that Johann had sent through Steffi and I felt ready to show what we could do.
Well the test didn’t go as I had planned in my head, we had 3 big (expensive) mistakes (partly due to my lack of being able to count to 6) and our score suffered because of this.

 As we leave the arena I hear the score of 61.1%, to be expected really considering the big bloopers we made, still really disappointed as I felt that without these mistakes we would have done enough to be in the second round, the special, which was my goal before coming out to Kentucky. One mistake we may have been able to take but not 2 and certainly not 3.

Despite the result I’m really proud of Remy, he went in to the big stadium and didn’t get fazed by it or become spooky. When I remember what he was like when I got him as a wild 7yr old you wouldn’t have thought he would take this whole experience so much in his stride. I feel we have learnt a lot here and we will take this and work on it at home and after a short break (for both of us) we will be more confident in ourselves and ready to show the dressage world what we are really made of! Bring on next season!

Tomorrow morning Remy and I start our journeys back home, he flies back to Liege where my friend Kim is picking him up and bringing him home to Voerde and Patrick and I fly with the eventing team back to Dublin.
After nearly 3 weeks away, I am ready to go home, we have covered huge distances every day, either by foot or by bicycle and I am looking forward to getting back into my normal routine, seeing my dogs and riding the other horses again. I think Remy will also be happy to be back in his own box and making cranky faces at JP when JP tries to annoy him (which is a fairly consistent thing!).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

17th September, Remember goes to the airport!

Remy & I ready to load for the trip to the airport
Our final 10 days preparation didn’t quite go to plan as Johann had gotten a very bad case of the flu and was confined to bed for 8 days. We worked away by ourselves with Steffi watching and telling me what she saw so I could improve or change things. We also got some help from Coby (van Baalen) which was very helpful, Johann was back for the last couple of days which was great then to get his views on how I had being doing on my own and sharpened us up a bit.
The day of travel finally arrived on Thursday. I shouldn’t really say ‘finally’ as it came about much quicker than I thought! In the morning Remy came out for a nice leg stretch and some loosening work and then Patrick and I got to work checking that everything was clean, packed, labeled and detailed lists made for each of the trunks so they could go through customs. Thankfully Patrick was there to help me as I do have a habit of, as Patrick says, ‘walking in circles’!
With everything packed and Remy shining we set off for Liege airport at 6 in the evening. Stopping for a quick bite to eat on the way proved interesting when we looked in our wallets and had a combined total of 4 Euro something, oops…
Thankfully Belgian McDonald’s take credit cards!!
Reining Horse
Once we arrived at the airport Peden’s staff were extremely helpful and Remy was offloaded and in his stable in minutes. He then had his dinner and hay while we brought all ‘the stuff’ to the warehouse to be sorted and palletized ready for the morning. Going back to check that Remy was ok also gave us a chance to see some of the other horses heading on his flight. There were Endurance horses, the smallest of the horses there and are the horse equivalent of the long distance runners – lean and wiry. Then there were the Reining horses, easily identified by their long manes and cool tasseled head collars and ropes. Next up were the eventers and finally the dressage horses who towered over the rest in size and muscle.
Patrick and I then went for a bit of a snooze before being back in the stables at 3am to start getting ready for loading which started at 4. This time also gave me a chance to meet up with Marcus (our team vet) and Marian (sister to Irish eventing team member Patricia Ryan) who would be flying with the horses (Remy plus 6 Irish eventers) and fill them in on any of Remy’s quirks and requests.
Loading at the airport
Loading started promptly at 4 and the horses were loaded onto ‘flying stalls’, with either 2 or 3 to a stall (they look a bit like regular horse trailers), Remy was on stall 6 with Mark Kyle’s and Camilla Spears’ horses. Loading all went pretty smoothly with only 1 or 2 horses needing a bit of convincing that they really did want to go to America! Loading was as far as I was allowed to go so after another short snooze Patrick and I headed back to Voerde to get ready for our own flight that evening. I was very relieved when I got a message from Marcus later to say that all horses had travelled well and were settling into their quarantine boxes at Cincinnati airport, which is home for the next 42 hours before being transferred to Kentucky Horse Park.
I am now sitting on a Balcony in Nerja, Spain, looking out over the Mediterranean! We are here for Adrian and Norma’s wedding on Sunday (Adrian is a very good friend of Patrick’s). If it wasn’t WEG next week I’d be very tempted to stay here for a few more days. Early on Monday morning we start the final leg of our journey to Kentucky (via London and Chicago) and will meet up with the rest of the Irish team on Monday evening. I’ll be very glad to sit on Remy again on Tuesday!
Nerja, The calm before the storm...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September 2010, Ready or not?

Well, here we are just 3 short days to go before Remy boards the plane for his 12-hour journey to Kentucky. Are we ready? Good question.
We’ve prepared as best as I know how. We’ve trained hard. I’ve ticked all the boxes, checked and double-checked all the requirements and regulations. I’ve talked with experts about the areas I’m not 100% on, like, what’s the best way to travel horses on a plane? I’ve never gone to a competition where my horse needed to go by plane. And poor Remy’s never gone anywhere we couldn’t get to by road or boat! But with the help of my friends I’ve all the knowledge and bits & pieces to make the flight as comfy for Remy as possible. We’re certainly organised.
But as for ready, well that’s something different.

There are many components & elements to riding a good international dressage test, so many in fact that to start to discuss them all in detail now would keep me typing for far longer than my insane schedule allows (I still have 2 horses to ride and 1 more lesson to give today and it’s already nearly 5pm!).  Most of these elements I’ve been working on for over half my life now, seat, feeling etc. Started back home in Ireland and now for almost 8 years here in Germany. I know what I’m doing when I’m up there, and Remy knows his job just as well; we do it here in front of one of the biggest dressage perfectionists I’ve ever known, Patrick. And Johann Hinneman knows a thing or two as well ;) and without thinking about it we can ride all the parts of an excellent test, a test definitely worthy of qualification to the GP Special at WEG.
With Remy’s help I won my goldenes reit-abezeichen from the German FN. And at this stage we have enough wins at national shows to have three of them! But, like I said in my first blog; there’s a grand canyon between riding over 70% GP at national and international competitions.

Remy is an unbelievable horse. When we’re riding at home or at a competition it’s like he’s an extension of me. He’s so in tune with how I’m feeling and what I’m doing that it’s so important for me to remember, no matter how I feel when we’re in the ring he’s feeling it just as much. He relies on me for confidence and sureness. And when he’s feeling confident you should see him go!
But, like a carpenter who gets distracted and hits the wrong nail, if I don’t stay focused we pay the price. And that’s what it comes down to. Focus.  Well, focus, staying loose and countless other things..

We’ve been working hard since my first blog for the games. It’s important when competition time comes that I know I’ve done everything I can to prepare as thoroughly as possible. There are a handful of movements that can still be improved upon and as Remy is still only 12 we have time to reach our peak. What is important for now is that we go to WEG and do more than just doing ourselves justice. There are many people who have helped me get to where I am, and I want to make them proud. People like my parents Joe & Kathleen, Patrick my partner, Johann and other previous trainers, Lorraine Cassidy a friend and confidant, Dressage Ireland and Horse Sport Ireland. I will be wearing the Irish flag on my tails and Remy will have the green white and gold on his saddlecloth.

I’ve obviously been thinking a lot about WEG, and as I might have mentioned whether or not we are ready. Are we ready to do the best test Remy and I will ever do? No. It’s a little over 1 year since Remy did his first GP and I’ve only slightly more experience at this level than him. Our best test ever is the goal for London 2012.
Are we ready to do the best test that we can do right now? What will hopefully be our best performance at international GP? When my start time arrives on the 27th or 28th of September at the World Equestrian Games?

July 2010 Schindlhof **** Fritzens

The ring at Fritzens ( Pic 2007) Buffy and
myself prepare to enter

I’m just back from the Schindlhof – Fritzens CDI 4* in Austria. The owners of Schindlhof, Klaus & Evelyn Haim-Swarovski have once again held one of the most enjoyable, friendly and generous shows set in the most picturesque location that I’ve been to. It’s the 25th year the show has been held, and the 15th show in memoriam to Manfred Swarovski, Evelyn’s father and a great horse man who passed away in 1995.
The grounds are 900m, that’s about 3000ft, above sea level in the middle of the Tyrolean Alps. The famous ski resort city, Innsbruck, is only a 15 minute drive from the show. The grounds themselves however are 800 km’s (10 hours straight in the truck with no traffic) from my base in Voerde, which by the way is only 50m above sea level. I usually like to leave on long journeys as early as possible to try and avoid the heavy traffic around the Dusseldorf-Cologne area. If left to my own devices I probably would have been done and gone by 6am, but as Johann wasn’t coming we had a final training session the morning of departure with the two horses I brought, Remy and my younger horse J.P.
J.P wasn’t entered in anything at the show. He’s just ready to do his first Prix St. George test at national level so he came along to get some show atmosphere experience, and so I could continue to work him. And in fairness to him, he went quite well. Jazz offspring are not known for their level-headedness… it was because of this that it was so surprising that between him, Remy and myself he managed to keep it together the best over the weekend...
So off we set for the show a little after 1 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. Myself & Patrick, the 2 boys and the hound contingent of Blitzen and Pina -Pina is a little Jack Russell who actually belongs to Johann. Pretty soon after I moved to his yard I was watching TV after a long a day when I heard a short sharp bark outside. I didn’t think too much about it until I heard it again a couple of minutes later. I opened the door on the side of my apartment and in runs Pina! She’s quite old (No-one’s quite sure exactly, estimates put her at 11 or 12. Pretty old in doggy years, around 84 I think) she has a really good character and gets on very well with my long standing best friend Blitzen. So that night Pina decided that she was going to live here, and Blitzen and I decided that was ok. The show was Pina’s first trip outside of Germany, very exciting for an 80+ year old Jack Russell I’d imagine!
I do all of my own driving, and even though we could have got there in 10 hours, there are rules for truck drivers regarding driving time and rest so the journey took a bit longer because of the rest-stops and minor delays along the way. In my truck Patrick can go out the back to check the horses and offer them water and carrots etc. I say offer them water because they never drink any! They know if they hold out on the water then they’ll get lots of carrots and apples to keep them hydrated. We tried cutting up apples and putting them into the water bucket to tempt them into drinking. This only served to annoy Remy because he can’t get them out easily, and nearly drown J.P because he doesn’t give up! We arrived at the show a little before 2am which meant that we didn’t get to enjoy the scenery as we drove into the Alps. Even though it’s my 5th time to go to Fritzens the scenery still knocks me out. When I opened the curtains the next morning I got a full reminder of how amazing the place is. The weather was perfect. Blue skies, the sun beaming down and in every direction huge snow capped peaks. Fantastic! It was good to be back there.

On Thursday morning I let the boys have a lie-in after their long trip the day before. I took them out for a little exercise at 10am. The vet check wasn’t until 3pm which gave me plenty of time to show them around before things started getting exciting. They were both pretty happy, presumably because I hadn’t woke them up to early! I took Remy for a walk in hand and Patrick took J.P.

My parents arrived on Thursday evening to lend their support and whatever help they could. My father and mother, Joe & Kathleen, come to as many of my competitions as possible. They never miss this one however, for many reasons. They also really enjoy Klaus & Evelyn’s welcoming and friendly nature, and my father has forged a good but sometimes strange friendship between himself and the owner of his favourite Alpine hotel, The Speckbacher-Hof, located a little further up the mountain than the show grounds. We went for dinner with my parents in their hotel that evening. As ever when my parents are in town Blitzen insisted on coming too. Anna Merveldt joined us a little later. It was nice to see her. Since she moved to Italy the opportunity to catch up doesn’t come very often. As always at the Speckbacher-Hof dinner was excellent, and as I had no tests on Friday we were able to stay a little later than usual. We all went into the residents bar for a drink after dinner. Dad’s friend, Andy, joined us and we all had a good laugh. However, It wasn’t long after dinner that I started to feel the drain of the two long days so we decided to call it a night. We got ready to go and called Blitzen. He didn’t move an inch. Except for his head, which he cocked to one side and looked at me as if to say, are you joking?
My hotel on wheels
Of course when my parents are at a show Blitzen generally is nowhere to be seen. Well if you can see my mother you’ll catch a glimpse of him! He gets so excited when he see’s her at the airport or getting out of a car, that he actually forgets to breathe for a couple of minutes! Dad is a vegetarian, yet whenever he has a furry guest in the hotel he tends to take full advantage of the cold meat selection on offer at the breakfast buffet. No wonder I’m not the only one who gets a little depressed for a couple of days when Mum & Dad leave. So having left Blitzen nice and comfy in 4star surroundings, Patrick & I headed down the mountain for another night in the truck.

I have to say I was pretty nervous when I started to clean Remy and get him ready for the test. And as any rider will tell you, your horse picks up on how you’re feeling. This created a bit of a snowball effect and before long we were like a coiled spring. Not what we need before a Grand Prix test at a 4* international.
The test didn’t go so well. We went pretty much mistake-free, piaffe was a bit forward (something we’re working hard on) but everything else was ok. It just lacked the wow factor needed. And the tension showed in the movements so we weren’t able to draw the big points from the judges. Isabell Werth won the class with Satchmo on 73.5%. We finished mid-table and I was pretty happy that we managed to qualify for the special on Sunday.
Riding School Chandelier
Every evening at the Schidlhof tournament the owners have some entertainment arranged for the competitors and guests. Friday evening is one of my favourites! You might have recognised the name of the owners and hosts of the tournament, Swarovski? On Friday evenings they open their wonderful showrooms and factory outlet shop at the Swarovski factory in the town and we all get to enjoy the fascinating tour, and at the end, take advantage of a very nice discount in the biggest Swarovski-crystal shop you’ve ever seen! Having shopped myself into a happy state we went for dinner in a very nice little Italian restaurant in the centre of the town.

Saturday: The Grand Prix for competitors who wanted to ride in the freestyle to music was scheduled for Saturday. I had no tests so we had a fairly relaxed day. I worked the 2 boys as usual. Remy was much better than the day before and I thought over the test from Friday and what might have been. J.P went very well again. I worked him in the outdoor riding arena where he got to see lot’s new things and wavy flags etc. I had really expected him to be a bit more worked up by all the excitement and activity at a busy international show but he was really well behaved. After lunch I watched some of the riders in the class. Victoria Max-Theurer(AUT), Ulla Salzgeber(GER), Valentina Truppa(ITA) and America’s own Catherine Haddad amongst others rode in a hotly contested class which Ulla Salzgeber won on 70.5%.

View from Blitzen's hotel room
Later that evening Patrick and I had well needed showers and put on our glad-rags for 8pm. We met with my parents and around 250 other guests outside the riding hall for a drinks reception and the start of the evening’s entertainment. A concert with the excellent Soprano singer, Eva Lind, was held in the hall that had only a few short hours earlier been the warm up arena for the tests! It was unrecognisable as the same place. The hard working crew at the show had covered a large area of the ground with temporary wood flooring and chairs and had set up the necessary extras required to put on a concert involving an orchestra! In this setting the enormous crystal chandelier, hanging from the ceiling was perfectly at home! After the concert we moved to the catering marquee. Everyone was seated at perfectly prepared tables scattered with tiny multi-coloured crystals and an army of excellent waiters served us a very tasty but definitely bad for my diet 4 course meal. We got the chance to dance away some of the calories before the evening ended and we headed back to the truck to get some rest shortly after 1am.

Sunday: The special started a lot better. I even got a 9 from one of the judges for my entry! It continued quite well for a while, he stayed up and with me and listening, until we came to our first piaffe.. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but as we started to ride the movement we got about 2 or 3 really good steps when all of a sudden he threw his head in the air and began to resist the aid. It took a moment to get this under control and from then on he got very tense and our marks suffered as a result. Our test that was on 70% (Patrick & my father informed me later. He could see the scores on a live board) was murdered down to the low 60’s. I was extremely disappointed. After we performed our duty in the prize-giving, where Beatriz Ferrer-Salat was named the worthy winner of the class after a score of 74%, we packed the truck and left. It was along drive back with lots of time for reflection on the events of the weekend.

Leaving Schindlhof
When you get down to it, Remy and I are still trying to navigate the Grand Canyon size valley between riding Grand Prix at national and at international competition. There are a few things we still have to work through and with only 78 days to go before Remy is due to leave for Kentucky horse park, I wouldn’t be honest if I said I wasn’t feeling the pressure. Two of the other Irish riders qualified for WEG have unfortunately had to withdraw. Yvette Truesdale’s horse, Has To Be Fun, has been out action for a while now, and there’s not enough time for her to get him back to full fitness. Anna Merveldt has withdrawn due to personal commitments. This is obviously a huge disappointment as it was my first opportunity to ride for a senior Irish team at a world championship and it would have been a fantastic experience. I’m sure it’s an even bigger disappointment for Yvette and Anna though and my heart goes out to them.
So now, unless Angela Crane can get her 2nd qualifying score, and I wish her the best of luck, it looks like it might just be me flying the Irish flag in dressage at the biggest equestrian event of my life. If I want to go to Kentucky and really show what Remy and I can do –and I really, really want that- we have to work harder than ever!
I believe that we have to try to get to as many international shows as we can between now and the world games as possible. For want of a better phrase, ‘international match fitness’ is what we’re lacking. We’ve only done five international Grand Prix’s so far and a few more would definitely help us prepare for what will be required in Kentucky.
I’ll keep you updated on how we’re progressing.

June 2010 The story so far...

Judy Reynolds & 'Remember'
Hi. My name is Judy Reynolds. I’m a long time reader first time blogger so apologies if this isn’t put together very well.. Where to start? I suppose some details about me and my journey so far is as good a place as any. I’m 28, from Kildare, Ireland and I’m a professional dressage rider. I live in Germany with my partner Patrick, my dog Blitzen and three of my horses Remember, Vancouver and Bodessa who are all at different stages in their training.

Patrick and I have been together for over 8 years. I met him first when I was working part time at my fathers transport company. He left his job in Ireland and moved to Germany with me 3 years ago. Before Patrick joined me here it was myself with only my faithful hound Blitzen for company after the long days at the stables. His steadfast loyalty and honest advice are a big reason I’ve been able to dedicate myself to my training in Germany. I consider him a major factor behind my success, and Patrick isn’t bad either ;)
We live in a small town called Voerde, which is about 60 km’s north of Dusseldorf. I’m based at Johann Hinnemann’s stables with my horses for training and competition. I’ve lived in Germany for almost 7 years now, I spent the first few years in Bavaria where I trained with experienced Irish rider Anna Merveldt and then with Ulla Salzgeber. Around 2 years ago I moved to my current location to work on bringing my #1 horse, Remember (or “Remy” to his friends) from ‘Small Tour’ to ‘Big Tour’.
Remy is a really talented 12-year-old KWPN gelding. I bought him 6 years ago from a small producer in Holland. As a 7 year old he hadn’t done very much, he was competing at elementary level (German level L). He’s not the biggest horse -only 166cm, but I’m not the biggest girl, only 158cm (on a good day!) so the picture works. What Remy lacks in size he makes up for in presence. He has fantastic paces, in particular his canter. We had our most successful year so far in 2008. We had many wins at German national shows at Prix st George and Intermediare I level, beating some of the big name German riders in the process; we also won at the CDI Lipica, Slovenia. The successes of 2008 were culminated with me being named Irish dressage rider of the year by the main Irish equestrian publication, The Irish Field.
Myself & Patrick at the Hoover dam this year
2009 was a quieter year on the competition front as we concentrated on making the step up to Grand Prix level. At our first time out at Intermediare II level last year we won the class with over 66%, this may have gone to my head a little at the time though because shortly after I entered for two international CDI’s at Vierzon in France and Hickstead in the UK. Neither show went particularly well but there were definitely some positive points. We picked up a WEG qualifying score at Hickstead and I learned something valuable about ensuring you and your horse are secure in the work before you take it in front of international judges. Anyway, lesson learned.
After Hickstead I went back to working hard on securing the new movements, which Remy had to learn to make the step up to Grand Prix (piaffe, passage and one tempi changes). Later in the year we competed at a couple of national shows to check what we were doing at home could be transferred to the competition arena and picked up another win and a few placings along the way. 
2010 started with a bang and we won scoring over 70% at national shows here in Germany. At Easter we got our 2nd qualifying score for WEG at the CDI*** in Stadl Paura, Austria.
More recently we travelled down to Munich CDI***** where the best in the world were competing including Edward Gal, Adelinde Cornelissen, Isabell Werth and Ulla Salzgeber. It’s inspirational to watch these riders work their horses and ride among them.
From L to R: Judy's trainer Johann Hinnemann, Judy on Remember and the Vice President of the Rheinland Federation, Herr Heiner Nachbarschulte
I had my first Grand Prix win 2 weeks ago at a national show not too far away from home and I was also presented with the Deutsche Goldenes Reitabzeichen (German Golden Riders Badge) which you get for having 10 wins at ‘S’ level (Prix St George and above). This was a great honour for me and I am only the second Irish dressage rider ever to have earned it. It was so nice at the show in Krefeld as the Kuehnen family really made the presentation ceremony very special for me, and the spectators -though possibly seeing me for only the first or second time- gave me a brilliant reception, cheering and clapping during the lap of honour. I didn’t stop smiling for days!
In between all my travelling around to shows with Remy I get the other horses out competing as often as possible and also go home to Ireland every 4-6 weeks to teach the growing number of students I have there.
Next up on the calendar are some more national shows in Germany and at the end of June the Fritzens CDI**** in Austria, this competition is run by the Swarovski family and is one of the most beautiful shows of the year. Set into the Austrian Alps and the hospitality is second to none.