Preparing for 2016 with para-rider Mari Durward-Akhurst

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 12.38.21

At the end of last year there was a tense moment when I thought that one extra point I needed had eluded me.

We went to a competition which ended in disaster. I was not feeling brilliant as I had an ear infection. Sky and I warmed up and he felt amazing. We went into the arena it was all going so well until he saw ‘Goat Corner’. Goats were being fed by shaking massive white plastic bags! That was the end of that test. The 2nd test didn’t go to plan either: enter at A, stop. There was a women and a cat which was walking along the fence and it was chicken feeding time. This was all too much for Sky, bless him. I don’t think he likes farm animals.

I did have some nice and positive comments from the judge and they appreciated everything I had tried to do. But sadly we were still on the trail for one exclusive point.

So off we went to Vale View. I was still feeling awful but was now on antibiotics so beginning to feel a bit better.

Sky seemed much calmer than the week before and felt fantastic. We did our first test and I was really pleased with it – he had really listened and stayed with me the whole way through.

We then had a ten minute gap before I needed to warm up for the second test. But as it’s so difficult getting on and off I decided to stay on board and kept Sky walking. The skies opened and we got soaking wet. But as we warmed up, Sky felt even more fantastic – I couldn’t get the smile off my face!

Sadly the venue was running late and I began to get tired. But before long it was time to go in and it was another good test. We were both ready for bed by the end of it but had we achieved that one elusive point?

I was thrilled to see my marks – 68% and just over 69%  – two of my best scores and two red rosettes. We had easily got that one point, so we headed home very happy.

Exciting news!  Sky and I have qualified for the Para Dressage Winter Championships 2016.

So in December, I concentrated on training. This is very important to make sure that we can really work on perfecting the test movements at home.

With Sky we have been working on trying to get him more supple and shorten up his frame and make sure he’s really working through from behind. We have been doing two different exercises which have been complex for us both but have helped so much. The first is to ask for shoulder in and then quarters in and to keep swapping between the two in walk, trot and canter – making sure that the trot stays nice and slow and that I am in control the whole time! Sky sometimes has a tendency to take over!

The next exercise is to work on our counter canter. First of all cantering on the right rein or left rein and then changing the rein, then being in counter canter going large and asking for inside and outside bend and then trying some shoulder in. Then going back onto the right rein and being back on the correct lead. Keep swapping between the two and once I could do that I tried some 20m circles in counter canter. After doing this a couple of times, we started introducing counter canter into a simple change and then back into counter canter. So on the right rein taking off on the left lead.

I find this extremely challenging but it’s good for both me and Sky. We then just kept changing it around to keep us both on our toes.

I have been teaching Sky new aids as well, so I am using my whips for most things as my legs are not strong enough and don’t always work. He’s getting the hang of things and now I have an aid to get medium trot, which when we get it is amazing. This had always been one of our weaknesses.

I am absolutely loving riding Sky at the moment and so excited about this year. He has come on so much and is really helping me out.

I’ve been working on Bear too – I have gone back to the basics with him as it has been a while since I have ridden him. He is so different to Sky – for a start he’s much bigger! He stands around 18 hands and is still growing – good job I’m tall!

With Bear I have been doing a lot of walk, halt transitions. I have also been getting him to move over one way and then the other way just using my whips. He is such a clever boy that he mastered this in one go.

We continue to receive Sorbeo Horse Bedding and Sky is loving it. It’s so easy to muck out – it doesn’t take long at all. Sky always has a very clean bed, which he thinks is fantastic. He loves sleeping on Sorbeo to.

It was fantastic to meet Fiona at Your Horse Live back in November. The stand looked fantastic and I had a great chat and even got videoed and put on Facebook. I spoke to some potential clients and told them how great the bedding was. I have a badge which I have put onto my jacket and am looking forward to wearing at my next competition!

Once again a massive thank you to Sorbeo Horse Bedding for all their support and their fantastic bedding which the boys wouldn’t be without!