Now that I think about it, I can’t remember when I first attended Your Horse Live. Thanks to a combination of memory and my iPhone’s photo gallery, I’ve figured out that 2014 was at least my fourth visit, if not my fifth. Having missed 2013 due to other commitments – and, if I’m honest, reluctance to believe that 2012 could be topped – I made it back for the 2014 show.
What I love about the show is the variety on offer: there are professional demonstrations from elite mainstream athletes, which is impressive enough, but there’s also normally one “novelty” entertainment act (we’ve previously seen the Knights of Middle England and Rockin Horse, as well as pairs dressage to music alongside the top “celebrity” demonstrators). In addition, there are trainers who work at a more grassroots level, or choose to take an independent approach – the show reflects the growth and change of our industry, by giving a forum for those whose interest is rider fitness, biomechanics or psychology, plus time in the agenda given to natural horsemanship and showing.
Thanks to this show, I’ve had my eyes opened to all kinds of elements of equestrianism, been completely humbled by my own experience and lack of ability, met some superstars, and seen some cutting-edge innovation. Previous pictorial highlights include being wrestled into an inflated air vest in order to see what it feels like (result: it’s near the top of my “to purchase” list once I get around to getting a horse of my own), and meeting one of the women I loved watching so much as a child – Mary King. Not pictured: demo by Pippa and William Funnell (she rode, he got bossed around and told that poles were “on the wonk”); demo by Geoff Billington and Ollie Townend (though I do have some videos of this, including a horse swap!); demo by Ben Maher (the only pictures I have are blurry); demo by Carl Hester (“I come from Sark, in the Channel Islands, which is six hundred alcoholics clinging to a rock”).
But that’s all a million years ago. This year, I was fortunate enough to win tickets to the show, courtesy of Equestrian Index (thank goodness for online competition entry: I was in Hawaii whilst the competition was running, it was nice news to come home to!). With my horsey perspective having changed since my previous visit to Your Horse Live, as well as taking my first tentative steps from hobbyist to professional, I would this time attend with a different approach. Rather than stick to the main arena and shop as much as possible, I was on more of a learning mission.
My friend and I decided to arrive early and attend the first two big demos, hoping to beat the crowds. It was the right idea for Paul Tapner’s 10am demo – I felt a little bit sorry for him that people were either still in bed or mucking out, because it was fairly empty, but we enjoyed his thoughts on training to jump. Paul focused on the idea or accuracy (something which would unsurprisingly be revisited by other demonstrators!) and mastering simple exercises before taking a step up. As well as being informative, the session was engaging – partly because he had the crowd counting strides taken by two horses between poles!
We chose to watch Carl Hester’s demonstration immediately afterwards, again assuming that the afternoon demonstration was likely to be busier. Sure enough, during the hour we’d been sat down, many more people had arrived, and the arena was packed for Carl’s demo (home crowd effect? Or popularity?). I was unsurprised to see Carl in jeans rather than breeches – when we saw his demo in 2012, he explained that he no longer rides at these sort of events, as he prefers to commentate or teach, having done his time of “riding around breathing heavily into a microphone” – it’s actually great to see a big name happy to show off their horses being ridden by others, clear demonstration that Carl is comfortable in his own abilities and doesn’t feel the need to do it all himself. He chose to bring two six year old horses – one of the typical dressage Warmblood variety, and the other a coloured cob. The demonstration was a lesson in what’s achievable with different horse types, with Carl also stressing the need for accuracy and playing to your strengths – he drew a comparison with Uthopia, his horse from London 2012, whose walk he describes as being awful, which meant that the remainder of his test had to be brilliant in order to compensate. Carl’s entertaining nature made the demo easy and fun to watch, and our shopping trip finally began.
I mostly failed at shopping, partly because I have no money to spend and no horse to spend it on, but we enjoyed our tour around the rescue horse village, plus the huge variety of stands on offer. BETA had some particularly interesting information on safety equipment – I wasn’t aware that there are now standards for hi-vis rider wear, as well as the existing standards for helmets and body protectors. The stand also had some examples of helmets which had been through traumas, to demonstrate how it can be impossible to determine the level of damage a helmet has undergone based on the exterior of it.
I was also impressed with Rolltack, who have received a lot of attention on social media lately. It’s a great piece of kit for transporting your tack around in, is beautifully-designed and doubles as a very sturdy mounting block. It’s currently suited to GP and dressage saddles, with a Western-appropriate model in development, something that I feel will help the product in the US, as well as the fact that I see more and more riders in the UK using Western saddles.
A surprising discovery was Horses Helping People – I hadn’t heard of them previously, but stopped and spoke to one of their volunteers, speaking mainly about their professional courses. It struck me as unusual that a centre would offer to support potential competitors by sharing information, but I also found it an incredibly generous and supportive attitude. As a result, it’s something I’m hoping to add to my calendar for 2015. It’s certainly worth thinking about.
The remainder of the day was spent taking in two other demos in the smaller arena: one on dressage to music and another on horsemanship. I’ve interacted with both Alison and Jason via Twitter, so it was great to see them in action. Alison’s freestyle beginning on her horse was brilliant, and it was fun to watch a selection of horses work to a variety of pieces of music, and try to spot which piece suited which horse best! Alison and Nick work hard to use more innovative pieces of music, and some good questions were asked, such as how to determine a horse’s beats per minute (Alison described how to watch your horse and count, as well as recommending an app which can help you), and one of my favourite things – whether or not it’s acceptable to use music with vocals, or whether pieces must be instrumental (Alison advised that vocals are normally fine as long as the piece is edited appropriately – she counselled against cutting the track off mid-phrase).
Jason Webb’s demo was very different to what he anticipated delivering, thanks to his main horse suffering the trauma of The Last Post earlier in the day! Your Horse Live observed a two minute silence in recognition of Armistice Day, and Diesel wasn’t a fan of the horn being used – something Jason now says he’ll work on at home (I hope he finds a way to share his progress, as this would be really interesting to watch). So the focus of Jason’s session became getting Diesel’s confidence back, as well as showing how he applies horsemanship to his love of polocrosse – the way he asks his horse to move when ridden or on the ground then has applications to other activities (you may also recognise this as appropriate to how cowboys train their horses for wrangling). Jason finished by bringing in a horse he’d been working with to demonstrate some basic ground work – how to build a horse up to working in a bridle by starting in-hand. He also touched on something which I think could help many horse people improve their relationship with their horse a great deal in a short space of time – Jason spoke about the signals you give your horse by the direction you angle your lead rope when leading your horse, and how the old school advice of “one hand under their chin” is actually very confusing for the horse.
I took in a lot more on this visit than any previous one, and it’s still one of my favourite days out. Next year has the potential for double the fun: Total Confidence Live, Your Horse’s new show is happening on my doorstep in April, and Your Horse Live returns again in November – can’t wait to see what’ll be on offer next time, and hope to visit again!