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Semester 1

And so, it began… our Writtle University Equine Academy journey! Myself and my horse Tally, a 6-year-old 16.1hh Irish Sport Horse mare travelled all the way from Cornwall – a 300-mile journey (or there abouts). We arrived safely, just in time for the academic term to start, with the lorry filled to the brim with our things. The first few days on the academy was brilliant, we got settled into the barn meeting new and old friends. As this is my third year academically at Writtle studying Veterinary Physiotherapy, there were some familiar faces, yet equally many new ones along with their beautiful horses. Getting used to the routine of early mornings along with academic work was a challenge, but the academy made me feel like part of a team and everyone was so supportive. Tally and I were quarantined for a week, as per the yard rules for all new horses.

Tally settled extremely well into the Writtle life, and soon we were able to join into regular schooling lessons with the brilliant lecturer and academy coach – Jane Hart. Our lessons started off with an assessment of myself and Tally from Jane, it was apparent straight away that Tally was struggling with her flatwork, and I also had lots to work on. I had noticed Tally’s struggle in her flatwork over the summer with my coach at the time and we both had been working hard to correct this; however, we had somewhat hit a wall. Having Jane as a fresh set of eyes, with both her knowledge as a coach and lecturer was brilliant, she was able to give alternative and constructive advice to help progress our journey whilst relating everything into my veterinary physiotherapy degree. It was apparent that Tally was lacking topline musculature as well as efficient core stability; luckily, as part of the equine academy we had access to some brilliant physiotherapy lecturers and fourth year VP students. Tally was put into fourth year VP rotations, which focus on weekly physio sessions for the horses. The rotations are designed to keep the horses performing at their best whilst enabling students to learn about the demands of competition horses. Tally was assessed over a few weeks by the students and lecturers, they found areas of pain along her back, which was not progressing with regular physiotherapy sessions. Half term was approaching, and it was advised that Tally should be seen by the vet when we returned home.

The vet came out in the first week of half term to assess and take x-rays of Tally’s back, this led to the diagnosis of severe ‘kissing spines’ as discovered by radiograph. This diagnosis was a shock; however, it filled in many unanswered questions regarding Tally’s struggle with flatwork as well as many behavioural issues under saddle. Tally was retired on the same day as her diagnosis, and as my only horse I questioned if my days on the equine academy were over.

Towards the end of the half term, I had given up on the hope of returning to university with a horse, yet a miracle occurred in the form of Pellé – a 17hh, 11-year-old Zangersheide show-jumping schoolmaster. Pellé was owned by a friend who offered him to me for sale, we clicked instantly, and the sale was agreed on the terms of him passing his vetting.

Tally, Myself and Pellé at home x

The second part of the term had begun, and I had returned to university without Pellé, who was due to arrive as soon as his vetting was complete and his strangles test (compulsory for the Writtle yard) came back clear. Over the first week of term, Pellé had passed his vetting with flying colours and his blood test results came back clear. I prepared his stable ready for his arrival, and once he arrived I spent time getting to know him (we only met twice before his arrival at Writtle). He was such a kind soul and settled in perfectly, everyone at the barn was excited to meet him once his full week of isolation had been completed. As the week came to an end, and the new one began, I was eager to get to know this horse better in the saddle as well as on the ground. Our first lesson with Jane was brilliant, Pellé made me feel so confident and happy (bearing in mind he had never been ridden in any of the arenas before), it was an experience that I had never felt on a horse before – he felt so wise and calm, and I felt utterly reassured after the heartbreak of the last few weeks.

Our lessons over the weeks began to progress, I was learning so much as a rider from both our terrific coach Jane, and also from Pellé, who in himself has so much knowledge to give from his successful career as a showjumper. We had also been given the delightful opportunity to have weekly showjumping lessons with the wonderful Michael Pavely, a top eventing coach. Throughout our showjumping lessons, my knowledge began to grow and with that, also my confidence. Various showjumping combinations comprising of gridwork, related distances, uprights, spreads, oxers and more, all made their appearance in our training, which really helped to challenge us and grow our rider-horse partnerships together. Our lessons with Jane were likewise second to none, the knowledge that Jane provides in each of her sessions is truly outstanding, she will not allow you to leave a lesson feeling unaccomplished and without having learnt something new every time we train – her notorious ‘Indie’ has not left me since our first discussion of it! The weeks were flying by, and it was almost time for Christmas break, all the academy riders were full on with exams and last-minute assignment touch ups. However, we were lucky enough in this time to get a nutritional consultation from one of the lecturers – Briony, she helped to establish a useful feeding plan and guideline for Pellé, who needed to improve his body condition score and his muscle mass in areas. The plan was devised to cater for his time at home over the Christmas break and again once we returned to university after the holidays.

The last week of term came around the corner and of course the academy / DIY horses and riders clubbed together to have a bit of fun. Mine and Pellé’s last ride consisted of flying changes though weave poles – a very fond memory and the best way to finish off semester 1. Throughout the Christmas break, I was eager to get out and start our competition career together; however, this was struck short with myself catching COVID-19 over the Christmas period. Pellé was therefore given a month-long break to eat lots of grass and enjoy himself – like we all should over Christmas!

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