Mark Butler Dressage

Mark Butler Dressage is a small bespoke dressage training yard based in Stockbury, Kent.  Mark is an experienced Dressage Trainer and Group 3 rider who has previously evented up to Intermediate, trained up to Grand Prix and competed and won up to Prix St George.  Mark Butler Dressage and Team Butler aim to develop as a center of excellence in dressage training, livery services and breeding that is calm, tranquil, professional yet friendly and relaxed.  Mark is well known for his patience and calmness, and works with a wide range of riders and horses; from those simply interested in having weekly lessons to those competing at affiliated competitions. 

In The Words Of Michael Jackson, The Weather Was Bad! by Emma Butler

As a general rule of thumb, I like to pride myself on the turnout of both the horses and Mark and myself. Whether we are going for lessons or out to compete I always make sure we are suited and booted! Socks are scrubbed, greys will be made blindingly white, bays will shine and the chestnuts shimmer like gold! My plaits are always crescendo rosebuds and set high up on necks tails are long and flowing. If we are wearing matchy sets then we coordinate our own outfits, to the point Mark is so well trained he will ask me what colours the horses are wearing and then promptly match his breeches and tops.


Competition whites, just like cricket whites, are soaked in whiteners then washed before returning to the competition cupboard ready for the next competition, while matchy sets are washed, dried and stored back in the matchy cupboard, bandages on one shelf and saddle pads on the next.


If by chance you turned up unannounced to watch either of us ride I can guarantee our horses will be wearing everyday schooling sessions which match! They might be in muted tones of grey, blue or black but they match!


So imagine the internal anguish I felt on the day we were competing at Cobham Manor, it was 4 days before qualification, three horses still need qualifying scores and... there was a severe weather warning in place for heavy rain and strong winds.


With early start times and the prospect of lots of muddy puddles I took the momentous decision not to plait... A small part of me died, it goes against all my principles, but somehow I could not face the prospect of plaiting three horses, packing the lorry and dealing with soggy equines, soggy humans and soggy competition gear. 


There is nothing worse than feeling the pressure of needing horses to go well, coupled with vile weather, tight times for tests, meaning we had to be organised with such precision I am sure I missed my calling for the military.


On the yard one of my grooms asked if we were bathing CP, no I replied. 'Shall I just wash her legs then?'


'Nope don't bother, by the time we have warmed up she will be smothered.'


The look of shock on her face as she put away the shampoo and tuned off the hot water will stay with me forever. She later confessed that in 4 years working for me she could never recall having been told not to bath something pre-competition!


We left the yard and the weather was dank and the sky overcast but the much anticipated rain held off. We arrived and began to sort ourselves and our tack, still the rain held off...


First up was Flo, young and green, he didn't much like the warm-up which was puddley and gooey. Mark did a good job of coaxing him round while we counted down to his first novice test, about 10 minutes before he went in the rain started, light and drizzly at first, it got progressively heavier, and as the rain intensified so did the wind.


I bellowed the test across the arena struggling to be heard above the wind and rain. Mark and Flo made light work of the weather and skipped their way around their two tests. The minute he finished the pair of them were frog marched round to the lorry stripped off, travel stuff back on and swapped for CP who was tacked-up in record time while I hopped on and went to warm-up. By now the rain was sheeting down, even CP showed her displeasure by snaking her head when the wind blow, I was now worrying I would even hear the sound of my Elementary music, I then questioned my sanity, this is a hobby, it is meant to be fun... Why then am I soaked to the skin, attempting to ride to an ensemble of Michael Jackson in the pouring rain and howling wind???


When I first attempted music I honestly thought, it would be this romantic notion of riding along to my favourite tunes, enjoying the music and loving every second. Instead I find myself riding along thinking: am I ahead? Am I behind? Where is the marker? I need to speed up, I need to slow down, please let this be over soon!


Somehow despite the wind and the rain we cruised our way around, the ever reliable CP totally unperturbed by the weather or the jockey on her back.


I slithered off, handed over a soggy CP, while Mark, his mum and my friend Mel untacked and got her ready to load, I meanwhile peeled my clothes and changed into dry clothes, found a dry waterproof, took a deep breath and launched myself out of the lorry ready to drag Trevor off and get him ready!


The clock was ticking and Mark had a very short time to get him warmed up, at 18hh a 20m x 40m arena is small for him, but he’s a an old hand these days and while he might be an idiot to get ready, he knows his job under saddle. Mark cruised him round a faultless Medium tests. With 4 tests between us done, all that remained was to load up Trev and make our way into the secretary's office and discover whether we had the necessary scores to secure qualification for the Winter regionals.


It was with some trepidation we all trooped into the café and huddled under the heater, steam beginning to rise off our wet clothes. Flo needed two qualifying scores which he managed getting two plus 67% tests, CP needed a qualifying score in the elementary music which she did getting just under 70%, Trev clocked up 69% which meant we were all done and dusted and could make our way home and breathe a sigh of relief!


We climbed into the lorry, the heater working overtime to try and keep the windscreen clear and made a promise to each other that we won't leave it till the last minute to qualify next time...  


For more information, please visit Mark Butler Dressage

A Roof, A Birth and A Bit Of Showing!

I hold my hands up and admit I have been utterly useless at keeping you all updated recently, but if it possible to be more busy than our usual busy, then that's why!

So to bring you up to speed, the roof is on! We finished the revamp of the top block stables. I've passed my UKCC Level 2, we had a lovely little colt born, Mark has been selected to ride for Team Southern again, Fritz is no longer in possesion of his man bits and CP can add County show pony to her bow...

I think I have remembered everything... now I can add in the flowers and glitter!

So Fred arrived early, slap bang in the middle of the world cup, he gave us a fright because the dates I had been given by the vets were wrong. According to their first lot of dates he was 4 weeks early, however on recalculating, it transpired he was two weeks early. Right from the start he has charmed everyone. He is calm, friendly and very, very, cheeky. Everyone has spent way too long foal watching, he has run Diva ragged and I think he will end up leaving mum early if he carries on.

I entered Kent County in a moment of madness, I thought it would be lovely to ride at our local county show. I previously worked for Guy Landau, so do have some showing experience and added to this, I spent a couple of hours looking up coloured show horses on the internet and thought 'how hard could it be?' Well as it turns out it’s really hard. For a start you have to ride on GRASS! I also had to run her up in hand, much to the amusement of Mark who dutifully groomed for me, while looking utterly bemused at the whole event. It was a huge class, I still have no idea what the judge was looking for, but we finished 6th and I got a rosette and a lovely picture of me in my tweed!

Our venture into showing was a unique event, and before long we were back out doing what we do best, dripping in fake diamonds with padded nosebands and very white saddle cloths.


The next big event was the regionals, along with everyone in the UK I qualified for the Regionals at Elementary, in the silver section. There was 34 in my class and I was really pleased to finish 22nd with 63.49% - that's a very respectable score at a regionals and some of the work we produced was really solid. Mark was left in charge of videoing my test and in his infinite wisdom he delegated this task to our son... who is 6! Now everyone was so focused on me, they didn't think to check that Rory was actually videoing. To be fair he did actually record my test... sadly it was in about 22 segments, there was however an awful lot of the ground and sky and occasionally two tubby dressage divas in shot. Luckily there was a professional photographer so we did get a couple of lovely pictures to remember the day by. 

Mark took Trevor to Medium Gold, he did a safe test as shortly after the bell went, but before he started his test... he put his tongue over the bit!!!!! Mark did a really good job of coasting him round and he finished 14th.

Flo has been out and about training, most recently going to a lesson with Emile. We now have the green light to go out and compete so watch this space! I will try to be better at keeping you all updated.

by Emma Butler

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Horse Shopping - If You Can't Choose Then Buy Them Both!

No sooner were we back from Hartpury than we packed our bags and headed off to Holland to look at horses, we had two very full days viewing and saw many different types in various locations. It was so lovely to see our hosts again, we last went out to visit them when we were looking for a client, this time our trip was to find Mark a new horse. After looking, trying and deliberating we initially had a short list of three horses, overnight we wheedled it down to two and then headed back out the next day to look at them both again. The shortlist was a small but perfectly formed, 7-y-o mare by Wynton and a 6-y-o gelding by Furst Piccolo, both completely different but equally very nice. We drove home to catch the ferry via the best horse shop in the world, Divoza, and talked incessantly about which horse we preferred and why. By the time we arrived at Calais, only to miss our ferry and have to park up and wait for the next one, we had hatched a plan! We decided to buy them both, the gelding for Mark to produce and compete and the mare to be produced and sold.

Arrangements were made for Evita to be collected and transported to the UK, while Florentina, who had only just been backed remained in Holland for a little longer. Poor Evita had a rubbish trip, she was collected in Holland, spent the night at a holding yard, then travelled to the UK where she arrived late afternoon. She was then stabled overnight and the following morning she was dropped off a mile up the road and then walked in hand to us. Suffice to say we struck that transporter off our list for any further collections…

However Evita was none the worse for her adventures and settled immediately in to life at MBD, she is one of the easiest horses we have ever had in, polite, affectionate and very, very beautiful! Of course we had lots of interest and it was no surprise when she was snapped up pretty much as soon as her hooves touched the ground in the UK, she is remaining with us in training which is fantastic, she already has an enviable collection of Matchy Matchy, including Eskadron Raspberry…Mark's personal favourite!

Florentina meanwhile continued his training in Holland, we received lots of pictures and videos, but ultimately it was time for him to come home and so arrangements were made for him to be collected, it was a totally different experience for him; he was collected in a small 3.5 tonne lorry and made the trip in one day. We got a call to say he was being collected in the morning and he arrived that evening at 6.30pm. He strolled off the lorry and settled immediately. Flo as he is now known, has been started in the UK by Hannah Folkgard, she has done a fantastic job and Mark is really excited to get going with him.


I know lots of people have been curious as to why Mark hasn't been riding him, it is very simple. Starting young horses is an art, you need to be doing it all the time, you have to have perfect balance, impeccable timing and reactions. We have always sent ours away to be backed and started and then had them home once they are ridden away, this time we have just had the luxury of finding a great rider who can do it at our yard, it has been fantastic to see him progress and I am looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

So now we have a very full yard, which will get fuller as Diva is due to foal in July, in a move away from the warmbloods we have opted for a Spanish stallion, I am really curious as to what it will be like as technically this is a foal for me… just don't tell CP!

by Emma Butler

Top Photo: Evita

Bottom Photo: Flo

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Actually We Are A Very Cheerful Partnership

"After a 'were we, weren't we going' I finally got confirmation that I had been allocated a wildcard for the Petplan finals at Hartpury in the Elementary Restricted class. With just a week to go I literally had no time to panic, instead I was too busy trying to make last minute arrangements that included; booking stabling, clipping a yak like CP, getting the lorry cleaned, sorting our accommodation, rearranging teaching for Mark as well as making sure that Rory was suitably entertained at home, because as good as he is, 24 hours of solid dressage is pretty hardcore for a 5 year old! I had spent the winter preparing for the regionals at Novice with the aim of trying to qualify for the regionals at Elementary, so I hadn't been out since Addington, CP and I then had to embark on a crash course to learn E45 and be test ready.

We mixed it up with a little hacking and school work, and the day before we left we were at a point where it felt like it was as good as it was going to be. Which is a nice feeling to have before a big championship. A recent run of removing her shoes two days on the trot, also meant that we opted not to turn her out on grass, instead she was relegated to the turnout pen and hand grazed. She was a bit cross but at least she was cross with her shoes on.

Having been to Hartpury several times I decided not to ride her up there on the day we arrived, instead I rode her at home. I then got her ready to travel while Mark finished his teaching and riding.  The warm up at Hartbury can get really busy and I wanted to have the best last ride I could, she isn't a spooky horse so I wasn't worried about the atmosphere or arenas, so opted for a relaxed ride where I didn't have to worry about dodging 20 other people in the warm-up, which I end up worrying about more than actually riding the test!

We had a good run up to Hartpury and arrived at 7pm which gave us plenty of time to get CP settled and then head off to our hotel. We were in the permanent stables and I always breathe a sigh of relief as CP has been known to barge her way out of a temporary one. Leaving one cob wrapped up in every piece of kit known to humans in the fight against pee and pooh stains, we left for our hotel, had dinner and then went to bed… but who was I kidding, I didn't sleep a wink.

I think one of the best things about this championship was my early time, 8.35am, it was so early I didn't really have time to stress, instead I was on a mission to get her clean plaited, me changed and then get on and get to the warm-up! She warmed-up really nicely and for once I didn't get flustered or put off by other people, by the time I was ready to go in I was feeling a strange sensation… One of excitement and happiness, the usual stomach churning waves of nausea, were strangely absent! We did a sweet, obedient test, with only one little hiccup in the trot canter transition but other than that, everything happened where it should. It felt like I was in control and I came out thinking we did a nice job; we were not going to set the world alight but we were there on merit.

I knew it was highly unlikely we would go through to the second round, I was the last wild card they awarded so technically we should have been last, but we weren't and that was more than enough for me! We got 63% and one of the judge's comments left me chuckling… "Cheerful partnership" and you know what, that is what we are! We are having so much fun and anyone who watches us can see just how hard she is trying to be a dressage superstar so what we lack in talent we make up for in effort and commitment.


Next time… We go Dutch! Find out about our shopping trip."


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Trev's On Top!

Trevor has been quietly bubbling away at home. The compact 16.2hh gelding we bought home as a 3-y-o is now a huge great beast who we stopped measuring at 17.1hh two years ago!


Because he is so big and grew so much, we have given him plenty of time not only to grow, but also to develop strength. He was one of H&H's One to Watch as a 4-y-o but Mark was always adamant that he would not rush him and so he took his time, he went to a handful of competitions and qualified for the regionals at novice and medium and then we took the decision to spend a year training, with the aim of getting him out at PSG as an 8/9-year old.


Trev has always found changes very easy, he would pop them in as a 4-y-o, why counter canter when you can do a change. For that reason, it was really important to work the counter canter, something he found much harder!


 It hasn't all been hard work in the arena, he also regularly hacks out, something he finds very exciting. For that reason, Mark has to grit his teeth and come hacking with me (he HATES hacking) so occasionally my sister hacks him out too, she admits that she has to don her brave pants to ride him! He's not naughty, he just gets a bit jiggy with it!


Now he's 8, it's time to revisit the changes, which are hugely expressive. They need to be more on the button as he has a tendency to get ahead of Mark, he isn't allowed to do them every session as he still needs to learn to wait, so Mark spends time working on other things and then opting in the changes when he isn't expecting them!


As well as finding flying changes easy, he can also piaffe and passage. His latest trick is not to halt but to piaffe, we are thrilled that he can piaffe so naturally but we are not so thrilled at his insistence on going into piaffe at every opportunity!

It's just a phase and I'm sure the novelty will wear off but it does make hacking challenging, we halt for a car and Trev starts piaffing, he's not worried, he's not stressed, he's very happy! I think he looks just like a jogger; you know the ones you see jogging on the spot waiting to cross the road. He is super proud of himself and he has such a lovely work ethic, he's just desperate to please.


 Mark's last session with Emile was fantastic, he helped Mark to develop a bigger, more powerful trot. They then worked on the piaffe, making sure it was on Mark's terms not Trev's! Then the exciting bit..., the changes. It was so lovely to watch and get glimpses of the work that will be on tap by this time next year.


Our aim is to get him qualified for the regionals at medium and then aim to have a play at a few Advanced Mediums!


by Emma Butler


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Dressage Success Is No Accident - It's Hard Work And Perseverance!

Lots of people tell me how lucky I am to have CP and to be married to Mark, of course, I of all people know this and I count my blessings every day that these two found their way into my life... 

But I also want people to realise that it takes an awful lot of work to do what CP and I have achieved. Mark has worked miracles with us both, for a start I hardly have the physique of Charlotte and CP doesn't resemble Valegro! So in embarking on a dressage career we both started at a distinct disadvantage and Mark massively had his work cut out, if nothing he likes a challenge! Take a nervous rider, prone to crying and snivelling in fear and frustration, add in a patchy pony who preferred jumping to circles and you can see his base starting point.

I have a problem with my left hip which is impinged by the formation excess bone in the socket. This means I often struggle with pain and also lack range and freedom of movement. You may know the feeling, you think your leg is in the right place and instead your trainer says move your left leg further back, at which point I usually think if I move it further back it might actually drop off, I'll canter round on the circle and my leg will be lying on the arena floor! CP is equally mechanically challenged, she has a weak back, one of the biggest challenges is to keep her lifted in her back, which when you essentially look like a banana is a tough challenge!

But that said we do have oodles of enthusiasm, we might not necessarily get it right every time but we like trying, and that is without doubt half of the battle, Because I am starting with a willing partner.
Mark and I have been together over 12 years now and when we first got together I thought I could ride... How wrong I was, he literally took me right back to basics, which included being lunged a lot! He still does make me ride on the lunge, which I find incredibly useful, it has without doubt really helped me to establish an independent seat and improve my leg position. It is easy to fall into bad habits, especially when you only ride one horse so being put on the lunge helps freshen me up and make me more aware of my body.
I try and ride 4-5 times a week, sometimes that means riding under floodlights at either end of the day and prior to the indoor school I would be out in all weathers. I don't want anyone to think that Poor CP is drilled every day in the school, she's not, I'd say half of our work is done out hacking, we are so lucky we have some stunning hacking where we live, so we manage to do lots of hill work, as well as make use of the plentiful off road tracks and quiet country lanes. Quite often I'll be wandering up the lane in traver or shoulder-in, very useful to get her past anything she spooks at! Or I meander along in walk going half pass left, changed bend, half pass right, but in my head I'm cantering the zig zag in the PSG.
CP is not actually that easy to ride, she's an odd mix of being super hot and very forward (yes I know she doesn't look like it) and she can have a tendency to try and run through the bridle, think sitting on something that is strong but is not bolting. One of our former grooms once got on her to have a lesson with Mark, they made the mistake of giving her a kick to walk forward and instantly found herself cantering up the long side. Looks can be deceiving and she is proof that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, she may look like a cob, but she doesn't ride like one!

However, through correct training and encouraging better balance and strength, she has massively improved, she is still super reactive to the leg but we now have trained responses in place, she understands the difference between a sideways aid and a leg aid which indicated a change of gear or change of pace. In improving her balance and developing better self carriage she is less reliant on the rein and this coupled with the fact I now understand how to ride a half halt and have better skills to help her rebalance, this means we look much more harmonious and this is often reflected in judge's comments. All three judge's at the regionals commented about us being a lovely partnership which is so nice to read.

A full yard means Mark is incredibly busy and as a result I am the obvious choice to be dropped off the lesson list if he is too busy, so despite what people might thing, I don't actually get that many lessons, there is also no love lost between the two of them, he calls her Cow, and CP seeks revenge by walking backwards away from him at the mounting block anytime he tried to ride her, or pulling hideous faces at home whenever he is passing... Neither of which she has ever done to me ;) so with his distaste for 'Cow' he tries to avoid riding her at all costs, he will occasionally bow to pressure and have a sit on her but usually because I threaten him with having to organise his own diary!


by Emma Butler


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An End Of An Era With An Empty Stable That Needs To Be Filled

This week signifies the end of an era for Mark. Blitz has been with us since he was a just backed 3-y-o, together with Mark they have been to numerous regionals, High Profile Shows, Premier Leagues, Small Tour Championships, as well as the Winter Championships.


From his very first Novice test in April 2007 they worked their way up to Inter 1. Blitz is now 14, he's still tough and he's still sound, but it is just the right time for him to step down and takes things a little easier and for that reason he is going off to show somebody else the ropes. He's been such an integral part of our lives it's going to be a massive wrench for both of us, but we both feel that he has so much left to offer and we think he is going to love being the centre of someone's world.


So this leaves an empty stable and while we still have the amazing Trevor, it means there is a gap to be filled. So Mark is on the hunt for a new horse and an owner who is keen to get involved, we have amazing facilities, impeccably high standards and regular access to some of the country's most renowned trainers. A friendly and relaxed yard, our ethos has always been a happy horse is a happy athlete, so if you are interested in finding out more or would like to come and visit to see what we can offer then please give me a call.


Snow and illness strike fear into the heart of anyone who is self-employed in the equine world, and this half-term we both succumbed to flu, not your average takes a Lemsip and carry on flu, but proper can't get out of bed flu. Mark suffered for longer because he tried to carry on as normal, including driving to Merrist Wood to warm-up a client for their regionals test. We now seem to be over the worst and have vowed to be first in the queue for the 2016 flu jab this year! 


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Shout Out For Our Horsey Heroes!

In supporting and maintaining a large yard we rely on a varied range of people all who bring a wide range of specialist knowledge and skills.Our list of people that come in and provide specialist services include: saddlers, farriers, vets, dental technicians, osteopaths, chiropractors, equine sports therapists, the lovely Karla who regularly does a 'clipathon' for me and not forgetting the best Equine PR and Marketing Company in the world… Creative Equine!

In the world of unsung heroes I thought you might like to here about some of the people involved in helping us to keep MBD running like a well-oiled machine...

Our farrier Tim Andrews, has shod both mine and Mark's ponies since we were children, over the years he has been instrumental in helping us keep our horses and ponies happy and sound, including speaking to vets and reviewing x-rays and working alongside vets to help us when we have had horses in for rehab. He has also introduced a whole host of foals and young horses to the idea of being trimmed and shod, as always deploying his usual calm and patient manner and I have lost count of the number of time we have stood trimming field horses in the torrential rain and thanked my lucky stars that I have such a reliable and knowledgable farrier. I try not to tell him too often how much I appreciate him though, as farriers have notoriously big egos ;) but he is amazing, from coming up on a weekend to deal with a suspected abscess to this Christmas when CP pulled off a shoe on Christmas Eve, I sent him a text and her arrived on the bank holiday after Boxing Day to shoe her again so I could go to a competition on the Wednesday! Now that is going above and beyond.

Just recently I approached Diane Daynes, having met her briefly in the summer at Addington where she treated a friend's horse. A highly regarded practitioner, I was interested to learn more about what she did and the techniques she used. Diane is an Equine Sports Therapist who specialises in myofascial release. Horses are not machines and just like us they can have days where they feel better than others, in particular when you are moving through the levels, the intensity and pressure we place our horses under alters. In much the same way as I rely on someone to help me cope with the limitations of my body I put great emphasis on helping our horses to stay comfortable and in the best possible physical shape they can be. It was so interesting to watch her work on the horses, she was able to tell me exactly what issues they would present in their ridden work and then together we were able to discuss exercises, both ridden and non-ridden which could help them develop and strengthen. It has been great to be able to bounce ideas off her and she has been at the end of the phone a couple of times when I have had queries. I am looking forward to working with her and our horses and seeing how they develop with her input. For more information on Diane's work visit

In other big news we are really excited to announce Mark has a new sponsor, Swift bedding, they are a local company who have supplying us with bedding for over a year. Having previously had supply problems from another company, these guys are a breath of fresh air. They are reliable, their driver arrives with a smile and stacks the bedding in a lovely neat pile but best of all the bedding is a lovely fluffy white colour and the price is really competitive. For more information visit 


by Emma Butler

A Lego Break Among The Dressage

The erection of the indoor is limping along slowly, it's just happening much slower than I ever anticipated! I'll be back on the phone this week and trying to inject the equivalent of some building Viagra into the construction schedule...

We had a lovely Christmas and New Year, Mark spent three days straight building LEGO and Playmobil, and looking back I think the buying up of all the LEGO in the shop was mostly for his benefit! It is always nice to have some time off away from the horses, Mark's last non-horse time was back in August so a day playing with Rory and LEGO was well overdue!
Despite lots of eating, drinking and playing, we still managed to keep our normal routine and found time to to head up to Emile's with Blitz and Dream, in a way it was nice as it stopped us completely vegging out! The boys were really good and we are excited for what 2016 will bring. Having spent a year consolidating his training, Dream is going to be out competing again and Blitz is heading to Addington for the High Profile Show. 

Cow Pony didn't miss out either, having qualified for the regionals in both Novice Music and Novice Restricted, we now have a new floor plan and music and so I was keen to get out and practice. She came in from the field looking dark bay, but was relatively quickly transformed back into the patchy princess she is, with a little help from some of our sponsor, Fly Away and Groom Away's great whitening shampoo!


We headed to Blue Barn in high winds and as the lorry was buffeted along the M20, I had one of those 'why on earth am I doing this' moments! But I'm really glad we did, she won her section and overall with a great score of over 74%, the music is great and the ambitious floor plan more than makes up for her lack of flicky toes!

Heading into 2016 I'm always cautious, we start the new year with no idea about what the future holds, but hopefully we will finish the year with a roof over us! Diva is, fingers crossed, still in foal to Deseado CCV, Margo Bogwoppit turns 4 and will come in and try her hand at being a dressage star! 

I'll keep you all updated and remember you can follow us on Facebook if you need a more regular MBD fix. Happy New Year!


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A Much Needed Spanish (Equestrian) Siesta by Emma Butler

I know none of you would believe us if we said we'd been taking things easy here at MBD... So I won't pretend we have! As well as cramming in the usual routine of riding, teaching, running clinics and competing. We managed to squeeze in a very short trip to Spain to look at potential new horses. Spain is a regular holiday destination for me as I go every year to spend time with my parents who usually spend about 4 weeks out there, despite regular trips I have never visited any equine centres out there, so I was really looking forward to out trip to the VDC stud located in the South East of Castilla La Mancha. Mark and I had a brilliant time, it was nice to spend some time together away from home even if it was horse orientated. 


A particular highlight has to be the family who we could hear, long before we could see them at the check-in desk at departures at Gatwick, I am well known for having a potty mouth, but believe me when I say this particular woman was screeching expletives that even made me blush! It was no surprise then when we boarded the plane, to discover that their party were removed from the flight, we had a short delay while their baggage was unloaded and we flew to Alicante without them!


We arrived and discovered that the same icy blast that had swept across the UK had also reached Spain, although brilliant sunshine, it was just 4 degrees when we stepped out of the hire car, this was made all the worse by out lovely host Jose Luis Valde, telling us the day before it had been 20!


We spent the day touring the facilities and seeing a number of horses from foals to schoolmasters, it was incredibly interesting to see how things are done in Spain, there are so many similarities and also differences, our rushed 30 minute lunch breaks in the UK were in stark contrast to the obligatory 2 hour lunch break we enjoyed in Spain!


The beautiful indoor school gave me lots of ideas for the internal decorating of ours... Be afraid Dad, be very afraid!


Without exception every horse at the stud was white or grey and with 80 in total, I was suddenly very grateful to only have three white ones on the yard back home!


We drove back from Gatwick, picking up where we left off; Mark got changed and went off to teach and I went home put the washing on, and headed out to lunge for a client and then repaired some fencing, by the time I went to bed, Spain was but a distant memory!


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Dressage Training Among The Builder's Mess....

I'm sorry for the radio silence, but literally we haven't stopped! As soon as planning approval was given we began erecting the indoor arena, and as usual my dad has been at the hub of the activities - if there is a machine involved you can rest assured he'll be at the controls of it! The bases have been dug out and the concrete pads are in place, Monday sees the building delivered and on Tuesday it goes up!

We know it will be worth the wait but currently I'm stuck in limbo and hating the mess and the fact that builders seem to all have the universal skill of missing the toilet bowl... Cow Pony and I have been working hard and have moved up to elementary which I'll admit I found really daunting. My aim was to get three sheets at 62% or more to have a go at an Area Festival. 


I got a massive wake up call in my first elementary test since 'blackthorn gate'... I freewheeled my way round E45 and came out to a very polite dressing down from Mark, which went along the lines of 'you can't ride 10m circles that big Emma, you don't have a medium trot as insurance!' He was right I got 60.41% and felt that maybe we weren't ready for this level after all...

Some confidence boosting words from my little sister which were in stark contrast to my gentle husband's advice were... 'shut up moaning you're here now so just do the next one and ride properly!" Which to be fair I did, and got a much better score of just under 65% in a much harder test! I then went off to do another one and was over the moon with just under 69% - an important lesson was learned about accuracy and circle size and I'll never make that mistake again! So with enough sheets I entered Oldencraig Area Festival and began practicing hard...

With 38 in my class I felt really outclassed in the warm up, but the patchy pony felt great and with Mark warming me up I started to feel more confident. The test itself was one of the best we have ever done, just one blip which was my fault. 
She isn't flashy so I can't afford to make mistakes so to get good marks I need to be consistent which this test was.
Absolutely thrilled with 68.45% which is my highest mark ever at a championship, we finished equal 5th, 6th on collectives - and thoroughly enjoyed our lap of honour! 

I am just so proud of her, to come back from such a horrible accident in the summer and achieve what she has in such a short space of time is testament to her incredible temperament and her willingness, I am so lucky to have her and cherish every day with her, even when she is bashing the door or peeing in the Solarium!!!!!

by Emma Butler

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Smuggling Hamish To The Show

An action packed summer has seen us cram in as much as possible, for me it is back to work and the day job of teaching in a school! One day I would love to be able to be on the yard full-time but for the moment I need a regular income in order to train and compete and also to pay for all my ideas, improvements and additions on the yard! Mark and my dad audibly groan when we sit down and I start with the phrase, "Right I've had an idea…”


This winter is all systems go to get the roof on the arena, we finally got permission after almost a year after submitting plans. Having a roof on will make such a massive difference to us here, while our setting is stunningly tranquil, when the wind blows and the rain comes down you really feel the full effect of living on top of the North Downs!

Although it’s early days, Diva has had a positive 15 day scan to the PRE stallion Deseado CCV, so now her and Fritz have come back from Plum Park Farm where they were at stud. It is lovely to have them back, it was strange not having a foal around this summer to waste time cooing over. This choice of stallion is a world away from our usual choice, but I really like him and am excited about the possibility of this warmblood, Spanish cross.


And finally The Home International! Held a month earlier than usual, this year it was the turn of the South West to host and the venue was Hartpury. Regional competitions like this are always fantastic fun and this year was no exception! Both Mark and I were selected to ride, Cow Pony was not told about the fact I was taking Hamish, in fact I went to great lengths to hide the fact I was riding and taking him. This included on the morning we left, leaving her out in one of the back fields till we had loaded up and gone! Hamish belongs to Sally Barr and I was so grateful to her for entrusting him to me for the weekend. Hamish is a real character, he came out of the same yard as Cow Pony so they are technically siblings, he made sure he made his presence known to everyone at Hartpury by dropping to the floor and rolling in the in-hand grazing areas, not once but twice! Given he is as white as snow, this amused a lot of people… except me, I was furious with him! But he redeemed himself in the actual tests, he did two solid tests across both days, I was so proud of him, he was the only horse on the second day whose percentage didn't drop! We finished 11th on the Saturday and 8th on the Sunday, which left us 8th Individually. He was much admired by lots of people and drew an army of fans, he is a really special horse and I was very proud of our achievements, he is a rather unconventional dressage horse but he has a massive place in my heart.

Mark took his little pocket rocket Dottie, aka MBD Selene, being able to take a young horse to a competition like this is such a fantastic experience. She was a really good girl, although a little overwhelmed in the large indoor on the second day, but she did two consistent tests with lots and lots to like and finished 23rd out of a class of 40.


We also caught up with lots of friends but in particular Emma and Sean who Mark knew from his time at the TTT, and I can honestly say I haven't laughed so much in a very long time!



Cow Pony Is Back On The Stage

As I trotted up the Centre line, in arena 2 at Addington on August 10th for the Novice Restricted Summer Regionals, I remembered exactly where Cow Pony and I were two months previously and couldn’t believe we were actually there!

On the 10th June I was stood in Bell Equine’s consulting room and being told that she would need surgery to flush an infection from her knee. I was devastated, it seemed just as we were getting going and with the whole summer ahead of us, it was clear that CP was going to need the very thing that strikes fear into her and I… BOXREST!

She hates being in for long periods and tells everyone she knows by either bashing the door repeatedly, trying to escape or free wheeling round the stable at speed!

However we compromised, and she was given a pen the size of a large stable and turned out each day, she was very happy and the 4 weeks of incarceration passed relatively easily, although it wasn’t without incident as she did get her leg stuck in her stall guard, but all in all it was relatively peaceful and stress free. Once her stitches were removed I began taking her to Saywell Farm to see Louise Best for hydrotherapy, a short trip in the lorry seemed to keep her happy and the cold water certainly helped aid her recovery.

Given how well she responded to surgery we were allowed to start introducing walk work just 4 weeks later, this is where our Molenkoning walker was brilliant, a large 15m circle meant there was no tight turns and she was very happy to be mooching round, we made sure she worked equally on each rein to avoid favouring one way.

She spent two weeks walking on the walker then a week hacking, we are so lucky to have the most incredible hacking, plenty of steep hills, that certainly helped to rebuild strength and stamina.

Then we just did a week of light schooling, we kept it short and sweet, working on suppling and conditioning. Then part of each session was given over to spending a short time working on different parts of the test.

Driving up to Addington I will admit to feeling woefully unprepared! We arrived unloaded and she was surprisingly chilled, she seemed very happy to be out and the centre of my universe again.

Now whoever did the times for the regionals was having a laugh… As Mark and I had virtually the same times, he was riding MBD Selene in the Open Novice, so this meant my trainer was unavailable! I am so grateful that the lovely Mark Ruddock stepped in and kept me calm and smiling, his help in warm-up meant I was able to stay focused and not get overawed by all the other riders and horses.

CP was her usual unflappable self, she listened to me without taking over and tried so very hard  to do everything I asked of her. Our medium trots are better than ever and were rewarded with our best scores in a championship with 6.5… it may not seem much but a year ago these were 5’s!

I was so happy to get 65.11%, we finished 13th out of 28 in a very tough class with the winner on 69%. This was over 2% better than our score at the winters and the test felt much more polished.

It is so lovely being back on board, I missed riding her and I think she missed working, I have no big plans, I am just going to build her up slowly and get back into the swing of things again. In the meantime I have asked her to avoid any blackthorn hedges, stall guards and refrain from any percussion activities!




Blitz In The Dentist Chair!

You know the saying about buses, none for ages then three come along at once? Well the same applies to vets! No sooner had we all breathed a sigh of relief with Cow Pony being given the all clear to return to work, than Blitz found himself knocked out in the stocks at Bell Equine having a front tooth removed! 



He is now sporting 'The London Look’ with a very fashionable gap in the middle! We are all stumped as to exactly what happened but the tooth has died and overtime had begun to rot, the girls were shocked to discover a slice of tooth, which had dropped out. So after a swift call to the vet, (who was equally shocked and asked to keep the tooth slither!) Blitz was taken in so they could do x-rays.


These showed the tooth was rotten, and so it was extracted under heavy sedation. He was allowed home the same day, perfectly happy in himself. He had been chewing and trying to play with everyone but he refused to eat his feed with antibiotics or bute in, meaning he had to have it syringed in twice a day and the battle that commenced meant that the girls ended up wearing more of it than actually went down his neck and he broke a syringe everytime he was dosed!


CP is now back hacking out, she is fat and rather hairy but she is so happy to be back in work and so am I! I have provisionally entered the regionals at Addington, I honestly don’t care how we get on, I am just so happy and grateful to have my horse healthy and sound so to be there after everything that happened is just amazing.


Blitz returns to work this week, I will let you know how gappy gets on!


by Emma Butler


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Cow Pony Giving Us A Fright!

I sometimes feel like the Kardashians of the equine world!


Literally so much has happened since our last blog I don’t know where to start! A really good friend of mine said to me: “You know Emma, it’s a good job I know you and can actually see what goes on in your life, because if I didn’t I would think you were a fantasist!”


So here goes…


Dottie has been going so nicely at home and given she had qualified for the summer Regionals at Novice Open, Mark was toying with doing some Elementaries. This coincided with the fact I had been talking to Mark about having a go at an Elementary with CP, so we quietly entered Cobham hoping to slip under the radar if it all went wrong.


Well Dottie won both her classes with nearly 70% and 71%, while CP and I held our own to get just under 67%, which would have been good enough to win our section and been second overall to Mark.


I was so pleased with CP and was on a real high, it felt like we had made massive progress in making the step up to Elementary. On the Monday after Cobham I decided to go for a hack, I had a lovely ride through the Hucking Forest and as we happily cantered along the headland, I was once again reminded just how special CP was.


While at work on the Wednesday engulfed in a happy bubble of post Elementary euphoria, I got a message at lunchtime to say CP had a swollen knee and the girls had pulled a blackthorn out. I knew instantly that it was serious but I also knew that Stacey and Della, would do everything necessary to ensure she was OK. A little later while I was in a meeting I could see my phone, which was on silent, flashing as people tried to call me, then messages began to ping through on my iPad and my stomach literally hit the floor, I needed to get her in to our vet's Bell Equine as soon as possible, I made my excuses, ran to my car and cried all the way home.


As I made my way along the lanes near home I met my sister Hannah in the horsebox, I abandoned my car in my neighbour’s drive, climbed into the cab in a ridiculous work dress and shoes and continued crying all the way to Bell Equine!


All the staff at Bell were fantastic, Tim Mair tapped the joint, it was clearly septic from the colour of the fluid, which he drew off and she was immediately taken into surgery. I gave her a kiss and a cuddle while sobbing hysterically and left her in their capable hands.


Back home I jumped in the shower and sat waiting for Tim to call with an update. I felt sick as I answered the call some two hours later. But it was good news! She was awake although not yet standing and they were pleased with how the operation had gone. He said they would call me again when she was up and then I could go and visit her.

About 25 minutes later I got a call to say she was up and we could go and see her, so Stacey, Hannah and Mark and I all piled into the car and descended on Bell. Hannah walked in first and said hello but it wasn’t until I called to her that CP clapped eyes on me and whinnied which, I won’t lie, made my heart melt!


Feeling much happier I gave her two bananas, which she wolfed down and then left her to get some rest. We went home via the pub, CP wasn’t out of the woods but the signs were positive.


The staff rang me the next morning to tell me she had eaten, was bright and comfortable, I went early to visit her and took her for some grass and was thrilled at how bright she was and how sound she seemed on the leg.


A further tap showed that the infection was well under control, so a second flush wasn’t needed. She stayed at Bell for a week on IV antibiotics and once it was apparent that CP would happily eat her antibiotics in her feed I was allowed to bring her home.


CP on box rest is literally my worst nightmare! She will kick the door continuously and is prone to box walking. CP is happiest out in the field so we have conjured up a succession of small grass paddocks, dotted all around the yard. This means she is eating and getting a different view, but still contained and so far she is happy and contented. She has a stall guard across her door for when she is in at night and so the girls are not being driven insane by her percussion attempts and I am no longer considering Prozac!


Admittedly we are only 1 week into 4 weeks paddock rest, however on Friday the stitches come out and then she is starting a course of hydrotherapy so I am hoping that this will keep her entertained for a little while longer!


I am hugely grateful to Tim and all the staff at Bell Equine for taking such brilliant care of CP. We still have a way to go but I am just so relieved to have her home.


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Sad Goodbyes and Wonderful Hello's by Emma Butler

I have blogged before about horses bringing you such incredible highs but also the fact that they can quite simply break your heart. The impending arrival of this year’s foal was greatly overshadowed by the fact that we had to take the really difficult decision to have Bryan put to sleep just short of his first birthday. I fully accept that breeding is a lottery, it is even more of a risk when you are a one horse breeder like we are, however things do go wrong and in this case we were badly advised and used a stallion who we have since found has a genetic tendency to pass on a catalogue of joint problems.


We took some comfort from the fact that Bryan spent his short life, very much loved and wanted by us and that when the decision was made and the time came, he went quietly and peacefully at home in his favourite field having had a morning in the bluebells with our wonderful grooms who had sent ages grooming him which he loved and generally making a huge fuss of him.


Bryan’s loss left us all very low and none of us could seem to get excited about Diva’s rapidly expanding tummy! She was due to foal the weekend I was away on holiday, she had never foaled early so was confident I could predict when she would drop…


So on the morning I was leaving for the airport, Stacey our head girl rang me to say that Diva had just had the foal. We left the car running on the drive and ran down to the yard to meet our new arrival, who was still wet and very new! It was lovely to see him before I left and the girls and Mark sent me lots of pictures and updates while I was away.


Firestarter or Fritz for short, named in honour of our safari guide, is now 2 weeks old. He is so different to Bryan, small, petite and dainty he is a bundle of buzzing energy who is running poor Diva and us ragged. He is bold and into everything and anything and he doesn’t care where mum is! He is happy to go solo!


I still miss Bryan but Fritz has made us all smile again.


By Emma Butler of Mark Butler Dressage

Could We Have Our Own Royal Filly by Emma Butler

We are now on the countdown to foaling! We are 26 days from Diva’s estimated due date, she usually foals exactly on her due date or a couple of days after. It has just dawned on me that I am actually away on holiday with my friend Sally. So I have hastily scrambled a team of equine midwives to act as stand ins for me.

Now normally I do foal watch on my own, Mark is very much of the opinion that horses have been having foals for hundreds of thousands of years so quite why I feel the need to be there he doesn’t know… But then this is coming from the man who nearly passed out at the birth of his own son and the closest he got to any action was hiding in the corner behind me!

We have a camera with sound linked to the house so I set my alarm and get up  every hour to check on her, Diva is an excellent mum and whoever wrote the textbook on foaling, clearly used her for their guide. My midwives are Hannah my sister, she is paramedic so I am relying heavily on her medical knowledge. Stacey our head-girl and Della second-in-charge. Hannah is a night owl so as long as Diva foals late evening/early hours she will be fine, Della and Stacey are foaling virgins but I am sure they will have it all covered!

This year’s foal is by Firestone, now if it is a colt I want to call it Firestarter and Keith as a stable name. I love unusual names, hence Bryan last year. However I am at a loss for girl names! As always we will just have to wait and see because of the three names we had chosen for Rory, Rory wasn’t actually one of them!

As you have probably gathered we love to keep busy and this weekend saw the first of our 2015 camps. With 12 horses and 11 riders is was our biggest one yet. The progress everyone made was fantastic, for some of our camp members this was their first time away with their horses and the confidence they developed over the course of the weekend was just brilliant to see. More impressively we pretty much ran to time the whole weekend and even the weather was relatively kind, the predicted rain on Sunday amounted to little more than a constant drizzle and stopped by lunchtime.

Although these camps focus on riding and management, a large portion is also given over to eating with meals out at the local pub, fish and chips from the local chippy and the devouring of a range of stunning cakes thanks to Philippa! Personally our camps are my idea of heaven... Loads of food, lots of horses, oodles of matchy matchy and loads of riding! Perfect.

We have lots coming up in the next few weeks:

On Saturday we welcome Equestrian Pro TV  who are coming to film some training videos, Monday we are off to Equinethos to train with Andreas Hasuberger, then Mark and Blitz are going to Addington Premier League and then we are both off to the Inter Regionals as part of Team Southern.

Until next time....


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No More Yellow And Beating The Husband! by Emma Butler

I have a deal with my liveries. I'm happy for them to have deliveries sent to the yard but only if I can open it. I call it parcel porn. I get all the excitement of unwrapping amazing items but none of the expense, and my liveries are more than happy to oblige. I have spent many happy hours unwrapping and drooling over rugs, bridles, matching pads and bandages.


However this week I got my very own delivery! Our first batch of products arrived from our really generous new sponsor; Fly Away & Groom Away Ltd. Like a kid in a sweet shop I happily unwrapped a whole host of lovely new products to try. I have informed CP that her days of being yellow, white and brown are numbered, and the unwanted hitch hikers plaguing poor Margo Bogwoppit have also been served notice! I'll let you know how I get on.


We've been out with CP and Dottie. I stole BBC's music and floor plan and we did our first music class together. CP is living proof you should never judge a book by its cover. Despite her stout appearance, which would lend itself to a horse who is rock steady and unphased by most situations, she surprised us all by being very worried and suspicious of the music! Over the last year I have worked really hard to try and desensitise her to music, thanks to iTunes on my iPhone blasting music out of my coat pocket we have reached a point where she no longer takes off in medium canter every time the bass drops! It wasn't a perfect fit but it was a job well done and I'm thrilled that we have qualified for the winter regional next year. I also did Novice 38, which was a summer qualifier and kickstarts my summer regionals qualification campaign for 2015.


CP was a complete brat on arrival. She proceeded to kick and stamp in the lorry making everyone within a 1mile radius well aware of her displeasure of being incarcerated in a lorry. The fact she had hay, water and company made little difference, and she didn't shut up until she was tacked up, where by she shot off the lorry like a bullet from a gun! By now I know that while she does a really good impression of breathing fire, it is mostly all mouth and no trousers! It didn't stop her bouncing round to the warm-up though and being very, very jolly!


We did a lovely test and I'm so pleased with how we have progressed over the winter so I was over the moon to win my section and overall with our best score at novice to date... did I mention I beat Mark?? He's been really gracious in defeat, but I did remind him that the goal of every trainer is for their protege to become successful! I also said if he needed a lesson to just ask ;)


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Endurance Dressage by Emma Butler

After our regional marathon which certainly proved to be a test of endurance and stamina! I'd like to say we have been taking it easy but that’s not the case in anyway, shape or form, instead it has been full steam ahead trying to make the most of the good weather.


All the fields have been rolled, we are looking ahead to getting them fertilised once the weather warms up consistently, although the grass hasn't really come through yet, we have been able to get the horses back out on the fields as opposed to just using the winter grazing which is looking a little sorry for itself after a hard winter, but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the transform after being rolled and tickled with fertiliser!


Another year has passed and it looks like I’ll be spending several hours carrying out damage limitation thanks to Blitz, who without fail and regardless of what field he is turned out into, religiously does the same thing. He goes to the middle of the field and begins to dig a large crater, which when it rains, this then fills with water, he then proceeds to use his foreleg to mix the water with our clay surface, ensuring maximum gloop factor before dropping to the floor and applying the clay mask all over his body, legs and face, clearly he fully appreciates the appreciates the magical properties of clay… Spring is late this year but nothing is more beautiful than the Bluebells at Volente and I can't wait to see them!


As well as competing locally, we have also been up to Equinethos to train with Andreas Hausberger, the Chief Rider of The Spanish Riding School. It is simply amazing to be able to train with him, he is both encouraging and inspiring and I had a brilliant lesson with CP, we worked on shoulder-in and half-pass before ending with piaffe work. It was a real ‘pinch me’ moment, as I sailed down the centre line in half-pass right I thought to myself “check me out! I'm half passing in trot and it actually looks like half pass, feels like half pass!” Not bad for a pony from a bog?


Mark also had two great lessons, working Blitz first in hand before Mark got on, Andreas really helped to develop the piaffe, which when then replicated under saddle Blitz produced their best piaffe work I've ever seen.


We have booked onto his clinics in May and June, the facilities at Equinethos are stunning and a wonderful back drop in which to train.


Looking ahead to the this year we hope to have Dottie qualified at Novice Open, CP at Novice Restricted, Trevor at Medium Open, Blitz at Advanced Medium Open, while also doing some High Profile shows with him at PSG and PSG FSM. Diva is due to foal around May 26th, this year she is in foal to Firestone so without doubt we will all continue to be busy but I guess we wouldn't have it any other way.


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Regionals, up before the lark!

So we have had an exciting development at Mark Butler Dressage HQ and are thrilled to announce we will be working with a fantastic new sponsor Fly Away Ltd & Groom Away Ltd, we love the range of grooming, veterinary and bio security products and cannot wait to get started and work with their lovely team. Watch this space, pictures of perfect ponies to follow.


Meanwhile, we have also been busy with the regionals. A winter of languishing in the mud meant CP was looking more yellow and brown than white.  Several days were spent scrubbing and washing and as I tucked her in on Saturdaynight with her full lycra bodysuit and leg wraps I felt confident that Sunday morning would simply be a quick damage limitation sponge off…


Oh how wrong could I be? At 4.30am on Sunday morning, with the temperature reading a very chilly -4, I took one look at the dark brown patches which had appeared overnight on the only part of her legs not covered by wrap or rug, then looked down at my cracked, red raw hands, sighed, and promptly began re-bathing the offending patches, while cursing the day I bought a white and brown horse! It wasn’t all bad though… I did give thanks that she has a black tail!


Once plaited, chalked and rugged up, we loaded her and left in the dark and made our way along the glittering frozen lanes praying we didn’t need to brake!

It was still freezing when we arrived at Merrist Wood and the lorry park resembled an ice rink, Mark really managed to step up to super groom and when I emerged from the lorry in my show stuff ready to get on and I was thrilled to find that CP had all the right pieces of tack and equipment on in the right place! I rode across the skating rink, sorry I mean lorry park, hoping that our road nails would provide the necessary traction and we didn’t go splat.


We did a sweet and safe test at only our second regionals, everything happened where it should and we got a very respectable 63.68% and finished 34 out 45. She is not a spooky horse and this gives me real confidence, what I love most about her is that we happily trundle round and I never have to worry about killer flower pots, or scary judge huts. I now need to work on riding the test itself, I think I only operate at 50% of my capacity which is a direct result of stage fright but I am working with the wonderful Danielle Olding, sports psychologist and I am sure I will get better and better the more I do.


My only gripe is that one of the judge’s comments at the bottom of my sheet was completely illegible, none of us can fathom what is says at all. It would be nice if all judges could spend 30 seconds after each test writing something that a rider can read, digest and endeavor to improve on.


CP now has another shiny plaque to add to her impressive collection, noting yet another qualification for a championship, she celebrated by going out in the field, dropping to the floor and turning the white bits brown again!


Meanwhile the pressure is now on to transform BBC (Best Boy Coblet) into a snow white steed for the music class at Patchetts on Friday!


by Emma Butler


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