Rebecca Evans shares her story about Tynaskea Mystique Lad (AKA Connor).
As a 14.2hh, rising 5 Connemara gelding, he's a comparative baby in the club. But his young age belies his potential in the competition field.
I have owned Connemara ponies since I was 16 years old. My first Connemara was incredibly talented. Just before we sold him as a 6yr old (because I went off to university), we competed at HOYS. It was in the Working Hunter Pony class, back when Wembley hosted the event. It was my greatest equine achievement!
I had never owned a Connemara before, but they say once you have one, you never buy anything else. For me, that became the case. They tend to have super temperaments and prove very versatile ponies.
Working full time and bringing up my 2 boys, now 18 and 14, I had a few gaps from owning horses in my 20s and 30s. But it was never for very long. I am always pulled back to my first love: horses.
Working in the industry for over 20 years (Horse Trust 10 years, Horses4Homes 3 years and now Right Horse Right Home 5 years), makes it hard to speak to horse people all day and not own one yourself!
I have always tended to buy youngsters: 3 and 4 yr olds. I prefer putting my mark on a horse rather than unpicking previous trauma or bad habits.
I also believe in giving young horses a strong educational foundation. it can set them up for life. If you do need to sell them in the future, it reduces the risk that they fall into the wrong hands.
A blank canvas with the right temperament is often, for me anyway, a safer bet. They're also much more affordable, especially with today's skyrocketing prices during the pandemic.
I also love the journey and progress from bringing on youngsters. It can be a very satisfying and rewarding experience.
That said, I was rather trepidacious to take on such a challenge in my mid-40s. “Can I really do this again… am I too old?” I would constantly ask myself.
My confidence is not what it once was. I think motherhood seems to strip you of the bravery you once had. Watching videos on social media of what can, and regularly does happen, certainly does little to improve one's confidence!
So I began by searching the internet for a quality, well-bred Connemara gelding. I sought one with good movement and conformation, accompanied by a calm, chilled out but inquisitive disposition.
There really wasn’t that much about. I am fussy and what I could see in England did not have the substance in build and bone that I liked. Many Connemaras are now built for performance and look more like small sport horses, rather than chunky, hardy native ponies. I bought from Ireland twice before, so I widened my search.
Having spent a lot of time in my youth in the showing circuit, I have a reasonable eye for a horse.
With good conformation, usually comes good soundness and hopefully longevity. You can never eliminate lameness issues. But finding a horse with good bone and conformation helps.
This horse would ideally be my forever horse. A horse I can keep well into my 50s, when I want to ride something safe. It needed to be the right one.
I found a couple of breeders in Ireland whose youngsters I liked the look of. So I made plans to fly over, hire a car and visit them. I didn’t have anyone who could accompany me sadly, so braved the trip alone.
Again, I wondered if I was too old for this. But I thought, "what the hell you only live once, trust your instincts and your gut and if it doesn’t feel right don’t buy it."
I had already seen lots of videos of Connor. This one here really caught my eye. He was just 3 years old. Before I went to see him, he had only been sat on and walked about, nothing else. He did not care a jot and seemed a sweet person.
I previously bought a backed Connie from Ireland that was rushed and roughed up. I preferred the idea of a Connie that had not had much done to it.
So many in Ireland are rushed. Loose jumped as two-year-olds and hunted hard in heavy deep ground, sometimes as young as three. I don’t agree with this and it can have severe consequences later on.
Connor, however, had barely been ridden at all, which for me was preferable. This is how young girls do it in Ireland – Video clip they jump right on! He was with a lovely family, who bought him as a foal.
When I arrived, I got on board and he really didn’t care. He was well-handled and did not seem worried or anxious at all. This made my purchase decision a whole lot easier. I bought him, got him vetted and transported over. The rest is history I guess!
Here is a picture of when he arrived, all the way from Ireland. I paid £3500 for him, including transport. Given today's prices, just 18 months on he would be double this price now. So I did well, I think! Also, transporting from Ireland now has become more complicated and expensive due to Brexit.
I am old and wise enough to know that without support and tuition from good professionals, as well as help from friends and fellow riders on the ground, things can easily go wrong with a youngster.
It has been a fair few years since I had trained a recently backed horse. It was important to me to have good support available. You need to give youngsters clear, consistent signals they can understand. You also need patience: Rome was not built in a day.
When Connor arrived and saw a haynet, I remember his bafflement. He didn’t understand why his hay was in a net and how to get it out! He also never had hard food before but loved it.
In the first few weeks and months, I invested in getting to know him. I spent time leading him, long reining him and taking him for walks to expose him to different sights and sounds. He now happily walks over tarpaulin, open and shut gates and stands rock still, most of the time, when I get on.
I have had regular lessons with Amelia Cramner and Ian Cast for the last year or so, which have been fantastic.
With Amelia, once Connor had built up the basics and some strength we started teaching him to jump. We started with poles only a few inches from the ground and gradually built this up.
Having not taught a horse to jump for many years I found this quite nerve-wracking. Connor was quite blasé about when to take off! Doing gridwork ranks up my nerves the most. It is a great tool for getting horses to think about their jumping and where to put their feet. But my blood pressure takes flight with this exercise…but so far so good!
This year we ventured to Cherwell, where we competed in the Riding Club Arena Eventing. This is his greatest jumping achievement to date and his first jumping experience away from home.
He was a little overwhelmed at first and took offence when the flags were flapping furiously in the wind but did not disgrace himself.
He is a pretty brave soul for a baby and unfazed most of the time. We have built up quite a trust. If mum says he will be fine and gives the right confidence-giving signals, he responses, “OK then, if you say all is good, I will keep going”.
He did have a couple of fences down at Cherwell, but I am never that concerned about this. In the early days, it is all about not refusing the jump and going straight and forward.
We also did some great jumping clinics with Amelia at home and ventured to Manor Farm in Kingsey, near Thame, which has a super WHP course. You can see his first WHP round here. He had just the last fence down but the judges liked him and he got a respectable 3rd.
Hacking is a really important aspect of his education and any horse I take on. If your horse is not safe to hack out even in company and always needs a lead past anything even slightly spooky, it can create issues elsewhere.
Horses need to listen to their leaders. If we say all is fine, they should take confidence from this. I have spent a lot of time hacking, both in the company of other horses and with my husband either on foot or with his bike. Connor now happily and safely hacks out by himself at 4 years old (5 in May) without incident.
He is not a backward thinking horse and has never shown any nappy tendencies. This can be the worst type of behaviour to change. He will on occasion take a look at something, but on the whole is very well behaved. I think this is probably the greatest feather to his bow.
His dressage is coming on well. This is largely down to the amazing tuition given by Ian Cast, set up by Jax Johnston for Naphill Riding Club at Pipers Valley Farm, where I keep Connor.
Ian's lessons are so inspiring and effective. I am now probably a much more effective rider than I was in my youth, certainly schooling on the flat.
Connemaras can have a tendency to be lazy. (Sometimes that's what you get for a breed or type with a laid back temperament). Personally, I would go for a lazy and chilled out horse but make them responsive every time rather than go for a horse which can be sharp and spooky.
Ian has helped make sure Connor is responsive to my leg. My nagging traits, which I used to have as a rider, have definitely improved.
We attended Wellington in the Autumn, his first dressage competition, where he behaved well. Working in at a new venue with lots of strange horses can be too much for some youngsters. He was a little tense but got a reasonable score, getting 7s for both his canters which I was really pleased with. We came in 8th position in a very competitive class.
I am thoroughly enjoying my journey with Connor. I am also blessed to be at a yard with fantastic facilities, coupled with safe hacking and very little road work.
I hope in 2021 we get to do some XC schooling sessions, perhaps ride on the beach, something I am yet to tick off my bucket list. Maybe we'll even see how he stands up to his contemporaries at a few M&M WHP classes.