Monday, 19 June 2017

Team White archives: A fine backside (April 2007)

Ten years ago, my husband Ian and I completed what was to be our last eventing season. At the start of the following year, Ian was diagnosed with a grade IV brain tumour and died 3 months later. During our time as amateur eventers, I wrote a monthly column for online equestrian magazine, Eventing Worldwide, in which I related our adventures as Team White. To celebrate what would have been Ian's 51st birthday this week, I have chosen 2 of my favourite articles from this column to share with you. This is an adapted version of the article first published on
This month began with a trip to one of our favourite horse trials: Goring Heath. We have visited this event every season since we started eventing. It has a wonderful atmosphere, is well organised, and we love the fact that at each level both the show-jumping and cross country courses are challenging but fair. It is interesting how, this season, Ian and I have walked the novice courses with a different perspective from a year ago. Only another season has gone by but our confidence has grown. The fences at this level no longer look impossibly big and scary. What a lovely feeling to know we are progressing, however slowly! 
Ian and Moose flying at Goring Heath

Ian and Moose entered the Novice class for the first time at this venue and began by completing a reasonable dressage. Despite considerable improvement in Moose’s flatwork at home, Ian struggles to get the same co-operation in an arena. Under the pressure of having to perform movements in quick succession and in a restricted area, the dressage is still a battle. Ian went into the show jumping a little deflated and a sudden and uncharacteristic stop at fence 3 didn’t help matters. But, as always, the boys went into the cross country phase as determined as ever to enjoy the day. They jumped clear around what was a technical course that demanded bold riding. Moose flew over the fences, ears pricked and Ian’s face as he crossed the finish line said it all!

The girls looking smart for dressage
Willow and I were contesting the Pre-novice class and as we warmed up for the dressage, I was feeling quietly confident. However, any attempt to look cool and professional was soon dashed as Willow announced her arrival to the stewards with a resounding whinny which made them all laugh. I explained that her boyfriend was nearby. “Oh yes,” one steward smiled. “We’ve met Mr Moose!” With a few minutes to go before we started I turned away to do a last walk around. “That’s a fine backside she’s got,” said another steward. I can only assume they were talking about Willow!
The dressage went well and a clear round in the show jumping followed. At this point, I have to say a thank you to fellow columnist and Australian eventer, Bill Levett. Bill gave me some excellent tips on how to improve Willow’s canter during a recent clinic. I’ve been working on this since and as a consequence the show jumping phase has become easier. With a promising start, we warmed up for the cross country feeling rather pleased with ourselves. Willow felt fit and well across the course and having cleared the corner at 18, the end was in sight. I felt her back off from the trakehner at 19, so gave her a quick tap with my stick and up she soared to a loud shout of “woohoo!” from the gathered onlookers. We finished with a double clear and a seventh rosette was our prize.
Water? No problem! Hambleden
A couple of weeks later, Moose and Ian competed at Hambleden – again a first attempt at novice at a venue that is another favourite of ours, and this year the bluebells were stunning. The sun was shining and with only one horse to manage, the mood in the Team White camp was optimistic. But then - the dreaded dressage loomed and once more Ian fought his way through the test. My heart went out to him. He came out of the arena and I knew we were thinking the same thing – was it fair to keep Moose as an eventer if the dressage phase was truly out of his comfort zone? Our options were to sell him to someone who would showjump or hunt him, or to send him away for training. In some ways it was a relief to have a discussion about something which had been on our minds since the start of the season, and to have some agreement on the options we had.
As if he knew his future was hanging in the balance, Moosie put on the best show of his life for the show jumping. He jumped a lovely clear round despite a loose dog giving him encouragement in the arena! He then flew round the cross country course, sailing through the first water complex, which had caused no end of trouble throughout the day. He had once again demonstrated just how effortless he finds the cross country phase and how much potential he has. We knew there and then we had to find a way to keep him and improve his dressage.
Moose massage
As a celebration and a treat for Moose we took advantage of a free equine massage offered at the event. Oh yes! The Moose visited a masseuse. And no I never thought I’d ever write those words. The massage was given by Rhiannon Flatman of Equimas who, having qualified recently, had given up her work in the City to pursue her dream of becoming a freelance equine massage therapist. At a diminutive stature, she had her work cut out with the 17.2hh Moose but whatever she did must have been worth standing around for. Moose, who is a notorious fidget, didn’t move for 20 minutes!

Ian has considered moving up to compete at Intermediate level this season.  So, we returned to Hambleden the next day to watch the Intermediate competition and take notes. After watching the dressage we both concluded there was no way Ian and Moose were ready! The question we needed to answer was whether the boys were capable of competing in the dressage at that level with extra training. As fate would have it, we bumped into Gill Watson, who we had had a few lessons with. Having explained the situation she suggested that we bring Moose over to her yard later in the week for professional eventer, Abi Walters, to ride. Hopefully, Abi would be able to give us an opinion on whether it was worth pursuing an eventing career with Moose on the basis of his dressage. A few days later and Moose arrived at Gill’s base at Hyde Heath Farm. Abi rode him and made a very accurate assessment of his issues. She gave Ian ideas on how he could improve the way he was going, which came down to improving the basics and in particular the transitions. Moose begins a test well, as reflected in the good early marks, which then decrease following each transition. It was reassuring to hear Abi say that she thought Moose had potential, with good movement and cadence. “He’s definitely worth persevering with”. So, watch this space for how Moose gets on at dressage boot-camp in a later column.
A fine backside!
The next day, Willow and I went off to Nurstead Court to compete in our first novice this season, and our first since our accident at West Wilts. It had not been my intention to ride my first novice at an unfamiliar event. I had originally planned to ride in the Pre-novice regional final for the Grassroots competition. However, at the time of entry I had obviously drunk too many glasses of red wine - under the influence and egged on by an equally inebriated husband, I entered the Novice class instead. The strategy paid off. I have put off riding at Novice level at several events on the basis that there are one or two fences that I’ve seen on each course which I don’t feel confident riding. By going to an event totally ignorant of what was in store, I ended up jumping fences that I would have avoided before.
We arrived at the event in good time, and having walked the courses, Willow and I completed the dressage with a reasonable score. Half an hour before the show jumping and it all could have ended in disaster, when I suddenly discovered I hadn’t packed my body protector. I couldn’t believe it! Thank goodness for the saddlers, Horses in Sport, who were at the event and who had a body protector in my size in stock. A big thank you as well to my good friend, Mary and her daughter Kerri, who live close to the venue and who were coming along to support me. The SOS went out via Mary to Kerri who turned her house inside out in order to try to find her own body protector to lend me!
Woohoo! Willow at Nurstead Court
With that problem resolved and having completed a clear round in the show jumping (another first for me at Novice) I felt quite relaxed going into the final phase. We entered the start box and waited to be counted down.The starter chatted away to me, asking me about my day and about Willow’s breeding. As I rode Willow to the front of the enclosure, I had to smile as his last comment to me was: “She has a fine backside”. Twice in one month - I yet again assumed he was talking about Willow but couldn’t resist giving a little wiggle as we set off to gallop around the course and complete our first Novice course of the season.

Coming later this week: A Royal Event - Moose and Ian win their first Novice rosette at Gatcombe and shake hands with royalty.
Did you know brain tumours kill more people under the age of 40 than any other cancer yet research is significantly underfunded? To find out more about this devastating condition and help raise funds for vital research, visit the Brain Tumour Research charity website. 

Kathryn White is owner and director of Cathean Ltd medical writing services and  Cathean Ltd equestrian journalistm & copywriting services. She is a published medical writer and equestrian journalist/copywriter with a passion for creating compelling text in collaboration with her clients. Her customers include pharmaceutical, healthcare and equestrian businesses across the world. 

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