Charles and Zoe go to Boot Camp

13th June 2016
Beryl Shuttleworth
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Nikki Crisp Bootcamp – 23rd – 25th October 2015

I am great at booking lessons/bootcamps with various trainers, building up the “miracles” they will work in my head, then becoming increasingly disappointed when things do not go as I thought they would…

After months of trying to justify spending more money on training, I eventually got around to booking a bootcamp weekend with Nikki Crisp at her lovely yard in Newmarket. Weeks of anxiety followed; would Charles trash the stables, would I be totally out of place with my  cob (surely only posh skinny dressage divas with multi-million pound warmbloods would go on these bootcamps?!).

We arrived at “Paradise” Friday afternoon, met by the cheery vision that is Becky (Nikki’s right hand woman/PA/General Dogsbody) who allocated us a parking space and showed me Charles’ stable for the weekend (a nice solid internal stable with full door grill!! No more repeats of his showground escapades that he became famous for!!) Waving goodbye to James (he had to go home and look after the dogs/cats and other horses for the weekend) I went in search of tea and biscuits!

Nikki was busy teaching in her lovely outdoor arena, so I stood and watched a few lessons before getting ready for my own. Charles is always Mr Dependable, and having already been under saddle for an hour and a half at the Area Festival that morning I had no worries that he wouldn’t come out and be his normal chilled out self. Nothing ever seems to phase him… Famous last words!

He passaged into the arena like it was full of fire breathing dragons! My 16hh maxi cob suddenly became 18hh of terrified Dinosaur! Despite having been in many arenas adorned with mirrors and surrounded by fields, for some reason these mirrors were terrifying, and the fields housed monsters rather than other horses. Not being the bravest of riders (still trying to regain confidence after my accident) I went into total meltdown! He was spooking at the mirrors, puffing and passaging at the horses working around him (their reflections were even more terrifying than his own!) and the horses in the fields just about finished him off! Close to tears and fighting the urge to jump off and suggest lunging him, Nikki took control and told me to kick on and ride forward! After practising his Levade, and demonstrating a lovely rein back across the width of the arena, I managed to get some forward momentum and off we went! Nikki telling me to go forwards, forwards, forwards resulted in us flying round the arena in the most amazing trot I’ve ever seen (the horse eating mirrors were slowly becoming our friend) and I finally had a horse that had begun to swing through his back and actually start to use himself!! After a terrifying 40 minutes of “forward” I slithered off onto legs that could barely support my weight. I do not think Charles had a dry spot on him (despite being fully clipped out just a week ago!).

After washing Charles down and settling him back into his stable, I hurried back to watch the last couple of lessons, feeling incredibly inadequate after my melt down, and subsequent thundering around at racing-cob pace. However, any preconceptions I had of “dressage divas” and the skinny bitches I had assumed would be present was quickly washed aside, as everyone, without exception, turned out to be the warmest, loveliest bunch of people. We made our way up to the “Wendy House” for a superb dinner and plenty of alcohol, to then sit and chat about our various horses and goals for the weekend… At this point we also found out about “Hot Jack” the fencing contractor, who provided us with great amusement all weekend.

I was second into the arena on Saturday morning, and quickly became accustomed to NMT (Nikki Mean Time) – generally 30 minutes to an hour behind GMT. Thankfully my Dinosaur had calmed a little (perhaps due to the 4 measures of The Herbal Horse Calm Mix that morning!!), and although still tense, he started to accept the mirrors, allowing me to trot past them by the end of the session without demonstrating his awesome 90mph half pass! The emphasis was still on forward, forward, forward – and at this point I commented how ‘uncomfortable’ he had become to ride. This is a good thing as it meant he was FINALLY starting to use his back end!! It made me think that as a rider I have probably been blocking him a fair bit, allowing him to go in a way I found comfortable rather than what was correct. We finished the session by doing a little work on his walk – a pace that we have always struggled with. Within just a few minutes we had managed to get him to loosen up and walk out better.

I popped him back in his stable with his ice vibes on whilst I went off to my Pilates session in the Wendy House. I do Pilates regularly at my gym, and so thought it would be very similar stuff to what I was used to. Whilst the movements were familiar, what I found incredibly useful was the explanation that went with them. Tara Kusch (Evolved Pilates) was just amazing and I would recommend any horse rider wanting to improve their balance and core strength contact her. She is incredibly knowledgeable, and as a rider herself can relate everything back to the way you should move in the saddle to get the best from your horse. I found the session a real eye opener and could not wait to get back in the saddle to try things out.

The remainder of the day consisted of drinking copious amounts of the best mulled wine I’ve ever tasted, whilst watching Nikki torture, sorry, I mean teach other campers. This was an experience in itself – watching the improvement shown by all the riders/horses was amazing. The wide range of horses/ages/abilities blew me away. Having expected a camp full of expensive warmbloods and divas, there was everything from cobs to eventers and those just starting out to some very experienced partnerships.

After a day of lovely drink, warm pizza, and the best banana bread known to mankind, the rain started to fall as the last lesson began (soon not to be a problem with the amazing indoor school nearing completion). Nikki’s husband, NEH surgeon Will Barker, gave us the most interesting talk on lameness I think I have every listened to. How many of us really know what the structures in the legs do and how they fit together? Accompanied by leg bones, Will gave us an excellent picture of how horses legs actually work, and what the major causes of lameness really are. I definitely walked away feeling I had learned an awful lot!

Another super dinner followed, accompanied by yet more alcohol and conversation, although everyone appeared more willing to crawl off to bed at an earlier time, exhaustion starting to set in!

Thankfully the clocks went back an hour, giving us all a nice lay in. My lesson wasn’t until 11.45 so I got to watch others whilst waking up slowly, knowing I’d be more likely to ride around 1pm as we were still running on NMT despite the clock change. Charles was back to his usual self (another 4 scoops of The Herbal Horse Calm Mix!) and we could now pass the mirrors without pirouettes and half pass being required movements! We had a fantastic final session including an (unintentional) attempt at piaffe! I really think we may end up doing Grand Prix yet LOL!! Our walk seriously improved having just spent a short while on it, so fingers crossed it is something that will get better and better. Charles has such a fabulous walk when wandering around in the field, yet we’ve never been able to get him to relax enough under saddle to show it. Hopefully we are now moving in the right direction!

I was so sad to be packing up to go home, and am counting the days until I can return to “Paradise” to pick up from where we left off. It was the most entertaining, insightful training camp I have ever attended, and I will certainly be a regular in the future! Not only could I see the huge improvement in my own horse, but being able to watch others and see how much they improved over the weekend was fantastic. Add to that the camaraderie, Nikki’s fabulous humour and Becky’s ability to stay calm and keep everything running smoothly, these camps are a fabulous all round experience. It gave me a huge boost to my confidence knowing that I could deal with the occasional (uncharacteristic) strop from Charles, as well as giving me so much to work on. I had such a great time with my fellow campers, and cannot wait to see some of them again in December!

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