“Big open spreads with coloured poles scare me and I’m not afraid to admit it”

Sarah Johnstone details her pre-season plan for Woody, including his feeding and exercise regime.

Happy (late) February everyone! Although, is it February? Or have I accidentally fallen asleep and woken up in July? Never before in my 20 years of owning horses have I had a clipped horse turned out with no rug on at this time of year, but here we are. 
 
I know many of you lucky people have your first events at the beginning of March and, although I am super excited for you, the Scottish season doesn’t kick off until the start of April, so we still have a good few weeks of preparation and fitness time. 
 
Saying that, organisation for the season is going well. At 12 years old, Woody is by no means a veteran, but I am aware that he is no longer a spring chicken. Plus he is carrying an injury, so I will need to take extra care of him and be a bit more proactive with planning, preparation and fitness.
 
My first port of call was to get a nutritionist out to weigh him and talk through some feed plans. Woody evented up to Novice purely on grass, haylage and thin air, so it’s safe to say he is a ‘good-doer’. However, I want to give him that little something extra to help with joint support and stamina this season. We had a great evening with eight horses from the yard stepping on the scales and eight happy owners going home with a personalised feed plan and free samples from Dodson & Horrell. Woody needs to lose about 20kg, so we have upped the work and I have been double netting his haylage to make it last longer, much to his dismay!
 
I’ve also booked a saddle fitter to come out to check both his jumping and dressage saddle, and my physio is paying him a visit for his pre-season ‘MOT’. I’ve even started going to a ‘Ride Strong’ class at the gym to help with my fitness level, which regularly leaves me crawling up the stairs to bed at night! 
 
Lessons and clinics are in full swing and I’ve got my first BE dressage test entered this weekend, which will hopefully run on grass. Looking at my schedule for the next six weeks I have plenty of flatwork and cross country practice booked in, but for some reason I seem to have forgotten that show jumping exists – typical eventer, right? So, on my one free weekend in March, I have written in my diary – in giant capital letters – MUST GO SHOW JUMPING!!! 
 
Show jumping is something that has always scared me. I think it stems back to my time with my wonderful eventer and first true love, Snug, who floated around the white boards like a butterfly and was a machine on the cross country course, but if the tiniest thing was wrong in the show jumping he wouldn’t jump. He slipped while jumping one outing and rotated his pelvis, and he never quite recovered his confidence in this phase, which I think transferred to me. I am much better now, but facing those 1.10m Novice tracks back in 2017 brought my fear to the surface again. Big open spreads with coloured poles scare me and I’m not afraid to admit it. 
 
So this week I’m going to put some exercises (including spreads) up. I know Woody has plenty of scope and, as long as I get him in a good rhythm, he will jump anything. I just need to learn not to panic and chase on the last few strides.  
 
Hope you enjoy our vlog this month, which shows some footage of our first cross country session on grass since August 2017! We were both a little bit rusty, so the jumps are a lot smaller than they were back then, but it was great to be out and have a really confident session with lots to take home and work on. 
 
I hope your pre-season prep is going well and good luck to those out eventing already – remember to enjoy it!
 
Sarah