After waiting what seemed a very long 5 ½ months since winning the bursary I was actually going to McKee barracks for the weeks training. I arrived with Sarah at 4 o’clock on the dot after her dad kindly offered to take both horses up in his lorry.
At 4.30 we were met by Lieutenant Whyte who showed us where our stables were for the week and where to put our tack and other belongings. He was so nice and welcoming and made me feel at ease straightaway. My mum then drove Sarah and I to the Ashling Hotel which would be our accommodation for the week. My room was amazing. I settled in straightaway and after a lovely dinner in the hotel I went to bed to get some rest.
On Monday morning I woke up at 6:45 for breakfast. Breakfast in the hotel was divine and just the job for fuelling my body for the long day ahead. Myself and Sarah set off at 7:30 in order to be at the barracks for 7:50. The walk was nice and not too long.
When we arrived at the barracks we started mucking out straight away. At 8:30 Corporal Burke came and inspected our stables. We quickly realised that our stables had to be much cleaner along with the space outside the stable. It was very interesting to learn how to actually muck out a stable properly and I have so much respect for the grooms in the army who have to muck out four stables by 8.30 each morning!
Corporal Burke took us to the headquarters to have a lecture by Commandant Sharon Crean on the history of the equitation school and its purpose. It was extremely interesting and I really liked how its main objective was to promote the Irish horse as they are definitely the best horses in the world in my opinion! I would also just like to note how nice and welcoming both Commandant Crean and Corporal Burke were on our first day and throughout the week. We then had a health and safety brief from CS Hynes in the same building and after a coffee break we got our horses ready for our flat work lesson which was at 11:00. In the army everyone lives by something called the five minute rule which means you have to be everywhere and have everything prepared or done five minutes before the set time. Sarah and I had been told this and to be fair she was ready on time but I wasn’t and as a result we were seven minutes late!! Commandant Crean told us that we just had our first exposure….. basically our only second chance. Our lesson though was very good. Sharon made us work on our position and the rhythm of the horse. My mare is extremely bad on the flat, so this lesson was very beneficial. At the end of the lesson my horse was bending evenly and starting to accept the contact which is a big deal for her! I learned that the position of the rider is extremely important because it affects the overall way of going and balance of the horse. I also learned to reward the horse when it does what you want and the main thing is to look for quality with horses not quantity.
Lunchtime! We went to the cookhouse for our first lunch of the week. There was something different every day and a good selection.
After lunch, Cpl Burke showed us how clean our stables and the area outside had to be and gave us a lecture on the nutrition of the horse. It was then time to get ready for our second riding lesson.
We headed out to the small outdoor arena to have a lesson with Captain Geoff Curran. Geoff was very nice and really funny. He was also a very good instructor and taught us over a grid. My mare jumped well and Geoff really helped with relaxing my horse and making her listen. I found it amazing to be taught by an Olympian!
After the lesson we untacked, put everything away, fed our horses and headed to the hotel at about 16.30.
Tuesday morning, 8.30 Cpl. Burke came to inspect our stables and was pleasantly surprised. They weren’t perfect, but they were of a good standard. 8.45 we headed to the large outdoor arena where we were taught by Lt Whyte how to walk courses and count strides correctly. This was really useful and I now feel much more confident to walk a course.
We then had a feeding lecture by Cpl Burke which was very interesting and I learned a lot. The one thing that was very clear was how spot on the army is with everything. The standard of turnout and accuracy of feeding and watering was remarkable. Now it was time to get ready for our lesson and make sure to be on time.
We had a show jumping lesson with Lt. Col. Freyne in the large outdoor. My mare was very fizzy and full of beans but I had a great lesson regardless. Lt Freyne taught me how to relax and therefore let the horse relax and therefore improve your jumping.
After lunch we were taught by Lt. Whyte how to lunge a horse correctly and the things you should not do. We then mounted the horse for a lunge lesson. It was quick and fun where Lt Whyte took away our stirrups and reins and made us close our eyes for a short time. Sarah made it look very easy so now I was nervous! Luckily I found it easy too, and was so thankful to my trainer for “torturing” me over the years by making me ride without stirrups and reins and closing my eyes at least once a week.
Comdt. Crean then took us for a flatwork lesson, during which we learned how to do leg yielding step by step and more importantly why we do it and how it benefits the horse. So now we had to do our evening duties and head back to the hotel after a really enjoyable day where we learned something every minute.
Wednesday morning 8:30 we passed our stable inspection with Cpl. Burke. (We were getting good at this!) 8:45 we had a canter pole demonstration with Captain Charlene Kehoe. She joked how it might not be flawless to watch but it was a real masterclass, during which she showed us many different exercises to do using just 5 canter poles. At 9:30 it was time to put everything we had just learned into practice during our riding lesson. Capt. Kehoe had made it look very easy in her demo but I found it quite tricky to get my horse to do what was asked. It was really interesting to learn how helpful canter poles are for training both yourself and the horse and my plan is to do these exercises at home.
At 11:00 Cpl. Burke gave us a veterinary lecture. He taught us how to check the vital signs of the horse and what the readings should be. This was very helpful as we went to Liam Sharpe and Lisadell Veterinary hospital after lunch. It was pretty cool because we got to drive in a new army jeep which was massive. We were given a tour by a Spanish intern who was very nice and taught us lots, from how to check for vital signs, to what happens before and after surgery. I took in everything I could as this is a subject I’m very interested in. At 4.30 we were back at the barracks to feed our horses and sweep our area before heading back to the hotel. It had been an absolutely brilliant day.
Thursday 8:30 we passed stable inspection. At 8.45 we spoke to the yard’s farrier and learned all about what a farrier needs to know and how they train to become one. At 9:45 we headed out to the large outdoor arena to watch Gerry Flynn teach Capt. Curran and Capt. Kehoe. This was very interesting and really showed me that even the best of riders need lessons to ensure they don’t pick up bad habits and it was a pleasure to watch as both Captains are very talented riders.
11:00 we had a flatwork lesson with Comdt. Crean, during which we learned about the “shoulder in” exercise. The brilliant thing about these lessons was that every day you would know what you had to work on and whether you or the horse was improving. After lunch we had to wash our horses and get ready for inspection by Comdt. Crean and both horses passed.
We weighed the horses and it was nice to know that my horse was at her optimum weight.
Comdt. Crean then took us for a jumping lesson in the small outdoor. This was an amazing lesson where we got to practice what we had learned in our canter poles lesson with Capt. Kehoe. I felt it really helped me to become more accurate with the number of strides between jumps. After we had stabled our horses and finished grooming and tidying it was time to go back to the hotel, sadly for the last time.
On Friday morning we arrived at the yard at 7:30 to make sure our stables and area were spotless as we would have a thorough inspection with Lt Whyte at 8:30. Luckily both Sarah and I passed. Cpl Burke then gave us a lecture about traveling horses and at 9:45 we built the course we would be jumping later on with Comdt. Crean. At 10:30 we got our horses ready before going to the large outdoor for our final lesson which started at 11:00 when our parents arrived. The lesson was brilliant and I was really happy with how my horse went and how I rode. However, the end of the lesson concluded our amazing week and I felt really sad. We took photos in front of the Equitation school with Comdt. Crean, Lt Whyte and Cpl. Burke and Syl Ryan of the Irish Pony Club. It was nice to get a picture with the people who made this week so special and unforgettable. Thank you to the Army Equitation School and Irish Pony Club for this amazing opportunity and thank you also to my parents and my instructor. I would highly recommend everyone in Pony Club to aim to win the bursary at the 1.20 Classic final.
By Yousef Sallam, Tipperary Hunt Branch