Franks-a-Goodun and Bella Craven
My horse Frank and I discovered TREC almost by accident.
Frank had arrived in our family 14 years ago as a shy and unbroken 4 year old, bought for my eldest daughter, Frances as a project. And after 6 months of hard work, unfortunately he remained unbroken! Both Frances and I were broken, but not Frank! My youngest daughter, Emily then gamely agreed to take over the ride, with me acting as ballast by hanging on to him from the ground. Somehow, with perseverance and fool hardiness, and after several visits to Peterborough A & E, very gradually things turned around and Frank became a regular in all the Pony Club teams, though always with a very large ‘please be extremely careful at all times’ label attached to him!
With the departure of Emily to university 8 years ago, I rather nervously decided to take him on and start riding competitively again, but only to do dressage, on the premise that less could go wrong within the confines of a dressage arena. How wrong was I? But we did have loads of fun and a few minor successes when we fooled some of the judges some of the time, and qualified to compete in some prestigious places. However, we are basically both totally the wrong shape for dressage to be wildly successful. And just occasionally Frank could still throw his toys out of his pram at an auspicious moment, endangering both life and limb of anyone in the immediate vicinity! Then four years ago someone in my village suggested several of us should sign up for a TREC PTV training session on the jump cross course at Wittering Grange. Total madness really since I hadn’t done a lot of hacking with Frank by this stage!
Nevertheless, armed with a double bridle and a breast plate to use as a neck strap, we set forth. TREC with two reins? How to make things complicated! Every obstacle we encountered was greeted with dissent by an increasingly bemused Frank, incredulous that I was asking to do such weird and wacky things! When we reached the banks and ditch part of the course he was on more familiar territory, from his cross country days, and he briefly behaved. The low branches were rather scary and he almost went into total meltdown over a pallet bridge that was simply not negotiable! But after an exhausting 90 minutes where I had experienced the full gamut of his emotions plus a couple of tantrums, I realised I had survived and that it had all been rather fun. He had, in the end, with time and patience, had a go at most things. And as for my friends? Sadly they can’t have enjoyed it as much as I did, even though their horses were far better behaved than Frank, because they’ve never done any more TREC.
I, on the other hand, sought out more training, (this time in an arena, which was far safer for all concerned), and then some more training, and then even more as it was becoming apparent that Frank had quite an aptitude for Arena TREC. Because Frank can be wary of treading on rubber mats etc in competitions, once on a dry day, I decided to take all our moveable mats out of the house into the yard so we could practice riding over them. Having restored them to the house, imagine my husband’s surprise when he returned from work to find stray hoof prints on a mat in the porch, rather querulously asking, “Had I had Frank in the house?” Oops! However once Frank realised that the same obstacles appeared at each venue he began to enjoy himself until finally I felt we were ready to have a go at a competition. We entered an unaffiliated class at Brooksby, on a bitterly cold day, run by the White Horse TREC Group. Everyone was very friendly and fortunately most of my fellow competitors were just as hopeless as Frank and I were, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There was a gate to open and although Frank had by this stage, become a brilliant gate opener out on a hack, he simply couldn’t get his head round opening and shutting one in the middle of an arena when he could just walk round it!
At my next training day I met Robin Tillett and we liked each other immediately having rather a lot in common, and her horse, the lovely Lily (Jubilee Star) liked Frank and so we decided to pair up for the following winter PTV competitions as well as venture outdoors for full TREC competitions. As I’m dyslexic and have dyscalculia, and also have absolutely no sense of direction, my family are much happier knowing that I am in Robin’s capable hands and not out on my own getting lost on the POR phase, (I regularly get lost doing indoor PTV so I have to write the course on my sleeve). On a POR phase last summer when we reached the first checkpoint, I rather tentatively asked Robin exactly where we were. Apparently we were going clockwise round the route, but I had mistakenly thought we were going anticlockwise! Oops! Once she put me straight I was fine, it’s just that setting off moment...which way to go...and the panic, already on high-alert from the stress of the dreaded Map-room, sets in!
This winter I joined Central TREC and decided to concentrate on the RS Tor Rider Safety Aid Affiliated Winter League as well as a local unaffiliated league run by Karen Barker of Wittering Academy Riding Club, doing both the mounted classes as well as the In Hand. Frank has been brilliant, and has behaved impeccably in every competition. Any marks lost now are generally down to my total incompetence not his! Interestingly he can still be tinsy bit naughty in his dressage tests, because yes, I have still kept the dressage going as it’s so complimentary to the TREC training. The ability to do walk to canter, counter canter, rein back and walk half pirouettes etc mean a high score! And it’s fun doing a bit of TREC training at the end of a dressage lesson too. I have even had my dressage instructor cantering through a corridor on Frank which initially he’d thought impossibly narrow! Accuracy is vital in both disciplines.
I am also an RDA Group Instructor so I use many of the modified TREC obstacles when I am coaching the children who have learning difficulties and or mobility problems, which they love. It not also keeps the ponies and helpers interested and on their toes as it’s a bit different, but it really challenges the children whilst helping them to improve their core balance and develop their fine motor skills in a less formal way which suits many of the autistic children.
Frank and I have really enjoyed becoming acquainted with TREC. I have made some lovely friends and even been to a TREC camp run by Sue Squirrell from Keysoe Riding Club. I’ve had to sleep in my truck a few times, hmm, while Frank camps happily in a corral beside me. At the Riding Club Area dressage competition last summer I had 6 hours between my tests, so much to the surprise of the other competitors, I made Frank a little pen beside the trailer where he happily whiled away the hours, mooching in the sun! So much nicer for him, (and better) than being tied up, or confined to the trailer for such a long period.
Folk lore has it that you never stop learning with horses, and certainly with TREC I have learnt so much more about Frank. We have such a close bond now, life without him would be unthinkable, and maybe not something I would have said in our pre-TREC days. The ‘please be extremely careful at all times’ label is still attached, but only discreetly at the back of my mind, where only I know it’s there! And only Karen Barker and I can remember those ‘broncho’ days, to everyone else he is a legend!