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This year so far is already very good and very busy. With the event season just around the corner we have lots of horses on the yard, all in their various phases of fitness, getting ready for what lies ahead.
We had a great finish to the season last year, followed by a much-needed break in Mexico with the family. All horses that had a rest in September were back in work by the time we got home. We’ve not actually stopped all winter, pretty much like most eventing yards these days. The plan initially was to get ahead with the dressage.
But then Devoucoux – one of our sponsors - invited me to represent them at their Indoor XC Derby in Paris. It was my first ever experience of it. And Alcatraz and I only went and won it! We were the first ever Devoucoux representative rider to win it, so the Devoucoux team were chuffed to bits. I’m not going to deny, the ‘look at me’ gene took over that night, and Alcatraz and I worked the audience into an arena-rocking, high-fiving frenzy. The crowds loved it, and the rock star in Alcatraz shone - he has the temperament and ability absolutely suited to this type of event. We both thrived on the atmosphere and enjoyed the stardom equally! Then a day or two after we got home from the competition a guy in Geneva called me up and said ‘Heyyyy, Mr Showman!!’ I replied, ‘Erm, who is this??’ A chap called Michael saw our performance in Paris, and asked me if we would like to come to Geneva; so we went to the CHI Geneva show and very nearly won that too!
Now is the time of year where we sit down to formulate our plans and schedules. We put in lots of time and effort to clearly set out what we want to do as well as what each horse ‘needs’ to achieve in its immediate career path. As you might imagine, it takes a heck of a lot of organising when you have a yard with twenty competition horses in regular work. Schedules for staff and travel have to be like clockwork. We have three lorries – supported by the Equitrek fleet, which is an enormous help - going in different directions all the time, whether for training or competition. The timing and management from the team has to be spot on, then all I have to do is turn up and do my job right. For instance we went show jumping at Hartpury a couple of weeks ago. We took 16 horses, which meant we jumped 30 showjumping rounds across two days. As you might imagine, it’s important to ensure each horse is tacked up and ready to go at the right time! It’s a huge team effort.
Our team on the yard is working amazingly hard and pulling together really well. We’ve recently put a lot of time and effort into building and strengthening the teamwork with all of them by doing some management training exercises. Talking about things running like clockwork above, we try to help them realise that each of them are important cogs in the machine. If one cog stops working, or there’s a jam in the system, the whole thing stops working. It’s vitally important that every cog knows its role and importance within the team to keep the yard successful. It helps to keep the focus. We wanted to make sure all the guys realise that the grooms that stay at home, prepping the horses to be spot on for when I return to ride, are every bit as important as those grooms that go away to events. I never say it lightly when I say ‘teamwork makes the dream work.’
Right now they’re prepping EVERYTHING for the start of the season, so there’s an enormous amount of hard work being done on every level. Goals are set for different horses at different times of the season, meaning horses’ performances are peaked at intervals. This spreads the intensity of training out a little which relieves some pressure. At this time of the year it’s like a tsunami of preparation attempting to get everything ready for the first events in March.
We have 20 horses, with 4 full-time staff, 4 part-time staff, one work rider – plus Simmone and me, (and our three daughters when they’re not at school and not doing their own ponies). When we get a good result at a show, it’s a good result for all of us, and each person deserves some of the credit.
The quality of horses in the yard is incredibly high. Our owners are exceptionally driven and supportive. The yard team is very good and gelling together nicely. We pay well to ensure we get good staff, and have good camaraderie, which creates a nice atmosphere – so we seem to have struck a happy balance. Obviously, we have to ensure that everything that happens within the yard has to be the best at every level – whether that’s sweeping the yard, horse management, training, or performing. Success starts from the bottom up; you need a strong foundation then work your way up.
As mentioned, at this time of year we’re planning every step of what’s to come, using a combination of diaries, white boards and planners. We have a spreadsheet with all the events down the left hand side, and horses across the top (and because there are so many horses, events are on the right hand side too, so you can see at a glance!) We prioritise the 5* horses, then 4*, then 3*, looking firstly at Internationals, then Young Horse competitions, then Nationals, then age (such as 5-year-old) classes.
You can’t do more than 5 x XC rounds in a day, so that helps you to work out each horse’s programme. Then an extra horse might get added, so you have to shuffle them around a bit. Then you have to factor in the weather etc., so all your plans are provisional. Then I have to fit in my diary – including meetings with sponsors, owners, press, etc. and training days, clinics and so on. Communication is key, and it’s important to keep everyone updated and ‘in the loop’.
Then there are the yard diaries which lists what each horse does each day; also if we need the girls to do anything with the lorries (such as maintenance, servicing or restocking etc.)
We also have the white boards in the tack room – covering the next 10-14 days. This will tell them when ‘Alex is on the yard’, ‘Dressage training’, ‘Showjumping training’, ‘Gallops’, etc. Which means if I’m on the yard, they’ll know that between 8am and 3pm it will be mayhem and I’ll be riding all day. If I’m not at the yard, I’ll probably be away with 5 horses and it’ll be their responsibility to pack the lorry the night before etc.
In the main diary, it will detail (for example) which horses will be jumping that day, which ones will hack, which ones will lunge. It will also show which owners may be visiting and if any lessons will be given. If owners are coming then their horses may need to be specially prepped for a specific time.
White boards also list feeds; others will list tack, with jumping tack and flatwork tack. Then things will change on the tack boards as horses change shape over the season.
There are lots of reference grids on the white boards. The staff need to manage these boards carefully. Communication is vital. If I say something regarding a particular horse’s programme, or a trainer suggests changing a piece of tack in a session, they then have to transfer this alteration on the board so that everyone else becomes aware of it for future reference. Everything needs to be documented as it saves time and doesn’t impede progress with that horse. Simmone and I lead the way with this communication and the head grooms help. Whoever is on the yard that day has ownership and is responsible for passing that info on.
There cannot be a flaw in the system. We insist that everyone is on top of their game, to be in control of all their tasks and responsibilities. With such a high-pressured environment, it’s essential to have a good sense of humour. It’s better to impart some wisdom with a smile, rather than sounding like a nag. If ten things went wrong for one person on one day, it means there are ten things that person has learnt and hopefully won’t get wrong again. We try and encourage everyone to take a constructive and positive spin on things if possible.
As if life wasn’t hectic enough, we recently organised a fundraising Charity Ball – raising £14,600 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, thanks to the massive generosity of an awful lot of people on the night. Big thanks to Simmone and Kelly Roe who worked tirelessly alongside me to organise it and did an amazing job running all of the ticket sales. It ran really well, and we’re over the moon with the result. This definitely looks like becoming a regular fixture in January/February time. Simmone and I literally flew in from Bordeaux, after just three hours sleep on Saturday morning following the arena eventing – we were pretty much running on fumes! - and by Saturday evening we were in full flow at the ball. Rookey Manor made for a fantastic venue and they were super hosts. Everyone was on point and in top form.
We feel that Team Bragg is flying high at the moment, we have the right horses, the right staff and all I need to do is put in the right performances. We have the Europeans to aim for this year, and then of course we have the Olympics in 2020. We’ll be looking at world domination further down the track!
***IMPORTANT UPDATE*** 18:45 13 Feb 2019
Following discussions with British Eventing this afternoon, we have made the decision to extend the vaccination period to 12 months in line with their current protocol. Therefore, horses that have been vaccinated in the last 12 months and with vaccinations which are up to date are permitted at Pontispool Equine Sports Centre.
We have taken veterinary advice and the following guidelines must be adhered to:
All horses entering the premises must have had completed their primary flu vaccine course or have had a booster within the last 6 months.Please ensure you bring your passport with you as we will implement random passport checks.
Please adhere to the guidelines about the current flu situation and biosecurity measures which can be found on the Animal Health Trust website www.aht.org.uk
By Wednesday, we will have a clearer idea on the situation with the equine flu outbreak. At this point we will make a decision regarding this weekend’s Unaffiliated Eventer Challenge and Area 12 RC FOTH.
All being well, we plan to re-schedule the NSEA Eventer Challenge for Saturday 16th Feb.
BEF advises horse owners after equine flu outbreak
Following British Horseracing’s decision to cancel all racing today (7 February) the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) is closely monitoring the situation. Veterinary experts have advised that it is not necessary to cancel other equine events at this time, but we will issue a further update once the full extent of the outbreak is known.
In the meantime, we recommend that all owners follow the guidelines below as a precaution and ensure that all vaccinations are fully up to date. If your horse is currently vaccinated, we recommend a booster if it has been longer than six months since your horse’s last vaccination.
Actions for owners to take:
The BEF also has guidance on its website regarding equine infectious diseases and is urging owners to take the necessary precautions to avoid their horses becoming infected.
We are very pleased to announce that NAF are kindly supporting our Eventer Challenges on 27th January and 16th February as well as the NSEA Show Jumping on 24th March 2019. They will be providing prizes for all classes.
NAF are passionate about both horses and the products they manufacture to keep them healthy, happy and performing at their very best. They offer an extensive range of products; from joints, breathing, hooves, digestion and calming supplements, to silky mane & tail detanglers, super shampoos and luxury leather care.
Please visit their website www.naf-uk.com/uk for information on their products or contact the helpline on 0800 373 106.
***We have 4 free places to be won on Alex Bragg’s Arena XC clinic at Pontispool on December 16***
This has been very generously donated by one of Alex’s owner’s Sarah Hughes.
Sarah has several successful event horses in training with Alex, earning great results this season at Millstreet, Blenheim and Boekelo to name a few, and has Barrichello aimed at Badminton next spring. Expressing her huge support of the sport she would like 4 lucky and enthusiastic riders to receive a free sponsored place in the clinic courtesy of herself -worth £70 each for a shared 1hr 20 minute session.
For your chance to train with Alex Bragg simply follow these 5 simple steps:
1. Book and pay for your place online from our website
2. Like the post on our Facebook page
3. Share the Facebook post
4. Comment why you’d benefit from training with Alex Bragg
5. Make sure you like our Facebook page
Ends December 7.
We will draw 4 lucky winners on December 10 when we will also notify you if you’ve won. We will then refund your payment in full.
Wow, what an amazing few months! At the beginning of the year I could only have dreamed to be ranked 21st in the world and 11th in Britain by the end of the season, with Mrs Sally B. Ellicott’s Zagreb ranked 20th in Britain. I’m totally blown away by it all.
It’s been an incredibly busy and rewarding season, and due to its non-stop nature it’s quite nice to come to the end of it so we can have some family time and a long chill out. We’ve got a holiday booked, because we realised when we were in France, that family time was long overdue and necessary after we’d completed Boekelo.
We had a wonderful week there in the Netherlands and with just one horse to focus on it was a mellower week than the usual ones spent on the circuit. Shannondale Percy is a relative youngster at eight-years-old and fortunately our fairly new partnership has gelled really well this year. Being on a team adds an extra dimension and possibly a bit more pressure. You’re all truly in it together and digging in to get your best results. You obviously need to focus on your own performance as an individual but you also want your score to be counted in the team, so you’re absolutely giving it your best.
Being part of the Nations Cup team that sealed a series victory was pretty spectacular. Ending the season with Team GBR as 2018 champions called for a lot of celebrations, followed by some late night lorry driving, and especially some singing. Well there is a new Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic out…
At this level, you have to keep your eye on the prize, and the Olympics are something that every event rider strives towards. We have a lot of great horses in our yard that should all be hitting the prime of their careers for Tokyo. Young, vibrant, championship teams are a huge goal of ours. And they need to be! If we weren’t focusing on that there’d be something wrong. We’ll be pushing hard in the spring to catch the eye of the selectors for the Europeans next year. Don’t get me wrong, everyone realises the Olympics are a tough gig to get into, especially now there are only three riders picked for the team, with the fourth as a substitute member under the new Olympic regulations, so there’s additional pressure. But that’s what we have to focus on and prepare for. The quality of combinations in GB made it a tough decision for the selectors to pick five riders for WEG and now they can only take three for the Olympics. Whilst other championships are hugely relevant they don’t have the same impact on funding for our sport. To do well at the Olympics is vital. We have a huge amount of training and support depending on it and it would be a tragedy to lose that.
We’re ending the season on a massive high; it’s been absolutely great, with our new horses having proven themselves especially well since first coming onto the yard. The second half has been much stronger, mainly due to having had six months to get used to them. We’ll keep the momentum going with lots of training through the winter, and aim to come out with ‘all guns blazing’ in the spring.
By next summer we should have seven or eight horses at 3* level. I’m very proud to look along the stables at the quality of horsepower we have and it’ll be a wonderful team to play with next year. We’re off to look at some new horses through the winter to hopefully join our ranks. It’s vital to always be on the look out for the next superstars. The championships run on a 4-year cycle so each horse may only get one of these cycles in its prime to compete, and as it takes so long to produce horses to this level you need to keep the process of horses coming through the ranks continuously.
We’re very close to all our owners and try and spend a lot of time with them. When you finish cross-country your first concern is with the horse, cooling them down, washing them off, and usually the owners are with the team on the spot. But if they can’t be there either because they’re based abroad or due to work commitments, then it’s crucial to be in touch with them on the phone as soon as possible after you’ve finished to give them an update on how their horses have gone. We’re constantly trying to improve on how best to communicate with owners if they can’t be there, through time management, planning, whatever it takes. We value our owners and we want them to feel cherished.
We definitely finished the season better than we started. It’s been totally relentless – as well as a lot of fun. When you go to an event, there are so many commitments with horses, owners, sponsors, press, organisers and so forth. Now, even in winter there are the same sorts of demands.
We all do the sport for the love of the horses and competition but it’s important to realise that the business side is crucial. Without support and money the job wouldn’t remain sustainable; you can’t win medals on baked beans.
Happily the feedback that we get from our owners and future owners is that they want to join us because of the overall package. Everyone here is smiling and happy, and to us that is massively important. Having everyone on board sharing in the journey and experiencing it together makes it much more enjoyable. We’re always looking to the future and taking the positives from every situation is as important as highlighting the negatives. That is the ethos we want to express.
We spend so much time on the yard it’s literally in our blood. Sometimes things happen that will rock our world and there are bound to be occasional off-days. The children are a great distraction at times like that, and when all else fails – red wine helps!
I don’t consider this a job; it’s a lifestyle – one that I wouldn’t swap for anything.
The main XC course on grass closes for schooling on Sunday 4th November for the winter months.
Our Arena XC will be open for schooling from Monday 5th November (fences from 80 cm upwards) and can be booked online from the website.
Well, what a time we’ve been having since I last wrote here!
From Chepstow at the beginning of July, where we took five horses and Dancing Ghareeb
aka ‘Mr Consistent’ finally got his reward by winning the Novice class and Cooga Hat Trick
claimed third in the Novice Regional Final, it’s been non-stop ever since.
At Barbury, in scorching hot conditions, the team worked exceptionally hard and most
brilliantly and we had really great results with the six horses that travelled. Alcatraz did
fantastically to earn second place in the Intermediate, Quindiva was third in Novice, Zagreb
claimed a great fourth and was well on his way to Jardy for the Event Rider Masters leg in
France. Bonmahon Blue Mist came sixth in a huge class of ninety! Shannondale Percy did
really well with 13th in the his first CIC3* and King of the Mill proved himself well enough to
move up to Intermediate on his next outing.
The next week, ooh la la, we were ‘en France’. Zagreb, Alcatraz, and Percy were
representing Team Bragg at the Event Rider Masters 5th Leg at Haras de Jardy, and what an
experience it was. The venue is set in the grounds of the superb facilities that were formerly
a famous Thoroughbred stud and now the largest equestrian facility in France.
Alcatraz performed a lovely, consistent test for a score of 31 on the first day in the 2* and
ended up in 9 th place at only his second competition with me. Shannondale Percy also
performed very well the following morning to come 3rd in the CIC3*. Zagreb, in the ERM, did
an impeccable dressage test in the late afternoon, scoring 23.6 – which sat us at the top of
the leader board overnight. I may have had an extra glass of wine out of excitement that
evening – well, when in Rome, erm – France!
Zagreb only went and won the competition on his dressage score! I went out a little keen in
the show-jumping and ‘Lord’ Zagreb (as he became known by the end of the event) showed
his class by helping me out and going on to jump brilliantly, over six seconds inside the time.
It was an absolutely amazing experience later that afternoon to be on the top of the
podium, showering my buddies Tim Price and Izzy Taylor with champagne – and those
Formula 1 guys are right, champagne in the eyes really does sting!
To top the ERM event off for the team, our terrific head groom Heather Brannan won the
award for the 5th Leg ‘Super Groom’, which was awesome and so well deserved – we
couldn’t be prouder.
From France we went to Dauntsey and then onto Aston-Le-Walls. The team at Aston did an
amazing job with the ground. It’s super to see your start fee going to good use and it was
hugely appreciated by all of the riders. Bonmahon Blue Mist and King of the Mill both
showed consistent form to each come 3rd in their classes. They are both really talented
horses with exciting futures. Cooga Hat Trick did a steady clear XC in his first Intermediate,
and Quindiva performed really well and I can’t wait for her next competition.
Then we headed off to the beautiful Isle of Wight for the first event to be held at Osborne
House. A stunning setting with fantastic weather where the horses all did me proud with
Alcatraz coming fifth in the OI, and Barrichello earned a podium place of third. Will definitely
be heading back there next year. Bede Events should be proud of running such a great event
and London Capital & Finance Plc put on the most amazing hospitality for all our owners.
Following a great time at Wilton with wins for Cobalt de Dugny (100) and King of the Mill
(Intermediate), a 3rd for My Lucky Day (Intermediate) and a 7th for Ginger Gold (100), we
were off to Gatcombe for the Magic Millions Festival of British Eventing. Here Shannondale
Percy and Barrichello both put in super-cool performances. Percy finished in 2 nd place in the
intermediate championships and Barry certainly didn’t disappoint at the 3-star BCO (CIC)
where he ate up the XC like a pro to finish 9th. He also won the trophy for the best young
horse (at 9-years-old) in the top ten.
Then Team Bragg continued onwards to Homme House in Herefordshire. Shannondale Mari
produced a lovely dressage test of 28.5 jumping a very confident double clear to finish 3rd .
Shannondale Pete also jumped a great double clear in his first BE 100. Ardeo Premier gave
me another double clear. It gives me such a buzz to have such a talented string of young
horses with fantastically supportive owners. Quindiva had a run in the Novice as preparation
for Hartpury and she bossed her way round giving me my fourth double clear of the day.
Ellouise (Team Bragg Junior) was also competing and posted the best dressage of 26. A slight
spook in the double was costly but she jumped a perfect XC round. Proud Dad moment was
Then, just to prove that horses are the greatest levellers we are just back from Hartpury,
where it just wasn’t our weekend with any of the horses. They all jumped well, got safely
round, but it wasn’t to be.
I have to say how privileged and lucky we are to have such lovely horses to ride and amazing
owners that support us fantastically. My support team at home (and, of course, on the road)
does an amazing job keeping the Team Bragg tidal wave pushing on! I’m thrilled that my
partnerships with the horses seem to be gelling so well with them all and am consistently
thrilled at the results. We are especially lucky also to have incredible sponsors that improve
so many aspects of the horses’ life from their bedding to their fodder to their fitness, even
Team Bragg is such an exciting rollercoaster to be on and I love every minute.
A few weeks ago we were at Nunney International Horse Trials – a beautiful setting in Somerset, and one of our most local competitions. Team Bragg was out in full force, with many of our owners able to attend the event.
Nunney did a magnificent job with the course surfaces considering we’d not had any rain for such a long time (not complaining by the way, as the snow is still a recent memory!) When the ground is firm you have to be sensible how competitively you intend on running your horses cross-country; pick the right moments to gallop for the time (maybe if you’re trying to qualify for a competition) or choose to save your horse’s legs for another day (maybe he has flat feet and feels the hard ground, etc.). Remember, you can only win on a sound horse.
All the horses jumped well and all of the owners were smiling at the end of the day. I did run a couple a bit more carefully due to the ground conditions, and of the nine entered, eight ran; we pulled Ardeo Premier due to the ground being a touch hard as he’s one of the babies with a big exuberant jump. Quindiva had a nice steady schooling round in the Novice section.
Cobalt De Dugny, one of the youngsters, a lovely grey, was going round in the 100; he dithered a bit going into the water. We had to jump over a fair sized brush into it. When young careful horses see brush fences they tend to want to throw a big jump to clear the brush instead of travelling through it. Cobalt saw the water behind the fence and hesitated as he was unsure where his feet were going to land. He’s a young and inexperienced horse but very capable, and it’s important at this stage for them to learn to go forward and through the flags. Whilst our entry into the pond wasn’t the smoothest, with a little encouragement he jumped through and out over the skinny well. He will log this in his memory and hopefully negotiate this type of question with more confidence in the future.
Shannondale Mari completed her first event with us in the 5yr old class at Nunney. She performed a lovely test and finished double clear on her dressage score for 6th place. She did a fab job considering we only went XC schooling a few days before. She a brave little firecracker and will be one to keep an eye on!
Then we had team training with Barry, Percy, Alcatraz and Zagreb to help prepare for the Summer Internationals. We left the yard at 4.30am for Aston-Le-Walls, and didn’t get home until 7.30pm – but it was worth it; all of the boys had great lessons and gained some additional experience away from home.
Following some feedback I thought it might be useful for you to get a little insight into how our yard works, from what information we provide our wonderful owners to who keeps the yard running like a smoothly oiled machine. I’ll probably add to this over the coming months.
Part of the service we provide to all of our owners, as you would expect, is to provide them with a full ‘post-match’ report for each horse after an event if they can’t be there, in order to let them know how their horses have done. We send emails and text updates and will ring them up after an event. Behind the scenes every owner will get the full rundown on each of their horses, with as much information as possible. We continually review our plans and try to make decisions for future events together.
Dr Sarah Hughes currently resides in the USA so keeping in touch like this about her horses’ progress is very important. Courtesy of Sarah we have been blessed with the company of the fabulous, Frog and Field photography to take photos and ‘behind the scenes’ film of course-walks and of her horses; they effectively act as her ‘eyes’ on the ground in the UK. They spent a week with us at Tattersalls, which was loads of fun and as you can see from the pictures on social media, they did a great job. Of course, lots of our other owners and supporters will take photos and share them, and all of this is fantastic for our team profile, and raises our presence on social media.
Heather is our Head Groom. Although she only started with us in October, in those eight months (through all the snow and ice) she has proved that she’s worth her weight in gold. She is the most laid back, loveliest person you could meet. The horses adore her and she is like my right arm. Her day probably starts at 5am, and doesn’t end until gone 7pm, and she is on the go for pretty much all of that time.
Becky Stokes has worked for us for nearly three years – she’s incredibly hard working, reliable, and helps out with the riding. She has her own business and is a qualified BHSAI and has Stage 4 riding and horse care qualifications. When she’s not working with us, she looks after horses at different yards and teaches for the local Pony Club. She also competes her own two horses.
We’re having lots of fantastic moments this year – from Chris Gould’s recent acquisition, Masterclass Ramiro (aka Ronaldo, aka Ronnie), joining us as a project to bring out next year, with all the breeding and raw ingredients making him a thrilling prospect, to the recent win on Chris Gould and Roseanne Cutsforth’s Dancing Ghareeb at Chepstow and Matt Stanford and Emma Floyd’s, Cooga Hat Trick booking his place at Gatcombe Festival in the Novice champs. There’s also the excitement of being long-listed for WEG in Tryon, North Carolina with Zagreb, but there’s a long way between then and now, but it is rather wonderful to be considered.
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