westonmanor.jpgI am sitting on a plane, flying back from the UK. It was a very short visit. I left on the 19th and I am flying back today, the 26th. Because of connections in the UK from my dim distant past, I was lucky enough to be invited to join Canadian company, Omega Alpha on a fact finding trip to Britain. The British Equine Trade Association’s major trade fair was at Birmingham’s gigantic National Exhibition Centre on the 20th until the 22nd and it was our major destination. We flew into London on the Saturday night and arrived at the NEC the following afternoon, having hired a car and driven from London.

I was the initial driver of the hired car, my British heritage being seen as a good reason to have me be first to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. It was the only time I was allowed to drive! I hadn’t even got the car out the airport complex when I dinged a mirror….eek. It whacked a little pole on my left that I had not paid enough attention to. Not a good start. The mirror dangled cheerfully and Dr. Gordon Chang, the owner and architect of Omega Alpha, good naturedly opened the window and held onto the escaping mirror until we could pull over and check the damage. Fortunately Dr Chang, in addition to formulating the best range of horse supplements I have ever used, is pretty nippy at the old fixit stuff and he somehow managed to put everything together in the right place, the mirror with all it’s innards popped back into place….phew! However, I did notice that nobody suggested I drive again.

With an APPALLINGLY difficult to use Tom Tom GPS (give me my Garmin any day) , we finally made it to Birmingham. I was desperately trying to look all cool and businesslike, but was really about as laid back as a ten year old on Christmas Eve. Inside was a bevy of beautiful horsey products and two and a half days to nose to my heart’s content. I didn’t expect to meet anyone there that I knew – my job was to set up a few appointments or dinners with old friends and associates who might be helpful to the cause, introducing our very own Canadian Omega Alpha to the UK market. I wasn’t in there for an hour when Ollie Townend came up and gave me a big hug. Ollie rode Selena’s wonderful mount Colombo prior to his being bought for Canada by Elaine and Michael Davies. Next I ran into Linda Hauck who was there promoting her ‘Spursuader’ which is taking off gangbusters all over the World. Go Linda!, Go Canada!. Next I smelled the unmistakeable and delicious smell of a Haygain machine doing it’s stuff. My nose led me to Brian Fillery, the president of Haygain, and a big supporter of eventing and sponsor of several of the Canadian riders including Selena. Roy Burke from Charles Owen, Mary King and Matt Ryan then appeared in quick succession, and it began to feel like Old Home Week.

There was a fashion show that ran the whole time in the background with the Whittaker line of clothing, the Ollie Townend line of clothing, the Lucinda Green line and the Mark Todd line all popping up one after the other. OK, we HAVE to have the Selena O’Hanlon line in Canada…..next project!

Did I see anything ‘must have’? Of course, how can you go to the biggest tack shop you have ever been in and not see must have’s. The first thing I ‘wanted’ was a Cyclo-massage blanket. It went on as a light weight mesh blanket with massage/vibrating areas over the back, neck, shoulders and quarters. It was lightweight, well designed and looked to be extremely durable. Unfortunately not actually available in NA at this time but I managed to sweet talk the company into supplying one for the Canadians to use at Badminton in April, I hope it’s something that they will think as worthwhile and exciting as I did. I can’t wait to tell my friend Dougie Hannum, the AMAZING US equine holistic practitioner about it. I am sure he is going to be as enthused as I am about this brand new invention. No chance of one in NA yet, but I am sure it’s something we are going to see in the future.

Haygain were their usual wonderful hospitable selves and I spent some time hanging out on their booth while Dr Chang and his Equine Sales Manager, Patti Hanco were in various business meetings. You can’t buy stuff at trade fairs (I found out), it’s just for retailers to order the season’s products from various manufacturers and distributors, just as well really. There were two more ‘not available in NA’ items I would have bought in bulk if I had been able to. One was a little ring of rubbery plastic about three inches in diameter with a clever pull free catch for tying horses to. If they mess around, it stretches and goes with them, but if they pull back it stretches then comes apart, thus protecting the horse from the usual neck and poll injuries received from backing up against a static tie. Better than a loop of binder twine to keep my horses safe, as the rubber stretched slightly before actually coming apart, thus eliminating any and all bone displacing jerks. The other was a very simple rubber block that you hold in your hand and scrape over any surface covered in dog or horse hair. IE, my car, my sofa, my clothes and the inside of our horse blankets. It positively peeled the hair off. They had various hairy items you could try it out on, and I itched to have one to take home. Oh well, I am sure I will find them on the internet eventually.  Lots of interest in Omega Alpha’s unique line of products, especially the ‘Antiflamm’ and ‘Gastro FX’.

On the second night in Birmingham we set off towards Oxford to meet with the first of my introductions. We were having dinner with my erstwhile coach and mentor, President of the British Dressage Society, Jennie Lorriston-Clarke and her husband Anthony. JLC as she is affectionately known, chose the venue for our meeting, and it was THE most gorgeous hotel and restaurant at a tiny place called ‘Weston on the Green’. Weston Manor dated back to the eleventh century with the dining room being the original medieval hall. The place was truly glorious and the waiter very kindly printed me off a copy of it’s amazing history which included belonging at one time to King Henry V111 who appropriated it when he put one of his ‘friends’ to the chopping block for supposedly being a bit too cosy with Anne Bolyn. He subsequently gave it as a gift to a loyal supporter. How romantic is all of that? What a GREAT place to go for dinner. The only regret was that one of the Weston Manor ghosts did not choose to join us for the evening.

JLC comes to Ocala, well, Gainseville actually, every January to give a dressage clinic. I only found out this year. Selena rode four horses over four days and felt her dressage knowledge and understanding had had a serious kick in the right direction. Thank you Jennie L-C.

While I was swanning around in Birmingham, Selena and Anne Marie were hard at it in Florida. Selena rode four horses that weekend at Rocking Horse 2. Thanks to evententries.com’s live scores, I was able to keep up with her success from BETA. I would duck into somebody’s booth and ask if I might just check my daughter’s scores on their computer. Everyone was horsey, therefore more than happy to give access to a Mum, and totally understood the immediacy of the situation. Horsey folk are the best the World over. It was exciting to watch her placings steadily move up until she finished 4th in the OI on Solo (A First Romance), 4th in the OP on John Rumble’s lovely Foxwood High, 7th on one of our sales horses Raisin (Song of Songs), at her second Intermediate – she has now done two Intermediates and brought home two ribbons, what a star she is, she has to be the most uncomplicated horse in the entire world, and Achilles who only did his first Novice last week at the Florida Horse Park went Training and placed 8th with an amazing clear round over a difficult course. He is a lovely horse and Selena wishes he was hers to ride for the year but he is also a sales project. I wish we could keep them all.

My very own little Hector which Bruce Davidson and I produced together, and sold to Rowdy Adams, won his very first event with Rowdy in the Novice division with a ridiculously low dressage score and nothing else to add. Way to go Rowdy and Hector. Rowdy is everything I could ever have hoped for in an owner for Hector who was bred here in Canada and is by the local TB stallion ‘Peace Baby’. We have his half brother for sale ‘Dudley do Right’, I hope we find someone to love and care for him the way Rowdy looks after Hector. Rowdy has Hector with the O’Connors this Winter so Selena is able to see him every now and then. I am excited to see him somewhere soon. Bruce Davidson had it good and bad. He won a division with the Dupont’s lovely ‘Expensive Playmate’, known to her friends as Phoebe, but had a spill off a younger horse which resulted in eight stitches to his lip and a concussion. Some teeth were moved about but Bruce seemed to feel he had it all under control and is no doubt going to Pine Top. The man is made of iron.

Colombo starts back into competition this week by attending Pine Top in Georgia. As I fly home, Selena is driving to GA. In past years I have flown down to help at any of the Georgia events and do the driving. However, circumstances and the fact that she only has one to ride, albeit at the Advanced level which is always a big deal, Selena is doing Pine Top by herself. I know that if she needs help at the show someone will be there to aid her. That’s one thing about the eventing community, you can COUNT ON THEM….always. (Since writing this, Colombo excelled in his dressage coming second with a 33, then got a bad distance in an awkward line in the showjumping, ran out of room and stopped, depositing Selena in front of him on the ground….sigh. He got to go XC and redeemed himself but of course they were eliminated from the competition. Oh well, roll on Redhills!)

Selena and Anne Marie Duarte, our head girl, and Selena’s new International Groom, both rode horses at a schooling SJ show last week. To be honest, although I know they had a good time, I don’t yet know how they did. But I saw on O’Hanlon Eventing’s Facebook page that Anne Marie (AM) had a blast riding Watson’s Cebastian who is a show jumper to die for. He was going out again yesterday to jump with Selena at a big Hunter/Jumper barn. Again, I don’t know how it went, but both girls seem to be very keen to ride him, so they are taking turns – always a good sign. Before he went off to Ocala to be sold, he was my own personal little project, occasionally shared with Emma Refuse, our new working student who is a definite ‘keeper’, we are never going to let her leave.

Back to the UK, yesterday we three drove to my old haunts in the New Forest. I lived there for over ten years and it was an amazing place to exist as a horse person. We went to meet up with Nicola Stephens who is a many times Badminton veteran and represented the UK at Punchestown for the European championships. Nicky is now a judge of many pony classes in Britain and as always, has a finger in every pie. She flew in from Cambodia and Thailand yesterday morning at 8.30am and being Nicky, a live wire and a mover and a shaker, she had an appointment made with a distributor by 9.30am. Not one to let time go by, she had all sorts of research done, and phone calls made, by the time we saw her in the afternoon. We stayed our last night in good old Blighty (why IS it called that?) at my ex student and lovely friend’s house.  I taught Tracey a hundred years ago, and by request gave a lesson to a young lady called Lucinda while we were there. It was SO much fun to be back in Britain, out in the arena, cheerfully yelling my head off. From comments given, it would appear my volume control has not improved with age. Tracey and Nicky said you could hear the whole lesson in the next county.

Back to the grindstone tomorrow, I can’t wait to see my horses and my dogs. Thank you team that took care of everything at O’Hanlon Eventing, rumour has it you have added music to the indoor arena, woot woot! And thank you Sean and Geraldine Dennis for taking care of me in Toronto. Well, this is getting a bit long. That’s what happens when you go gallivanting all over the place, you end up with screeds and screeds to catch up on.