Tuesday, September 23, 2008

At home with Nicola Ashton

When you turn into the driveway of Sparrow Oast Headcorn in Kent you would expect to then meet a team of people that keep and maintain this beautiful property. Post and rail fences surround well manicured paddocks that are lined by cut hedges and freshly cut verges.

You can imagine my surprise when I asked Nicola if I could meet her team. ‘What team?’ she replied! She runs her livery yard consisting of 10 stables and approx 40 acres. On the yard lives three beautiful competition horses, two brood mares, 2 foals and a few oldies that she hasn’t been able to part with all of her own, then the 5 full liveries and the two extra boxes that are used for training liveries that come in as and when! To say she is a hardworking very hands on professional dressage rider and trainer would be an understatement. She knows exactly what goes on with every horse, for example what every horse eats to which rug belongs to who. She has one full time, live in groom Nikki Gregan and between them they work seven days a week and offer an incredibly high standard of training and livery facilities.

Over the next few months Nicola has offered to run a series of articles for us to follow her life with her horses. We will be following each of her horses progress and competition appearances and Nikki’s training with her trainer Daniel Greenwood.

I spent the morning with Nikki and met the team. The atmosphere is fun and friendly and seems to run like clockwork. The horses are all very chilled and content and know their routine. All the yard is mucked out and cleared by 8.45am and then it’s breakfast. After breakfast the riding begins. Nikki rides 5 – 6 horses each day. I asked Nikki a few questions over our cornflakes and a cuppa!

HM - When did you start riding?
NA – I have been riding since I was a young girl and at the age of 10 I got my first pony. As my parents were not really horsey I am mostly self taught.

HM – How long have you been here at Sparrow Oast?
NA – I have been based at Sparrow Oast for 11 years and the yard has grown and progressed over the years. Its now at a size that’s manageable!

HM – what are your liveries like?
NA - All my liveries are dressage riders and working professional people who do it as a hobby and Im very proud of their achievements.

HM – is there anything you would like to have here that you don’t have?
NA - We don’t have an indoor school but we do have a wide and varied selection of winter clothing and we just get on with it!

HM- So Nikki, I have done a little research on how you have been doing and there are some nice results coming through now. You have been having some great success with your team, introduce me to your boys – Happy Diamond, Ronaldhinio and Rooney
NA – Happy Diamond known as Humer at home is an 8 yr old 17hh warmblood stallion by Harvard. I have had him for 16 months now.

HM – How did you find him?
NA – I went through an agent called Christian Heinherh – he finds horses for people all over the world.

HM - What were you looking for?
NA – I originally wanted something at Grand Prix level but saw Humer and he was exactly what I wanted in so many ways, he had every quality I had ever wanted and although less trained I knew he would be well worth the wait.

HM – What level was he at when you bought him?
NA - Because of his age he was graded Medium level, even though he was only lightly competed in Germany.

HM – Why did you go to Germany?
NA – there was just a wider choice of what I wanted Germany.

HM – How did you get him vetted and then eventually home?
NA – I used a horse transporters that picked him up and then came by boat, I was waiting at home for him to arrive, it was very exciting – I took my own vet Julian Samulson from Bell Equine with me to Germany to vet him. I have worked with Bells for many years and felt it imperative that a senior partner saw the horse for my own piece of mind. The X-rays were done in Germany but viewed by Julian here.

HM – So what is Humer doing now?
NA - He is competing advanced medium and we are working towards PSG. He is very handsome and his trainability and temperament are second to none. He is very good laterally and has great ground cover. He is impressive to watch and always gets good marks.

HM – How quickly has he progressed?
NA – He has progressed a great deal, he was very well trained had great basics and few tricks which is good, however for him to rise through the levels he needed to develop much greater sitability and strength behind to enable him to do the higher levels which is what we have been working on.

HM – Will you breed from Humer?
NA – Yes absolutely, I will purchase new brood mares soon and he will also be available for breeding through others.

HM – Your next horse Rooney – great name, did you name him and why Rooney?
Nikki laughs!
NA – Rooney lives up to his name he is quite a handful and has some character. He is 16.2hh German warmblood who was also found for me by Christian as a four year old and imported.
He is competing elementary working Medium at home and has started his flying changes this summer which he is finding easy

HM whats is character like?
NA – He is quite a talented horse but very tricky mentally – keeping Roonies attention is not so easy we feel its going to be a year or two before he is fully settled in the ring.

HM – What sort of problems do you have with him?
NA - He is very spooky and unfortunately that has let him down on many occasions on the past – his tests are always exciting and he can get the full range of marks on one test sheet from 1’s to 9’s!

HM – do you change your training with him?
NA – No not really the fundamentals remain the same. The important thing is to get him to let go and relax so he can be more focused. Nikki’s trainer Daniel Greenwood has a soft spot for Rooney – he says very capable got good ability to collect and extend and very able to get it, but is a tense character, he is quick to learn very good side ways.

HM – So whats the plan with Rooney?
NA – just keep doing it – he will come.

Spice at home is 5yrs old and 16.1hh by Rubenroyal also and so half brother to Rooney.
HM – Where did you get him?
NA I brought him from Rebecca Hughes as a 3 yr old just broken. I actually went to look at him for a client but he wasn’t quite suitable and a little small. I really liked him and unfortunately I had just lost another horse tragically to colic so I decided to buy Spice.

HM – where is Spice at?
NA - At novice level. He had to have some time off so he is making up some ground. He is doing really well I am pleased with him. He has done a couple of young horse classes, and next year he will be ready for Elementary – he is very easy to do very easy in the stable and very trainable but he has a fun side too which comes out from time to time –
HM – we will follow Spice’ progress and his transition to Elementary.

HM – what is your training routine through the winter?
NA – Training is the same but it varies due to their mental and physical place each horse is in. I go in the school 4 times per week under saddle hack out once then one lunge then a total day off.

HM – Does this change when a competition coming up?
NA - No stays consistent just will maybe run through the test a few times

Nikki trains with Daniel Greenwood. Nikki & Dan have known each other for 10yrs

HM – Why Dan?
I have always found Dan to be extremely professional and sympathetic to the horse and always felt I got a lot out of every session. I Would do a lot more if we lived closer. I go to Dan once per month for 2 days at a time and generally ake all three horses with me.

Dan rides at Inter 2 & Grand Prix level. He is based in the Cotswolds at Lady Inchcape’s farm. Lady I owns Santa Cruise who we will be seeing a lot of in the future. Dan trains with Carl Hester and Lady I, a list 1 judge helps Dan a lot at home.
Dan started ridng at 8 yrs old and when I asked him why dressage he simply replied ‘cause I couldn’t see a stride!’
Best moment – wining at the Nationals Championship Stonleigh
Where do you want to be this time next year? riding Grand Prix with Santa

Nikki also loves teaching and gets a lot of pleasure from her liveries that all compete and train with her – She and Dan said the same thing when I asked if you had to be of a certain level or standard to get their help – the reply was simply ‘I will help anyone that wants to learn’. You can contact Nikki on 07803 255221 if you wish to enquire about lessons or training livery.

We will catch up with Nikki and her team next month and get to grips with her training.