Ellen Whitaker - horses, lockdown and family life
As the whole world has suddenly been turned on it’s head we thought we would remotely catch up with Ellen Whitaker, leading female showjumper to see how the shutdown has affected her and how she keeps her horses ticking over in bewildering times.
Ellen will be keeping us updated over the next few weeks with how she, her team, horses and family are coping.
Where were you when things started to escalate with the current Covid-19 pandemic?
I was on the Spanish Sunshine tour in Vejer de la Frontera when it really started to get serious. The horses had been jumping really well at this first show of the year. We take all our horses including the young horses, who jump mid-week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Providing they jump 7 double clears over the qualifying weeks they then are eligible to jump in the finals. Both of my young horses did this. It’s a fantastic place to produce young horses with so many different rings, jumping on both grass and a surface and against some of the world’s best young horses. It was also the perfect place to prepare Jack and Winston (my top horses) for the coming LGCT events in Mexico and Miami.
The first real indication we had that things were getting tricky came around the 14th March.
I had 7 horses, 2 staff and 2 trucks to get home! As we had heard rumours the previous week that the Spanish and French borders were to be closed, I had already started to make plans to start getting us all home. My parents flew out the week before to collect my children, thank goodness. The show organisers were very accommodating as lots of people struggled to find drivers to get their lorries home with flights being cancelled and travel being so difficult, everyone had to re plan their way of getting home ASAP. News was changing daily!
What has been happening on your return home.
When we got home the horses were hand walked and hand grazed. Grass is the best thing for them after travel. They all had a week off with just light, long and low stretching type lunging together with hand grazing. I didn’t turn them out in the fields as it had been so wet that I couldn’t risk any accidents.
One of my top horses Jack will really benefit from a holiday and he has totally taken his chance to take it!
The rest are still in work but with as little jumping as possible as this is what the government have advised at the moment. We don’t want to have any accidents causing an unnecessary burden on the NHS who are doing an amazing job.
We are doing pole work and dressage work with lot of walks around the fields, so it really does feel like a holiday for them. In fact our stable yard is becoming a bit of a health spa for horses as they have a daily session in the Bemer rug together with plenty of grooming and pampering at the moment!
Luckily we have great facilities at my parents house which is where I am based at the moment and a team of staff who are dedicated and love the horses as much as I do.
A typical day in lockdown!
Usually I get up at 6.30 and do some exercises and have a lie on my Bemer mat to energise myself before the day starts (or swap and do this at the end of the day). After this a quick mini work out with cardio and a few weights, shower, dress and then I make a smoothie for myself and my children and leave out the breakfast for them to have with my Mum later on. Sometimes I prepare and put on a slow cook a soup for lunch too.
8am I am on my first horse. I like to get my riding done early. Even more so now, so I can home school the children a bit and spend as much time as possible with them, doing fun activities.
I stop for lunch at 12.30 and finish riding and exercising in the afternoon. The kids are in and out and do as they please really with their cousins who also live here. I think the boys are loving lockdown. Mum is at home all the time and everyone is together everyday with nothing to run around to prepare for. I am actually really enjoying that part of it. We are lucky to have so much space here.
I tend to gauge how the horses are feeling/working and decide on their work on a daily basis. If they feel great one day I will ease off the next or if they feel bored and fed up one day I would hack the next. And so on.
How lockdown is giving me the opportunity to evaluate life
As I now have more time on my hands it has given me the opportunity to create a routine, something that in the past I haven’t been able to achieve. Running from show to show and bringing up two children has always meant flying by the seat of my pants! This enforced slow down has actually been an awakening and enabled me to try and improve on things I don’t think I am good enough at or haven’t been doing well enough.
As a working mum who travels a lot, my days can be fast and very busy and as one day is never the same as the other, I don’t get a chance to repeat and get into a solid routine. I am using this time to do that so hopefully it will allow me to use my time more efficiently and benefit us all as a family.
I am cooking a lot. I love cooking healthy nutritious food for myself and my children. It is so important for motivation , mood and energy as well as general well-being. Drinking plenty of water can be a chore but it’s also equally as important... I’m making sure this is happening!
I now have lots of time to experiment with my cooking and try new things. I am celiac (very allergic to gluten) and lactose intolerant so I am enjoying exploring and trying new recipes in the kitchen instead of grabbing the usual and running.
We are being really creative with the children. Lots of baking and puppet making, arts and crafts both in the garden on a nice day and inside on the colder days. It was Frankies birthday a week ago and the kids all made their own birthday cards and decorations for our stay home, garden birthday party. The kids stay active by riding their pony “Paddy” and their bikes. They help my dad on the farm so are beginning to learn all about that which is a great education. They have boundless energy and we have some of the children’s showjumps in the garden which make for a great assault course and we made a tyre swing which has been a big hit. They are wanting to build a tree house next which will be a big challenge, I am not sure my DIY skills are quite there yet but I will give it a go…!!!!
Ellen on Haygain
We bought two Haygain Steamers in January 2020 one for at home and one for travelling. and they now very much part of the team! Easy to use, great results and we have health happy horses. The horses are noticeably better in their respiratory health which means their performance is getting better and better. I totally recommend them for any horse owner. "