2019 – A Year In Review

January

This year started with serious levels of motivation. Alex and I viewed some houses and started the process of buying our own home. Pea and I went to our first competition since my hip replacement which also happened to be our first away from home and in an indoor school.  I also spent a lot of time sorting my blog into pages.

February

The defining feature of February was the glorious snow we had and the equine flu scare which pretty much grounded most activity.  I also spent a lot of time doing my “Swedish Death Clean” and clearing things out in preparation for moving house!

March

We moved into our new house at the beginning of March. The joy of living in the same village as Pea still hasn’t worn off although I have to say I don’t walk to the yard as much as I did then!  We did a lot of painting, shopping and gallery wall creating but Pea and I also got out for a lesson once the flu scare had calmed down.

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April

We went out completely again in April. This time my parents came to watch which was really special. My mum was able to see the difference my new hip had made to my riding – I hope it made it worth all the weeks of her putting anti-embolism socks on me when I wasn’t allowed to bend!  It was also the month when our sofa arrived which made our house really feel like a home.

May

By May the weather was much improved and the month started with a wonderful (and expensive) trip to Badminton!  It was a month of good riding weather and Pea’s super snazzy Derby House fly rug.

June

The summer dressage on grass started in June. I had a stinking cold and doing two tests on such wet ground (because the May sunshine hadn’t lasted) was all a bit much. Nevertheless, it was a good month for riding and a month of decision making in terms of my job. At the end of the month Alex and I went to Noah’s Ark Zoo for my Christmas present of an elephant keeper experience.

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July

At the beginning of July I managed to secure myself a teaching role at my school for September and have a fairly successful show with Pea. I also started going to ballet classes.  The rest of the month involved a lot of stressing out over her health. She was fat, she was shuffling, she cut her chin. She also got put on a new fitness regime which involved a lot of cantering up the hill by our yard. It ended with a cancelled dressage competition due to a local strangles scare.

August

August was mostly wonderful – it was an entire month of summer holiday after all! We had weekends away in Devon and Scotland but the rest of the time was spent at home, with Pea or sorting out my classroom for my new job. We did have a bit of an issue with a screw in Pea’s foot but it thankfully healed without drama.

September

The first day in my new job coincided with our last competition of the summer – talk about biting off more than you can chew! Pea was feeling pretty good and I managed to establish my new working and riding routine.

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October

October was quite a month! Alex asked me to marry him (I said yes.. of course). Pea and I had a super disastrous dressage competition, I barely survived clipping her but then we went to the Riding Club Area Qualifiers at Hartpury and it felt like I was achieving a dream. Then my new baby nephew was born!

November

It is hard to feel positive when every day is dark and most days are muddy or wet! In November I took a step back from schooling and competing, taking the pressure off completely but enjoying chilled rides and hacking. I spent more time with family which was really nice.

December

December was a tricky month at the beginning. Pea and I had a lesson which just proved how unfit and out of practise we are. I got swiped by the end of term lurgy and so missed out on our competition plans and several Christmas dinners! Since I’ve been off work things have improved and I had a lovely Christmas with Pea, Alex and my family.

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The Christmas Non-Gift Guide

Last year I made a traditional Christmas Gift Guide and I still stand by last year’s ideas, all of which are still available, but this year I thought I’d do something different.  One of my Mid Year Goals was to be a bit more environmentally friendly so here are my alternative gift suggestions.

Vouchers/Money

This is an oldie but a goodie!  The recipient of the gift can put it towards something they really want or need and will get proper use out of.  I am trying to collect less general stuff which means most of what I have on my wish-lists are big things that need saving towards (a Charles Owen Ayr8 helmet being my current object of lust!)

Homemade

I’ve been leaning in this direction for the last few years with my family gifts.  Two years ago I painted personalised glass baubles (whether any of my family members have them on their trees this year I’m not sure..) and last year I made scrabble-tile pictures in bought frames!  If you’re not feeling particularly craft, cookies/fudge/truffles are also fairly easy homemade options and there are wonderful horse cake recipes for your four-legged friends.

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Favours

Not the wedding type!  A less official present option would be offering up your time and energy to something.  Maybe you could do someone’s mucking out to give them the day off or look after their pets so they can visit family of friends.

Presence

“My presence is your present!”  I think as you get older you realise the importance of spending time with the ones you love be that human or equine.  I know that having some time off at Christmas will give me the chance to catch up with my family and spend unrestricted hours “playing” in the stable with Pea!

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A Big Ask

On Sunday we went to Hartpury for the Area 18 Riding Club Novice Qualifiers.  I have been excited/nervous about this since we were invited to do it a month or so ago as we have never done anything like it before but we had such a good day!b

Preparations

I’ve been getting a bit complacent with my competition prep. recently but not this time!  On Saturday I emptied my car, cleaned my tack and boots, then re-packed the car with only what I needed for the competition.  It was such horrendous weather that I couldn’t do anything with Pea until the next morning.  I did a bit of meditation and listened to a podcast before bed.. trying to achieve the ultimate positive mental attitude!

The extra hour (with the clock change) was a good start to Sunday and I’d left plenty of time in the morning to get Pea ready.  I intended on giving her a bath but after only washing her legs and the end of the tail she was shivering and I ended up putting her turnout rug back on over her travel rug to warm her up!  A quick warm sponge on the top of her neck where her white parts were a bit brown and that had to do!  It was nice to have enough time to go home to get changed, while Alex fueled and pumped up the car, then we set off all still relatively calm!

Hartpury

I’ve only ever been to Hartpury as a spectator before and I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing  when we got there.  I tried to follow someone else going to get their hat tagged and passport checked but in a moment of comedy, they didn’t know where they were going but thought since I was following them that they must be right!  We got there in the end and my Riding Club teammates filled me in on where everything else was going on.

Miraculously Pea hadn’t pooed all down her legs in the trailer like normal and she was surprisingly calm so getting her ready in the beautiful sunshine was actually pretty nice!  Did I mention that we parked right near the toilets so I was able to go for as many panic toilet trips as I wanted?

The warm up arena posed 7 problems, two windows with bars, a window into the next door arena, a colourful banner on the wall, a very open and light exit route, a puddle of wee and a super scary mounting block.  It was essentially a potential recipe for disaster but I kept my cool (quite incredibly) and we managed it.  Although there were a few other coloured horses, we were the only little coloured cob team I saw, nevertheless, she looked so smart it didn’t matter.  I had a bit of a second guessing panic with my canter warm up, not particularly reassured by Alex telling me I was right.  It’s not that I don’t trust him..

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Next, we went to the holding arena.  There were more banners and distractions in there but what I was really pleased with was that we actually got in the door with no hesitations!  Then it was time for the test.

When we went through the gates into the International Arena I tried to ignore everything apart from the banners and letter cones around our arena.  Pea was certainly looking around at everything, taking it all in.  Alex told me later that the horse in the other arena was out of the arena and on two legs so I’m glad I didn’t notice that!

I felt that the test started quite well, Prelim 7 has a nice chunk of trot work at the beginning which settled me down.  The first canter strike off was incorrect but I corrected it then Pea took me completely by surprise by jumping over the white boards between K and E!!!  I got her back in and tried to get back into it, feeling fairly certain I would have been eliminated for that.  Our second canter wasn’t much better but we did stay in the arena!  After the halt and thanking the judge I actually took a moment to look up at the banners, the lights and the viewing gallery, just thinking how amazing it was to be able to ride there.

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I walked back to the trailer beaming (quite a change from two weeks ago) even though I thought I was eliminated and even though it hadn’t really gone to plan!  Alex said he was impressed so that meant a lot AND Pea was still super chilled which was amazing.

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When I went to get my sheet I discovered I hadn’t been eliminated (if you leave the arena and the boards are at intervals you are ok).  I got 60.22% which is lower than I was aiming for but at least I was in the 60s and I didn’t come last!  The constructive comments were nothing that I didn’t already know I needed to work on so that was good too.

I’m so grateful to ERC for having me and it has filled me with confidence to go to other ‘posh’ venues!

Pre-Areas Training

Today we had a cheeky pre Area Qualifiers training session.  I’ve just about managed to put our last disastrous competition into the back of my mind and am trying to get ready for the weekend.

As always, I’ve got a lot of homework to do and a lot to remember for Sunday!

Free walk

I lean back in walk and instead I need to lean slightly forward and keep my hands down to encourage her to march on.  I need to practise this in the warm up and really get her going so that hopefully I don’t have to chase in the test.

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Medium walk

This needs to be more active otherwise my transitions to trot are going to be rubbish!

Trot

I get a bit too complacent in the trot because it is so much better than it used to be.  Pea has a tendency to lean and get too deep so when she does that I need to give with my hands and push with my legs then she lifts her nose.  It is a lot easier to see the difference now she’s maneless!

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Canter

Today it was left canter that was our nemesis.  I need to bend her to the left, which she finds really hard, and give with the right rein to help her to pick up the correct lead.  Ironically, when we went on the right rein she immediately picked up the left canter!

I also need to make sure I work really hard to keep it going because any moment I relax in the canter, she will break.

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Now I just need to work out how to sort out my mindset and keep my head on Sunday – any tips?

Olivia Towers Demo In Photos

On Saturday I made an impromptu visit to Olivia Towers’ Young Horse Demo. As with the Open Day, it was amazing to be in her beautiful arena and watch her ride her wonderful horses! Here are a few photos from the event..

Paris (broodmare), Rufus (yearling) and Bee (3YO)

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Joey (5YO)

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Moley (5YO)

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Wilf (12YO)

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In Too Deep

Last week just didn’t go to plan.

Thursday

I had decided after our last lesson that Pea was going to need a clip before our next competition and especially before the Riding Club Area Qualifiers on 27th October!  She’s not a fan of the clippers so I got hold of some sedation from the vets (which I have used before) and set myself up on Thursday evening.

I had a ‘mare!  She still wouldn’t let me get her legs because when I put the clippers on one (having already done a good chunk of her body easily) there was a moment of explosion and without even knowing it was happening I ended up on my bum with my head against the concrete wall.  It was my left side that I landed on and I have to say I sat there for a moment wondering whether my hip was ok – ceramic hips can break – but apart from a bump on my head, bruises on my thigh (presumably from a kick) and a sore bum I was ok!  Feeling a bit panicked, I popped my hat on and got on with it albeit slightly shaken.

I merrily continued until there was another explosion while I was doing the back of her tummy (evidently too close to her private parts!)  This time she got my wrist.  I honestly thought it was broken – it was shaking and I couldn’t lift my hand.  I called Alex in flood of tears who arrived to find me crying and clipping with my left hand – I didn’t want the sedation to wear off and I wanted to finish!

I just kept saying “why am I doing this?”  “Whose stupid idea was this?”  After the drama continued with faulty clippers I eventually ended up with a fully clipped pony and went home to lick my wounds.

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Friday and Saturday

I did no riding on Friday.  My wrist felt worse when I woke up but I did still have to take a pair of scissors to her feathers to try to complete the sleek look – ouch!

On Saturday I went out on a little hack as my wrist was feeling better.  I roped in Alex to walk with me as I was feeling a bit nervous.  She was keen and a bit rude (probably reacting to my adrenaline) but we were fine.

Sunday

I knew Sunday was going to be hard when I woke up and looked out of the window.  Rain isn’t ideal when you need a clean pony and white jods!  The plan to bath Pea got thrown out of the window and instead she had a hot water sponge bath in the stable and a speedy leg and tail wash at the hose.

Things were going fairly to plan until I realised we hadn’t left quite early enough and there was going to be a panic when we got to Lower Haddon.  There was a panic!  I tried to swap my boots and get my hair sorted but a horse came past us and Pea started bouncing around in the box.  We got her out but she was really unsettled while I was tacking her up.

I tried to get my head back in the game for the warm up but each canter was a bit ropey, I couldn’t feel whether Pea was on the right leg or not, I didn’t realise how deep she was getting (it all looks different without a fluffy mane in front of me), I was too worried about the other people warming up and the massive puddle in one quarter of the school!  As you can see from the photos, I need not have bothered washing her legs in the morning!

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The next challenge was getting into the arena.  We’ve had this situation before.. twice.  It was worse this time, she was backing up and diving sideways but we made it in after a lot of leg and a smack!

After that, the biggest fail, I’d got myself so frazzled that when I went down the centre line I turned the wrong way!!!  Once we had restarted it didn’t improve much.  The cantering was a flop, the trot was awful and of course she stopped every time she went past the gap where the door was.

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I cried my way back to the trailer.  I did stick around to collect my sheet but I almost wish I hadn’t.  We got 52.27% – my lowest score EVER!  Not what you want two weeks before your first Area Qualifiers!

The only thing that brought me out of my cloud of frustration at myself (because we all know it was me that lost the plot and let it all go wrong) was reading the general comment from the judge

“Sweet pony sadly today not show HIS true self when you can get the canter work and HE’S working more forward HE will be lovely”

Apparently Pea’s buzz cut makes her look like a boy!

Work Hard, Dream Big!

I’m absolutely exhausted after today’s lesson! Pea and I may well have worked harder than ever before.  With only a week until we go back to our nemesis venue for some winter dressage and only 3 weeks until the area qualifiers at Hartbury (which will be a dream come true to attend) the pressure is on.

We’ve been struggling with getting our ‘left banana’ bend so my instructor got me to ride squares rather than circles, getting the bend on the corners and keeping the edges straight with no naughty right bend. That involved a lot of left leg which I find quite hard. It still feels a little bit like I don’t have full control over my left leg, probably because my range of motion is so limited. We got there though (sort of) and even did some left bend on the right rein (intentionally!!)

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Then we moved onto working on our canter transitions. I really need to get to the stage where I sit, use my seat to feel the right moment to strike off so that we are on the right leg but I am just not there yet! It is the right canter that is the problem so we tried swapping my whip over to the right side. I definitely need to do this more often because I’m hopeless with my right hand! Literally can’t coordinate myself together.

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By the time we got back to the trot work and did a few serpentines, Pea had loosened up to the left and it was her right trot that wasn’t so good! We’ve got so much to work on.

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Homework for this week includes

– Not letting Pea bend to the right when we are on the left rein (ditch circles if they are not working and go for squares!)

– Practise my sitting trot, a few strides sitting then a few strides rising to try to stop Pea from anticipating something happening so much

– Work on those canter transitions and being able to recognise when to ask to get it correct or failing that, recognise within the first steps whether we are right or not

– Get myself fitter and try to improve my left leg flexibility and strength. I’m starting to be more and more aware that my damn left leg is still holding me back

– Lose the fluff! Pea was absolutely foaming with sweat today which just isn’t going to work as the weather gets colder and her coat gets fluffier. If we are going to put the work in over the winter we need to get the clippers out

September Dressage

The Evenlode Riding Club summer dressage series was meant to come to a conclusion back at the beginning of August, but due to a local strangles scare, it was postponed. The new date coincided with my first day with my new class but I decided to go ahead with the show anyway, knowing full well that Pea’s appearance would suffer due to lack of time.

I survived the day at school and got to the yard to find Pea the dirtiest she’d been all summer! It had rained the night before and she’d obviously decided to roll on both sides. There definitely wasn’t enough time to bath and dry so I opted for elbow grease and my much loved Eqclusive brushes. I think I just about managed to rescue the situation. Apart from that little bump in preparations, I was actually feeling quite relaxed; I only entered to do one test, I knew the test and I had had a good lesson just a few days previous.

My warm up is never great before a competition but I tried to think about everything that we had gone through in the lesson at the weekend. After three laps around the arena we..

  • Entered down the centre line, drifted to the left, corrected a bit too far to the right, smiled and turned right, mentally leaving that movement behind!
  • Did a half 20 metre circle to E followed by a much straighter centre line and a bearable half 20 metre circle to B
  • Trotted a three loop serpentine trying desperately to change the bend when necessary

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  • Tentatively trotted to K thinking “sit, don’t panic, this is going to be the easier canter to get”
  • Promptly ended up striking off on the wrong leg, tried again and miraculously found myself on the correct lead to continue the circle!

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  • Attempted to get to M but flopped back into trot too soon
  • Changed the rein in a very free walk on a very long rein trying not to make it obvious I was nudging and nudging to keep walking, gathered the reins up desperately to get ready for the trot
  • Managed to get a functioning right canter on the first try even if the circle was more of an 18 metre than a 20 metre and it nearly disappeared a couple of times
  • Turned a little too keenly down the centre line and halted progressively but wonkily!

Although it was by no means a seamless test, I was really pleased with Pea (and myself) when we came out of the arena.  Alex (who is becoming quite the dressage connoisseur ) said that the canter work was the best he had seen us do in a test so I decided to take his word for it!

As the penultimate combination, we didn’t have long to wait for the results.  We got 64.81% and a lovely comment from the judge who then came over to us and told me how she had fallen in love with Pea while watching the test.

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While we didn’t earn a rosette this summer, I’m really pleased with how I feel we have improved and our marks are certainly getting more consistent.  Now to make some winter show plans!

Back On Track

It had been a while since I last had a lesson.  Life had got in the way a bit but I also had nearly a month of completing avoiding the school and just hacking out and cantering in straight lines!  I’d been feeling really rubbish about my riding since I’d been trying to dip back into the school.  I felt like I’d forgotten what I was doing, then it didn’t feel good, then I did’t want to do it because I didn’t want to do it wrong!  With a competition looming in the first week of September it was definitely time for a lesson which is what we did on Saturday!

Luckily my instructor is fab, I explained to her what we’d been up to for the last couple of months (or rather what we HAVEN’T been up to) and we got going.  After a pretty hollow warm up she got me walking 10m circles then leg yielding out to get Pea around my inside leg.  Then we progressed to 20m circles – my instructor’s top tip is to think of the circle as a diamond, ride each “corner” with bend, then ride to the next one – try it, it works!  We definitely find it easier on the right rein than the left as Pea is a bit stiffer to the left and my left leg is rubbish as an inside leg!  Pea sometimes dips her head a bit low in the trot if she’s not going forwards enough so we worked on getting her more forwards and more in the right place!

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We did a bit of work on my transitions, Pea often needs a bit of a wake up in her walk so that she springs into trot when asked but also needs to be kept together so that she doesn’t try to do a cheeky walk to canter!

Then it was time for some canter work and I’m pleased to say that my instructor was really impressed with how much more balanced Pea was, all that cantering out must have done something!  I could definitely feel the difference between the old, long, flat canter that she used to have and the bouncier canter she showed me.  She felt a lot more underneath me!  My instructor got me to keep the contact in canter (I have a tendency to chuck the reins in the hope she will just keep going) because, although Pea doesn’t stay round in canter, it keeps her balanced.  She also suggested I use a flick of my schooling whip when I could feel her wanting to break rather than my leg because the leg makes her go faster and faster isn’t the aim!  I tried to be clever with this as a mistimed flick has, on occasion, resulted in a kick or a buck.  We survived only one small one on this occasion!

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After that, it was time to have a go at the test.  My instructor explained that we are now at the stage where I really need to be thinking about putting on more of a show, showing off where we are at, rather than just riding through the movements.  I’ve broken down all the things I can remember that I need to think about!

Trot – Use my corners and bend through them (particularly when turning onto the centre line)

Walk – Make sure the walk is forward enough that it is ready to pop into trot at any time

Free walk – Once I’m on the right line, immediately get rid of the reins but keep the walk marching

Canter – Keep the contact in canter, use my stick to keep her going then if we get the wrong lead, stay calm and keep trying again

Halt – Keep my legs wrapped around her and think “walk.. halt” when halting

Wish me luck for Wednesday!

War Horse On Stage

On Wednesday, I treated myself to a trip to Oxford to see War Horse at the New Theatre.  I saw it years ago in London but always said I’d go again and this summer I had the chance!  If you haven’t seen it yet a. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? and b. check out the website for future show dates and locations (including Australia!)

The show roughly follows Michael Morpurgo’s book (of the same name) about a boy and his horse during WWI.  The story is compelling and grounding but it is the life size puppets that play the horses (and other animals) that really make it.  Each full size horse is controlled by three people and they truly act like horses – moving their ears, flicking their tails and accurately walking, trotting and galloping.

So if you are not yet convinced, here are 5 reasons to go and see it:

  1. Starting with the serious point – I believe everyone should have a general awareness of WWI so that we don’t forget the past and don’t repeat the past.
  2. The puppets are INCREDIBLE, not only do they move like real horses and convey their emotion but they also carry actual humans!
  3. There is singing but not in a “proper musical” kind of level, just enough for effect.
  4. The moving backdrop, the lights, the sound and the prop work is SO clever and effective.
  5. Although it is pretty hard hitting, there are some really funny bits – watch out for the regional accents and references as well as the goose.

I will say no more, go and see it yourself.

No photography is allowed in the theatre so this image is credited to War Horse on Stage

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