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!

Tried and Tested: Derby House Lightweight Rug

Sadly the summer is over and the days of fly rugs seem a distant memory.  With the drop in temperature and the on/off torrential rain we have had recently, I decided it was time to get Pea in her waterproofs!  Luckily, back in the summer, Derby House (my favourite rug brand) very kindly gifted us one of their lightweights – perfect for this time of the year.

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It is a classic example of Derby House’s excellent rug design with a 0g weight and 600 Denier diamond weave fabric which is waterproof and breathable.  Pea can vouch for how waterproof this rug is because she’s been out night and day in all sorts of weather over the last few weeks. It has buckles on the neck (velcro would be useless in the winter) and adjustable clips on the chest (easy to secure or remove).  It is consistent with the fit of the other Derby House rugs I have had – I always know what I am going to get with them.  It doesn’t always completely cover Pea’s mane – she seems to shake it down but maybe that’s just the way she wears it!

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This particular rug is bright blue with a yellow trim.  Although this is from their summer collection and that is probably the reasoning behind the colours, I think it is great that when I drive past Pea early in the morning when the sun hasn’t yet come up, I can look for the blue and I’ll be able to spot her!  Check out the Derby House website to see their latest eye-catching rug designs (though if you’re looking for something more subtle they cater for that too).

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A little side note – Derby House are really passionate about improving their sustainability. They have 95% plastic free outbound packaging and have abolished plastic ‘windows’ from their rug bags.

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

Olivia Towers Dressage Open Day

I’ve been watching Olivia Towers’ vlogs for a while now. It is really rare to be able to get an insight into the riding and competing of someone who trains to Grand Prix let alone to visit their yard and watch them ride their young horses.. but that’s what I did yesterday!

To start off, her home/yard is what dreams are made of: post and rail paddocks along the drive and in front of the house; a barn with stables, wash area and solarium; a big horse walker; a beautiful indoor school and gardens/grounds with a literal lake in them.  It actual felt a bit intrusive to be able to wander freely around the yard (it must be really strange for her parents) but I guess that is all part of being an all-sharing influencer and I really appreciated the opportunity.

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Olivia rode four horses through the day.  She started with Barbie, the massive (much bigger in real life than you can tell on vlogs) palomino four year old.  She was pretty majestic and Olivia showed the straightforward schooling routine she does with her twice a week (alongside one hack and one lunging session).

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Next up was five year old Joey; my new favourite!  Olivia and her mum explained that although he looks like a chunky mini Valegro, actually he is not strong and is behind their other five YO.  They said that he isn’t particularly forward or keen on schooling.  I sat there wondering what you do with a horse like this when you have Grand Prix ambitions and he’s not bothered – is there a point at which you say, regardless of breeding, maybe this isn’t for him?  Or do you change your plan to get him more interested and just accept that it will take longer to get there?  When I asked, Libby (Olivia’s mum) confirmed that they need their horses to get to Grand Prix and that he will get there.  It was amazing to see him transform after warming up and even my untrained eye could see that although he starts off in first gear, he is going to be spectacular!  His schooling is not dissimilar to what Olivia does with Barbie but with higher expectations.

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She showed far more lateral work with Moley, the other five year old, who (although taller and more babyish in looks) they said was far stronger.

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After lunch and some free time to explore Olivia did a demo on Eagle.  Her “top of the string” horse Wilf was out with a sting to the face but Eagle is competing at Inter 1 so he is pretty impressive too. Both Libby and Olivia both made it clear that Eagle and Wilf are less naturally able than the younger horses so that, combined with the fact that they are the first ones she has taken through the levels, means that the younger ones should be more successful than the older ones.  Regardless, seeing Eagle’s pirouettes and the beginning of his piaffe and passage was pretty special.

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So my points to take away from the day

  • Warming up properly is so important – get that right and you’re setting yourself up for a good session.  Joey’s demo showed exactly that.
  • Transitions, transitions, transitions.  I know everyone says this but I was certainly reminded today.
  • Every horse has it’s own journey – I think when you’re a one horse owner it is easy to forget this but all Olivia’s horses are so different, even the ones who are the same age as each other.
  • A horse doesn’t have to have natural talent to progress – though it helps.
  • Every rider struggles – if you follow Olivia on social media you will know that she is very realistic and when she did her demo on Eagle she checked in with her mum regularly and was very honest about the fact that they are very much learning the Grand Prix “tricks” together, it isn’t easy.
  • I REALLY want to ride in a beautiful carpet fibre, indoor arena!

 

 

Why Equestrians Should Try Ballet (And Everyone Else!)

I have a secret!  Or rather I had a secret until I wrote this.  A week ago I went to my first adult ballet class (and today I went to my second).

If you’ve read My Hip Journey So Far you’ll know that ballet, like riding, was one of the activities I enjoyed before my Perthes diagnosis at the age of 7 put a stop to all of that.

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It has been over 5 years since I picked up riding again and a few weeks ago I saw a Facebook post advertising adult ballet classes.  I have never been afraid to try something new or try to fulfill the dreams of sad 7 year old Poppy so I thought I’d give it a go!

I LOVE it!  I got the self conscious wobbles when I first arrived and looked at the slim and toned or “normal person” bodies compared to my muscly thighs and swimmer’s shoulders but there was so much diversity in the class (women, men, all ages, different nationalities etc.) that I put that part of my brain back in it’s box!  After one session I was completely hooked; Claire (the fantastic teacher) wasn’t patronising, there was no faffing about, we cracked on with a lot of content and I left feeling strong and powerful (just need to work on the grace I think!)

So enough about me, here’s why I think you should give ballet a try.

You discover your feet!  Us riders spend our lives with our heels down or stomping about in wellies – with ballet you will discover that your feet move down as well as up and it IS possible to point your toes!

It is good for your core.  In ballet, your core is so important because that is where the strength and stability comes from.  The stronger the core, the stronger the rider too (or just general person!)

It straightens you up.  You have to tilt your pelvis  and tuck your bum underneath you in ballet, something us riders also need to do!

Your hip will move!  Every single thing we have done in ballet so far has involved hip movement so if you’re doing it right, you’ll definitely strengthen your hip muscles and increase your flexibility.  You can’t sit on a horse without flexible hips, I should know! I’m pretty sure there is nothing better than a plié to prepare you for a fat cob!

And for those wondering, my new hip survived, it continues to impress me as we go into our second year together.

Go on, try something new.. or rather something old for lots of us!

Mid Year Goal Review

We have passed the halfway point of the year – can you actually believe it!?  I thought it was about time I reviewed my 2019 Goals and set myself some new ones to carry me through the rest of the year.

Old Goals

1. Get Strong

This is still somewhat of a work in progress – I’m far stronger than I was and the effect of having two legs that work has certainly had an impact on my riding!  There’s still plenty of room for improvement but the intention is all there with my exercise plan (which in practice is a bit hit and miss).  The problem I am finding is that I so often wipe myself out by doing too much and then don’t do enough the next day.. and the cycle continues!

2. Compete

I managed this one pretty well!  We’ve got two “away” competitions under our belts and two of the summer shows at home done.  There is one more summer show at home coming up and then I’ll need to start going further afield again!

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3. Move On

This was the not so subtle intention for us to buy our first house and as you may already know, we viewed four houses on the 4th January, did a second viewing on the 7th, after some toing and froing had an offer accepted on the 9th and got our keys on the 5th March.  Our house has space for the guinea pigs and is near to Pea; this goal is well and truly ticked off.

A more unexpected part of “moving on” was that I have just got myself a new job!  There isn’t much moving to do as it is in the same school as I have been working in since the end of October but it is a new role – back to full time teaching!

New Goals

1. Reduce

I’ve made a start on this goal but I think it is worth sharing.  Over the last few months I’ve become increasingly interested in becoming a bit more environmentally friendly.  My sister in law has grabbed this bull by it’s horns (in a kind, animal friendly way) and if you want to go all in, her Instagram is worth checking out.  If you’re a horsey being you should also check out Honest Riders and their “riders on a mission” hashtag.  On a personal level, I have swapped to solid shampoo, conditioner and soap from Lush, bought (and am using) a glass water bottle and am trying to make smarter shopping choices eg. buying a big pack of biscuits and splitting them rather than buying individually wrapped biscuit bars for packed lunches.

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So there we go!  I’m going to continue to try to get stronger and more fit, keep getting out and competing (despite having some real giving up thoughts around the June and most recent competitions), get stuck into my new job and continue my journey towards being more environmentally friendly.

If anyone has any environmentally friendly recommendations they would be much appreciated (particularly clothing brands!)

July Dressage – Points For Participation

Wednesday 3rd was the second show in the Evenlode Riding Club summer dressage series.  If you’ve read June Dressage – “Needs more work!” you’ll know that the first show wasn’t particularly successful for me.  The second show started out even worse!

Lead up

Last time the panic was all about the ground conditions but this time I barely had time to panic.  I was too busy applying for and being interviewed for a new job (which I got, by the way!)  I was completely unprepared, having only learnt one of my two tests, and I wasn’t able to leave Pea in during the day so although I had bathed her the night before, she wasn’t going to be clean by the time dressage rolled around.  I was also majorly lacking time – I got to the yard at about half 5 and needed to be warming up by 6.. not great.  As I was rushing down from the field dragging Pea behind me, I seriously considered forgetting the whole thing.  My brain rolled so far down the “don’t do it” train I was right down to “don’t even do dressage anymore”.  But I did it.

Prelim 1

Quite honestly, I didn’t warm up properly.  I walked my way though the test trying desperately to remember it and didn’t give Pea enough chance to soften.  Prelim 1 was tense and resistant.  There were a fair few times when I put my leg on and she tried to canter.  It was a bit all over the place and the actual canter was a bit of a mess too.  Hollow, overbent, there was a bit of it all.

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Prelim 14

I had nearly an hour to wait after my first test before my second one.  It was a good job too, I spent the time watching everyone else do Prelim 14 and just about managed to learn it!

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I went into the test feeling much more relaxed and although it still didn’t feel great, it was marginally better than the first!

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Aftermath 

I was relieved that it was all over after all the stress and rushing.  I always feel better afterwards and while I waited for my sheets I reflected on my achievements to that point.  I showed up, I got on, I warmed up, I remember both tests and we came out of the other side unharmed.  I know that isn’t what it is all about but I do think sometimes you have to credit yourself with taking part when the easiest thing would be to not bother.

I got 60.26% on my Prelim 1 with 5s for my canter work (“sufficient” is an improvement on “insufficient”) and 66.54% on my Prelim 14 with a 5 and 3 6s on my canter work (“satisfactory!”)  A standard “sweet pony” comment and a token 6th of 6 rosette (for my Prelim 1) tied up my test sheets.

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I feel much better about the whole thing now that I’ve had some time to reflect.  I am pleased that I got a better percentage and that my instructor told me my canter work had got better.  If I can sort myself out so that I’m not so stressed out next time, I might be able to improve AND enjoy the process!

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