My “Push Present”

If you don’t know what a “push present” is, it is a present a mum might get when she has her baby..  I definitely haven’t had a baby, nor am I going to yet but bear with me on this one.

When I decided dressage was the discipline I wanted to strive towards (two and a bit years ago I would say) the urge for a dressage saddle started.  Maybe I wanted to be “all the gear and no idea” rather than “no gear and no idea”!  Maybe I thought it would help my position.  Either way I ended up with a trailer instead!

Although my hip replacement took away the pain I had had for so many years, my hip abduction and rotation (I think those are the right terms) was worse on the left side.  The early days of riding were really tough because I could barely open my legs wide enough to sit in the saddle.  I compromised on my saddle desires by getting long girth straps on my GP saddle which meant there was less bulk under my leg.  It may have been psychological but I felt like it made a difference  to how wide my legs needed to be!

Things have been improving over time but I know my hips are still wonky in the saddle because of it.  I’ve been using the old abductor weight machines at the gym (you know the ones that face the wall because you’d look inappropriate using them if they didn’t!) and periodically sitting on the sofa with my feet together and my knees as far apart as possible trying to just encouraging the stretch!

Anyway.. the “push present”.  I’ve been pushing myself, pushing my hip and I’ve decided my new hip deserves to be pushed even further by putting it in a dressage saddle with surface blocks!

I saw a Thorowgood T8 immaculate condition dressage saddle being sold on Facebook, I set my heart on it (my current saddle is a Thorowgood and I think they are really good for those of us with changeable fat ponies and very little money) and drove to Wales to get it.

Being second hand and being new to Pea it does need some flocking changes but I have tried it out and I think I love it!

I realise I might get some criticism here – I am well aware that a different saddle isn’t going to fix all my problems etcetera etcetera and that actually I might be signing myself up for some discomfort with my hip being forced to open up more but I think it is all for the greater good.

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!

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!

 

 

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!

June Dressage – “Needs more work!”

This week, Evenlode Riding Club held the first show of their summer dressage series in my yard’s front field.  I have been taking part in these since the first summer I was riding Pea (with the exception of last year when I had to attend on crutches!) so although I’ve done a few competitions this year, this was the show I was really looking forward to.

Lead up

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that the few days before the show had me in a bit of a panic!  It had been raining solidly for days and I was really worried about little barefoot Pea slipping over!

The morning of the show was no different and I got Pea in at 6 to wash her legs before work.  She was actually shivering, bless her!

She stayed in during the day in an attempt to stay clean but I did have a few messages through the day telling me she was feeling a bit “bright!”  Another bad omen!

Prelim 7

After work, a quick groom and a speedy warm up, a thankfully quite calm Pea and I trotted in for our Prelim 7.  I have to say that the only thing I thought about as I went round was “what do I have to do next?” and “which way am I going?” My brain couldn’t cope with the arena being the other way round from our arena on the yard (as in A was north east rather than south west!)  Does anyone else have perspective issues?

Anyway the first canter kept breaking (because it was meant to be a right canter but was actually a left canter) and the second one didn’t so I was feeling quite chuffed (until I realised that was a right canter when it was meant to be a left canter!)  At the time I was really pleased that I had got through the test without falling over or forgetting it (though I did nearly forget to salute!)

Prelim 12

I had to quickly get my head in the game for the slightly more complicated Prelim 12 which seemed to go pretty well until the right canter which broke, turned into a left canter and ultimately ended up as a trot.  By that point we were both a bit tired and we just about kept her going to the end.

 

Aftermath

I didn’t place. I wasn’t bothered about not getting a rosette but I was pretty bothered when I realised about that whole canter on the wrong leg in my Prelim 7 which, until that point, I had thought was better!

I got 58.41% in my Prelim 7 and 60.74% in my Prelim 12.  Naturally I had a “lovely pony” comment (how could anyone not like Pea!?) but the comment that stuck in my brain was “needs more work” about my canter in the Prelim 7.  Yes.  Obviously it needs more work.  Maybe I took it personally because I’ve been “working on it” for years.  I know I need to “work on it”.  I had a hip replacement so I could “work on it”.  Being there and doing it was “working on it”!

After reading my sheets I then had a look through the pictures Alex took.  All I could focus on was my left leg; knee very bent, heel up, foot stuck in stirrup.  This was my second wobble of the evening.  Something else I need to “work on”!

Then I kicked myself.  A year ago I couldn’t move my left leg, I should be able to forgive it for moving in the wrong way for a bit longer!  I am happy I didn’t wimp out and I’m glad that my parents were able to see a less spooky dressage test after the one they saw in April.  I am pleased I managed to remember two tests and ride some “satisfactory” and even “fairly good” movements.  Certainly a start to the series I can “work on”!

Back On It (And Only Just Staying On It!)

April and May have been quiet months for Pea and I.  We had a not-particularly-successful competition right at the beginning of April and then decided to take a step back, take a bit of the pressure off and get some hacking miles on the clock.  With our local riding club dressage competition looming, I thought it was about time I had another lesson.

My instructor has moved so we were at a different venue, not far down the road from home.  I drove, which I was probably more nervous about than riding somewhere new, but we all got there safely!

After warming up and taking in the different surroundings, we played with Pea’s trot, which has improved so much this year, and then worked on our canter transitions.  Anyone who follows our story will know that canter has been our nemesis forever but today I was starting to keep her together into the canter rather than chucking my reins at her and letting her run into it.  I was also wobbling around all over the place, nearly losing my left stirrup the whole time, having cramp in my left calf and being completely incapable of keeping my heels down but lets focus on the positives!  We actually ‘had’ the canter so that is something to celebrate.

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Very occasionally in our time together, Pea has objected to a touch of the whip by kicking out at it.  It has only happened literally less than a handful of times and each time it has been when she’s been tired and objecting to still being asked to canter.  Today I was doing 20m circles and every time we came towards P I could feel her wanting to fall out through her left shoulder and probably duck out to the left (which she did manage to do once when she caught me snoozing).  On one particular circle I felt she needed more than a weak left leg to keep her on track (I carry a schooling whip on the left because my leg sometimes needs backing up) so I gave her a tap and she BUCKED!  A rarely before witnessed experience for sure!  I’m not sure who was more surprised, my instructor or Alex, neither of whom have ever seen her do anything like that before!  Luckily I just flopped on her neck a bit, I did NOT fall off!  A definite near miss though.

Far less eventfully, we also ran through Prelim 12 which is one of the tests I will be doing for our next competition in a week and a half!  It is not going to be easy, the canter work involves a 20m circle AND half a diagonal change of rein then only a couple of strides of trot before doing the same thing on the other rein – eek!  Nevertheless, my trot work is stronger and if I can get that right and just try my best with the canter, I might be ok.

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So, things to take away from today

  • Start with my reins short enough and keep them that way
  • Stay alert because each movement comes up quickly
  • Leave each movement behind especially if it went wrong!

Things for Alex to take away from today

  • Keep that camera snapping, you never know when you might witness a naughty Pea moment!

April Dressage

Finally Pea and I got out competing again today (for the first time since January). I had a bit of a dilemma about whether to go to the show because there were other things going on today but I’ll address time management and prioritisation in another post coming soon!

The day started at 6 o’clock when I was rudely awoken by my alarm. I went to the wonderful wedding of one of my friends last night and danced the night away, only getting home at 1.30 so as you can imagine, I wasn’t keen to get up! Nevertheless I managed to get Pea looking semi presentable (it was too cold for a body wash but I did her legs, mane and tail!) and off we went.

It was my second time at Lower Haddon Livery so I was feeling pretty chilled about the whole experience. My parents had come to watch too which was amazing as my dad has never seen me ride properly before.

Pea warmed up really well. Even my mum, who isn’t horsey, commented that she was going better than she had ever seen her before I had my hip replacement.

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It was feeling promising.. until we went into the dark indoor school with the noisy door and the glass judging window.

You may be familiar with Prelim 1, which was what we were meant to be doing today however this is the test we did..

Overshoot the centre  line at A in wobbly trot, proceed down the centre line and at C stop dead, stare at the floor and seriously think about backing up.

Turn right but don’t go anywhere near the scary door corner.

At A, trot a figure of 8 and stop after X to pretend you are going to do a poo just before avoiding the scary door corner.

Pull it together and change the rein KXM.

Stay away from the scary door corner, seriously consider cantering a circle at C but opt for a flashy trot instead.

Change the rein FXH and decide not to really bother cantering another circle at C.

After B, give up on even trying to canter.

Just before A, collapse into walk (early!)

Change the rein in sluggish walk on a long rein (K to B and B to H).

Trot from C to B and motorbike around the corner to X.

Halt somewhere along the centre line, look a bit shell shocked for a moment, just about remember how to salute, pat Pea, laugh at the whole sorry experience and say an apologetic ‘thank you’ to the judge!

So there we go, not our finest hour! Pea still got lots of cuddles, carrots and polos because we all love her regardless.

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I got 3s on my canters, 57.8% overall and 4th out of 4! More importantly, my comment said ‘very well done, nice pony with lots of potential, just a shame you couldn’t get the canter today’. I’ll take that! Canter has been our nemesis and will continue to be for a while. We have been working on it and I know we need to continue to so no nasty surprises there.

I’m very grateful for the lovely smiley ladies from WORC who made me feel so welcome today. I would certainly go to more of their competitions if I can. I am also thinking of going to an outdoor venue for our next competition to see what excitement we can find there!

Top Barn Challenge Summary 2019

If you have seen my Top Barn Challenge 2019 post you will have seen that I took on the challenge of committing to 3 hours of riding/horsemanship a week for 12 weeks.  The 12 weeks ended today and I’m pleased to say that I completed the challenge!  Not only did I rack up the hours but I ticked off some of the mini challenges and I also feel like taking part in this has helped me in so many ways these past few months.

Dressage

Quite early in the challenge I ticked off the dressage competition mini challenge and the new venue one to boot!  Reaching for the 3 hour time target each week has helped me to commit to making my schooling sessions a bit longer than they used to be.  I’ve discovered the magic of putting the time into a proper warm up which has undoubtedly helped me to achieve more schooling wise.  The proof was in the pudding in our last lesson when my instructor was impressed with how much progress we had made with accepting the contact.

Hacking

Hacking has probably been the biggest success of the challenge.  I’ve been riding out on my own so much more and not just for little half hour hacks but for proper hour hacks (and occasionally longer!)  I am so much more confident hacking out and have embraced the challenges that bad weather and spooky changes in the environment have thrown our way.  I’ve also finally got around to cantering out for the first time since my hip replacement!

Groundwork

I intended on doing more groundwork than I actually managed during the challenge but I’ve been much better at doing stretches with Pea.  I’ve also played around with getting her to stand and stay as well as follow.  She was pretty well behaved before but she just keeps getting better!

After The Challenge

I’m going to try to keep up the 3 hours a week (although probably won’t keep track) and hopefully I can  I want to keep building Pea’s fitness and my own so the hacking will continue and, all things being well, I will keep my solo hacking confidence!  Obviously our dressage goals still very much stand and I’m hoping to get competing again in April.

Trailer Tales

I’ve had my trailer (an Ifor Williams 505) for just over a year now which has had me thinking about the many many uses it has..

Freedom

Being able to chose where and when I want to go for a lesson, only having to rely on my partner to come with me is fantastic. Pea and I are lucky to have found a good instructor who we travel to regularly.

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Competing

Before I had the trailer I had only competed at home or (once) when paying for transport.  Having the trailer has made the ordeal of going out to compete so much more realistic – yes I’ve only managed it once so far but watch this space!  I know in the modern world you can compete from the comfort of your own yard over the internet but I just don’t feel like that has the same achievement factor for me.

Obviously these reasons are the whole purpose of a trailer, but then we have the more bizarre uses..

Moving

A year ago we moved all my belongings (and my precious pony) across counties and two weeks ago we moved house again! We had no need to hire a van or removal people, the trailer had things sussed. We did get a few funny looks and remarks from our new neighbours though, particularly when it was sat, unhitched in front of our drive!

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Shopping

As well as moving the belongings we already had, since we moved house this time, the trailer has been with us to B & Q to buy building supplies for the new wall under our stairs!  We watched a few people strapping plaster board to the top of their cars and felt quite smug we just had to slide it into the trailer.

Changing Room

More often than not I use my trailer as a changing room when I get to the yard after work.  When the yard is busy with kids, clients and the boss’s husband, an enclosed space with limited windows is perfect for a quick change!

Housing

My guinea pigs have temporarily moved into a trailer (in their hutch) before when I stayed at the yard for pony camp (they wouldn’t have been safe if they were exposed to the yard pets!) and our goats have a beat up old trailer as their field shelter so trailers can come in use as temporary housing too.

Camping

Following on from the idea of using a trailer to house animals, I’m adamant that it would make a good alternative to a tent if more plush accommodation wasn’t available.. my other half isn’t so keen!

I would love to hear if you have any other good uses for a horse trailer!

As One Thing Improves, Another Gets Harder

Finally, after nearly a month and a half of being grounded due to having the trailer serviced, being on equine flu lockdown and being busy moving house, yesterday we got out in the trailer again for a lesson!

In hindsight, we are still very much in the middle of being busy moving house, in fact, after morning tutoring yesterday we took the trailer (minus Pea) to B & Q and Argos to pick up some bits for the house and for my other half’s wall building renovation project.  The pressure of getting back in time for leaving at 3.40 for my lesson didn’t make for a relaxing shopping experience!

Despite the rush, we managed the shop (I’m sat on my new office chair as I write this) AND managed to get sorted ready for our trailer trip.  I was quite nervous about travelling Pea in such windy weather – she’s not a nervous traveller but I’m always nervous travelling her!  I need not have worried, it wasn’t as windy on the roads as it was at the yard and it was all fine.

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If you follow me on Instagram and Facebook you will know that on Friday I had a schooling session that just didn’t go to plan so I was worried that in my lesson we might not show the progress that I thought we had made recently.  Again, I need not have worried!  Pea was an absolute superstar and my instructor was really impressed with how much more consistent she was with the contact in trot.

Then it came to the fateful words ‘lets have a look at your canter’.  Now, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that canter has always been our nemesis.  I find it uncomfortable hip-wise and Pea is still unbalanced and weak in the canter..  In this lesson, it was the worst it has been for a while!  When things go wrong in life I soldier on but when things go wrong in riding I have a tendency to crunch up and have a complete mental block.  Thankfully my instructor helped me out and interestingly told me that often when a horse starts using themselves properly in the trot (which obviously takes more effort than just bumbling around) they find it harder to canter.  She said that if they are used to running from the trot into the canter they suddenly find that they can’t do that from a more correct trot.  When one door opens, another gets stuck eh!?

Once we had achieved some kind of canter work we moved onto working on my halts.  I’m afraid until yesterday my halts were pretty basic – just make her stop!  My instructor taught me to use my seat, my body and my breathing (breath out!) to transition to halt to encourage Pea to do a correct halt.  She has a tendency to leave a hind leg behind so I need to work on letting her step through and finish her step.

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SO much to work on, so much to improve but that excites me.  For the focus of the lesson to be on something other than getting her to accept the contact makes me feel like we are improving.  Now I just need to find another competition to aim for!

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