Saturday, 11 November 2017

Ranch des Baous, 06140 France

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of riding at the Ranch des Baous near Tourettes-sur-Loup in the south of France. I had such a good time that I felt I should review it!

For a start, booking some riding as a tourist in France is rarely easy. Many places do not respond to emails, phone messages or carrier pigeon and over the years I’ve tried several places who have all retained a stony silence. The Ranch des Baous was different however - I quickly received a friendly and encouraging response from the owner, Anne Condesse (who runs the stables with her partner Michel Condesse).
Finding appropriate stables for me abroad is more challenging than for most people as I am a disabled rider and although I have a lot of competitive experience at home in the UK it isn’t always easy finding somewhere that will take me on as a risk and improve my riding at the same time! Fortunately, Anne reassured me that they would be able to help.

The stables are located in the foothills of the Alps and, for a tourist from the East Anglian fens, the drive up there is pretty steep! The venue was easy to find with google maps (not all of them are) and there unobtrusive yet visible signs pointing the way. The road is wiggly and narrow so take it steady!
On arrival it was clear that there was a relaxed and friendly vibe. The horses seemed healthy and content even in the summer heat and there were various other creatures running around including two large, fluffy rabbits! I was met by my instructor, Jacques, and Anne appeared soon after brandishing a bottle of fly repellent to spray on the horse. I’d been asked to arrive a bit early before my lesson so that there’d be time to meet the horse, groom her and tack her up. Very few places offer this and even fewer request it, but I love being able to do these little jobs and I think it’s important that riding schools teach people these vital elements of the sport. Another tick for Ranch des Baous!
Anne + horse!
 In my lesson I rode a horse called Saga. Jacques told me that, like many of the other horses at the stables, she was a Mérens horse (a Pyrenean breed). They breed these horses at the Ranch and one of their homebred foals, Corto, is now used in rides. Saga was a perfect match for me and it was clear that Anne and Jacques had thought carefully about which horse would suit me. My legs are very weak so I need a horse who is forward off the leg and doesn’t need to be nagged, but at the same time my balance and arm strength are also impaired so the horse needs to be reasonably calm and responsive downwards as well as upwards. Basically, I need the perfect horse!

Jacques taught me to ride in a very different style to that which we use at home. In the UK I’m always taught to keep my hands low - perhaps because I ride one-handed, and it’s a good way of controlling that arm, but I think most people are taught to keep their hands low here. Jacques encouraged me to ride with my hands higher and higher and although it felt very strange to me I can’t deny that it had a lovely effect on Saga! We spent quite a while working on getting a good, rounded outline on the flat in walk, trot and canter. Saga was clearly very well-trained, responsive and eager to please.
Little collage of me with Saga
After a while we also had a go popping some little jumps, which was good fun for me. Saga was forward but sensible over the jumps and seemed to be having fun too! Having ascertained that I had the right basic idea, Jacques helped to me to be improve my contact over the jump. I was letting my contact become too light which meant that I wasn’t fully in control on landing or over the jump. Subtle movements are not my strong point and I didn’t know how much to ‘give’ with the hands, but when Jacques suggested I keep my hand where it was but just open the fingers it made a lot more sense. It’s something I’m definitely still working on!

Throughout my lesson, Jacques checked that I was OK and not struggling too much with pain or control. He also had full awareness of Saga’s needs: it was a hot day and he made sure she had plenty of time to rest in the shade while we talked. We spoke in a mixture of French and English but there was probably more English than French going on as my French equestrian terminology is limited!
Found these guys on the Ranch website and they were too cute not to include!
I had such a good time that I was eager to return. Fortunately my mum, who was the only one of us insured to drive in France, was also really impressed by everything she’d seen and she was happy to take me again. It takes a lot for my mum to feel that I am safe and that people are looking after me appropriately when I ride - I have had many serious injuries over the years in addition to a genetic disability so I do need somewhere with sensible horses and, even more importantly, thoughtful and supporting instructors.
Before my hack with Source
My second ride took place a week later, and it was a hack out with two other customers - both of whom were English, which made conversation easy, especially when we discovered that one had been to my school! This time I rode Source, who was just as friendly as Saga. We were out on the hack for about two hours as we climbed a mountain to admire the view down to the Mediterranean. Much of the hack was spent in walk because the terrain and the cloudless August sky would have made anything else impractical, but we did also have some trots and canters which were good fun. We stopped often to allow the horses to drink and to take in the scenery. Jacques also pointed out various traces of local history, geology and wildlife as we went along. It was relaxed, interesting and good pure fun!

At the end of both my lesson and the hack I was able to untack the horses, brush them down and turn them out with their friends. It was lovely on the hack to see their different characters: mine had a habit of scratching her tummy on the undergrowth whilst another lady’s was a really greedy character and an opportunistic eater! After the horses were settled we flopped for a bit in what I suppose is a clubhouse, where there was ambrosia in the form of lovely, chilled water and squash to drink - a nice touch!

1 hour private lesson €50 (approx. £44) 
2 hour hack with two other riders + instructor  €55 (approx. £48)
Pony pit stop!
How I would rate… (out of 5)
  • Horse health/wellbeing - 5
    • all the horses looked very well and it was clear that Anne and Jacques were always thinking about their comfort. Riders were encouraged to help in caring for the horse before and after the ride.
  • Friendliness of staff - 5
    • they were just lovely!
  • Accessibility - 4
    • fairly easy drive to get there; not very easy for a wheelchair to get around the site but I don’t think you’d expect it to be - I used crutches. The site isn’t huge which makes it easier to handle if you can’t walk far.
  • Ease of booking - 5
    • I contacted Anne via email (initially through the website) and she responded promptly with all the relevant information. Email is my preferred booking method (yes, it's slower than the phone, but I struggle to hear properly with a phone and you have to be sure someone will be free to pick up!). The website also supplies landline and mobile numbers so you could use them if you prefer that to email.
  • Value for money - 5
    • riding isn’t cheap anywhere, and at this venue I had fantastic guidance and learned a lot - and had a lot of fun! You might be able to find some places a bit cheaper but I don’t think they’d be anything like the same quality.
  • Suitability for tourists - 5
    • Anne and Jacques speak excellent English so if you’re an English speaker that’s a plus. They also speak Spanish. They are friendly and welcoming to anybody.
  • Suitability for beginners and more advanced riders - 5
    • large variety of horses on offer (size and temperament), good facilities including 2 sand arenas, show jumps, and excellent tuition tailored to meet your precise needs. The hack out that I did would probably have been a bit tricky for complete beginners but there are plenty of other possible routes.
  • Range of activities - 5
    • Dressage, jumping and pleasure riding available to tourists. Many more activities (including competitions) running throughout the year for regular visitors.
  • Anything else?
    • Anne and Jacques took photos in both my rides and emailed them to me afterwards, which made a lovely memento. I will definitely return. 
Corto at 4 months playing with Caramel the Shetland!
Thank you to the team at the Ranch des Baous for being so welcoming and for teaching me so much in a short space of time! I can’t wait to come back.

Find out more:
Ranch des Baous website (in French)
Information on the Mérens breed in French (breed website) and in English
Tourrettes-sur-Loup tourist information (in English)

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Para Athletics World Champs 2017

I recently wrote a report for the Blue Bird about the Para Athletics World Champs which were held earlier this year in London. It's a wee bit edited but mostly me! You can read it here.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

British Vaulting Championships 2017

After feeling a bit disappointed with my routine at the English Championships (nothing went wrong, apart from subluxing my ankle - it just wasn't much fun) I decided to revert to my RDA/Hartpury music and routine for the British Champs. This made me feel more positive about it so with a fortnight to go I was planning my packing with some good excitement.
With only a week to go, though, I knew something wasn't right. I was feeling really sick at random times (often after eating, but there were plenty of other times too), I had very low energy and I generally just felt weak and miserable. I had to leave gymnastics early for the first time after my confident, 'I'll feel better once I get going,' didn't come true in the first session. I told myself I was just a bit stressed because of planning for the British; that I was tired; that I could rest in a week's time. I told myself there was nothing wrong and I was just anxious about the flight. I genuinely felt that I wasn't scared of the competition itself but I didn't know why I felt so rubbish all the time. I don't normally suffer from anxiety but there didn't seem to be anything else that could be making me feel bad.
The only other time I've felt like this - feeling sick all the time but not knowing why - was in the run-up to the British Rowing Championships in 2014. Believing it to be another case of nerves, even if it weren't the competition itself I was worried about, I decided to give my psyche a bit of help by getting some rest (I missed the final vaulting session), by doing some breathing and stretching, by reminding myself that I'm a big girl now and can go on an aeroplane, and generally by getting myself excited about the event instead of apprehensive about getting there. The fact that I could talk myself round with logic didn't make a difference to how grim I felt, though. In a way, I'm relieved that it's now been two weeks of feeling like this even though the competition is all done and dusted - I wasn't going mad, I wasn't subconsciously scared of something I couldn't identify - I've just been poorly!
So, last Friday morning I woke up at about 5am (a bit before my alarm - too excited!). I felt a bit wobbly but that's standard in the early morning. Following that I was violently sick down the loo - cue my mum coming in and stating, with tremendous insight, 'Well, this doesn't look good.' Actually, after that I felt better than I had all week! By the time we got to the airport, I was feeling good enough to claim that I would be well enough to push off for the weekend. I met my travelling partners - Sibylle and her two daughters, Arabella and Vivienne, who were both competing too.
How it must have felt for Sibylle!
The flight was fine if a bit delayed and Glasgow was sunny when we arrived! After a bit of a nightmare at the car hire, we wended our way to the guest house in Kilmarnock. (In case you're wondering, I did just check the conjugation of 'to wend' and apparently 'wended' is correct!) The guest house was lovely - comfy, with really friendly staff - and I treated myself to a restful afternoon watching some of the World Gymnastics Championships. It was really rather blissful! After we'd all recharged our batteries, we pootled along to check out the venue for the competition, the Morris Equestrian Centre. It was really useful to have a look round and get our bearings without the stress of having to compete imminently. We were impressed by the size of the arena and couldn't wait to compete in it!
Where there's a group of vaulters, one of them will be in the air...
After feeling grim on Friday night I woke up on Saturday feeling better than expected. I even woke up before the alarm! I got changed into my black catsuit for compulsories then double checked that everything was packed for the day ahead. At the venue, we were busy as soon as we arrived. Vivi was the first vaulter to go for compulsories so there was no time to sit around: hair had to be neatly put up in a bun, then we had to go and warm up whilst the coaches got Sandie going. It was exciting to see all the other Cambridge vaulters - there's just a great feeling when we meet up away from home and we're all togged up in competition clothing and with hair done nicely.
The first set of compulsories from Cambridge were all the six younger ones. Sandie was pretty well-behaved although she did trot during the first couple of routines - it just took her a minute or two to get into the zone! After the six had successfully completed their compulsories I finished warming up then ran through my compulsories. I wasn't feeling sick but the tiredness had hit and I just felt that I had no strength anywhere in my body. My basic seat was OK but my worse leg was very floppy and I couldn't keep it still. I decided not to try my leg changes in canter as I wasn't sure I'd be able to hold on. I did them in walk and hoped for the best for our turn in front of the judges - something that would come to characterise this Championship!
Coming down from bench - legs could be straighter
I was doing my compulsories separately to everyone else which was good because it meant I didn't have to stand around watching and waiting whilst the others in my group went (obviously I don't mind doing that in principle but standing still is really difficult for my legs and back). Anyway, the compulsories were broadly OK. Nett had Sandie going in a really nice canter and my horse scores were 6.5-7, which I was really pleased about! My basic seat felt fine and although my bench wasn't quite my best it looks alright in the video.
The only problem was leg changes: they started out fine but on the second one I was beginning to lose strength badly, plus my new catsuit was slippier than expected and, with Sandie's lovely big canter, I very nearly fell off! Fortunately I managed to salvage it even if it was a bit ugly! For the record, I had planned to wear in the catsuit a little bit but, having been too poorly to go to the final session before heading to Scotland, I hadn't been able to. I decided to take a chance with the new one rather than risk indecent exposure with my old, holey one!
Not a straight leg here either but I suppose it is my worse one!
Compulsories went quite well and I was pleasantly surprised to get a decent score (6.125), because at the time I was a bit annoyed at nearly having fallen off. There wasn't much time to hang about though, because I needed to get changed for freestyle. Fortunately all I needed to do with hair was to swap my black velvet scrunchie around my bun for a burgundy velvet one, then get someone to spray me with lots of gold glitter! I'd faffed the day before with fixing a gold sequin belt onto my catsuit and I'm so glad I didn't leave it until the day because it took ages to get it right. I also fished out my new gold shoes (well, I painted them a year ago but this was their first outing) and then I was good to go.
My phone was needed to play the music for my freestyle so I didn't get a video of it, but it broadly went OK (although I struggled a bit to hear the music). There were no disasters, although I still felt quite wobbly which was irritating. I was really pleased with my score though - 7.163, with 8.15 average from the two judges for the 'Performance' element. I had a good time!
The rest of the day was spent kicking back and relaxing whilst watching everyone else. It was a jolly afternoon in the bar/restaurant area which provided a good view of the arenas. Everyone from Cambridge was doing well and although there were a few heart-stopping moments with some of the other horses there were no major accidents that we witnessed (although we later found out that one of the Scottish vaulters cracked a rib in a fall!).
Me, the guy who ran the place (a legend!) and Sibylle
Sunday was a very early start as Arabella was on at 8am with her freestyle. On the Sunday we were all in the big arena and it felt great to have that space and to have the music nice and loud! I was feeling a bit iffy but kept myself occupied stretching and generally thinking positive thoughts which didn't feature throwing up on the horse. I ran through my freestyle once then felt really bad so took some buccastem hoping that it would work quickly. Part of me wanted to go in and get it over with before I felt worse, but I'm glad I hung on because the medication did start to help just before we went in. I was so relieved because I just wanted to enjoy the routine!
I did enjoy it - almost as much as when I did it at Hartpury (I'm not sure I've written about that yet, but the main thing to know is that I had so much fun doing it). I felt it went really well - better than the day before - even though I still felt a bit sick. It's a good job I was wearing the red catsuit and not the turquoise one as it helped me look a bit less green! The score for the second day was a bit lower which was a shame because I felt I did it better, but I didn't really mind. I'd survived! I'd completed! I'd enjoyed it!
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I'm now the British Para Vaulting Champion again. The shield that we'd carefully sent up with the horsebox was coming back to Cambridge. The journey back was all fine and I went to bed a tired but happy little vaulter.
Me with Nett and Sandie <3 !
THANK YOU! to Nett (my wonderful lunger and also the unfortunate person who had to drive the horsebox all the way to Scotland), Jade and Alexis (tireless coaches), Sibylle/Vivi/Arabella (for looking after me!) and all the rest of the Cambridge team for being so much fun to be with again and for being so endlessly supportive of each other.
On the podium with Nett
Also to BEV for organising the event and to the Morris Equestrian Centre for hosting us with such enthusiasm! Finally, of course, to Sandie the super horse.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

[Some of] what I wish I could say but can only write

I'm sorry. I'm sorry that sometimes I can't look at you, hear you, talk to you, listen to you, touch you or even be near you.

I'm sorry I can't explain how I'm feeling or what's wrong in person. I'm sorry it has to be here.

I'm sorry it looks like I don't care and I'm not trying. I do care and I am trying, but it's so very, very difficult that even all my caring and all my trying doesn't make it work.

The first and most important thing is that I'm sorry.

The second thing is all of this:

Everything hurts. My bones burn. My muscles scream. My joints feel rend apart. My skin aches. My head throbs. My eyes are weak. My ears jump inside. My stomach spirals. My gut grinds. My throat rasps and I feel the air scraping down to my lungs.

Every tiny bit of input has the potential to overwhelm me completely. Some input is necessary to fend off insanity, but I have to control it myself. I have to be in charge of what touches me and of what is fed to my brain through my eyes and ears. When I'm not in control, I fall apart and so does the act. The tiniest things count as a loss of control - the merest touch, wobble, loud noise, word, attempt at contact - all of those things make me fall apart.

Even seeing something painful can do it, but it's impossible to define 'painful' - it's not just bright colours or flashing lights. Those things can spark physical pain but this can be anything, and it's usually anything that my eye muscles have to work harder to perceive. Sometimes it's easier just to look down. It's the only way to alleviate the pulsating pain across my eyelids.

The third part is this:

Pain takes energy. I am so utterly exhausted from pain: how constant it is; how severe it is; how much of me it covers; the vast plethora of ways the body can feel that it's breaking.

My energy comes in fits and starts. I know that each morning I have two deep troughs in which I have no energy at all. I have learned to trust that they will end, however deep I drop. When tested, I can pull something out, but only for a limited time. Certain things are easier than others. Things where I can be alone in my head - even if not in person - are always easier than things which require social interaction. I think this is because my head is where the fighting takes place, and if it's distracted by conversation it's working double time.

Physical pain is physically tiring. People recognise that. It's also emotionally and mentally tiring. Lots of people recognise that too. Emotional fatigue is painful, and physical pain makes it worse - and vice versa. A fair few recognise that.

Pain is OK because it is temporary - unless it isn't temporary.

Pain is OK because it's manageable - unless it isn't manageable.

Pain is OK because it's understandable - unless it isn't understandable.

The vast majority of people will never understand my pain. You probably won't, and I hope you don't. But that makes it even harder still.

I want you to know that pain is in all of me and I feel it all the time. The only way I know of dealing with it at the moment is to ignore it for as long as I possibly can. Sometimes I can do this cheerfully. Sometimes I can't. Occasionally it breaks down completely.

I already feel like a failure when I can't be cheerful, or even vaguely friendly. This feeling makes the pain worse: physical pain is far easier to handle than guilt.

This makes me feel a little less guilty, even though I can't promise to be more cheerful straight away.

I'll try though.

I promise that I'll always try.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Generic update

Well, it's high time I wrote something. To be honest, I've been struggling lately: since getting home from our holiday in France, I've had a lot of stuff happening and have swung between being incredibly busy and using all my energy on that and having no energy left the rest of the time. So, here's a quick lowdown:

Summer holiday

Whilst I was on holiday in France I did a lot of conditioning each day which was exhausting but has definitely helped my fitness. I've built up my core strength and, after a torn hamstring in my right leg, I also managed to keep on top of flexibility. It was all very painful!
My bad leg splits are now my good leg splits...
I also had plenty of time to play in the pool and went riding twice at a lovely riding school. It wasn't very far away except for how much higher up it was than our flat! The first time I went I had a lesson in which I attempted to ride the French way (hands higher - very hard for me) and the second time I had a lovely hack where we trekked to the top of a mountain and had a view all the way down to the sea.

Back home

In my first week back I started back at school, then had a showing competition (the final that we qualified for at Hartpury) and then the English Vaulting Championships.
We cantered! (Photo: Equinational)
There's a lot that I could say about all of it but in the interests of keeping records up to date I'll just do the basics now: school was fine, we came second in the showing and had a great time, and I won the vaulting competition partly by virtue of being the only para entry in the Pre-Novice category... but in fairness there were entries in the category one down (Walk Individual) so I'm still claiming it as kind of a win!

Since then

Various health problems: dislocation of my good ankle at riding last week which annoyed me (even though it went back in OK) because I need a foot to rely on! I also woke up with my shoulder out a few days ago and although it went back OK it's been really sore and weak since then. It has been a bit amusing going into school with my sling on - comments from the kids range from, 'You're, like, Injury Central 101' to, 'Oh really, NOW what have you done?'! I've had quite a lot of headaches too which is irritating, but on the plus side I've had some useful input from the physio about neck and head pain (lots of work to do though!) and from the sports physio about my hamstrings. Basically: lots of work for me to get on with to make sure I can keep moving as much as possible.
still my favourite skill because you don't need to land!

What's next...

Wheelchair racing
I'm not able to do much training at the moment because of my shoulder, back, neck, etc... so I'm doing some coaching! I'm hopefully going to be going on a coaching course soon so that I can really learn how to help a bit better. It feels good to be able to pass on some of what I've learned and what I've discovered.
At RDA we have an exciting new project: we're all going to be working on group musical rides which will then be filmed and entered into the regional round of the RDA UK competition. I'm going to keep our theme secret for now but it's very exciting! As well as this I've had another side saddle lesson and now had my first experience cantering on the left rein. It's harder on the left than on the right because keeping your balance is harder - especially with bar reins - but on the basis of 'let's just see what happens' we gave it a go and it was fun!

At the beginning of October we have the British Vaulting Championships, which will be in Scotland this year. It has to be said that organising the logistics has been more difficult than sorting my routine and outfit - and those bits aren't exactly easy! Training has been difficult for me but I'm hoping that I can make it through to the British and do my best there, then have a bit of a break whilst the club as a whole has a break.
Hoping to get this year's British Champion rosette too!
Despite the shoulder (and everything else) I've had fun going to gymnastics and working on all that I learned before the summer, as well as learning some new skills. The coaches are so friendly and encouraging and we have a laugh. It's hard, but I'm getting stronger and vaguely more co-ordinated!
SO much handstand practice and I'm still pretty naff at them! It's interesting to see how wonky my hips are - they're like this on every attempt. I need to rig up my phone to see if my shoulders are level!
There's a possibility that I can go along to a competition soon but that's not certain yet. Well, I *can* if I want to but I need to gain a bit more confidence about it being a good idea!
This is also going well. I'm very busy this year already and I'm also going on a course which takes place over a few months which will hopefully help me to help the children. Here are two little pictures to demonstrate how it sometimes feels!
That's about as much as I can type for now and it's been knackering. Cheerio for now!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

RDA Nationals - Dressage

This year I sort of had two opportunities for dressage at the National Championships, because even though you are only allowed to compete in one Championship class (I had opted for the walk/trot test ridden side saddle on Rolo rather than the canter test that Boysie and I had also qualified in, on the basis that Rolo and I are going well at the moment and Boysie is VERY popular for everything and everyone else in the group) you can also do Dressage Anywhere. This was the first year that I'd had a go at Dressage Anywhere and it's something I'm going to be trying to get more riders doing in the East Region - and further afield, although I have even less jurisdiction outside the east of England!
Qualifying with Rolo at the regional competition
I've written about Dressage Anywhere here and here. If you're not aware of it, it's basically an opportunity to film yourself doing a dressage test at home, then to have that film judged and compared to other people in your class. If you're lucky, you get a rosette and even some prize money! Dressage Anywhere runs an RDA Online Championship each year. You qualify for this in the preceding rounds, which run from August to March, with the Championship taking place in April/May.
Results are here.
This year I had entered the Walk/Trot test on Rolo and for the Championship we went side saddle. This was only my second time riding side saddle so it was a bit of a gamble but it paid off when we won! The prizes for this were awarded on the Friday of Hartpury, and consisted of a lovely RDA rosette and, even snazzier, a Dressage Anywhere medal! Having a red rosette and a gold medal was a great way to start the weekend and it was a good omen as I dashed off to my first event (jumping) after the presentation ceremony. Clearly Ruth (who runs DA) is a good omen!
With our medal and rosette after the jumping - and Gillian (L) and Helen (R)

Anyway, my 'real' dressage test (performed live!) ended up being closer to the bottom of my list of priorities this year. This was a bit of a shame but I did put a lot of effort into the other disciplines and, having decided to ride side saddle, I also knew that there wasn't much I could do to practise as there was only the opportunity for one half-hour lesson, and it's so different to riding astride that normal riding wasn't really much help.
One of our RDA sessions before the Champs
Other than scrutinising my test sheets from the qualifier, 2016 Championships and my Dressage Anywhere side saddle test, the main practice I could do would be getting used to the saddle. In my lessons, I'd felt fine whilst on board (limited sensation helping me out!) but then dismounting and attempting to function afterwards was nigh-on impossible as my legs had just seized up so much that I couldn't move them or weight bear. I knew that I'd have to aim to be as comfortable as possible during the showing so that I was ready to go again the next day in the dressage. I also knew that I needed to recover from the dressage very quickly in order to be ready for vaulting!
To this end, I tried to get used to the saddle as much as possible by setting it up on a makeshift saddle rack at home and then sitting in the position whilst watching television. Sounds silly and I didn't think it would help much but although I was very tired after the showing (which was about 4 times as long as any other time I've ever spent riding side saddle), I wasn't as bad as I expected. After the dressage, I was in a lot of pain but nowhere near as stiff and unsteady as I'd feared.
Looked a bit silly too!
So anyway, the test! I knew the test fairly well, but practising on a sofa really isn't the same... For a start, sofas don't leap around with excitement at being out and about on such a glorious summer morning. I really did wish I was astride when I first got on Rolo - he was full of the joys of spring and then some. This is classic for him and frankly I'd been astonished when he'd behaved so well the day before. We were quite early down to the tack check so weren't allowed into the collecting ring straight away. Rolo was absolutely not in a mood to stand still or even just to walk. He was jogging on the spot and from side to side and every time I released the rein a bit he'd just start mega fast trotting...

It took a superhuman effort for me to relax enough all over and trust that he'd calm down if I led the way. I consciously tried to loosen as many muscles as are under control and to keep the contact really light. I looked up more and just kept him moving until he was ready to do some transitions and start settling down. To be honest, the fact that we were fairly calm by the time we went in is one of my biggest achievements of the weekend: it'd been quite a while since I'd felt that unsettled on a horse and, combined with my annoyance at myself for feeling wobbly, it was a mental challenge to get a grip and get on with it.
The other thing that sofas don't tend to do is poo. I was all too aware that Rolo had gone the entirety of our 'warm up' (which was mostly cooling down!) without having had a poo. The fact that he chose to do it as we came down the centre line for the first time and before we even hit X was really rather infuriating. I nudged him enough to keep him going in walk (in fact, I didn't know my left heel moved that much!) but unfortunately this meant that once he'd finished pooing he broke into an exuberant little trot, so we lost a mark there.
This photo features the offending poo on the right!
The rest of the test passed without major incident but to be honest I didn't ride it as well as I could have. I think a lot of it is my inexperience riding side saddle, because my steering and seat/position definitely had space to improve. On the other hand, the one thing that we'd hoped would be better side saddle - the halts - were some of the best he's done with me. This isn't exactly saying much, but it was gratifying nonetheless that the halt did actually include 'immobility'!
Anyway, the dressage test was over and I had managed to ride it side saddle in front of an audience without falling off! We didn't get a great score (62%) which was a bit disappointing but in a large class we still came in 7th (just out of the rosettes - even more annoying!). It was a bit of a drop after winning the class last year but managing it side saddle was a proud achievement and managing my anxiety before going in was even more of one: it's nice that I don't really get too nervous about competing, but it does mean that when things go a bit pear-shaped and I have a confidence wobble it's that much harder to manage. Whatever the result on Saturday, Rolo had done me proud on the Friday and I'd had very limited practice time so I couldn't be too upset about the dressage result. There's just plenty to keep working on!
Dressage Anywhere goodies!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

RDA Nationals - Showjumping

This year I had entered the Level 3 jumping competition with Rolo and I was looking forward just to having a bit of fun - Rolo is great fun to ride and even more fun to jump! We had plenty of time to warm up in the collecting ring, although it was a bit irritating that both jumps that were up had to be tackled from the right rein. Rolo was feeling unusually calm so we just had plenty of time to feel loose and free but also sharp and on the ball. Those things sound mutually exclusive but aren't - it's vital to be a bundle of potential energy not just nervous energy!
Walking into the indoor school with Rolo brought back memories of doing the same thing two years before, when a lovely but overzealous official leapt up from a chair on the inside of the (very dark) barn just as we came in from the (very bright) outside world. Rolo nearly had a fit and it wasn't a calm way to enter our dressage test! This year, fortunately, there was no such surprise and Rolo seemed to have forgotten all about it. There was no jump in the indoor collecting ring so instead we just did a few transitions between trot and halt and generally worked on keeping him loose and elastic. Then it was our turn to go!
Riding into the big international arena at Hartpury is quite an experience (the picture above - not of me - goes some way to illustrating it). The building is vast and echoey, like an aircraft hangar. The judge seems to be a very long way away but the spectators seem awfully close. Even the steadiest horses can feel a bit unnerved by the unusual atmosphere but Rolo seemed to be on best behaviour! We walked down to the end, chatted briefly to the steward then saluted the judge and began our trot around. I took a good look at the line to the third jump as we went around, then the bell rang and we picked up canter before heading for the first jump.
Well, Rolo jumped very nicely. He rapped the second jump but it didn't fall (phew!) and he popped over the spread neatly.
At the change of rein we had been instructed to return to trot rather than attempt a flying change, which was just as well as we can't actually do a reliable flying change yet! We then had to pick up canter again for the final line and even though Rolo worried me a bit by leaving the upward transition really rather late we did manage it and popped over the final jumps quite happily.
We cantered through the finish then slowed to a trot before turning down the centre line, halting, and saluting the judge. Job done!
I felt that we'd done fairly well - no jumps down or refusals, a few moments that could have been neater for the style mark, but generally not a bad job. Gratifyingly, the judges thought so too and awarded us 87%, which was enough to win the Senior section and the class overall! It was a lovely way to start the weekend and I'm very proud of Rolo. What a super little horse!