February 2017

  • Unaffiliated dressage tests
  • RDA vaulting ‘swap’
  • Vaulting training
  • Showjumping
  • Gymnastics and other training

February has been another busy month, with plenty of training and competing.

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(…and an ankle injury!)

Unaffiliated dressage

In early February I took part in a dressage competition at The College of West Anglia in Cambridge, riding RDA horse, Boysie. I was pleased with how both tests went (Intro C and Prelim 7), and felt that we made a definite improvement on our last performance which was in December 2016. We finished in first place in the Intro test and second place in the Prelim test. I was very satisfied with these results; it was only my second canter test with Boysie and we were against able-bodied opposition so the placings were good.

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More importantly, I was pleased that I made a definite improvement on December’s competition. I was ably assisted on the day by Chrissy Scott, Cathie Stableford and Meghan Clarke, who performed tasks ranging from helping to scrub off stable stains and reading dressage tests to getting my boots on my feet (never an easy job!) and doing the all-important filming for post-event analysis.

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Clever horse.

RDA vaulting swap

The next day we were visited at vaulting by the Gaddesden Place RDA Group, who have recently established an RDA vaulting group. This was on the back of a visit I made to their stables near St Albans before Christmas. They brought three RDA coaches to watch and chat about coaching, as well as three teenage volunteers (all excellent gymnasts) so that they could have a go on our horses. Their own vaulting horse, Codey, is only  14.1hh so next to our biggest horses – who are over 17hh – that’s a height difference of a foot! Unperturbed, they all tried out new skills and had fun doing some canter moves. All six visitors seemed to enjoy the session and went home with more ideas to try out with their vaulters. We were also informed that a PDF I sent them of vaulting moves (featuring yours truly and the incomparable Meghan Clarke) has now been printed, laminated and put in a folder for use at every session – we’re famous!

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With Meghan at the dressage.

Over the next week I wasn’t very well so I didn’t fit in much training or any competing other than a few reasonably gentle sessions at the gym. I was always get nervous when the fatigue gets bad because it’s hard to know how long the bad patch will last (anything from days to years) but, fingers crossed, I caught it quickly and it seems to have passed.

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By the healing power of puppy cuddles, I soon felt better.

Vaulting

In the middle of February we had half-term. On top of a lengthy RDA meeting on the Monday, physio at the hospital on Thursday and picking up a new car (exciting!) on Friday, there was also quite a bit of extra vaulting training. This took the form of a full day on Tuesday, standard sessions on Wednesday and Sunday, and an extra session on the Sunday for the British Equestrian Vaulting Coaching Conference, where I and a few others offered ourselves up as guinea pigs. This resulted in me being coached by one of Team GB’s top coaches. She has a bit of a fearsome reputation but, as the only para vaulter present, she was actually really nice to me! I also gained some really useful advice on my compulsories. For the following session we had one of BEV’s judges working through our freestyle with us. This was pretty daunting (even though he’s a really nice chap!) but so useful, because I’ve now learned more about how they allocate marks and what you need to do to score as highly as possible.

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Who’d have thought ‘just sitting’ could be so hard?!

The Tuesday full-day vaulting session was good fun and not as tiring as I’d feared. Again, we had a visiting coach in the form of GB vaulter Ricky, who again gave us all lots of advice on both compulsories and freestyles. Unfortunately, right at the very beginning of the day (before I even touched a horse) I sprained my right ankle quite badly. It wasn’t a major problem as I tend not to go anywhere without vet wrap and ice packs, and since I can’t really feel my legs or my feet properly it didn’t bother me too much. I just strapped it up as tightly as possible, kept the ice pack on when I wasn’t on the horse, and hoped for the best!

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That moment of, “Will my ankle hold out or not? Only one way to find out…”!

That was now nearly two weeks ago and a strict regime of ice, compression and elevation (if not so much of the ‘rest’) has got it down to the stage where there is just one identifiable bit of damaged tissue, rather than a whole swollen joint. I’m not yet at the point where I can jump up from it, so I have to mount from the offside only for now. I’m starting to do some gentle physio with it (especially a bit of hydrotherapy at the end of a swim session) so fingers crossed it’ll be back in action properly soon.

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I sure am glad I couldn’t really feel this!

Showjumping

As well as dressage and vaulting, I’ve been working on my jumping a fair bit recently. I’m trying to get to as many jump classes as possible, which is enabling me to try out new skills and gain more experience in a minimum-pressure environment. I’m aiming to compete once a month at the College’s unaffiliated jumping competitions. Having done the fun Christmas Eve jumping, I wasn’t well enough to take part in the January competition but I did compete two days ago in the February version.

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I’ve mostly been riding Rolo in training but since he’s been quite busy lately we gave him a rest and I rode Boysie for the competition. We took part in both the 60cm and 65cm classes. I was tempted to be more ambitious but I hadn’t jumped Boysie since Hartpury in July so I’m glad I was sensible! We had a good clear round in the 60cm class, but I was pretty tired by the time we went in for the 65cm, and Boysie felt a bit sluggish so we had two fences down for 7th place. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the 60cm class (third place) and have learned something about doing two jump classes in a row – rest more, and maybe carry a whip! Again, given that I was riding against entirely able-bodied opposition with their own horses, I was pretty pleased that we were competitive at all.

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What a good horse!

Gymnastics and other training

In non-horsey news, I spent some time putting together a promotional video for our wheelchair racing group. We’re holding a taster session in March to try and recruit some new blood, so hopefully this will get them interested! In my weekly disability gymnastics sessions, I’ve been learning some exciting new skills, such as a beam-friendly cartwheel (not that I’m anywhere near ready to try it on the beam!), handstand-forward roll onto a ‘wedge’ or crash mat, and some more trampolining. It’s still very basic stuff but given that I can barely lift my left arm up I’m pleased with how it’s all going. I’m still grateful for the soft landings afforded by the trampoline and the sprung floor!

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I’ve also been spending a bit of time in the gym (primarily on the rowing machine and doing weights/core strength/flexibility work) and have been swimming. I like to mix things up a bit because it can get boring otherwise, and it’s easy to stagnate. If I just go swimming once a month, I can see if my fitness has improved – if I get faster, it’s certainly not because of practising my technique! The more I do, the more it improves my vaulting: after months of failed attempts and painstaking repetition I have finally mastered swinging up correctly from basic seat to bench on the barrel – now the struggle to transfer it to the horse begins…

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A still from mid-flight!

This month seems to have gone very quickly, but at the same time the dressage competition at the beginning of February seems a long time ago. No doubt next month will be the same: more dressage and jumping competitions, lots more vaulting training, and probably a fair bit of gymnastics, wheelchair racing, swimming, erging and weights thrown in for good measure. Watch this space!
February joker

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