March has been another busy month for training and competing. It’s not quite over but I’m taking stock now since it looks like I will have to hit the ground running in April!
- Unaffiliated dressage
- Fun showjumping
- More unaffiliated dressage!
- Vaulting training day
- Dressage Anywhere (failed attempt!)
- Birthday showjumping
- Trying side saddle for the first time
- Vaulting and gymnastics
- Looking ahead
Unaffiliated dressage (1)
The first competition in March was dressage at the College of West Anglia on 4th March, riding Boysie. We entered two tests (Intro C and Prelim 12) and I was pleased with how both tests went. Boysie felt relaxed and confident in both and although there are always plenty of things to improve I felt that we did two neat, quiet tests. We were placed first in the Intro test and second in Prelim, with some decent scores and a healthy mix of encouraging and useful comments! I was especially glad – and surprised – to win the Intro class because it had a high number of entries.
On the 8th March I headed to Springhill Stables to compete in Cambridge University Riding Club showjumping. I was on my favourite Springhill pony, Oscar. He’s tiny but very keen and he loves to jump! We did three rounds in total, but the first one was a warm up in which we weren’t judged, since it was aimed at less experienced riders. The second round was with small jumps and we went clear to finish in third place, behind two riders both riding a much bigger horse (bigger by about a foot!). The third and final round was over slightly bigger jumps (although still pretty tiny), and this time I was a bit more daring with the lines to get us round quicker. Oscar was a little hero and flew over everything. This time we moved one notch up to finish in second place, with the same horse finishing first as in the smaller class – but this time he also finished in third, below us! It was a fun morning doing some lovely low-key jumping and just having fun.
Unaffiliated dressage (2!)
I had a weekend off competing after that, with just the standard training sessions to attend. The following week was extremely busy with an extra wheelchair racing session (a ‘taster session’ to recruit some new members) and a lengthy RDA committee meeting to contend with. On Saturday 18th I entered another dressage competition at CWA, riding Boysie in Prelim 2. It wasn’t our best test as he wasn’t really in the mood! During the warm up I was carrying my schooling whip, and whilst this doesn’t normally bother him he was clearly in a funny mood and refused to bend nicely on either rein, preferring instead to eyeball the end of the whip! I decided to give it a last try on the trot around the competition arena outside, and since he was still doing lovely lateral work instead of lovely basic stuff I decided to drop it. Of course, then he got really behind the leg and I had to work incredibly hard to keep him going forwards – but at least the bend was a bit better! I wasn’t particularly pleased with the test on the way out, because I’d spent so much time on keeping him going that I felt I’d neglected everything else. I was pretty surprised, then, to score a decent mark (66.37%; collectives 66) which was good enough for second place.
On Sunday 19th we had a brilliant vaulting training day which had a far lower injury rate than February’s equivalent. As far as I’m aware I’m the only person who fell off (typical!), and of course I did so in canter on the biggest horse, when he tripped a bit on his circle. Other than being a bit winded from landing on my back, and having a nicely skinned elbow, I was fine and hopped back on to try leg changes again. My elbow is a bit sore now and I’m getting some fun neural symptoms but once again I’ve managed to injure the bad arm so I’m not too worried! We had a visiting coach in the form of the highly experienced Sarah Gemmell, and although it’s always a bit daunting to lay yourself bare to a really critical coach she had some really useful advice and has challenged me to change quite a few things about, well, all aspects of my vaulting! In particular I have been working on mounting the barrel correctly, going up to bench and back down properly, linking my moves in my freestyle better, sitting sideways neatly during leg changes, and my facial expression – which I’m quite sure will still fluctuate between fear and grim determination for some time yet!
Failed attempt at Dressage Anywhere!
On Wednesday 22nd I had an important reminder of the old saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men, and all that, when I attempted to make a video for the Dressage Anywhere RDA Championship. I’d arranged for a lesson on Oscar (the jumping pony) so that we could film a dressage test and send it off before the deadline of 31st March. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t really on our side. Wednesday was both windy and wet: a combination which not only makes for a miserable time in the outdoor arenas but also poor quality footage and a rather disgruntled pony! In this instance, said pony was absolutely appalled that I seemed to expect him to do dressage nicely when clearly the only appropriate thing to do on a day like this is to spook at everything you’ve seen before because it looks marginally different when wet. We had to trot past a load of jump blocks several times before he would even consider not leaping away, and when he caught sight of my mum in a raincoat with the hood up he was (justifiably) convinced that the aliens had landed and that ‘Force All Ponies To Do Dressage Tests And Never Eat Apples’ was top of their to-do list. In other words, I got some video but it wasn’t great, so I’m going to try again with Rolo later this week! The session wasn’t wasted though; any time on a horse is good and Terri, an instructor who I haven’t seen for a while, pointed out a very bad habit I’ve developed (looking down too much) so there’s plenty of food for thought.
The 25th marked not only another jumping competition but also my birthday – and what better way to spend a birthday than going jumping with a fun little horse? Rolo and I entered the 60cm and 65cm class, and I was really pleased with how he went. In the first class, I let us down by forgetting where jump number 6 was, meaning that between 5b and 7 I did a little lap of the arena desperately trying to find ‘6’, incurring 4 faults in the meantime. Rolo was a superstar though and jumped clear until the very last fence, where we had an unlucky pole down. With eight faults and a decent speed (far faster than Boysie!) we just finished in the ribbons with 6th place. In the 65cm class, I knew where I was going this time, and despite two fences down in the middle of the course it felt good. Jumping is still quite a recent thing for me, and I’m learning a huge amount every time I go. As these are all non-RDA events, I’m competing against able-bodied riders each time, the vast majority of whom turn up on their own horse(s). My practice time is really limited, as is my power to steer, turn and kick, so at the moment I’m just excited to be taking part. I absolutely love jumping and I don’t want to beat myself up about mistakes because ultimately that isn’t helpful. I certainly want to improve each time, but at the moment there’s so much still to learn that those improvements are coming thick and fast!
The following day, as a birthday present, I rode Rolo again, but this time with a difference: my first time ever trying side saddle. The instructor, Philippa Kemp-Welch, was extremely friendly and helpful, and I was really glad that she checked I was OK all the time but also helped me to try more difficult skills. I had expected it to be really hard and to feel really wobbly, so when I arrived and saw the rider before me not just trotting but also cantering I thought I wouldn’t be matching that any time soon! However, I was pleasantly surprised that Rolo’s trot with a side saddle felt really controlled and not anywhere near as bumpy as I had anticipated. We even had a couple of canters (but only on the right rein) which felt, like everything else in a side saddle, a bit odd but rather nice. I learned about how to halt (either in a fairly normal way or doing the ’emergency stop’ of squeezing your legs together and slightly tweaking the right rein), and found Rolo much more responsive this way than when riding astride. I absolutely loved the lesson and cannot wait to try again (in fact, I’ve booked my next lesson already – roll on May 29th!). It made me see a whole new side to Rolo, who I usually find too strong for dressage. Now I just need to practise and do more so that I can compete with him riding side saddle!
More vaulting and gymnastics
As well as preparing at the vaulting training day, vaulting has taken up a fair bit more time this month. Our first competition of the season is this Saturday (1st April) and there are lots of things that need to be addressed: injuries, niggles, and stretching; music and interpretation; checking that my black catsuit isn’t too slippy for compulsories (something that can only be confirmed through trial!); adjusting my freestyle outfit; improving fitness and strength; working on compulsories on and off the horse/barrel to try to pick up as many points as possible; endless iterations of my freestyle routine in front of the mirror to check for fluidity of movement; videoing and video analysis; gymnastics training for strength, mobility, flexibility, positional awareness, balance, etc.; getting used to different horses; watching videos of the pros to see how they do it; planning my day and week for the competition; and something far more unusual for me – buying make up! I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought any make up (easily over a year ago) but today I have bought nail polish, eye shadow, lipstick and mascara to go with my face paint – all with the aim of looking creepy and nautical. I can’t actually put any of this on myself because my hands shake too much, so I’ll be looking to train someone up (probably my mum!) as a make-up artist for this weekend.
This month in vaulting I have learned loads more new things, including how to do many skills I thought I’d learned a while ago, but do them properly… I’ve also been working on loads more gymnastics skills, both at the gymnastics club and at vaulting. Before Christmas I couldn’t do a handstand at all – even supported – because my left shoulder would buckle immediately, but this is getting better now and although they’re not very consistent I can get some decent handstand forward rolls. I’ve been doing more work on the beam, too, which has made me feel more confident when vaulting because the movement of the horse is made up for by it being wider than the length of my foot! Very recently, we have started including some bars work in our gymnastics session. I haven’t quite got my head around it yet and the only time I actually managed to do a ‘kip’ I think it was sheer chance… With any luck, by the time I write the April News Round-up I’ll be a bit closer to getting it right!
April looks set to be another busy month – just how I like it. It kicks off on 1st April with a vaulting competition hosted by Cambridge Vaulting Club. I then have two weeks of school holiday which I intend to fill with as much riding as possible, including an RDA session, an RDA long-distance ride, and possibly an RDA dressage event. In between riding I’d like to fit in some decent length trips in my racing wheelchair, as well as some more gym work and swimming. There may well be some dressage and jumping at CWA again, but these are to be confirmed. There will be plenty of practice of short distances in my race chair as well as longer, since May kicks off with the regional track finals (100m to 3000m). Finally, I’ll be rounding off the month with my third trip to the Grand East Anglian Run in King’s Lynn. This is an annual 10k road race and I hope to raise some money for the RDA. The course is lovely – good and flat! – and I have fond memories from my first year of racing (it was my first ever road race) even though it was pouring with rain! Last year I’d had a nasty fall and had only just been discharged from hospital, so this year I’m hoping I can stay on the horse so that the wheelchair racing doesn’t feel quite so unpleasant. It’s another big month but at least I have two weeks of ‘holiday’ to spend as much time outside as possible!
Learning why there’s a big blue crash mat between the bars and the beams.