April has been a relatively quiet month for competing, with no dressage or jumping competitions to take part in. It still feels as if a lot has been packed in, though!
- Vaulting competition
- RDA Big Ride
- General training (inc. gymnastics)
- Wheelchair racing (GEAR 10k)
- Dressage Anywhere
The month began with the first vaulting competition of the year, held at our Cambridge yard on 1st April. It was quite a small event but there were competitors from all over England. This was my first time competing in the Pre-Novice category, meaning I performed the compulsory routine in canter as well as my freestyle in walk. The compulsories felt good: there was still plenty to improve, but feeling confident and relaxed is the biggest battle and I certainly felt very chilled up there! The walk freestyle also went smoothly; I tried hard to incorporate the changes that we’d worked on in our extra training sessions so that I could bring more artistry to the performance. My RDA friend Emily was also competing in her first competition, and was in the Walk Individual class. Her fantastic routine, including Makaton signing, was the best I’d ever seen her vault. She was completely in character and held everybody spellbound. Neither of us had competition in our para categories so we were both winners!
RDA Big Ride
Following the competition we had two weeks off school for the Easter holidays. In the middle, I took part in the first ride of the RDA Big Ride series. This was held at Woodhurst RDA (near Huntingdon) on a glorious day – I even got a bit sunburnt! There was a lovely big group of us including four riders from my RDA group and one younger RDA rider, several of our volunteers and parents, and Sam Orde, Chairman of RDA UK. We opted for the 6-mile ride and had a lovely time exploring the countryside on horseback. It was really lovely to go for a ride and just enjoy being on a horse without thinking too much about the quality of the walk, or riding into the corners, or getting the right line to a jump. Obviously I like riding well in the school but the freedom of a gentle hack in the sun seemed like a welcome reward for us and for our horses, who don’t often get the chance to have a fun trip out somewhere new.
After the holidays (well, I had one vaulting session off for Easter Day) it was back into training with a bang. I had some wheelchair races to work towards, and had also managed to pick up some minor injuries in my left leg (hip flexors and glutes) which still need a fair bit of work to make them useful for vaulting again. I’ve spent a fair time in the gym using the rowing machine and weights, as well as doing plenty of stretching and core work. I also had a lovely trip to the National Stud at Newmarket and met lots of future winners!
I’ve also been busy at the gymnastics club, having joined a new group so that I now have sessions on Mondays and Fridays. The coaches are incredibly thoughtful and work hard to ensure that I’m improving and having fun, whilst also staying as safe as possible! I love the fact that I’m still learning loads of new skills every time I go, and that it’s a safe environment for me to throw myself around a bit without worrying about what I’m going to land on. I have lots and lots and lots of falls but so far (fingers crossed!) no major injuries from them. I just want to keep going and achieve as much as I possibly can. I love the fact that you can learn to do these things simply by practising doggedly: having spent a couple of weeks doing 100 handstands a day (until my glutes packed in – not doing quite so many now!) I have confirmed that you don’t get better at something by wishing you could do it; but only by repeatedly attempting it.
Medically, this month has been a bit topsy-turvy. I’ve finally been given my hearing aids and, although I’m still getting used to them, it is a revelation. I can’t believe how much I was missing! It doesn’t always work nicely – an instruction shouted at me the other day whilst riding was entirely lost within Rolo’s enthusiastic and amplified snorts – but I’m understanding far more than before so that’s a positive. I’ve been seeing the physio for some more work on my neck, which gets very sore very quickly. At the moment I still have to spend a significant chunk of the day with my head supported just so, and attempts to strengthen my neck haven’t been successful. We now have a new toy to play with in the form of a laser on my head which I then use to point at a target. It’s really quite difficult! The idea is to train the deep postural muscles in my neck which should help relieve some of the strain. Fatigue has been a big issue this month, which is a worry. I think I’m just about coping but it’s definitely affecting my performance in training and racing, and it affects my mood quite badly too. At the moment I’m just about keeping my head above water and hoping that May will be a bit better.
Wheelchair racing – 10k
The final event for me in April was the Grand East Anglian Run, which is a 10km road race held in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. It was the third time I’d entered this particular race, which was also my first ever wheelchair road race back in 2015. Last year I took part despite being discharged from hospital only three days earlier, and whereas this year I didn’t have quite the same record I had ended up doing a lot less training thanks to injuries, illness and other sporting commitments. I wasn’t expecting a fast time, but managed to come home first in 44:08 which was below my target of 45 minutes: by no means my fastest, but acceptable given the circumstances. I regurgitated, swallowed and regurgitated my breakfast several times over; my back was in agony; I dislocated a finger before starting; but apart from that it was just the normal toughness of wheelchair racing!
The final thing to report is the results of the RDA Dressage Anywhere competition I entered. Having not done a good job of it on Oscar, I tried again on Rolo and got a much better film to send off. We only really had one wobbly bit which was when we disagreed about whether or not to halt at the end (we stayed still eventually!) but otherwise he was very good. When the marks came through, we had a score of 71.88% which was good enough for first place in the March competition – and some prize money (!) which went on edible thank-yous for the RDA riders, parents and volunteers who were put out of their way by me monopolising the arena for a bit. We are now entered for the RDA Championships and will redo the same test. I’ve booked some private lessons so we can get it done and I might even try it side saddle too…but that’s tbc! I’d really recommend Dressage Anywhere to anyone – you can read more about my experience with it here.
There’s just time for the April joker. There are more potential candidates than ever, so here’s one of me not landing on my face but instead just pulling a silly, ‘I am concentrating SO hard right now‘ face. I was trying a new freestyle stand on Dax for the first time!