I’ve spent most of May thinking it can’t possibly be May yet, but here we are at the end of the month! I’ve worked hard on a number of skills and activities this month but things are looking really positive going into the summer so I’m glad that putting the hours in is having an effect.
- East Region Disability Athletics Championships
- RDA Showjumping Regional Qualifiers
- RDA Dressage Anywhere
- RDA Dressage Regional Qualifiers
East Region Disability Athletics Championships
This is an annual event with track and field events for athletes with all kinds of disabilities – physical, sensory and learning. Like last year, I had entered the 100m, 200m, 400m, 1500m and 3000m races, meaning I was in both the first and last races of the day! I didn’t really have much direct opposition in my category so I focussed on trying to beat everyone in all my races. This year I was still the fastest female wheelie but annoyingly there was one chap faster than me! Most of my times were a bit slower than last year, which I’d anticipated because of injury and illness disrupting training. However, I did manage to crack out a rare PB in the 100m which was unexpected but rather nice!
Early in the month I headed to RDA a bit early to film my showjumping entry to the regional qualifiers for the National Championships. We film it because it’s not really practical to hold a showjumping competition alongside dressage and countryside challenge (which take place at the main qualifier show) and it’s difficult to find a second date when everyone across the region who wants to jump can get together. It also means that we don’t have to try and find a time when a judge is free because they can judge our entries from the comfort of their own home!
At my level (Level 3) the jumps are around 60cm. Rolo was in a good mood for jumping and did me proud with a neat and tidy clear round. I also watched my friend Eleanor compete in her first jumping event (Level 2) on Boysie, which she did beautifully. Along with our friend Olivia, who rode the next day in Level 3, we have all qualified for the National Championships at Hartpury! RDA jumping is judged on style as well as leaving the poles up – a bit like a dressage test – so I was pleased but mostly astonished when Rolo and I won with a score of 99%…quite a lot to live up to!
RDA Dressage Anywhere
In dressage, I’ve been working towards getting a decent video of my Dressage Anywhere test with Rolo. Concentrating solely on walk is ridiculously difficult – it just feels like there’s so much more time for things to go wrong! However, it’s been really good for me to challenge my brain more when riding, and to work hard on my position. My physio is working hard on my hips and back to try and make me less wonky, and in the meantime having one stirrup longer than the other helps quite a lot to get me to sit more evenly. I’ve had some private lessons to work on this and we’ve also looked at how I can get a cleaner downward transition on a horse who would rather gallop everywhere! We’ve made some good progress on that which is really heartening as it was a major sticking point before.
I managed to get a couple of videos of us doing a passable test before having my second side saddle lesson, where we filmed it again and Rolo looked even better. Something about riding side saddle makes him much easier to stop! Before my first time I thought I’d find it a really precarious position and quite scary, but actually it feels fine. It’s a bit weird to be using my weight in a different way and I haven’t quite nailed a consistently clean upward transition, but then I’ve only had two half-hour lessons so far so I’m trying to be patient with myself! I’ve sent off the side saddle video to Dressage Anywhere for the RDA Online Championship class so we shall have to wait and see how we do…
There’s also been some ‘real life’ dressage going on. Last weekend we had the RDA East Regional Show, which included dressage classes (some of which are qualifiers for the National Championships) and countryside challenge. This year I had entered two tests – Grade 6 Championship test (walk, trot and canter) and Grade 6 Walk and Trot (what it sounds like!). After confirming that I couldn’t bring Rolo’s post-canter super-speedy trot under control before needing to walk for the next movement we decided that I’d ride Boysie in the canter test and Rolo in the trot one.
Boysie and I were one of the first pairs of the day. For the first time the competition was being held at the stables where our RDA group is based, but Boysie was still tremendously excited by all the new faces and the buzz of activity. I started out carrying a whip because he’s sometimes a bit lazy, but an exciting sequence of piaffe and canter pirouette in the warm-up proved that just holding it was unnecessary! Fortunately he managed to maintain his energy for most of the test, although we did break canter briefly at one point (my fault, I didn’t keep the leg on into the corner). I rode this test in 2015 and 2016 but never won it before – in 2015 Rolo and I had the joint top score but took second place on collectives, and in 2016 I did my best to persuade a rather reluctant Beethoven around the arena for third place. This year, we won!
I rode Rolo for my second test. In the warm up, we practised plenty of transitions and I really worked on trying to squeeze into the saddle in the halts. Back in the competition arena, I made use of the mirrors to check that I was starting out as level as possible. The walk/trot test involves 10m and 20m circles. We’d done a lot of work on 20m circles in lessons because I’m not very good at getting a decent shape – the circles often end up a bit too square. I’m sure they still weren’t perfect but they were a lot better than they have been in the past – and it’s the little marks that add up and make a difference to your placing.
The trot work wasn’t quite as nice as I wanted – Rolo leant on the bit quite a lot and it was hard to bring him back because I ran out of rein to release the contact a little bit – but it was still neat and regular. Most of the transitions worked nicely, although our first halt at X, facing E, was a bit naff – there was some unintentional reinback and we only scored a 4! The best part was our entry down the centre line which scored a 9. I was really pleased with that as it’s only the second ‘9’ I’ve achieved and I have worked SO hard on making the entry as straight and balanced as possible. In the end we won the class with a score of 70.8%, which also won us an extra trophy for the highest senior dressage score of the day. This means I have two tests to choose from for the National Championships, plus the showjumping and vaulting classes.
With all this RDA excitement, it’s hard to remember what I’ve been doing as a vaulter! Starting away from the horse, my gymnastics training has been going really well. I love going twice a week – my rate of progress has suddenly shot up and, although compared to an able-bodied gymnast I’m still doing really basic skills, I’m achieving things that go way beyond what I thought I could do even a month ago. I’ve lost a lot of the anxiety I had to begin with as I’ve realised that falling over on a sprung floor or bits of apparatus is not as painful as falling off a horse, so now I’m happier to fling myself into whatever the challenge is. I recently received ‘Most Improved Disability Gymnast’ at the club’s recent awards evening, which is a nice recognition of the hard work that’s going in (from the coaches too!).
My favourite new skill at gymnastics is the handstand flatback on vault. We’ve been working on the progressions for months and it’s really exciting to be able to take off! This also means that, for the first time in years, I’ve been taking some reasonably fast steps unaided. I’d hesitate to call it running – it’s more of a semi-controlled stumble where each foot just manages to stop me from falling over until I reach the vault and have something to put my hands on again, and even then I still fall down a fair bit – but it’s so much more than I thought was possible. It’s fun because it feels amazing to launch myself over the vault but to have a really safe, comfy landing on a big pile of mats! Ultimately this would lead to a ‘proper’ handspring vault. Right now I don’t know how I could hope to land that properly on my feet but somehow these things just keep working out so maybe I need to stop worrying and go with the flow!
Vaulting training has continued apace, and we are busily working towards our second competition of the season which will be in June. I’m going to be entering the Pre-Novice canter/walk class again, so I’ve been working hard on making my compulsories as slick and clean as possible. I’m toying with a new freestyle which will include the shoulder stand. For the RDA Championships in July I would like to use completely different music and a different outfit, but the moves will be pretty much the same. At the moment I’m working on making each and every move as solid and expressive as possible – like with the dressage, I want to gain extra fractions of a mark that will raise my final score. I’m also still having a lot of fun with it and I’m enjoying pushing myself to try new skills or to improve the ones I find difficult.
Finally I should probably mention how my health is doing! At the moment I’m having a lot of physio work to try and straighten up my posture. Currently, my left hip is lower than my right even though my left leg is longer, which causes my left knee to bend backwards more than the right. Because of years of injuries to my left shoulder, my left arm also hangs a lot lower. When I stand at what I think is straight, my left fingertips are nearly 6 inches lower than the right! Obviously this has some big ramifications for sitting well on a horse, as well as for general mobility and pain.
The first line of attack is to try and rebalance my hips, which means I’ve endured several really quite painful half-hour sessions of the physio applying considerable pressure to trigger points around the joint. I’m working hard with exercises to keep the hips open but stable and I hope that, sooner or later, this will help not only my posture/balance but also my back pain.
One downside of the work is that it has caused some (referred) nerve pain in my left knee. Last week it was really quite severe and I was worried that I’d tweaked something, somehow, and that continuing to train was only going to make it worse. I was really relieved, therefore, when the physio declared my knee fit and agreed that stopping training would just make the hips worse, and by association the knee – green light to keep having fun! Knowing that, although it’s really painful, it’s not being damaged, is a great relief. At the moment I’m managing it by keeping the joint as warm as possible at all times with heated wheat bags or just a basic neoprene support. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll clear up as my body and my left leg get used to carrying the rest of me properly. I’m also still working on neck physio at the hospital and, since my migraines have been quite bad lately, I’m hoping that we can make a bit of a breakthrough there. The Occupational Therapy team are planning a new night splint for my right arm, since my fingers have been so swollen and stiff, so maybe I’ll ask them to make a new neck one too!
June should be an interesting month. There’s a vaulting competition, a vaulting demonstration day, hopefully some dressage/jumping, an RDA fundraiser lunch with Clare Balding, my friend’s first ever CVI (international vaulting competition), plus my brother’s wedding!
This month’s joker is this moment in my side saddle lesson, filming the Dressage Anywhere test, where I went to give Rolo a long rein and instead just dropped them…