September 2017

  • RDA SEIB Search for a Star final
  • English Vaulting Championships
  • Health

RDA SEIB Search for a Star final

September began with a bang! I got back from holiday on the 2nd and immediately set about packing everything I would need for the RDA SEIB Search for a Star final, which took place at Addington Equestrian Centre on the 7th. Firstly, I needed to collect the side saddle (which had been in the safe keeping of a very kind RDA family). With that done, I spent a good deal of time making sure my saddle and reins would be as immaculate as possible (the bridle was being taken by our RDA instructor, Gillian, and I knew she’d do a good job with that!). Fortunately, a lot of what I would be wearing was either new or being borrowed on the day, so the only preparation I had to do in that regard was flattening the keeper under some heavy books, fitting my dummy spur onto my left (long) boot, finding a matching jodhpur boot for my right foot, and ensuring I had enough hair spray, grips and bun nets to hold each individual hair in place (well, nearly…).

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Apart from that, my preparation for the show was pretty limited. I spent time at home sitting on the saddle to try and work on my position, but I wasn’t able to practise on Rolo. I swotted up on showing as much as possible online and from an introductory book I’d bought at Hartpury. I also made – after a great deal of umming and ahhing – the decision to buy a new back brace to help me with posture. It’s not brilliantly comfortable for long periods of time but it does help me not to collapse sideways through my thoracic spine, provides good support to my lumbar spine, and helps me to straighten my shoulders and neck. All of these things helped a lot on the horse – I had a much better position and wasn’t in as much pain.

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On the day of the competition I went into work in the morning, before my mum drove me the two hours or so to Addington, with me tucking into lunch on the way. We arrived in good time so before finding Rolo and the RDA volunteers I was able to have a little nose around, including getting a glimpse of the arena we’d be in, lusting over the beautiful but expensive garments for sale and watching an enormous class with about thirty beautifully-turned-out horses. The RDA event was part of the British Show Horse Association Hunter Championship Show (bit of a mouthfull!) and it was by far the biggest equestrian event I have ever been to. I thought Hartpury was big, but this was like a city of horseboxes, some of which were probably more valuable than the house I live in… There were stunning horses aplenty, all in peak condition and groomed to perfection. It was lovely to see if a bit daunting!

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Anyway, our class went quite nicely. I had a little canter before we went in to check whether or not I was happy to do it in the ring (my third canter aside!). Rolo responded really nicely up and down so I decided to go for it. This time we did far less trotting as a group in the ring, which I was quite relieved about as it isn’t the most comfortable thing to trot side saddle on Rolo! We lined up in no particular order and Rolo and I were one of the last pairs to go. He mostly behaved well whilst he was waiting, only getting a bit restless after a little while – but then he had a great big wee which might have been part of the problem…

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When it was our turn to do our show we walked forwards and had a brief chat with the judges, who were very nice but more scary than the ones at Hartpury! We then did our little show, which was mostly fine. We had a nice canter and he came back down to trot smoothly, but the trot felt very fast. After whacking my initial response on the head (He’s never going to stop trotting! We will be trotting like this for all eternity!) I went for the mother of all half halts and he responded beautifully to come back into a much more controlled trot. I was so proud of him in that moment!

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Credit: Equinational

After we’d all done our shows we had a bit more trotting round before heading back to the horseboxes for a quick rest, then we returned for the ‘Evening Performance’, in which we did a small amount of walking and trotting again before being lined up and hearing the results. I was utterly over the moon (and very shocked) that Rolo and I came second! I was so proud that such an ‘ordinary’ horse (a chunky cob, without an especially pretty face, owned by the RDA, and used as a generally great all-rounder) could do so well.

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The girl who came third was also on a lovely coloured cob and we had a nice chat whilst the organisers came round with rosettes and sashes. With our winnings proudly displayed, we set off on a lap of honour and I thought I might burst. As we came round to the exit of the arena I could see Gillian jumping up and down with excitement which is probably the best accolade I’ve ever had in my three years at the RDA! There were many cuddles for Rolo that night.

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English Vaulting Championships

There was no time to rest after Addington, because on the 10th we had the English Vaulting Championships at Stow-on-the-Wold. This is a really lovely venue – the arena is large and feels warm and light, and the surrounding countryside is very pretty. This year I was competing in the Pre-Novice class (canter compulsories and walk freestyle) on Sandie, with Jade lungeing. We got there good and early the day before so I had plenty of time to practise my routine on the barrel before heading to bed, which was helpful.

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My compulsories went OK – about as well as they ever do. Sandie didn’t put a foot wrong and I just tried to be as neat as possible, whilst remembering all the tiny details of things that I can improve on to improve my scores by 0.1 of a mark at a time – the principle of marginal gains (or losses) is very relevant! I have a lot of work to do on my compulsories before I can gain higher marks but I also have to be patient and work within my physical limitations as they are at the moment. Obviously I hope that those limitations will shift as I get more experience. In competitions I have to be disciplined and ‘stay in the moment’ and remember that even though I find one movement harder I mustn’t let it affect the next movement.

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I don’t have a photo from compulsories so here’s one of me doing the splits!

Next we did our freestyles. I had made the decision to bring out the ‘mermaid’ catsuit again, along with the music, ‘Amhrán Na Farraige’. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with my freestyle. My right ankle went out at the mount (despite being taped up) and it went downhill from there! In my pain and confusion I messed up the first move, then the tremors were much worse as I tried to ignore the pain. It wasn’t all bad – I generally managed what I wanted to do, and in particular I was pleased to bring out a shoulder hang for the first time, having only learned it at the end of July.

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Annoyingly I don’t have the shoulder hang either!

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!) I was the only entrant in the Para Pre-Novice class, although there were Para entries in the Walk Individual class, which is one level down. This meant that I won my class by default but, given that I was in a harder category than those in the walk class, the victory felt a bit less hollow. It was good to come away with the experience and although I was disappointed by my freestyle I still got a reasonable score and most people said they hadn’t even noticed that something was up. I’ve adjusted my plans for the British Champs at the beginning of October to put together a performance that I’ll feel more proud of – hopefully!

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Health

Aside from these two competitions, September has felt tough. I’ve been really struggling with energy levels, general sickness and various injuries and unexplained aches and pains. I currently feel as if I’m just managing to keep my head above water but I won’t be able to keep going much longer. Fortunately by the end of next weekend I will be able to have the main competitive pressures out of the way until next year. I like competing so it’s not as if it’s something that makes me anxious but it is undeniably tiring and stressful on the body – and the need (that I perceive) for perfection and maximum effort in training is particularly strong and challenging right now.

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My hospital time has been a bit topsy-turvy. I met a new physiotherapist who has given me some new things to work on for my neck that have really helped so far. On the other hand, my appointment with the neurologist is now pushed back to February, and I’ve had to cancel two appointments with the orthopaedic surgeon because I still haven’t heard anything about the procedure I’m meant to have a month before seeing the surgeon! It’s a bit frustrating…

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Injuries-wise, September has been quite an expensive month! The torn hamstring is a little bit better, at last, which is very exciting even if I feel as if it’s taking an age. My left shoulder is far worse, my right ankle is OK when in splinted constantly, my arms, wrists and hands have both been much worse, my back is worse, and – to top it all! – I bashed my left foot at gymnastics the other day when I tried to do a cartwheel on beam and instead brought my foot down on the sharp edge of a window sill. Doing this two weeks before the British Vaulting Championships was incredibly frustrating but fortunately (crossing fingers, touching wood) it doesn’t seem to affect weight bearing too much. I’m really hoping that every part of me will just hang on in there until we get back from the British – not long now… In fairness to my silly body, I am pushing hard in training at the moment so I suppose a higher injury/illness rate is inevitable. I reserve the right to complain, though!

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The Many Shades of Bruise!

Anyway, on that not-particularly-encouraging note I think I will sign off. Despite worse health and some infuriating incidents this has still been a successful month and I’ve enjoyed the training and most of (!) the competing. I’m lining up some fun horsey things for after the British Champs so that I will still have plenty to sink my teeth into over the winter. Exciting times!

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Dax love.

Just time for the joker… after his excellent work at Addington, Rolo decided that it was time for a quick wee before heading home. Unfortunately, horse willies aren’t particularly photogenic so I had to do a mid-shutter-press lunge (taking care not to fall over) to disguise it!

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August 2017

  • Vaulting camp
  • Holiday training in France

This is a little bit late because I spent a lot of August away on holiday. August therefore became the first month since last August that I didn’t have any competitions at all! That said, I was still pretty busy and training hard.

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…and posing for selfies with Dax!

Vaulting Camp

The month began with vaulting camp: four days of vaulting, riding, general training, mucking out, grooming, tack cleaning and any other kind of stable management work. It was good fun but rather tiring!

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Holiday training in France

The day after camp finished I headed off to France with my mum and Rosie (the pup!). Whilst I was away I was able to go riding twice at a stables called ‘Ranch des Baous’. They had lovely Pyreneean horses who were very responsive. The first time I went I had a lesson with a coach called Jacques, riding Saga. The style of riding required was very different to what we do at home – I was constantly reminded to hold my hands higher, higher, higher! I’m not sure how well Rolo would respond but it certainly worked well with Saga, despite my lack of control over my arms. Since my bar reins were at home in England, I attempted riding with two hands, but I found it really hard and I didn’t feel I could trust my left hand. I ended up holding both reins in the right hand but just having my left hand hooked in to try and make it feel easier for Saga. This wasn’t a good thing for my left shoulder so I’m not keen to try it again just yet.

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The second time I visited the stables I went for a lovely two-hour hack, riding a horse called Source (sp?!). We weaved our way to the top of the mountain and admired the view down to the Mediterranean. We had a few fun canters but since it was pretty hot even early in the morning, and since most of the time the terrain wasn’t easy, we spent most of the time in walk. Source had a bizarre habit of finding the scratchiest shrubs to scratch herself on, which meant that I came home covered in scratches and with various thorns sticking into my legs – it’s a good job I couldn’t feel it! It was a good opportunity for me to practise some lateral work, but for some reason the most attractive shrubs were always on the left, and my weaker leg struggled with that!

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As well as riding I went swimming every day and had fun working out some pool-based core exercises (I know, I have a strange definition of fun) as well as perfecting somersaults, handstands and backflips (all of which are much easier in water than on land!). I also followed a gruelling conditioning schedule which comprised various daily planks, tons of sit-ups and press-ups and other strength-building exercises – all made all the more challenging by the presence of my little niece who, at 20 months, is just about as heavy as I can cope with sitting on my back during planks and press-ups!

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I also did plenty of stretching for front splits and box splits. Having torn my right hamstring before vaulting camp I really wanted to keep on top of my right leg splits, and found a good-sized glass bottle to use as a roller. My ‘bad’ leg splits (with the left leg forwards) are still better than the right, but at least it hasn’t got worse.

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Finally, I discovered that, with a bit of imagination and a lot of care, a good heavy sun lounger works as a barrel – although my mum was less impressed than I thought she might have been!

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The reason it has taken a while for me to get round to writing this is that the first week or so of September has been incredibly busy – but you’ll hear all about that next month!

Joker: on vaulting camp we made an obstacle course based around some cross-country fences. I couldn’t do much of it (although I was pretty good at pole-vaulting, aka using a crutch to propel myself over a jump) so when the others had finished charging around I dressed up as a caterpillar – as you do.

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