This month I’ve been working on…
- expanding my equestrian knowledge and skills through a BHS (British Horse Society) course
- competing in dressage on a new steed!
- coaching wheelchair racing (i.e. not actually wheelchair racing myself)
- gymnastics, vaulting and RDA training as usual
- two pieces of exciting RDA news which I will put first!
On the 10th November I travelled to Saddlers’ Hall in London to deliver a talk at the RDA AGM. This was attended by various notable figures including HRH Princess Anne! I’ve written a bit about this occasion (including a copy, as near as possible, of my speech) here.
Even more excitingly I am now volunteering at an RDA group near me! I’ve only been three times so far but I’m really enjoying the experience and already learning lots about coaching. It’s interesting to see how other RDA groups run things and I’ve loved meeting everybody and all the horses. I’m excited for what lies ahead as I train towards being an RDA coach!
For a while, I’ve been wanting to get some BHS qualifications so that I can consolidate the knowledge I do have, build up new skills and gain more experience, and start working towards more professional qualifications. I’ve started with the PRT course on the basis that it was available and can be used as an equivalent to Stage 1, so hopefully at some point I can go on and try for my Stage 2!
I was really pleased that it was being taught by my favourite instructor, Lyndsey Adamson, and a bit daunted but also excited that I was the only one. The opportunity to have private tuition from her in both riding and horse care was just fantastic and I had a great time. The riding elements weren’t too difficult – the hardest things were trotting over poles in jumping position and working in walk, trot and canter without stirrups. At this time of year I actually prefer to ride without stirrups because it helps to control spasm in my legs, and we ride over poles all the time at RDA.
Because we were able to tick off all the PRT work early on, we had plenty of time to work on other things too. You have to ride at least two different horses for the course so I had one lesson on Tudor. I’d never ridden him before and he had clearly never encountered one-handed reins! He was thoroughly confused by my aids for most of the session, and seemed to be using that as an excuse to nap towards his mates in the field… anyway, it was such a useful session for me because it made me think really hard about giving him the clearest instructions I could. We stayed almost entirely in walk but I worked incredibly hard and was exhausted afterwards!
For our last lesson, I worked on a dressage test on Rolo. It was the hardest test I’ve ever attempted and it was a bit of gamble to see how we’d get on. We were working on developing medium paces in trot and canter. The medium trot wasn’t particularly great but I had a lot of fun trying the medium canter even if I couldn’t actually make Rolo stop when I was meant to! It felt really good to stretch myself and to see how close I could get to that level with all the coaching from Lyndsey. Apart from our Red Rum moments, it actually went OK and we had fun anyway!
There’s a lot of horse care knowledge packed into the PRT course. Fortunately I was familiar with quite a bit of it before I started, but it was really good to consolidate knowledge and to clarify things that I’d always sort-of known but never fully understood. Of course there was plenty of new information too! I was a bit worried that I might not be able to do some of the practical elements of the course (such as some of the fiddly bits with tack, or trotting up in hand) but with a bit of imagination and grit I did manage it. My favourite moment was probably trotting up in hand, which I achieved thanks to the willingness of Erin, a tiny friendly pony at the yard. With her tiny legs I could just about keep up with her trot!
I also took part in a dressage competition at the end of the month, run by Cambridge University Riding Club at Springhill Stables, owned by Fiona Peck. I’d entered a Prelim test and was riding a horse I’d only ridden once before (and then it was over a year ago) called Bayley. I was first to go so most of the warm-up was just spent learning how to ride him – it’s even harder just to hop on an unfamiliar horse when you can’t use your legs properly and only steer with one hand! Most horses take a bit of time to get used to one-handed reins; very few can cope straight away.
Fortunately Bayley, like all of Fiona’s horses, is well-trained so although it wasn’t pretty and we were lacking in inside bend, we did at least cope! I especially found it easier once I was given a short whip to carry – no need to use it, but before I was handed it Bayley was exhibiting a disconcerting habit of beautiful but unexpected square halts from trot, followed by refusing to budge, because the cheeky monkey had worked out that my legs couldn’t actually get him going! Anyway, with a crop in hand he was happily forward-going without being silly (apparently a long one might have sent him over the edge…) and although his canter felt quite choppy and ‘pony-ish’ I felt confident that we’d at least survive the experience.
We moved to the competition arena which had been laid out beautifully by Fiona – complete with mini trees in pots at the corners! – and began to walk around. There were some jump blocks to the side of the arena which were clearly terrifying but after seven or eight spooks he eventually decided that they weren’t going to attack – just in time because our little confidence lesson was taking a while and the judge was waiting! The test wasn’t the neatest I’ve ever done and I quickly wished I’d adjusted the bars on my reins so they were a bit shorter (the scary jump blocks had raised his head quite a bit, and he never did fully stretch out to the carriage he’d had in the warm-up). I wasn’t getting good bend but we were at least fairly accurate and there were no actual mistakes.
I then hung around for a bit reading tests for the other Prelim competitors (who are friends so it was fun and jolly!) and then reading for the Intro competitors, many of whom were competing for the first time and some of whom have only had a few lessons so far! They all rode well and seemed happy and confident even if some of the horses were a bit reluctant to waltz around the arena in the freezing rain…
We won our class which was a surprise, because the other riders are able-bodied and I know that they ride really well. Having watched their tests when calling them, I really didn’t know how mine would fit in but I didn’t expect to win. It just goes to show that what you feel on the horse doesn’t necessarily translate to what people see. Watching my video back, it looked better than how I had remembered too, which I don’t think has ever happened before!
In vaulting I have been working on more new skills in walk and canter. Because of the PRT course my vaulting training has felt a bit disjointed, but we now have an RDA video competition to be working towards which is exciting and I think it will help to focus me a bit more. I’m spending hours listening to music and thinking up ideas – still plenty of time at the moment but January always goes very quickly. I haven’t got any real news in vaulting at the moment even though I’m working very hard!
Wheelchair racing is not going well for me – after my one attempt recently I realised that it’s completely unreasonable on my body at the moment, so I’m back to waiting more-or-less patiently for surgery on my shoulder. I’m still doing some coaching which I enjoy. My friend is using my chair (which is much lighter and quicker than the one she had been using) and is doing really well, which is great to see.
In gymnastics I’m working on some new skills even though I have by no means perfected everything else I’ve been working on. I feel myself getting fitter and stronger which feels fantastic. It’s especially good when someone new joins and I can see that I’m fitter and stronger than them in some ways (usually they’re able-bodied so it doesn’t always happen!) because then I really feel that all the hard work is making a difference.
I’m writing this on 1st December and it’s already been an exhausting time! This month is mostly about training but I’ll also be doing at least one competition (Dressage Anywhere) and hopefully there will be plenty of hard work going in. Cheerio for now!