What a Month!

It’s just occurred to me that it’s a month ago today that I rode at Nationals. Really! Where did that month go then?

Honestly we just haven’t stopped. Once we got home we went straight into the whole rehoming process for Peregrine. The car knows it’s own way to the Mare and Foal Sanctuary now, and naps in that direction every time we pass the junction. We’ve also been down to darkest Cornwall several times to view potential new horses, and get Mayo vetted. Then the weather did the dirty on us, so Mayo’s delivery day had to be brought forward. Not that I’m complaining, any extra time spent getting to know a new horse has got to be time well spent, but it did mean we had to suddenly prepare things, rather than having a few days to play with. Since we’ve only had 2 horses for a while, the third stable has morphed into an unofficial storage shed. Let’s face it, the tractor lived in there last winter!

In between all this, we’ve been up to Shropshire to celebrate our neice Hannah, and her lovely man Sam’s wedding. We’ve had the outside of the house cleaned, and we’ve ordered a Horse Box!

It’s no wonder we’re both so knackered!

Today though I finally feel like things are slowing down and becoming more relaxed.

Florence came home exactly a fortnight after we lost poor Breeze, and Melissa took her over to Kingsland. Peregrine came home on the same day, and Mayo came home on Thursday. It’s early days; but all of them are now turned out in the same paddock, and all really does seem to be going incredibly well. I’ve never had such a smooth, or quick introduction of new horses.They all seem totally relaxed about everything. In fact this is the most chilled I’ve ever seen Florence; she really does seem to be warming to her new found status as the matriarch of the herd, and is being remarkably tolerant of having a small pony almost perminantly welded to her side. She called to the boys the other day when I had her out, and called to them both yesterday when they were being worked in the school and she wasn’t. It really couldn’t be going better really.

So now we can relax again and start having fun. I’ve just booked my first lesson since Nationals and I have a plan to try and get Florence hacking out again, I’ve got lots of plans for Mayo, and Peregrine is beginning agility and beginning to walk out in hand. All three horses are far too fat, so are, along with their equally porky owners, officially on boot camp, well, OK, more like comfy slipper camp really, but we all need to be fitter and slimmer.

So now we’re waiting for some concreting to be done. Yes folks, Digger Man Pat is returning, and for the Horse lorry to be built, then the world is our lobster, as Arthur Daily would say.

From where I’m sitting the future is looking very positive indeed.

Unbalanced! Me? #HorseHour #PonyHour #HorseBloggers

I seem to be having a real problem with my balance of late. It’s not a new thing, but in this last few months it really seems to be getting worse, ad I don’t really know why.

Everybody assumes that balance is all inthe ears. Afterall, aren’t we taught as children that the mechanisms behind balance are in the middle and innner ear? However, eyesight and proprioception both have their part to play. This is why people with certain neurological conditions, and those of us living with blindness or visual impairment, have problems with our balance to some degree. Strangely though, I have met a lot of blind people who just plain do not accept this to be a fact. They often just can’t understand wy they get travel sick, or seem to trip over thin air, or blame their Guide Dog for pulling them over, but if you explain to them about their innately rubbish balance, they will argue black is white with you that you are wrong. Not me though, I know my balance is compromised. . What i don’t understand is why it’s as bad as it is at the moment.

OK, so in my case I am specifically talking about my balance in the saddle, but actually, it all amounts to the same thing. Unbalanced on the ground, very unbalanced in the saddle.

For a while now I’ve been having a problemdismounting. At first I thought it was a fitness/flexibility thing; I was just too stiff and fat to lean forward and swing my leg over the horse to get off. However, since the beginning of the year I’ve lost a stone and a half, and, while there’s still a lot of weight to come off and a lot more fitness to gain, I am a lot more fit than I was, but dismounting is still a problem. It is getting better, but I’m also convinced that there’s more to this than just being a bloater. Now, I should point out that. In all the years I have been riding, I have never fallen over the front of a horse while dismounting, but, that’s exactly what my bodymind is telling me is going to happen when I try to lean forward before swinging my leg over. I am totally convinced that I am going to fall forward, over the horses head, It’s not even a conscious thought, I just feel very insecure and unbalanced. I don’t feel dizzy or lightheaded at all, and I haven’t had a cold or ear infection. It’s more a body control/proprioception/confidence issue, but what do I do to overcome it?

I do also have some problems when mounting, but thee are definately physical. I have arthritis in my left hip which was as the result of an injury I recieved whe I was in my 20’s., so I am restricted in the range of movement I have in that hip and putting my whole weight through that hip can sometimes be painful. That’s normal for me though, and tall mounting blocks are the order of the day. That doesn’t explain what has happened to me twice this week though. On Thursday I went to try a horse with a view to purchasing him. He was a lovely horse, but as it happens, not the horse for me. That’s not the point here though. Perhaps it is down to me being fitter and lighter, and so having more power in my left leg, or perhaps it’s because I just couldn’t judge the size of the horse properly, or maybe it’s down to my appaulling balance, and, this horse was a part bred Freisian, so narrower than Florence, Willow, Goldie or Alphie, who are the horses I ride the most; but I very nearly threw myself off the other side of him when I was getting on! I had real problems riding him too. I truly hadn’t realised just how large an action he would have, and when I asked him to go forward to trot, I completely lost my balance, and had to grab everything to stop me having an unscheduled dismount. Embarrassing! Even more embarrassing though was my mount and dismount yesterday, and this not even with a real life horse. The Riding Club once again had a Mechanical Horse Clinic with Emily Lloyd of E Equine and Mechanical Millie. So, once again I nearly threw myself off Millie as I was getting om her, and my dismount was dreadful, not helped by the fact that Millie only has half a neck and no head.

Core stability! I hear you all shout, and, yes, as I freely admit to being overweight and unfit, my core isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be; but compared to some it’s not that bad. I also think there’s more to my problems than just muscle control, and I really do think they are down to not being able to see. In the case of nearly throwing myself over both the real live horse and the mehanical one, I think it’s got a lot to do with not being able to gauge how far I have to move to get my leg over and sit in the saddle. I know all the horses I ride regularly, so I have a muscle memory of how much I need to do to get on them. This is something I can learn with any horse I ride on a regular basis. However, the dismounting problem goes deeper, and I’m really struggling to work out how to over come it.

I’d be interested in any input or suggestions from others please.

Take it Away Nik!

Well, this RDA Nationals thing is all getting a bit real now. I’ve got all my coaching sessions booked, the first of which was on Wednesday, and there’s been a meeting about the costs, which days we are all riding on (Saturday for yours truly), and accomodation. The Group are taking Fourteen horses, and it’s going to cost in excess of £3000 for the weekend! I think I need to start doing some fundraising/PR for the group.

On Wednesday, which was the first time I have been back to Lakefield since Regionals, I picked up my score sheet and rosettes, and had a half hour coaching session with Mark. It’s made me realise that , even though my fitness has greatly improved throughout the first half of the year, there is still much to do. We worked on getting Willow to be more immediately responsive to my leg. Mark did explain that, as Willow is a Riding School/RDA horse, she is not expected to be too sharp and responsive to evry movement that the rider makes, after all, some of her regular riders make involuntary leg and arm movements because of their particular condition; however,she is capable of working from behind and accepting the bit with a capable rider.That would be me then allegedly. It seems strange to me that last week, when I had a lesson with Melissa and Goldie, everything went so well, and I had Goldie really responding to my leg, even riding the best circle I’ve ever ridden, but this week with Mark and Willow, well, lets just say it all felt like a bit of a struggle. What has impressed/amazed me though is that on Wednesday Mark had me doing quite a bit without stirrups, and I haven’t yet died as a result. I actually can’t remember the last time I did any real work without stirrups. Yes, somewhere in the annuls of Hals iphone there is a short video of me riding half way down our school on Florence squealing “It hurts, It hurts, it hurts”, but I really only rode the length of the school. On Wednesday I must have done about ten minutes. I must be doing something right during my daily struggle to get fit, lose weight, and turn my diabetes around, because I haven’t suffered very much in the aftermath at all. Yes, my hips are a bit sore this morning, but that’s got more to do with sitting on my backside for most of yesterday watching the monsoon that was going on outside. Honestly, it’s supposed to be June!

So, now I have some goals around weight and fitness that I want to hit before Nationals. I want to be under a certain weight, I want to be able to ride the exercise bike for a certain length of time on a certain tension, and I want to be able to ride Florence inthe school without stirrups for a certain amount of time. I’ll let you know how it goes. Hopefully, if these three things come together, alongside my coaching sessions with Mark, and lessons with Melissa, I will be in the best place to give it my best shot at Nationals.

PS. For anyone who doesn’t follow the Poo Picking in the Dark FB Page, excitingly I am now officially horse hunting.

Proceed up the Centre Line

It turns out that I did indeed qualify for Regionals , and they took place yesterday. However, because life has been quite busy I only managed to get down to Lakefield once beforehand to do a coaching session, and that was on Friday.

A lot has changed!

On Friday morning I got an Email telling me that I would be riding a different horse. Enter Willow, a rather gorgeous, grey cob mare. I’ve been changed on to her because she goes straighter than Carrie. Size, shape, and pace wise Willow is very similar to florence, so I felt very much at home as soon as I sat on her. Although, Willow is perhaps a little bit wider , and not quite as responsive to the leg. . However, I took to her straight away. Lovely!

Next change was that they had the new, blindy friendly, higher, dressage boards in place. They are great! It’s amazing that just having a few extra inches of height makes more of a barrier that the horses won’t step over. I was absolutely horified whenn Mark let slip how much they cost though. As far as I know I am their only blind rider, so they must think I’m worth the investment. That makes me want to really up my game and do my very best to prove that I am worth it. It’s a challenge, but what a fun challenge to have.

Next. I had a full team of people calling the letters, including Mark at X. Now this is Gold Standard for blind riders. However, it’s a skill,both for rider and callers, and it was the first time for all of us. I think we did alright, but I ride with my toes sticking out a bit, wel, a lot actually, and so kept kicking the callers. In fact, the man calling M was very nearly gelded in the process! However, it seemed to work, and I was able to ride out to the track a lot more confidently,

So, yesterday, a bit better turned out, in a new pair of cream Jods that I could actually breth in, and a new stock shirt with stock, but still wearing Amy’s borrowed jacket, I arrived to find a beautifully turned out Willow, complete with plaits, and, horror of horrors, a dressage saddle!

It’s been a very long time since I sat in a dressage saddle, and while I totally get the point, and fully understand the reasons why I was suddenly riding in one (which actually had a lot to do with an equipment failure and not the fact that I was doing dressage), , my body just isn’t that shape any more. The saddle had huge knee blocks too. Oh my word was I uncomfortable.

Combine this with the fact that I wasn’t feeling the 100%, and it’s no wonder that I felt that my round was a real struggle. I really felt like I was untidy, unbalanced, stiff, and had to fight , me not Willow, for every step.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I got my score.

68.12%!

Not only that, vut, there was a big red Q written by my name.

I’ve only gone and qualified for Nationals!

Beginners luck r what. I can’t believe it.

There is a problem though. My new found dressage career may well be the end of my marriage. Nationals is the same weekend as Wimbledon finals.

Going to hav to be mega nice to my husband between now and then.

Positivity

Well, what a week! Many of you will know that my general health and fitness, and my weight have been a big concern for me for quite some time. I really let self care slide to the bottom of the pile last year, and as a consequence I have been struggling to get back on top of things, and haven’t been feeling particularly well for a while now. Hmmm, it turns out that there might be a reason for me feeling so wrong. Sadly, and fustratingly, but not at all surprisingly, on Monday I was diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes. It’s not great, but it is what it is, and at least I know what I’m dealing with.. I am not a frequent flyer at the Doctors, and really only go there if I’m in extreme pain,need paperwork doing, or need refering to another medical professional. I should point out here that I have no particular problem with Doctors, it’s just that I really don’t like waisting their time. I haven’t been to the doctors since the end of 2017, when I had that virus that rendered me deaf. Since then the local GP in the village, has retired and the practice closed down. So now I have to go to Holsworthy, 10 miles away to see the Doctor, another reason for not going very often. Being diagnosed was something of a lucky break. Yes, i know, it doesn’t sound very lucky, but , I only actually went to the Doctor to get a form filled in.I wouldn’t have gone otherwise, and your guess is as good as mine when I would have gone. In the meantime my Diabetes would have continued to go undiagnosed, and who knows what damage it could have caused. Now I have the opertunity to rectify the situation and improve my health. I have 3 months to turn it around, or I will be put on medication. I am determined that I wil NOT be going on the medication.

It’s classic Sods Law that Diabetes Diagnosis came the day before my birthday. Guess who now has a mountain of chocolate that she’s not supposed to eat. However, I did get the best birthday present possible on Tuesday. I finally managed to get back on Florence! I can’t remeber when I last rode her, but it must have been back at the beginning of November. At first it was just bad weather, then the December chaos that usually accompanies the run up to Christmas and the New Year. To be honest, I rarely do much riding in December. Then, since the beginning of January poor Florence has been ill and/or lame. At first fI didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, but after a few tears of pure despair, me not her, she stood quietly and let me get on. I only rode one lap of the school, and then got off again. Believe me, it was the best lap of a school I’ve ever ridden! Onwards and upwards from now on, but only in very tiny hoof beats. We are both very unfit, and Florence may never be fully sound again. She was extremely stiff, which is not at all surprising, but she was not lame, and she did not struggle with her breathing. Result!.

Strange as it might sound, I have the Riding for the Disabled Association to thank for my finding out that I am Diabetic. One of my aims for this year was to maybe do some RDA/Para dressage. The thing is though, I wasn’t at all sure how to go about doing this. I have historically had very little to do with the Riding for the Disabled Association, and what experience I have had in the past has not always been a happy one. In fact, I freely admit that up until now I have actively avoided RDA for a very long time. I don’t want to do them an injustice. I think they do excellent work, but I personally have found them to be completely lacking where the specific needs of blind and visually impaired riders are concerned. I may have to reassess the situation now though.

Having sought advice from other, more RDA andcompetition savvy Blind Riders, who I have never met, but know through the Blind Riders UK Face Vook and Twitter Accounts, I have joined the RDA as an independant rider, affiliating myself to the North Cornwall RDA Branch, who are based at Lakefield Equestrian Centre, Camelford. . Because I have arthritis as well as being blind, I was asked to get a Doctor to fill out a form, as well as the form I had to do to apply to join the group. It was the first time I had ever met my new doctor, and she wanted to do a full health screening on me, while she had me captive so to speak. A full range of blood tests were done, and I was asked to go back and have more done as something had triggered. Hey Presto! Some things are meant to happen.

I always thought that, if I did go down the RDA road, I would be riding Florence. However, the last few months have made it clear to me that my beloved girl is maybe at a stage of her life where she needs to start taking things easier, not starting out on new, physically challenging ventures.So, for the time being at least, I have elected to use their horses, not mine.

On Wednesday I went to Lakefield EC for the first time,to have what had been described to me as a riding assessment.

Assessment! I haven’t sat on a horse for months!

When I was given the date and time for the assessment, the first thing I did was book myself in with Melissa for a lesson on Goldie. Actually, despite not haing ridden for so long, I didn’tdo that badly, and I wasn’t as knackered at the end of the lesson as I thought I was going to be. Maybe the fitness routine I’ve been doing since the beginning of the year is beginning to have a positive effect. I hope so, as it will undoubtedly be helping with the Diabetes.

.

To say I was nervous about Wednesday’s assessment is a massive understatement. A total stranger, watching me ride a totally strange horse, in completely new surroundings, and me fatter, more unfit than I have ever been, and having only ridden for the grand total of 35 minutes in the last 5 months. What was there to be worried about?. Actually, I had a very positive experience from beginning to end.

.

I’ve never been on a yard that has designated reception staff before. Let’s face it, I’ve never been on a yard with a fully acessible toilet either. I’ve never been on a yard where people knew how to sighted guide correctly. All of this was there at Lakefield. I was put on a lovely, and immaculately presented horse called Carrie and had what felt like a very successful lesson. The instructor, Mark, obviously wanted to work out what I was capable of, and how I would respond to the way he would orient me around the school. He is obviously used to working with people with all kinds of disability, and teaching somebody who is totally blind just seemed to be normal to him. What a joy. I soon forgot that I was being assessed, and settled into enjoying such a lovely, well schooled horse. Again, as with my lesson with Melissa, we did an awful lot of trotting, and again, I wasn’t totally exhausted at the end of the lesson, and that despite doing more trotting than I’ve done for a very long time.I was buzzing by the time I dismounted. I can do this! I’m going back a the beginning of April. I’m not going to put too many expectations into this, I’m just going to see where it takes me. It could be a whole new adventure, but if not, then I’ll be honing my riding skills, enjoying the luxury of riding in an indoor school, and loving being trained by a highly qualified instructor for whom teaching somebody who is blind is normal. Don’t worry though, I won’t be abandoning Melissa. She’s brilliant, and I think of her more as a friend now. Not only that, but I’ve never come out of a session with her where I haven’t learned something new. She’s also hilariously funny. Oh no, she’s not going to get rid of me that easily. Plus the fact I need her to beat Hal into submission for me..

I can’t help feeling that things are on the up. Yes, it’s going to be a long journey to get Florence fully back into work. Sadly, yesterday, after being off the medication for a week, she had gone back to not wanting to be mounted, and it was obvious, even to young Ben, that her back legs wre not right. However, she dragged Hal all over the place when we tried to take her out for a walk in hand instead of riding her. She wants to be doing stuff. It just hurts to have a a fat, unfit tonne of lard like me on her back at the moment. We’ll get there though, and if we don’t, well, Florence isn’t going anywhere. Yes, there will be another horse in the future. Right now though we don’t have the money. In the meantime, I think I’m going to enjoy my RDA sessions at Lakefield, and Melissa will keep me on my toes. I jus need to get fitter, lose more weight, and get well again.

A piece of cake really – or not as the case may be.

How Can it be February Already?!

How can it possibly be the 1st of February already? January seems to have flown by, but, although I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing, as far as my horsey aspirations are concerned, I haven’t achieved much. In truth, this is mostly down to poor Florence’s continuing problems with her breathing. I had hoped that I would be back on board, and preparing to book our first lesson of the year by now. Sadly though, she isn’t really right still, and although we have done some very low level in hand work, it’s really been to entertain her, rather than as a serious atttempt to start getting fit. The weather turning cold has exacerbated her breathing problems. I don’t want to make matters worse for her, ridden or unridden, she is far to important for that, so we are still at base camp planning our route up the metaphorical mountain at the moment. Breeze is also taking it easy at th moment. We are giving her stiffness/lameness time to resolve itself a bit, and we are experimenting with her not wearing any back shoes for the time being. Like Florence, she has done a little bit of in hand work, but not much.

None of this means that there aren’t things going on in the background though. Hal has decided that he and Breeze are going to try their hooves at Horse Agility, and to this end has joined the International Horse Agility Club. We did a bit of this with Sapphire before we moved up here, and it’s really good fun. Also, although Horse Agility HQ is only just down the road from us, it’s something that can be easily done from the comfort of our own school. To that end we are now gathering together various items that can be used to build agility obstacles.

For myself, well, I am in the process of going over to the Dark Side! I have been given some advice by another Blind Rider who I have met through the Blind Ridrs UK Twitter account, and as a result I am in the process of joining the Riding for the Disabled Association as an independent rider. I will be joining/affiliating to the North Cornwall RDA group, as they are the closest to me, and will hav coaching through them, but will not be riding as part of a group. The aim is to eventually compete. At the moment it all seems very positive. It couldn’t be more different to my last experience with RDA. I have to get a medical, because of my arthritis, to say it’s OK for me to ride, and them I have to have a riding assessment, to see what level I am at, but so far so good. So watch this space.

The idea was always that I would be training and competing with Florence. However, her state of health, and the realisation that she is now 20 has made me very thoughtful about the future. When I first approached RDA, asking how I would go about becoming an independent rider I told them that I would be riding my own horse. However, I’m not sure Florence is realistically going to be that horse. I cannot wait to get back on Florence’s back, after all, it is my happy place, and I hope to soon start having lessons with Melissa again very soon. However, I have told the North Cornwall RDA Group that, for the time being at least, I will need to use one of their horses.Flo’s not going anywhere, and , fingers crossed, is going to live, and be able to be ridden for a long time yet, but I don’t think it is fair to expect her to suddenly become a competition horse, not at her age.

So, yes, this does mean that I am beginning to consider getting another horse. Not yet though. For a start we can’t afford it at the moment. We are finding looking after Florence and Breeze is a pleasure, yes they both have their quirks, but, on the whole, they are really easy going and stress free to do. Also, I’d like to make sure that I’m really up for it, the RDA stuff I mean, before I decide exactly what type of horse I want. It’s no good forking out for a potential dressage diva if I’m destined to be a happy hacker for the rest of my life.

In the meantime though, while I’m not riding, I am working hard on my fitness. I’m already feeling a difference in my everyday life, although the weight’s not coming off as easily as I’d hoped. I’m feeling very positive about life, despite Florence’s problems. It’s all very exciting. So watch this space.

Seasons Greetings

Regular readers will know that for Hal and I 2018 has been a truly horrible year. I had so many hopes and plans as we waved a fond farewell to 2017, but right from the get go it became clear that things weren’t going to go our way.

Viruses, coughing horses, lameness. Extreme wet weather, storm force wind, snow! losing Leonie, Stella, Hal’s Dad, my Mum. Nearly losing Ripley. Having a very sick Tabitha. Falling off the tandem and damaging the ligaments in my knee. Having to replace a leaking oil tank, defunct fridge, broken dishwasher. Finding out Breeze is going blind.Yes, it does seem to have been a year of lurching chaotically from one crisis to another. No wonder we both feel so wiped out!

To be fair there have been some good bits along the way. Our Niece Sarah’s wedding, veing given an award by the Riding Club. Increasing support for this Blog, support for Blind Riders UK, my business getting stronger. Having lessons on Florence. Doing more talks for Guide Dogs. Doing some PR for Retina Implant.

Personally though, New Year’s Day cannot come quick enough for me. New beginnings, A fresh start, A blank sheet. I have of course got lots of hopes and aspirations for 2019. Poor Florence isn’t going to know what hit her! Neither is Hal for that matter. In the meantime though thank you very much for supporting this blog. I hope you have an absolutely marvellous Christmas and a happy horsey New Year