Florence and the Machine #Blind Rider #HorseBloggers #HorseHour #PonyHour #HorseChatHour

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist 😉

Things are in a good vein at the moment. Florence is very definitely on the mend. Although I wonder if her shoulder is a bit sore whre she’s having the injections (she really bit me hard when I was picking her feet out on Thursday, and tried to bite Tony the farrier on Friday), on the whole she is noticeably more free and flexible in her movement. in fact she actually passaged, or as Hal put it “Doing that big ponsy trot” up to get her tea on Friday evening, and seems to have changed shape slightly.

Yesterday I had a totally new, and as it turned out, completely mind blowing, experience. I took part in a Mechanical Horse Clinic which was run by Ruby Moor Riding Club. I signed up for this along time before I started riding with the RDA, and had no real idea what to expenct. It was just something I could do that didn’t mean I had to have a rideable horse, and I never really thought I’d get so much out of it.

It was amazing!

So, Millie the Mechanical Horse is a strange beast. Standing at around 14.2hh, with no head or tail, and riding. like a much bigger animal, she does not have any kind of a motor, but instead responds to your body movements.You sit in a conventional saddle, but have no reins, so everything you do is down to your seat and core. The instructor, whose name I didn’t catch, but I think was called Emily, not only knew her stuff about how horses move, but was obviously well versed in Human Biomechanics, and was a brilliant communicator.

At the beginnning of the session Emily asked about my riding experience, what I was interested in working on, and if there were any particular areas of concern. I explained that I am blind, explained about my arthritis, and hip problems, and that I am currently carrying a shoulder injury. I also told her about my riding career to date, that I hadn’t ridden much this year because of Florence not being sound, and that I was just starting out on my RDA Dressage adventure. I told her that my present lack f physical fitness combines with carrying to much weight was compromising my ridng, and that, partly because of this, and partly because of my blindness, I felt that my balance was not very good. I also explained that I didn’t get the chance to canter very often and that my trot to canter transition was appalling. Emily than got me to use my seat to push Millie into a walk, and immediately picked up that I was using my shoulders rather than my lower back, seat and core. As she gently held my shoulders to make me aware of them, she got me to put my hands on my hips and feel where the power should be coming from. . We then had a discussion about whether or not I could feel where each leg was. Now, I have to confess something here. I have been getting this wrong for years! Whilst I can feel exactly what the legs are doing, I was misinterpreting what I was feeling. I always believed that when my hip came forward in walk, it was being pushed by the corresponding back leg. No actually. It turns out that when my hip comes forward, it is following the corresponding shoulder, and when it goes back, that is when the corresponding back leg is coming forward. Who knew?! Soon I was walking without involving my shoulders, and accurately saying where each leg was (or would have been if Millie actually had any).

Moving into trot it soon become clear that I have been putting too much weight into my stirrups and not using my seat, back and core enough. Sitting trot without stirrups got me thinking about using my seat to control the trot, which , once I had stirrups back, lead into risng trot, and controlling the trot through controlling the rise. Think of the rise and sit as a squat, don’t drop back into the saddle by force of gravity..

On to canter! My weakest pace, as, I rarely do it. It’s difficult for me to canter, except in a school, as I rarely ride out with another rider. Usually Hal walks on foot with me, and bless him, he’s very good, but he just can’t run that fast! Actually, around here, it would make very little difference to my cantering opportunities if I had perfect vision and could ride independently, or had an army of hacking buddies,as there is absolutely no off road riding to be had. It’s all lanes or arenas around here. Historically my trot to canter transition has been a really messy affair. I tend, unintentionally, to throw myself forward. I also have trouble sitting to all but the smoothest of canters, and tend to bounce rather alarmingly. On Millie I was encouraged to feel the circular motion of the canter, and to engage my pelvic floor as well as my seat accordingly. A revelation! Let’s hop that when I do get to canter next I can do it as smoothly as I was doing on Millie yesterday.

I took a lot of positives home with me yesterday.

I do not sit crookedly

I have good feel, I just have to engage my brain

My balance is actually quite good!

What a week it’s been. I’m feeling very positive about everything at the moment. Now all I need to do is fan the tiny spark of self belief that is igniting deep down in my soul, into a little flame.

Enter at A

Wow, what a great week this has been so far.! Things have really taken off in all the right ways. And I couldn’t be happier.

Firstly, Florence is very definitely on the mend. At long last! She’s having a course of injections that are designed to lubricate her joints. Cartrofen they’re called, although I’ve most probably spelt that wrong. It doesn’t matter because, regardlessof how it’s spelt, this is truly a miracle drug. She’s got to have a course of 4 weekly injections. She had the 2nd one on Wednesday, but even after the 1st the difference in her was obvious. I’ve got my girl back! What a relief.

In the meantime, my RDA experience couldn’t be better. In fact on Tuesday, having only ridden at Lakefield 3 times, I entered the dressage arena for a competition for the 1st time in approximately 16 years! I know. Honestly, if you’d told me even 6 weeks ago that I’d be doing a competition at the end of April I’d have told you that you were bonkers.

So, there I was, in a borrowed jacket, a shirt that used to belong to my late Father-in-Law, a pair of beige jods that I could hardly breath in, on a horse I’d only ridden 3 times, and for a total of 1 1/2 hoours before, doing a test that could potentially qualify meto ride at RDA Regionals. Coach Mark had told me it was going to be a low key affair – I’d hate to see his definition of high end. The venue was absolutely heaving! There must have been representatives from every RDA group in Cornwall in attendance, and the atmosphere was just brilliant. I never heard anyone having a stroppy, or witnessed any unsportsmanlike behaviour. Just good hunour, camaraderie, and genuine support for each other. Lot’s of people, of all ages and abilities enjoying horses in the, not too warm actually, Cornish sunshine.

So, how did I get on?

Well, I’m really chuffed. I got 68.75% in my test. I’m not sure, but I think this the most I’ve ever achieved in a test in all the times I’ve attempted Dressage in the past. Beginners luck or what!

The next bit sounds a bit weird, but I’m feeling so happy that I’m prepared to roll with whatever happens.

I have absolutely no idea where I was placed. I have absolutely no idea if I’m going to Regionals or not. I haven’t seen myscore sheet.

Because I’m completely new to all this, and because it’s all happened so quickly, I didn’t know how the day was going to be organised. I was told to arrive half an hour before my round, but that was all. It turned out that for the seniours, which of course I am, the prize giving wasn’t held until the end of the day, which was around 5.30. My round was at 1pm, and we’d left the dogs at home alone, and hadn’t made any arrangements for them to be let out, so we couldn’t stay. It matters not.

I came out of the whole experience feeling bouyed up, and more confident about my abilities in the saddle than I have for a long time. Yes, I do need to take the time to learn how things run as far as RDA competition is concerned. I also need to upgrade my wardrobe. For now though, I’, just happy to go with the flow, and take every experience as it comes. Just bring them on!

As a big juicey cherry on the cake. Ben, who had yesterday off school because of the annual Great Torrington May Fair celebrations, hacked Florence out . Hal and I walked with him, but honestly, he’s doing so well with his riding that he didn’t really need us. He only went down to the village square and back, because it’s only the 2nd time Florence has been ridden out this year, but it couldn’t ;have gone better. Flo was positively skipping along with a big smile on her face, while Ben’s smile could have wrapped around the world!

Tomorrow I’m going to have a completely new experience. I’m taking part in a mechanical horse clinic which is being organised by Ruby Moor Riding Club.

Don’t look now, but it looks like things are on the up.

Good times!

Hitting the Target

I had the best lesson yesterday. I went over to Melissa’s to ride Goldie (Florence is still not right), and what a successful session we had! i really do feel that, even though I’m not riding very often at the moment, I am making some progress.

Melissa was interested to hear about the work I did when I had my RDA Assessment, and the way Mark orientated me. I explained about how he ‘called’ me into the letters, and how he got me to count strides between markers so I knew when to leave the track on a circle. So we decided to practice this by doing trot to halt transitions , but trying to make them bang on the marker.

To be honest with you, counting strides is not a new concept to me. However, I’ve never really found it helpful. Yes, I can cout, and I do understand how knowing how many strides your horse takes between A and B can be a real help, and not just for Blind and Visually Impaired Riders, but I think that previous instructors haven’t really quite understood it themselves, and therefore, have perhaps, made it a bit more complicated than need be. Being blind means that I have to concentrate on a lot more things than my sighted counterparts, especially when it comes to my surroundings, what is going on around me, and my position and orientation in relation to the rest of the world. I have to constantly actively think about where things are, and where I am, I can’t just look up and see. This is my normal, but it is hard work, and can be exhausting, especially whenit is the background to learning new skills, or carrying out specific tasks, carrying out instructions that are being given at the time, or being in new surroundings. I also personally find it difficult to concentrate when there is a lot of background noise, like a noisey crowd or loud music, or when it is windy. In the past I’ve had many soul destroying, and frankly pointless, lessons with instructors who have heard, somewhere, that blind people find their way around by counting steps, and so have insisted that I count every stride a horse takes around the school, all the strides down each long side, all the strides across the ends, all the strides across the diagonal… whilst all the time they stood in the middle of th school barking instructions at me, and making me repeat the same thing over and over again, because I hadn’t got the count right. Now, I can count, of course I can, and I can follow instructions, as long as I understand what it is I am being asked to do, but as I have to concentrate so hard on my surroundings all the time as well, I have very little spare capacity , so if something else happens whilst I am doing all these things I can’t always process that as well. What happens is that I either lose count, forget my position, or blank the instruction being given. All of which means that things don’t go as planned As a result I decided a long time ago that stride counting was not for me. Well done anyone who can do it, but I can’t – end of.

Until now that is. You see, Mark, and subsequently Melissa have a slightly different approach. I don’t have to know how many strides there are down the entire long side of the school. I just need to know how many strides there are from marker to marker, which means I only have to ride from marker to marker, which means I only have to think about the distance between markers, which means I only have to concentrate on bite size amounts of counting at a time. Oh my word! It sounds really obvious doesn’t it, and really simple. What it is though is a revolution! I can actually do this! It works!

I admit that yesterday I still had my reservations. When I’d done it with Mark the other week it was in an indoor school, so I could hear the walls, so could easily tell I was on the outside track, and had no wind to contend with. Melissa’s outdoor school, like my own, is somewhat exposed, and, again like every outdoor school I’ve ever ridden in, there’s nothing to echo locate against, so I can’t hear if I’m on the outside track or not. There was quite a stiff breeze blowing yesterday, which always seems to make things harder. However, I needn’t have worried. We worked out that, in working trot, Goldie has 7 strides between markers. So, using B on one rein, and E on the other rein as my stopping pointss, I set off to count down from M and H respectively, counting down strides and preparing for the halt in order to stop at the desired point. It worked! Not just once, but every time, and on both reins. The only time I overshot was when Goldie decided to spice things up a bit by demonstrting her powerful extended trot. She might be an elderly riding school horse, but she’s got some moves.

The other bonus development of yesterday’s lesson was my increasing ability to sit deep and use my seat to stop. Perhaps it was because I was having to work less hard on knowing where I was I could work on the physical aspect of getting good accurate halts as well. It surprised me actually because I’m very stiff at the moment, and actually had quite a lot of difficulty getting onto Goldie yesterday. At 16hh she’s a bit bigger than Florence, and Melissa’s mounting block is a bit lower than mine. However, once I’d scrambled aboard it all seemed to come together. Everytime I sat and asked for halt it got better, I sat deeper, was able to recruit my seat and core more, and needed to use less rein. Brilliant! We finished on a high, with a perfect square halt bang on target at E.

I’m still buzzing! It’s bouyed me up to keep slogging on with the diet and fitness regime, as my improve physicality can only be a result of what I’ve been doing so far. I feel more confident in my abilities, and it’s wetted my appetite for more. I’m back down to Camelford for another RDA session next week. Bring it on!

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.

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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.

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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.

Why Do You Have Lessons – I Thought You Could Ride?

I suspect it’s a question that we all get asked by non-horsey friends from time to time.

I thought you said you can ride, so why are you having a lesson?

It happened to me for the first time in ages yesterday. The thing is though, I really don’t know how to answer in a short and succinct way. Yesterday I said, “Well, think of it more as coaching”, which seemed to do the trick. However, calling it coaching makes it sound like I’m some kind of elete sports woman, which I’m really not.

The thing is though, I don’t really understand why people ask the question in the first place. After all, how many things do we ever get to a certain point, and then totally stop learning about? Now, OK, I’ve never driven a car, but, everyone I know who does drive, and let’s face it, that’s a lot of people, say that they didn’t really start learning about driving until after they passed their test. Likewise, in most professions, my own for example, you are expected to take part in what is called Continuing Professional Development throughout your career. I can’t think of any scenario where, unless yu are determined not to, you can’t keep learning.

Now, OK, we’ve all met people who, apparently at least, were born knowing evrything. They don’t need to continue learning about whatever it is, because, well, they know it all. The equestrian world seems to attract a disproportion amount of these paragons, but they can be found anywhere. For the rest of us mere mortals though, learning, in any sphere of life, if a lifelong process. The thing with horses and riding is that, just like us, horses are all individuals, and, also like us, have their moods, and idiosyncrasies, so riding a horse, even if it is always the same horse, is not like riding a bike. We also have our good days and bad days, our like and dislikes, and get into bad habits. very often he have no idea that we aren’t riding as effectively, or as in balance, as we could, or even should, until something begins to go wrong. Horse riding is a partnership in which, as in all other partnerships, both sides need to play their part. We humans are not very good at being honest with ourselves. We tend to be over confident about our abilities, believing we are really on top form, when we might not actually be, or we are over critical of ourselves, doing ourselves down when actually, we’re not that bad. Very often all we need is an unbiased, honest, input from a third party to get us back on the correct road.

Whether it be the horse, rider, or the whole partnership that needs some guidance, having lessons, training, coaching, call it what you want is essential for even the most experienced horse or rider. There are always bad habits to tweak, and new things to learn. Even just being around horses you always learn something new. You are never too experienced to have lessons.

No only that, but I personally enjoy them.