As regular followers will know, for a while now I’ve been looking for a new horse. Florence is the absolute centre of my universe, and I trust her completely; but, she isn’t getting any younger, now officially 20, and she’s had a few ongoing health problems this year. In fact, this is partly why losing Breeze was such a shock, as although Breeze was older than Flo, she was generally in much better health.I hope to be able to keep Flo going for a while yet, but she is definitely looking for the quiet life nowadays, whereas, having rediscovered my love of dressage, want to start doing a bit more. Hence the decision to get another horse for me to ride.
Now, although I want to do dressage, I also want to be able to hack out safely, and do some of the things that the riding Club put on. The level of dressage I’m anticipating doing is quite basic, unaffiliated, as well as RDA competitions. I loved my experience of Nationals this year, and I’d really love to get there again, with my own horse. Being blind, I have some very niche requirements in any horse, which can be tricky to find all rolled up in one package. They need to be calm, confident, and forward thinking, but not buzzy, overly spookey, and definately not prone to tanking off. They need to be able to think for themself, but still listen to their rider, and they need to be very very genuine , and quite brave, but not so gung ho that they don’t look after themselves and their rider. They also need to be polite and easy to handle on the ground, but at the same time, they do need to be open to their handler being more, well, up close and personal, and hands on. It also helps it they can cope with being walked into occasionally, and they absolutely must be easy to catch.There’s also that other, undefinable thing, and it’s something you will never know about a horse until you start riding and handling it on a regular basis. It’s difficult to explain, but, some horses seem to understand the blindness thing, and others just don’t. A lot like humans really when you come to think of it.
Now, whilst I love horses, and riding, I have to admit that I find the whole, trying out potential new horses thing really stressful and frightening. I really have to trust, even more so than anyone else, that the seller is being honest with me about this horses personality. If a horse tanks off with me I have no way of telling where I’m going, what’s in front of me, either on the ground or overhanging, or what the grounds like… well you get the picture; and that’s on top of the whole, being in a strange and unfamiliar place that I don’t know my way around, and being watched, and possibly judged, by the horse’s owners. I really do find it all very difficult. For these reasons I am extremely picky about what horses I will even consider going to see. I have a list of absolute deal breakers, words and phraises that, if they appear in an advertisement, mean that horse if automatically rejected. Can be nappy, prefers to hack in company, neds experienced rider/handler, to name just a few. Then, when I contact the seller once I’ve read a likely sounding ad, I explain my situation, and see how they react. I once had a persona tell me that their horse, who they were selling as an ideal novice ride, wouldn’t suit me as she was very big. The mare was advertised as 15hh, and at the time I had Magnum, who was a 16.3hh Irish Draught, so I thought it was a strange reaction; but she obviously didn’t think I was right for the horse, so I didn’t labour the point. Mind you, some people would sell a rabid wolf to a puppy petting zoo, look at the dealer who sold us Leonie to us, so you do need to take things with a pinch of salt, and be open to the possibility that things may not be as rosey as they have been painted. Once I’v got to actually viewing the horse in the flesh I have a few rules. I like to see the horse being tacked up, and ridden before I will consider gettingon board myself. Before I bought Florence, a yard that I had had some dealings with, who knew I was blind, and who knew I was looking for a horse, contacted me to tell me about a young cob they were selling. I’ve never seen a horse run backwards down the yard when somebody was trying to put his bridle on before! Definitely not the horse for me. I know almost instantly my bum hits the saddle if I feel safe on a horse. It’s difficult to explain, but with some horses I get a butterflies in teh stomach, sitting on top of an unexploded bomb, slightly nauseous feeling before i’ve even put my leg on; whereas, with others, like Florence, Sapphire, and Magnum, I just feel at home.
So, last week i went to view a likely sounding little cob. When I spoke to his owner I got the impression that selling this horse was not an easy thing for her, and she was very concerned that he would go to a home where he would be loved as much as they love him. He sounded very genuine, and, whilst not your typical dressage horse, he did sound like he’d be more than capable of doing the kind of dressage that I want to do. He had apparently been bought as a confidence giver for her teenage son, after he had had a bad experience with another horse, and he had done such a good job in this role, that her son now found him a little bit too steady. Well, that sounded ideal to me!So, off we went to darkest Cornwall, to meet a lovely Mother and Son and their gorgeous little cob. He handled beautifully, the lad was more than happy to show hin off to me, this cob definately can, and he’s a good little junper too, and then I got on. At this point I think it is fair to point out that. The horses owners were quite tall,wel in comparison to me a lot of people are quite tall, and as the horse is only 14.3hh, they never use a mounting block, in fact thy don’t have one. This could havr been a massiv problem for me, as, not only am I short, but I have restricted movement and strength in my left hip, so mounting even a very small pony from the ground is just plain not going to happen. I needn’t have worried. this genuine little horse stood like a rock while I scrambled up onto a wooden block thing that they used as a junp, and then scrambled up onto his back from there.Yes, this was one of those feeling at home horses. So a short plod around the school trying not to ride into the jumps, then a short hack out, and i was feeling very safe and secure indeed.
On Friday we had him vetted, and the vet couldn’t find even the smallest thing wrong with him.
Let me introduce you to Mr Mayo (just plain Mayo to his friends).
He’s an 8 y.o., 14.3hh, bay roan, bllagdon, cob gelding.
I’ve been trying not to say too much about him until he got here because I think that selling him has not been an easy decision for his previous owners, and if I’m perfectly honest, I half expected them to change their minds before he got here. However, Hal has been just as excited about his pending arrival as I have, and, even though I asked him not to, he just couldn’t help telling people about Mayo.
Mayo wasn’t supposed to be coming to us until Saturday, but here in the South West we’ve got a severe weather warning for storm force winds (gulp) on Saturday. They’ve even cancelled the Board Masters Surf Festival in Newquay, which is where he came from. So they decided to bring him up early. Suits me!
He seems to be taking everything in his stride so far. Yes, he’s only been here a few hours yet, but compared to others I’ve had over the years, he is remarkably calm about having been left on a strange yard, with strange people, and strange horses. So here’s hoping he’s going to carry on that way.
So now we’re back up to 3 horses. The future is looking very bright indeed.
So, despite everything, on Friday morning, Hal, Quincey, and I loaded up, and travelled up to the RDA National Championships at Hartbury College, near Gloucester.I only went because a lot of people had made a lot of effort to get me there. Honestly though, I’d have rather stayed in bed.
I’m so glad I did go. The whole experience was the most perfect antidote to the terrible week that preceded it, and I’ve come away feeling much happier, more confident in my abilities, with a little more self believe, and a lot of plans/hopes/dreams for the future.
This has to have been the friendliest, and most supportive equestrian event I have ever been to. No dragging other people down, no bitching about why the person who got placed above you shouldn’t have even been allowed to enter, no arguing with the judge, no fat shaming, picking fault with other peoples riding ability, tack choices, turn out, or choice of horse. Just support and admiration from everyone to everyone, a feeling of camaraderie, genuine good will, and a lot of people having a lot of good horsey fun. Why aren’t all equestrian events like this?
Hartbury, or at least the bits I saw, is an amazing place. OK, so I can’t comment on the human accomodation, as we stayed in the Holiday Inn in Gloucester (a lot nicer than our usual Premier Inn or Travelodge whenever we go anywhere), but the horse accomodation was the poshest stabling I have ever experienced.Large, airy,barns with lovely wide walkways, and all immaculate.I have no idea how many stables there actually were, but North Cornwall RDA were based in Barn D, and I know there was a Barn G! There were several arenas, both indoor and outdoor, although confusingly, according to a plan that Hal saw, no arena 3. Although I did dressage, there were a lot of other disciplines taking place. Showjumping, showing, endurance, vaulting, musical rides, and the Countryside Challenge, a handy pony style competition unique to RDA
Now, when it came to my test, in all honestly, I didn’t think that I really rode that well
. No excuses here, it’s just how I felt, sick, sad, and sorry over Breeze, extremely nervous, and desperate not to let anyone down, and far far too hot! Let’s face it, even in the coldest of conditions I run warm, and I get a proper sweat on when I’m nervous or anxious, and it was really very hot on Saturday. However, Willow (Stephania! Who knew?) was a total pro, bless her, she’d have done a lot better without the sweaty mess on her back, and of course Mark, Becky, who had only giben birth to their tiny daughter Lowenna 12 days before, and the wonderful, and very long suffering groups of volunteers who called my letters for me, were just the best. A special mention has to go to whoever it was who turned Willow out, all shiney and white, and plaited beautifully. Thank you whoever you are.
Ok, so my test wasn’t a thing of beauty. This was the first time I had ever ridden in an arena where the boards are all away from the walls, and it’s fair to say it’s something I need more practice at. I was worried that Willow would step out of the boards, so I over compensated and ended up cutting of the ends of the arena. At one time I was riding directly towards K thinking to myself,”I really shouldn’t be here should I”. I felt a bit like a bunny in the headlights throughout the test. Not my best effort at all.
So imagine my total shock, and utter delight, when I discovered that I’d won! I still can’t believe it now.
My score was 63.12%, which is the lowest score of the 3 competitions I’ve done with the RDA so far, but having read my scoresheet, I think the judges comments are entirely reasonable. Although, I am a bit surprised at the comment “A calmly ridden test”! Oh no it wasn’t!placeholder://
If I’ve managed to attach a video here you will see exactly what I mean. Ignore the first bit it’s me on the grey. As she can probably tell, Hal wasn’t very much calmer than me.
So, all I really need now is a new four legged dancing partner, a lot of practice, and some self belief. Not too much to ask surely?
Here’s to next year😄
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.
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.
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.
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.