Nationals – A shot in the arm πŸ˜„

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 yearπŸ˜„

Looking Back, Moving Forward

As I clambered through the fence this morning to check that Florence and Breeze had enough water, and as our gorgeous girls searched me for treats, I was oblivious to the date and what an important day it is today. It was actually one of those Face Book memory things that woke me up to the fact that today is the 5th Anniversary of Magnum and Sapphire joining us here at Albert’s Bungalow.

Five Years!

Bakc then we had no stables, no School, and didn’t even have a proper access onto our own land. We moved up here without knowing anybody, and, to be brutal honest, without really knowing what we were doing. Now we have our own lovely yard, our own menage, which still rocks my world, and have opened the old field access next to the house. We have lovely neighburs, and even more lovely friends. However, we couldn’t have done it without the good will and support of a lot of people, most of which we didn’t know before we moved up here.

Ok, so nowadays it’s Florence and Breeze who are the centre of my universe, and hopefully there will be another horse joining them later this year. However, looking back, if it hadn’t been for Magnum, none of this would have happened. Who knew that an elderly Irish Draught Horse with an open festering wound on his back could be the tiny pebble that set off such a life changing avalanche!?

We’ve achieved so much in the last five years. Now it’s time to regroup and consolidate on what we’ve built. What will happen in the next 5 years? I’m certainly looking forward to finding out.

Bring it on!

Feeling Down

What is wrong with me!? I should be feeling like a kiddy on Christmas Eve. I’m in a really unusual, and, what should be very exciting situation. Not only have I qualified for the RDA National Championships (Who’d have thought?); but I am officially looking for a new horse, one that I will continue to do RDA Dressage with, and that I will be able to do some of the brilliant things that the Riding Club do with, and, unusually for me, I’ve got what feels like a massive budget for said horse. Usually I’m buying in the cheaper range, and I’ve been stretching my resources to do that. Not this time. You’d think I’d be like a dog with two tails, bursting with excitement, like a kiddy who’s been told they can have anything they want from the toyshop regardless of it’s price. What iactually feel is – well – nothing much to be honest, and I don’t really understand why. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not that I don’t want another horse, I really do, and I am thoroughly enjoying my newfound RDA Dressage success. I should be buzzing with enthusiasm, but frankly what I feel is flat and a bit down. Somebody take me out and slap me please! I’ve been trying to work out why I’m feeling this way, and I can only imagine it’s for one of the following reasons.

1. It’s not the prospect of having another horse that’s actually the problem here, it’s the act of finding one. I do find the process of buying horses extremely daunting. I miss the days when you buy your local Newspaper on a Thursday or Friday, turn to the, extensive, Horses for Sale section at the back, and read through all the adverts, circling all the likely candidates, then phoning the seller and havinga proper chat with them before deciding to go and have a look at said beast. OK, so, nowadays I wouldn’t be able to actually read the ads myself; but now things have gone on-line even finding horse ads is challenging. Yes, there are plenty of websites where you can buy and sell horses, but they are none of them particularly accessible. Face Book used to be a useful place to look for horses, but they have just banned selling animals. It’s all a bit problematic really. However, that’s just the beginning of the problem, once I find a suitable sounding horse , I’ve then got to go and see it. The act of going to a strange yard, with strange people, who have their own preconceptions about blindess, or who, despite my careful explaination of my situation, may not have fully comprehended that I am blind, and then having to get on a strange horse, that may or may not have been honestly described, and so may or may not be as safe as it’s been cracked up to be, makes me feel very uncomfortable, and extremely vulnerable. I’ve had some, erm, interesting experiences over the years to say the least.

2. Over the last 3 and a bit years we’ve lost 3 horses. OK, Magnum was very old, Sapphire had cancer, and Leonie, well, things weren’t good with her, but nevertheless, 3 horses gone in 3 years is a lot in my book. Now we have Florence and Breeze, who, granted are both in their twenties, but Breeze has had to retire from being ridden, and, despite my earlier post about Florence being on the mend, sadly she seems to be going backwards again at the moment. Florence hasn’t been right all year, and I may yet have to retire her as well. So that’s 3 dead horses, 1 going blind, and 1 with some kind of chronic/intermittent lameness/pain issue. Really, am I the best person to take on another horse? I just seem to break them all the time! Is a new horse going to be safe in my hands? I love horses, all horses, but Florence in particular is the absolute centre of my universe. For the last 6 months she’s been trying to tell me what’s wrong, and I just can’t seem to be able to understand what’s she’s trying to tell me. I’ve spent a fortune on vet’s, tess, and treatments, but things are still not entirely right with her. If I bring another horse onto this yard is it just going to end up trying to tell me something that I just can’t hear? Am I really capable of looking after them properly? I’m really doubting my abilities at the moment, and that’s putting me off going out there and putting any real effort into finding another horse.

As it happens, there is a real lack of horses out there anyway, or at least, if they are there, I’m not seeing the adverts.I keep reading that we are in the midst of a horse crisis, too many horses, not enough people who want, or can afford to take them on, so where are they all then? So far, I’ve only really seen one horse that I would have wanted to go and view, and that sold within a week of me first seeing the ad. Now, I know that I have quite specific requirements, but really, all I need is a safe,responsive, weight carrier. What I actually want is a younger Florence, perhaps one who is more comfortable travelling, and who is a little bit less bitey ,but neverthe less, Florence, her personality,attitude, and build, is just right for me. They must be out there somewhere, but all I’m seeing advertised is ex racehorses (I’d snap a Thoroughbred), imacculately bred, high powered warm bloods and Sports Horses, ponies, or horses that sound ideal, but nap, have an injury, aren’t safe on the roads, or have never been in a school. I keep seeing the same horses on every site, or I think I’ve found a good one, but it’s in Ireland, or is being listed by a Dealer, who is regularly mentioned on the Dodgey Dealers listsNot only that, but this purchase is dependant on the sale of Hal’s late parents hous. Well, that’s going well, not. Today is the day we were supposed to be completing. Yeh right. We’ve just been told that the buyers, who were supposed to be cash buyers, hence why Hal accepted such a low offer. haven’t quite got there mortgage sorted yet! So now they are screwing us around and apparently can’t complete until 1st July. That is of course if they are actually going to complete and aren’t some kind of fantasists. Let’s face it, it’s a long way from cash buyers to can’t get the mortgage sorted. So there probably isn’t going to be a new horse anyway. So wht am I worried about.

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 Β£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.

Five Years!

Today marks the fifthe anniversary of Hal and I coming to Albert’s Bungalow.

Five Years!

I’ve just read back through all my posts since I began Poo Picking in the Dark, which it surprises me that I didn’t actually begin until the November after we moved in, and, we haven’t stopped have we?!

Looking back, we’ve achieved such a lot, and learned even more. Yes, there have been some terrible lows, the whole Leonie situation will haunt me for life, however, there have been so many more highs. Yes, it’s hard work, no we haven’t had a holiday since we’ve been here. No, we don’t have any money. Yes, we have a great quality of life.

I still have to pinch myself regularly. I still can’t believe I’m here with my own little yard and my own school. The last five years have been full on, but we’ve done all the big stuff now. So now it’s time to consolidate on what we’ve built here. Here’s to the next five years.

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.

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

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist πŸ˜‰

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.