The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray…

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Today  I thought I would start off my blog with this very apt Burns quote. As many of my regular readers and social media followers know I have been prepping for the British Dressage Regional Championships at Addington. I really had put a lot of time into this competition and knew it would be tough to achieve a top ten score. In previous experiences most riders seem to drop 4-6% below their usual scores so it was important to me to be as near to 70% as I could.

After some intensive lessons, test practice and endless visualizations I felt really prepped for my test, riding at 1pm just after the judge’s lunch break. Our preparation went well on Saturday despite the lousy weather and Wanda was sparkling and looking amazing. She cleans up so well and I always try to have her as professionally turned out as I can.

She was still very clean when I fed her on Sunday, which turned out to be a lovely day with sunshine and no wind. At this point I almost felt that things were going too well and was waiting for the hiccup. Thinking this was just nerves kicking in I banished those thoughts and focused on last minute grooming and plaiting. Everything was going like clockwork as I loaded her up, got into the cab and started to turn on the key… and nothing but a cranky noise and a lorry that sounded like the starter motor had gone with all sorts of unknown hieroglyphs appearing on the dashboard. Cue major swearing and grabbing of the lorry manual as I tried and tried again to start the lorry. At this point I was about to call mum and ditch the lorry for our trailer, there was no way I wasn’t going to get to compete. Last try of the key and with a splutter the damn thing started. Thanks lorry… proof that I’m not great with dealing with changes of plan or shocks pre competition!

The journey to Addington isn’t far, about an hour and a half for us so we had plenty of time to get to our destination. Feeling more confident I calmed myself down and focused on the drive. Disaster was about to strike about half an hour from the end of our journey. Just after a roundabout we had a collision with a car who decided to undertake the lorry at high speed. I ended up having to emergency stop and it felt like poor Wanda was about to join us in the cab.

I’m lucky enough to drive Mum’s lovely white Oakley and was scared to even get out to view the damage, let alone check how my precious horse was. I am pretty calm in major stress situations and took the driver’s and witnesses’ details, checked Wanda who had broken her bungee tie up and had a lump of forelock plait missing (I think she balanced on her head to stabilise herself) and was soon on my way. It wasn’t until I arrived at Addington that I realised I was physically shaking and was immediately sick! I decided to re check Wanda and then go off for a little walk, finding out at that stage that the arena was outside for our test – a brave decision given the recent weather.

I realised at that point I was in a bit of a muddle and tried my best to keep visualizing the test and keeping to time and focus. I also felt quite sleepy – adrenalin does that to me so I decided to have a can of Red Bull… mistake! This just gave me palpitations and nausea. I tried to ignore this and it was good just to crack on, give Wanda a final polish and get us both dressed and ready. As usual time ran away with itself and I was soon on and heading down to the warm up. From this point I just felt wrong. I can’t really say more than I felt really strange riding. Unlevel, wonky, hands all heavy and low. It seemed like Wanda had her mind elsewhere and her concentration was all over the place. Strategies that normally would have resulted in a content and focused horse and rider just weren’t working. The more this went on the more I panicked, the more I panicked the worse it felt.

I struggle with an old riding injury which means I sit to the left sometimes… this just seemed exasperated to the point of my saddle feeling like it slipped. I was holding my hands low, elbows like rigid plastic, tense in shoulders, collapsing in my core. It felt awful and I really couldn’t find a way to work through it. My warm up time was soon running out and I tried my best to focus. I know Wanda is a willing horse, I just needed to chill out and enjoy the ride. At this point I was glad I knew the test inside out as I think if I hadn’t this would have been the first thing that would have slipped my mind. I was able to turn on the dressage charm  and smile as I entered the arena which did help the stress situation.

The test wasn’t long and I knew what I was doing so in a sense it was straightforward to ride. I tried my best to gain marks where I could, so decent shapes, accurate transitions, keeping the test flowing. I have to say that I was relatively pleased with our performance. There were no OMG moments and it felt accurate, I just knew that Wanda wasn’t swinging through her back and really working as well as she might, due to my inability to ride calmly and softly.

A lovely moment at the end of the test was the judge at C coming out of her box and saying ‘what a lovely horse, I think she’s fantastic, I’d love to own her’. That was very uplifting after such a stressful day but I knew that I was not going to do as well as I should have or wanted to.

My mark said it all. A shade off 65% so respectable but out of the top ten by 1.8% Feeling frustrated and fed up all I wanted to do is pack up and go home. I felt like I’d let everyone down and more importantly my horse. The drive home was awful as I felt so nervous and sad but we eventually got home and Wanda was glad to be back in her stable with food… her best reward ever!

I had an early night and just felt really low. The nice thing about eventing is if you ride a bad dressage, however frustrating that is, you still get to jump and have a blow out. With dressage it’s down to one test. I think that’s why I feel more pressured. I have to say I’ve really beaten myself up about things and felt a bit down over the last few days. BUT I don’t stay down for long… I’m already working out my next game plan, how I can move on from this. It was incredibly bad luck and I think without the accident stress our scores would have been radically different. However, things do go wrong at competitions and I have to learn how to focus and move on and ride effectively. So this is my next plan, some mind work and also some really intensive lessons, going back to basics so I’m riding as straight and evenly as I can, keeping soft elbows but with a strong core. I think this will come gradually and I do forget that I had a baby 7mths ago!

Loads to do and to think about, but not to dwell on, and with the first event of the British Eventing season on 1st March I can’t hang about. In sum, a really frustrating day, but as my friend said, Wanda wasn’t hurt, the lorry is fixable. Time to kick on 🙂

 

Focus on Regional Dressage

With the eventing season almost upon us I have been to some JAS and JT competitions and a little bit of show jumping but have also had several British Dressage competitions so that I can begin to focus on the BD regionals at Addington on 16th February.

I’ve found my last few tests really hard to ride. They haven’t felt that fluid or very comfortable to ride. I have had mixed marks as well from the low to very high 60s. I can’t quite pinpoint exactly why my marks are erratic apart from lack of test riding. My last BD competition was in November 2013, just before my hacking accident. I then had a gap of over 2 months without a dressage run. My work on the flat at home has really improved and I know Wanda is going well.  However, it all goes out of the window when I ride a test. When I showjump of XC I’m able to make small changes and I think well ahead and react. This doesn’t seem to happen in the Dressage arena.

With this in mind I’ve been thinking about ways to up my game for the regional dressage championships next weekend. As well as a training session at home I will also be meeting my trainer Matt Cox at Keysoe to run through my test on a 20x60m arena and start to unpick and improve areas that are problematic. So basic training and run throughs.

In addition I’m working a lot on the test in my mind, really visualising it and riding it in ‘my mind’s eye’. This technique was introduced to me by Jo Davies, a sports psychologist, who gave a talk at our yard last weekend. By mirroring the sensations of riding a test or a course, even off the horse, you can improve the way you react to stress and the competitive environment. Although I wouldn’t say I was nervous when I ride a dressage test I do get quite tense in my shoulders and over ride. I hope that by working on my mental preparation I can get through this issue.

I’m also working out how I can improve my shape, mainly circle, riding. With this in mind I decided to do some pole work with Wanda today, working on the curve instead of on the straight. We set up 3 poles in the corner of the arena, with the centre of the pole to centre of the next set at 3m.

After warming up on the flat I trotted over 2 poles set at 4 canter strides to get her working over easy poles before the curve. I then worked over the curve in trot. The circle I rode was about 15m diameter. For a relatively simple exercise it’s not that easy! You can’t approach the first pole straight and it really reveals horse and rider imbalances. I asked our groom Coco to take a short video which I’ve uploaded here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P811oyBko8&feature=youtu.be

It shows how Wanda is inclined to want to put in small strides rather than stretch in trot, and how her left canter is more consistent than her right. However, I sit badly to the left (old riding injury) and have a weak right leg. You can see on the right rein we had to work harder. Because of both of our imbalances we were inclined to cut the corner of the circle and Wanda falls onto her right shoulder. To counteract this I placed a cone just after the first pole and really focused on supporting her with my inside leg. This worked well. I have a long way to go with my riding but 7mth on after baby I’m feeling a lot stronger.

Following these exercises I did some straightness work, turning onto the centre line, transitions on the centre line and such like. In all, a really good workout with variety to keep Wanda interested. Next week we will jump her and add some fences as part 2 of the curve and possibly curve bounces.

This weekend the weather reports look grim so I’m not up to much apart from a training session with Matt on Sunday, then its head down next week as we get Wanda polished and preened for regional’s. It’s a really exciting time for us both and hopefully my work will pay off 🙂

Lots of Great News for Team Black and White

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Things have been on the look up here with loads of exciting news to share.

As you now Wanda and I have been shortlisted in the finals of the Equestrian Social Media Awards.

We are in Category 5, best use of social media by an amateur rider. There are also loads of other great finalists, so if you like what we do click on the link below and vote for us. We really appreciate your support 🙂

http://www.equestriansocialmediaawards.com/finalists-esma

Voting closes at 4pm (GMT) on the 7th February.

 

In other news I’ve also been lucky enough to be supported by local Equine Suppliers Forelock and Load. http://www.forelockandload.com/

Kirstie and her team are supplying Wanda and myself with some new kit and we will be helping out with their product testing and blogging amongst other things.

I’m really thrilled by this new partnership and it’s great to be working with such lovely people who are local to me. More news about this will be coming soon…

 

And good things must come in 3’s as I have also been selected as one of two supported riders for the company Lens Vanity Photography. https://www.facebook.com/lensvanityphotography

I will be proudly wearing Lens-Vanity kit while out competing and Lauren will be attending some of our events to take photos of us hopefully winning! How spoilt to have our own photographer for the day!

So all in all a really busy and rewarding time for us both… can’t wait for 1st March and our first event at Isleham which is our local. Kicking on into 2014 🙂