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

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 🙂

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