That was 2016 – PART 1 Nerves, Internationals and my happy!

I didn’t write a New Year summary of 2015. It was an odd year of uncertainty and worry, trying to get divorced and failing dismally. Just a whole lot of stress on all levels. I stepped into 2016 hoping to be single and back to my old self with the flick of a switch, all those New year resolutions poised and primed. Sadly, it took until February to finally get the divorce settled and signed off and with it a whole load of getting ‘me’ back. I felt like a lost child in those months, a whole load of anxious spouted forth unexpectedly, and a lot of depression too. Not an experience I would like to live out again, the thought makes me shiver. So why share this on a horsey blog? Well it has everything to do with my little horse Wanda. Medicated up to my eyeballs I decided to not follow my doctors’ advice and went cold turkey, desperately trying to find my riding mojo and a focus in my own life, while still being a mum and earning a living…oh and live in temporary accommodation while we built a new home.

Much of this year has been spent training and hacking, I didn’t really feel up too much else. Eventing was just a disaster and either I was poorly, the children were poorly, or something kicked off at home. I totally fell out of love with the sport. I just couldn’t see the point of making myself even more worn out, doing something that didn’t give me a ‘buzz’ anymore. But it’s all worked out well. Taking time out from competing has brought my riding up a level. For sure I could be fitter, stronger and thinner, but that will come. What I have gained by quietly working away with my long supporting trainers Fiona and Matt has been invaluable and reaped its rewards on Wanda’s way of going and what I’m feeling and responding too while riding her. This is the year I ‘got’ the point of it all and those damn stupid dressage terms make sense… ‘over the back’, ‘into the hand’ and the simplest but hardest to achieve ‘straightness’. It’s all had an impact on my test riding which is heading in the direction I want it to follow… onwards and upwards!

I decided to aim for a few dressage competitions and have the odd jumping lesson with Mia Palles Clarke, who again has been a long-standing supporter of what we do and totally ‘gets’ what I want to achieve out of training sessions. We did a few BD competitions, with some success, and then Fiona mentioned that it would be worth aiming for selection to the Suffolk squad for the inter-county challenge. A competition I had no clue about. But with half the year almost gone I decided it was time to take the plunge and focus. It felt like time was slipping away…

Intercountry trials consisted of several training sessions with the fabulous Mette Assouline, then a test riding day, on the basis of that performance the teams were selected. Scoring a PB of over 74% at the test day gave me a place on the squad and we eventually came 9th out of 28 teams – the highest placed Suffolk team that weekend. It was an amazing experience, something I wouldn’t have even dared contemplate at the start of the year, and was a massive learning curve in terms of competitive dressage riding, in a busy atmosphere, during the hottest weekend of the year (with a stomach bug – ewwww)!

It was an experience that rekindled a buzz for competitive riding, and to be accepted onto part of a team was a responsibility I didn’t shy away from but relished.

unspecified

The summer was a mix of school holidays, sunshine, building projects, Pony Club and hacking out with the children, so competitions were on the backburner, but again I felt the year passing me by and I looked towards getting out and enjoying Wanda. It was all about the ‘experience’ with my horse and it was intriguing to see my ‘want’ to ride and compete slowly creep back. I think part of my motivation was talking to my dear friend Hannah Francis. She was always one to encourage, uplift, and motivate. Her infectious personality did have an influence on me then and still does today. August was an emotional month for so many of us, I miss Hannah terribly but I always spare a thought for her every time I ride and spend time with the horses. Every time I moan about the mud or the rain or the hard work it all is, I am also equally grateful for being able to own and ride my horses. I don’t think Hannah ever knew how influential she was to me and now by supporting her charity I can pay that back. The Champions Willberry Charity Race in 2017 will form part of that and I hope will be a fitting way to remember Hannah and raise funds for Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony and the Bob Champion Cancer Trust.

If 2016 was about learning and gaining new experiences, then riding as a guinea pig dressage test rider at Osberton horse trails was one to remember. At FEI level eventing dressage judges have a ‘warm up rider’ so that they can address any marking or tech issues before the competition commences. Although I didn’t ride competitively, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn a slightly more complex test and to ride on grass, in tails in an international environment. Wanda managed to disgrace herself by escaping at 4am as we were about to leave… then galloped across a ploughed field and onto the road. Not one of our best 2016 moments! Literally cold hosed off and thrown on the lorry, we made the trip up, accompanied with FriendsBerry from the charity Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony as our lucky mascot. I usually drive myself and compete alone, so it was a case of arriving, throwing chalk powder at Wanda’s legs to cover the mud and getting on with it. Although I wasn’t completely satisfied with my test (I rarely am), we scored well and I was particularly pleased with the way that Wanda settled and focused. An amazing experience, despite all the drama beforehand! This was a warm up to our first International competition, again a new experience for both of us!

scan0096

scan0095

I had read about the Senior Home International on the BD east newsletter, they were looking for some novice riders and to be fair I hadn’t much of a clue what was involved when I emailed Kathrine, the regional rep, to apply to ride. It was a good feeling to get a bit of the brave me back, id lost my ‘give it a go’ and I felt it was returning. All very last minute, but I was accepted onto the Eastern squad, riding against teams from the rest of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland at a three-day competition at Sheepgate. I was made to feel so welcome by the team members. Eastern BD has a great team camaraderie as well as some superb coaching and volunteer support. They all work tirelessly to promote the sport in my region and the East is a very strong community because of it. All I can say is, at these sorts of higher pressure competitions, teamwork and support is everything. From helping each other sew on George’s cross flags onto saddle cloths, to killing the time between tests, to giving sympathy if things don’t go to plan, but also building you up to kick ass in the next test… without the good teamies you are sunk. I was riding 3 tests, a warm up on the Friday (we came 9th and I was happy with a top 10 in tough competition), then championship classes over the weekend. I could not have predicted how well we did, coming 2nd in the first test, 4th in the second, and 4th overall in my section, just a smidge off a bronze placing – sadly the M judge wasn’t keen on our test. What can you say other than, that’s dressage and I will take into account the comments and learn from them. Fighting talk eh? Yes, we were back in the game, the black dog had left the room!

I learnt so much from that weekend, how important the support of your friends around you is, and how fun, enthusiastic and friendly my regional riders are. These are people who have fun, party but are seriously focussed on their horse’s welfare and wellbeing, as well as riding very competitively. I have to admit my eyes were opened…and my perceptions of what ‘dressage riders’ were like were crushed.

An intense 2 weeks of competition rounded up with a 9th placing at our first Petplan Novice Festival, a worthwhile trip out, and a great benchmark for moving up to Elementary in December, which we did in style winning our first competition (and the Novice that day too), topped off with a mention in Horse and Hound. Our plan is to move up to Medium in 2017… no more messing about and waiting for the right ‘moment’. I’ve come to realise that there is never the right time to do most things, and that it’s easy to procrastinate, delay or just not try. With three children to look after and a job, my life is busy but I’ve also learnt that I need to do things for myself too. I can’t do everything I want but getting out and competing is a buzz. It makes trogging about in the mud and cold worthwhile, and I now enjoy the sparkle, which makes me happy, and not debilitatingly anxious. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year… is to grab every opportunity with both hands and not to be afraid of going out of your comfort zone, just put the work in to make it happen. But more of that in my next blog… an experience that literally made my heart almost burst with pride. But for now, can I wish you a peaceful New Year, stay safe, be brave and enjoy xx.  

20161201_103650

WOOF WEAR launches Two New Products

With a social media leak earlier this week, Woof Wear fans had a taste of things to come with their inspired new medical hoof boot, which will be available from UK Stockists from September. Social media was alight with the news, with Woof wear deciding to push the product to launch earlier than expected. I am pretty certain this will be an award worthy product to look out for, filling the gap for intelligent and contemporary design, for an age old problem. No more gaffer tape!

To see this amazing piece of kit in action follow the link here

Boot%20on%20grass[1]

The leak sadly overshadowed the release of  another new product, the new Woof Wear Dressage Wrap, a quick and easy alternative to bandaging and offers support to the fetlock and tendons.

Dressage%20Wrap%20Low%20res%20All%20colours

Smart and flexible, the Dressage Wrap allows full flexibility of movement and the 7mm breathable neoprene keeps joints and tendons cool. The plush outer material allows for a wide range of strap adjustment around the leg.

Suitable for everyday use including schooling, warm up, training and clinics. Priced at £33.00 per pair they are an affordable and well designed option for the amateur or professional rider. In my own experience Woof Wear boots are also extremely robust, so they most definitely fulfil their tagline ‘Protection by Design’.

Sized at S, M ,L and XL in White, Turquoise, Brown or Black. For more information click here

 

 

B&W Reviews… The HAAS Brush Collection

titelbild_kardaetschen

Priced at £65 for a set of 4 brushes, the HAAS collection is a top end choice for riders wanting the ultimate in brush tech for their horses. Made in Germany, the HAAS website explains that many of their brushes now use specially selected synthetic materials as the basis for all brushes and combs. You may think this lessens the quality and makes them feel a little ‘plastic’ but by using synthetics their brushes can offer better hygiene (as all products are washable), increased reliability and longevity, comfortable handling (they all have a hand strap like a body brush), water resistance, retention of bristles and a stronger build quality. Looks wise, I couldn’t tell the difference between these brushes and some of my natural ones and they were certainly easy to use.

So it makes total sense that the way forward is synthetic. Add to this the very engineered manufacturing process where the hand loop together with the bristles are directly incorporated with the body of the brush. HAAS brushes don’t use nails, spikes or screws when making their brushes so this lessens any risk of injury. There is also no glue, so nothing can fall apart.  So they certainly build a great description of informed design and manufacture…

BUT… how do they work in reality? Watch our video review HERE and see the brushes in ‘real life’ here (excuse my German pronunciation!)

So you like the sound of HAAS and would like to buy some yourself? There are 3 UK stockists which are listed here.

I purchased my set of HAAS brushes from Eqclusive who offered a prompt service and the brushes came in a really smart black card box – very luxurious! They are also the only supplier who sells sets of 4 brushes – a new inititative and a fantastic idea!

If you order from Eqclusive in July and use the code JULY all UK orders will receive free shipping and orders above £100 will receive a tub of Equinox.

You can watch the HAAS promo video here and read more from their website here  They literally do brushes for every need, an amazing collection in many sizes, colours and bristle types.

HAAS is also on Facebook… @haasbuersten and if you have any questions about my experience of the brushes send me a message.

Happy grooming & enjoy your horses!

NicolaGoldup0931

Ski Styling for the yard – my pick of quilted jackets for winter riding

I have a feeling that the mild autumn is just nature’s act of luring us into a false sense of security. Winter will soon be on its way and it will be time to dig out quilted layers for the horses and humans.

I’ve put together three stylish offerings, from under £100 to over £450 that are available this AW15 from Spooks, Ariat and my favourite Cavalleria Toscana.

Under £100

The Spooks Paula Jacket is available through premium retailer Dressage Deluxe. A flattering fitted quilted jacket, which has been created to compliment your curves with clever seam and zip placement. The jacket features a high padded and quilted collar in a contrast high sheen fabric to keep your neck toasty and elastic cuffs add practicality and function to this smart Jacket.

jacket

A full-length zip with leather puller and enamel badge, Spooks motif and embroidered horse logo complete this stunning jacket. Available in sizes: UK 8-16, in Navy, priced at £ 96.00 this is an affordable option for a versatile jacket. To purchase visit Dressage Deluxe

Under £160

If you are looking for something shorter go to Ariat’s Acclaim Down Jacket. Taking a traditional approach to apparel and incorporates it with modern features. Using super cosy premium down insulation and flattering channel quilting, this jacket is wind and water resistant and incorporates the unique V3 design to ensure total freedom of movement and flexibility – so no matter what outdoor pursuit you are engaging in, you can stay warm and comfortable. Features include an inner storm cuff, novelty print lining and a 2-way zipper. I can personally vouch for the quality of these jackets – they really are warm and comfortable to wear and easy to keep clean and smart.

Available in sizes XS – XL, the Acclaim Down Jacket comes in a rich Ganache shade and retails at £159.99 www.ariat.com

Ariat’s Acclaim Down Jacket

Under £250

If you are looking for something super cosy, stylish and practical then look no further than the Ariat Muse Down Coat. The three quarter length style offers great protection against the elements with its water and wind resistant outer, meanwhile the super snug channel quilted down insulation is not only flattering but most importantly traps warmth in to prevent the cold from taking its toll.

Ariat Muse Down Coat

Features include a fashionable flannel trim, inner storm cuff, zippered hand pockets and a 2-way zipper making it comfortable and easy to wear, whether you are hitting the high street or embracing the countryside.

The Muse Down Coat is available in the versatile Lava Beach colour way, in sizes XS – XL and retails at £219.99.

For more information about Ariat’s extensive range of apparel visit Ariat

And for those who would like to blow the budget…

I just love the Cavalleria Toscana Chic jacket with fur collar. Priced at £430.00 this look is straight from the ski slope to the saddle with this stylish jacket from Cavalleria Toscana’s exclusive collections. You can wear without the fur trim, or without the hood completely for a variety of fashionable looks. Top end kit that is exceptionally well made and available from Four Seasons Equestrian

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

IMG_20140216_190340
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 🙂

Latest training and Nominating for the Equine Social Media Awards

Its been a busy time of year for me and less so for Wanda. I’m still recovering from my accident a month ago where we were hit by a car out hacking. I’m able to ride, but not every day and my lower leg has been very sore. Despite this I’m keeping my jumping and flatwork going as I am nervous about ‘getting out of the loop’ so to speak. Last week we had our first jump in a month and Wanda was firing on all cylinders as you can see by the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0J-1_HxRzs

I think Wanda’s jumping is really developing now and her canter is so much more powerful. I can really attribute this to the more intensive flatwork sessions I have been developing. Lots of trot poles and raised poles and much more lateral work. Wanda really thrives on this sort of work. This week I have a dressage lesson with Matt Cox planned and I’m really excited about this. I have recently started working with Matt and we are aiming to get Wanda out doing some elementary British Dressage tests soon. http://www.mcdressage.co.uk/

I also have a jumping lesson booked with my eventing trainer Val Gingell as I’m realising it wont be long til the season starts again and I want to hit the ground running!

In other news the nominations are open for the Equine Social Media Awards 2014. http://www.equestriansocialmediaawards.com/news-stories/public-nominations-for-the-2014-esmas-are-now-open-1463

Until December 20th, you can nominate your favorite equestrian businesses, personalities, charities and brands in the world of social media through this website, from the list of pre-registered entries.

I have been registered in categories 2, 5 and 14. So if you like what I do through my blog or twitter account @bandw_eventing do take the time to let ESMA know via the nomination form http://www.equestriansocialmediaawards.com/nominations

Those with the best nomination and personal statements about what they do will be put forward to the final public vote. So take a look at some of the great people and organisations using social media throughout the equestrian world.

 

 

Dressage Regionals for Diva Wanda

Fortunately my sons birth went very well and I was lucky enough to feel quite fit and strong. As I had British Dressage regionals 4 weeks after the baby was born I was keen to get back on and had my first ride 4 days after I gave birth. Initially I had to be very careful as I was still quite tired and had lost a lot of core strength. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t make dressage regionals, let alone jump a fence again. I had a tough few weeks adapting to having a new baby, making sure my other children were well cared for and also beginning to focus on my riding and fitness. At first I took things very gently but I was soon able to work on my strength by having a few lunge lessons which really helped to re-engage muscles and work on my balance. I initially just focused on the dressage regionals and did my first BD competition 2 weeks after Bobby was born – winning on 71.25%. Bit of a shocker to say the least. I didn’t fare as well at regionals and came 19th out of 43 horses. Despite this I was really pleased with my performance. There was about 2% separating 19th – 6th and I think that I rode the best test I could have at that time. With the dressage out of the way my next goal was to start jumping and aim for Milton Keynes BE 4 weeks later!

 

ImageImageImage