Getting on with it

After a rather flat run at Rockingham where I decided to WD before the XC (Wanda felt off colour and we just weren’t on form that day) I decided to enter my local event Little Downham. I took a less is more approach to training and kept Wanda’s workload limited to short bursts of jumping and flatwork with some hacks and cantering. Basically enjoying her and not putting myself under pressure.  

I felt really positive coming up to the event and quite excited about the opportunity to get out and compete again. My times were really late on Sunday (xc not until 6.30pm) which was a new thing for me and I was a little worried I might just be off the boil or a little nervous. To combat this I course walked on Saturday and met up with one of my sponsors Loren Causer from Lens Vanity Photography who stayed at our house and had a great night in of wine and curry. 

On competition day we had a leisurely breakfast and got Wanda scrupulously clean and polished. It was great to have someone to chat to as it really helped with my nerves; it was also a really glorious day which made things all the more cheery. 

We only live half an hour away from Little Downham and are lucky that it sits on fenland soil so is always excellent going – despite constant rain the week before. I was also met by my friend Hannah Galley and her mum. I’ve known Hannah for a few years now. She’s due to have a baby in late August so isn’t eventing but is a very keen spectator! 

Wanda is very straightforward to get ready and we were soon on board, with a plan to keep the dressage warm up minimal as it was so hot. She worked in well and had really good focus so I was pleased and quite chilled. Our test went well. It was consistent and accurate, with only a couple of things I felt could have been slightly better. Sadly I scored a disappointing 35 which I felt was a little harsh. However I am fairly good at not dwelling on dressage scores and my main aim was to focus on confident Show jumping and XC. 

Another friend, Brenning, who has a wealth of experience arrived at this point… and Wanda’s old owner, my mum and half of the children at the riding school where Wanda used to live! We had quite a fan club!!! Brenning helped put up some SJ warm up fences and I really appreciated his calm and encouraging approach. We warmed up well, and Wanda felt very much on form which was a positive boost. 

The SJ at Little Downham was proving tricky for many, with a scattering of poles down across the levels. My plan was to ride a nice round. I wasn’t too bothered about the odd pole down; I just wanted forward shots and positive riding. That was pretty much what I ended up with. However, jumping out of the second combination Wanda found the distance a little long and we had a fence down. I panicked and a brain meltdown, turning left instead of right… so time faults as well as 2 down. It was a twisty course… Honest! However, I didn’t do the whole beat myself up thing, I was actually quite pleased. We met every fence positively and band on stride and looking back at the photos I can see how much of an effort Wanda took to jump cleanly.

 Image

At this point my nerves really kicked in. I felt like withdrawing but Hannah was great at keeping me positive and focused. We didn’t have long to get ready which wasn’t a bad thing! I had my new Lens Vanity Baselayer on and we both looked very smart in black and white.

I decided to keep the XC warm up minimal. Two solid fence jumps and an open up canter is all we needed. Again Brenning was a really calming influence and helped me focus on the positive not the negative. 

Before I had time to think I had got to the start box and was trying to turn on my hatcam while Wanda did her usual excited cobby dance. 5,4,3,2,1, go. I was determined to try and ride forward and soon got into a rhythm, in the back of my mind I just wanted a nice steady confident clear.

After about 5 fences I really felt we were in the swing of things, not fast but clear. We went through both waters and jumped a moderate step up and swung left to a plank pile skinny. I think I just didn’t ride the corner positively. Wanda just wasn’t aware of what she had to jump and we had a frustrating stop. Usually I pick up on trickier turns and trouble spots and ride accordingly but I think I lost concentration – something I will need to work on!

We turned and re jumped easily but at this point I did feel Wanda needed to be travelling a little more and she had firm riding and a touch of the whip as we went into the next fence, a downhill drop hanging log. This totally lit her and I think all she needed me to do was say go. It was like a signal to say ‘I’m not nervous, kick on and lets do this’. In the official photo taken over this fence I have my reins in one hand, sitting well back and really riding – I look like I have my mojo back. The next fence Wanda flew and we ate the rest of the course, including a couple of trickier combinations and a large ditch palisade. As I had already had the stop I experimented with our in between fence speed, being softer with my hands so Wanda could really use her neck… and I got a faster Wanda! She also jumped more boldly, out of her stride and most of all it felt easy and fun. We completed with time faults due to the stop but really pleased with ourselves, Wanda barely sweating and feeling really well. Here is hat cam footage of our round https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oZX6I80Evk

ImageImage

 So a pretty crap day on paper, not our usual dressage, fences down and a stop XC. But you know what… I feel really pleased with how we did. I’m a very driven and competitive person, I like to achieve and do as well as I can. But I’ve also had a pretty rough time personally and it was really beginning to mess up my riding. I was super anxious and not a happy person. I’ve worked through that a lot and really thought about why I want to compete as ultimately it has to be fun and rewarding or there is no point spending a fortune on it or hours away from my family. All this personal pressure had an impact on my jumping, as I’ve chatted about in previous blogs. I was just riding in a very introvert and over cautious way. This all changed on Sunday, I felt so comfortable on the second half of the XC. I got the buzz back and it was exciting again. Big lessons learnt and I do feel I have a benchmark now for riding Wanda XC. It’s taken me a few rounds to suss the best way to get her travelling and jumping boldly. I can wait to run again and I hope to get some show jumping in so I can practice going out competing and work on my nerves. 

I feel so back in the game and happy again. All thanks to my lovely horse and very supportive friends, trainers, sponsors and family. Very very blessed 🙂

Lovely photos courtesy of  Lens Vanity Photography

Image

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Blogging for British Eventing

At Keysoe BE I was lucky enough to get a win and qualify for the 80T Championships at Brooksby Melton College. During the lead up and on the day of the competition I blogged for British Eventing. Click on the links to find out more about the competition and how I got on…

http://www.britisheventing.com/asp-net/news/item.aspx?id=4325&section=59&returnUrl=/asp-net/news/default.aspx?section=59&from=2013-09-01&to=2013-10-01&range=September%202013

http://www.britisheventing.com/asp-net/news/item.aspx?id=4327&section=59&returnUrl=/asp-net/news/default.aspx?section=59&from=2013-09-01&to=2013-10-01&range=September%202013

All smiles at Burnham Market

 I decided that I wanted my 3rd event back to be at 90 level so I could work on my speed and larger, more technical xc.

We headed off to Burnham Market in Norfolk, a really lovely venue set in rolling hills on old turf.

As expected Wanda warmed up for here dressage very well, although slightly sharper than normal as she had just been clipped out and there was a cool breeze. Our test was ok, although I have to say I wasn’t entirely happy with it. Since having my baby ive found Im so weak in my core that its hard to ride as strongly as I want to. It felt average and I was quite annoyed at myself.

Feeling a bit fed up I headed out to walk the XC. I wouldn’t rate it as a first 90 course. There were 7 combination fences and some really nice natural permanent ones. I really liked it and it was good to have some hills and good galloping stretches. On the way back to the lorry I checked the scores and to my surprise I had scored a 28 in the dressage and was lying in second… that will teach me to get annoyed with myself!

The showjumping was twisty, up to height and a really quality course to jump. Wanda warmed up well, getting quite excited as she really does enjoy her jumping.  My game plan was to ride a forward round, positive shots in, asking for changes (which we had been working on at home) if required. Ive also got a tendency to sit left and drop my left hand so Im constantly battling with that so I can make Wanda as balanced as possible. From fence 1 Wanda and I jumped a really confident round. Positive work although we sadly had 2 fences down. I also made the stupid error of turning left instead of right into the last line of fences – a definite ginger moment! To be honest though I was really pleased with my round, I rode positively and Wanda jumped well… I just need to manage to engage my course remembering brain with the part of my brain that works on what im feeling and reacting to when jumping my horse.

Next up was the XC… In true Nikki style I was a bit nervous. I don’t do waiting  around very well and I get really restless. Thankfully I was able to change boots and clothing and was soon making my way up to the xc start. Wanda decided to get quite excited at this point and we had lots of propping and sideways action in the start box which always makes me laugh. She was an absolute delight to ride round. Dealing so well with the combination fences and jumping more boldly every time we run. She really instils confidence in you and I always come back with a big grin.

Sadly we picked up a few time faults xc and with our sj fences down we were out of the running for top 10. However, we had such a great day out and I think our performance was greatly improved. Not a great day on paper but we gained a lot of experience. We are looking forward to eventing at Brooksby Melton this weekend in the BRC BE80T Championships. At this event I’m blogging for BE so look out on their website http://www.britisheventing.com/ for updates and information about the competition.

Back to Jumping – another 4 weeks until my first event.

I am a great one for setting myself challenges and so my next focus was to prepare for and enter a BE event. Milton Keynes was 4 weeks away and so this was my aim. I decided to step back a gear and train to do the 80T. I wanted a no pressure event where I could have fun and get back into competing on grass and riding XC. Luckily as Wanda was fit and is such a joy to jump I was able to start back jumping and was surprised at how well things went. I have to say that there was sometimes the odd day where I rode terribly and felt really worried I might never be able to event again but on the whole my riding got better with every session. I don’t know if I should attribute this to the horse (who is a total gem) or maybe because I rode and competed quite extensively as a junior and YR so there is some muscle memory stored way back in my mind! I was also lucky enough to come and train with Tina Ure at Little Downham and really benefitted with her tuition. She has really helped me with my confidence and understanding and I feel that I thrive on her approach to XC training.

We had a good run at MK (31 dr and double clear but with time faults as I was very slow xc) and came 9th. A great start to our season… In August! My next plan was to compete at Keysoe, again in the 80 so I could nail the xc speed and also work on a more forward rhythm in the SJ. I also train with Val Gingell who is very local to me. We worked a lot on jumping on grass in a more forward canter so that Wanda begins to take bolder shots into fences, riding quietly but positively through combinations and dog legs so that I kept a consistent and balanced stride length. Again I really enjoy Val’s lessons. I’ve worked with her since I was about 15 and I really have never been given bad advice by her. She makes both horse and rider really think and I enjoy this more cerebral element as it keeps me on my toes.

At Keysoe my dressage was not up to its usual standards and I scored 35. Still 5th in my section and a  fair mark for the test I rode but disappointing.  On the upside my SJ went very well and I went clear. I was under strict instructions not to hang about XC and was really thrilled with Wandas performance. She really loves her XC and for our second event back we felt really smooth and confident. To my amazement we actually ended up winning our section and qualified for the BRC champs in September. We also got a small write up inHorse and Hound 🙂

Image

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

Shock, horror, no eventing…

In late October 2012 quite unexpectedly I found out I was pregnant with my 3rd child. Eventing wise it did put a spanner in the works as I have had to miss most of the 2013 season as I was quite heavily pregnant by March. Despite this I carried on riding, competing in BS until the end of 2013 and British Dressage, horses until I was about 30 weeks pregnant. I also carried on jumping small fences and doing pole work at home and lots of hacking. I was lucky to have help from Amy Benton who was able to take Wanda round Waresley Park gallops for me (my last ride was at 34 weeks pregnant when I walked off Wanda post gallops). I also had some help from Rosie Lloyd who I used to teach and have known for years, Clare Elbrow who had previously broken Wanda and helped me with some flatwork schooling and jumping and Coco Chambers our fantastic groom who continued to hack Wanda in the late stages of my pregnancy and when the baby, Tyler Bobby was born on 26th June 2013. If it wasn’t for my super team and family I would have been totally stuck and i’m so grateful for all their support and kindness. 

Image