Bring it on Badminton….

Our fully Equiped Bar

Today marks the start of a three day stint for me at the famed Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials. I will be working for the website Eventing World Wide, under the editorship of Jess Crocker.

For the past few months I have been assisting Jess in developing the fashion and lifestyle areas of the website as this has such a big part to play within the world of eventing. It is great to have the opportunity to research, review and write about two of the things I truly love – fashion and eventing.

At Badminton I will be working with my sponsor and now good friend Lauren Causer from Lens Vanity Photography. We met when I applied to be a supported rider, about a year ago. From that point on we became great friends and Lauren has personally shared some of the trials and tribulations that I write about in my blog. Although almost 20 years separates our age we have a really supportive relationship and I’ve appreciated Lauren’s kind words and help with my little horse Wanda. She is never judgemental and always has some useful guidance which has far superseded out relationship of sponsor – rider.

But enough of the friendship… back to Badminton! We decided to arrive last night as our journey was a good three hour drive from Cambridge. Although arriving in the dark with a tent to pitch was not what we had planned… nor was forgetting the air bed pump! As to be expected there were plenty of friendly eventing fans on site who helped us out. It struck me what a lovely crowd of people they are. Even the rather drunken farmer lads conversation that kept us awake last night had us in stitches… ‘Are you partial to meringue? Mummy makes the best meringues ever! I love meringues’. Yes… you heard it here first… meringues are the way forwards!

Although we were camping Lauren had brought a full cocktail bar and we had a quick After Eight cocktail before settling in…

So here we are… our first day of reporting. For those not so acquainted with the media tent at Badminton I hope to bring you a taste of what it’s like. I have to say after previous experiences it is some of the hardest work that I’ve ever done. You have to be so on the ball, absorbing all around you and thinking how best to convey this to the wider world. With the speed that social media provides and apps such as Periscope there are many ways in which you can convey images, news and atmosphere. Most of our work will be presented in the EWW website www.eventingworldwide.com but also on the Twitter @EventingWWNEWS and if you are here come say hello!

2014 – A year of almosts, learning and finding my XC mojo

Our eventing season came to an abrupt end a couple of weekends ago as our lovely lorry suffered an electrical malfunction, which proved to be something more than I had realised and meant I wasn’t able to have my last run, and a Novice spin at Oasby.

Disappointing times but I will come back next season raring to go and sometimes these things just happen. After a hectic couple of weeks of work, poorly children and general crazy times I’m quite glad to be sitting on the sofa for a few minutes before evening stables, having a little recollect over our season. It has flown by way too fast!

Our season started indoors with great clears at JAS and JT 100 competitions. Not in the top ten but really pleasing style marks and really positive feedback at our first time running in these classes which Wanda loved jumping. We will be back next year and riding much faster!

With a wet spring we only had time to XC school once before having an easy start at Iselham round the 90. We needed headlights for XC but came a credible 9th with time faults as I took things easy in the failing light. Isleham pulled out the stops and while other events were cancelled they ran on near perfect ground – such is the joy of well drained fenland!

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Next up was a wet Gt Witchingham, again spinning round the 90, frustrating time faults that knocked us out of the placings after a consistent double clear. The time issue was to be the focus of my season, at times frustrating but I’ve learnt so much by tackling this head on, getting the right advice and just kicking on. I have to thank my trainers and friends who have given me lots of invaluable advice.

As I felt it was time to upgrade we had a run round Burnham Market 100 and produced a great double clear and 33 dressage and 1.6 XC time to come 8th. It really felt that we had learnt how to sort out our speed and I rode so confidently XC.

Following this we went to Milton Keynes, again in the BE 100. Again a 33 dressage, one down SJ and clear XC but my nerves set in and we got 14 time faults. A real disappointment but as I’ve written in previous blogs, my personal stressed had a real impact on my confidence and ability to ride forward. This came to a head at Rockingham. I was second after the dressage on 30.5 and had awful nerves before the SJ. This was the first time I had been photographed by Lauren Causer, one of my sponsors and I really appreciated her kind words that day. I just wasn’t in the zone and decided to withdraw after having two show jumps down. Wanda felt flat and so did I. It was such a great event with a brilliantly built XC… we will be back in 2015.

At that point in the season I called in the help of Jo Davies, a sports psychologist, who helped me with my anxiety and worries. She gave me some great tips to combatting performance nerves. My nerves nearly reared their ugly head at Little Downham BE100. After a disappointing 35 dressage, 2 down SJ and SJ time I could have easily gone home! Thanks for my friend Hannah Galley who had come to support me and help out I did make it to the XC start box and set off. A really silly rider error stop was not what I needed to add to the cricket score but it made me so frustrated I then rode one of the best XC rounds I’ve ever ridden and came back understanding a lot more about what makes Wanda tick – essentially to just get on with it, let her use her neck and kick on!

Mid-season I had a couple of XC schooling sessions with the lovely Bill Levett who really helped me learn how to get the best out of Wanda. I really did appreciate stepping up a gear at Calton, jumping some of the biggest hedges I think both of us had jumped before, and again Wanda making light work of it.

A confident run at Buckminster followed with a 31 dressage, one down SJ and clear XC. Again the time faults crept back but I did feel like the jumping was getting easier and the whole day was great fun, wonderfully assisted by my friend Rosie Lloyd. At this point I had made a conscious decision to just go out and enjoy my eventing… it was a case of enjoy it or maybe look towards doing something else. I can safely say after this run although I was still getting nervous my ability to deal with anxiety and nerves was improving.

Carlton followed, a rather poor dressage, show jumps down but clear XC. Frustratingly again not consistent in all phases but definitely getting used to preparing, warm ups, focus and trying to get the best out of Wanda. Sometimes eventing feels like spinning plates, this year more than ever, but I do think my knowledge and feel of how to keep all those plates up there has really developed. As has my XC riding. I’ve realised that as much as I enjoy dressage and love a good show jump, particularly over a technical course what really thrills me is a technical and bold XC course where I have to think fast and rely on my instinct to get the best out of Wanda and have a really rhythmic round. It’s quite an art and only one that can be achieved with miles on the clock. This is something I feel I’ve really got to grips with this year. I have been very grateful to my trainer Val Gingell who has really got me working hard with exercises that make both myself and Wanda think, technical lines and forward riding, all on grass and in all weathers. In sum, some of the best training an eventer can have. I owe her a lot. She trained me as a junior rider over 20 years ago and has never given me poor advice. She really has been pivotal in my return to eventing – not least for recommending I went to view Wanda when I was struggling to try the right horse to event.

We stepped down a level for the BE90 RF at Milton Keynes in August. I knew that it would more than likely be important to get a good dressage score and I really trained towards this with the help of the very patient Matt Cox. I don’t really know what happened that day. My test was consistent and accurate, some parts better than others. But I scored an awful 38. Very annoying and I felt it wasn’t that reflective of the test. The judge seemed stuck on 6’s and marked harshly across the board. It was equally frustrating as Wands jumped a foot perfect double clear. Another ‘if only’ moment and 2/3rds perfect. So no Badminton Grassroots for us, but a really fun day and again a re-affirmation of how much I love riding Wanda XC.

To finish the season off I decided to do Burnham Market 100 again. I love the environment and course building there so thought I’d give it another bash. Sadly I was subject to a really nasty chest and sinus infection (aka the Burghley Flu) which went on to last for 5 weeks and two courses of antibiotics… then spread to the rest of the family. On the whole I don’t like to withdraw from events unless I really have to but there was no way I could have driven for 2 hours to compete on my own. Frustrating but the right thing to do.

Which led me to Little Downham, back to my local event to try a 100+. It was a delight to learn a Novice dressage test – at last something to ride. I was really lucky to be helped by my friend Fiona Reddick who gave me a great judge’s perspective on riding that test. I have to say I was getting paranoid about my dressage ability – Wanda is always consistent and things went a little askew this season. The test rode so well to sit in 3rd with a score of 33. I had taken a lot of time to break down the test and knew it inside out. I also think I had started to gain my core strength back and now I’m riding with a lot more strength. In addition, I’ve had the amazing support from a new sponsor Stephanie Pittam from Cambridge Equine Osteopath who has been treating both me and Wanda.

It has helped both of us no end and more importantly I am starting to iron out unlevelness which has been really problematic for some time.

I have been really lucky throughout the season to be supported by the team at Forelock and Load who have been superb cheerleaders and always ensuring we look so smart. Lauren from Lens Vanity Photography has been amazing, capturing some classic eventing moments that are a delight to re-live. Sarah Skillin from Equiexcel has been an amazing support, helping me develop my website and integrating the social media within it. More recently Hawkins Organic has been supplying us with superb naturally sourced grooming products which are always a real treat to use. On top of all of this I’ve launched a new project www.thebituk.co.uk . The Bit UK is a country and equine lifestyle and fashion online magazine. Our little team have been thrilled with the success of this site, already being featured in our web hosts global marketing campaign and receiving over ten thousand hits per month.

I digress from the main theme of this blog… the eventing! I think 2014 has been the year that I discovered that I never really forgot how to ride XC, I just needed mileage and to have the balls to kick on. I have confirmed what an honest little horse Wanda is and the braver I get, the bolder she becomes. I firmly believe that we have a really solid working partnership now and will undoubtedly be able to get all those plates up and spinning in 2015. I’ve also got a couple of other exciting projects in the pipeline so next year is destined to be full on and very fun!

At this point I’d like to thank all my family who support my passion. My children for their well wishes before I leave to compete and understanding when I am away competing, my partner for very rarely complaining about the long days and early starts, my parents for helping me fund everything from bedding to feed and upkeep of our lovely farm. A special mention to my friends who come along and support or groom, again you know who you are and I appreciate every minute of help – its so hard to get out eventing when you have kids so any help is very much appreciated. Most importantly I want to give Wanda the biggest pat possible. She has helped me turn my life around. Without her my life would certainly be different, maybe less hectic, but not as fulfilled as it is today.

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.

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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

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 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

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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 🙂