Creating memories and chasing dreams…Part I

It’s been a while since I did an ‘about me’ blog. Working in equestrian marketing it is so easy to get caught up in social media and what’s ‘new’, so sparing time to write for myself is a luxury. But today I’ve made the time, basically because this morning has been a comedy of errors (long story and not worth boring you with) … and I thought sod it… write for yourself today Nick and clear your head, talk to your laptop.

While we renovate our lovely barn we have all been living in limbo. Five people all squished into 2 rooms isn’t ideal, such is the joy of temporary accommodation. My ‘it will be worth it’ mantra has now worn itself out and sounds like a scratched record. But we are on the final leg of the journey. I doubt we will be finished by Christmas, but it will be nice to not live out of a suitcase when the time comes. The process has made me value possessions and realise I have so much ‘stuff’, including almost forty boxes of books which will need organising, but wont be thrown away! But when it comes to it, temporary living has made me think about what I really need, and in turn what I want out of life. I’m not going down a heady philosophical route here… just the simple question of ‘does owning stuff give you pleasure or is it just a distraction to life itself and dealing with the grittier aspects of it? Hmmmm…. I don’t think I am at a point to give all my possessions away but it has made me think about what I’ve missed the most and what I have gained by not having it.

As an antidote to not having ‘stuff’ in my life and having very little personal space I’ve appreciated spending time with my horses a lot more. Not that I always didn’t, but I think before they were part of my ‘stuff’ collection and I wasn’t tapping into the fun they give.  This year I’ve not been competing every weekend, but have progressed so much with my understanding and riding itself. I’ve thought long and hard about the whole eventing thing and just found it such a big day out. Logistically organising 3 children, work, my horse, training, paying for entries and then driving myself there, competing alone, getting home, unpacking, making sure homework is done, uniforms are washed, people are fed. I just couldn’t get my head around it. Let alone add the worry of a building project, feeling like I was neglecting my children or note earning to pay for it all… the list goes on.

In sum, I just didn’t have the headspace or the capacity to process 3 phases, and try to manage everything else in my life, let alone have the cash to pay for it. To put things bluntly I felt ‘FUCK it where is the fun?’ It’s not to say when things have settled down I won’t return, but for now it’s not the passion it was. I miss XC riding terribly but I don’t miss 4am starts (or earlier), to come home to a messy house 16 hrs later and a to do list that stretches to the moon and back… Some people would say that they will forgo all of that to follow their passion, but with too many plates to spin I personally cant.

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So what do you do when the lightbulb turns on and you realise that you have been stressing out and putting yourself under pressure to do something that just wasn’t time, logistics or money for? You go and start having FUN… and this is what I have been doing!

I have been quietly working away with my good friend Fiona Reddick and also Matt Cox who visits a yard, local to me to train. We have yet to build an arena here so schooling has to either be off site or on hacks, but I think this makes for more focused work and doesn’t sour Wanda. Hacking is very much a big part of exercise for all our horses here so although an arena would be amazing, its a massive expense to legitimise while the build is on.

I was lucky enough to apply and be selected for the British Dressage Suffolk County team and rode in the Inter Regionals at Keysoe in July which was a great experience and really opened my eyes up to a more competitive side of dressage. Out team trainer was the amazing Mette Assounline who I worked with before the competition, again a real eye opener for me, which led to some massive changes in what I could feel and how I approached test riding. We weren’t top of the pile at Keysoe, but Wanda held her own and our team was the highest placed Suffolk team. I also started to tap into the challenges that I wanted to sign up for the emotions I wanted to experience, things that I hadn’t thought about or had the confidence to do as I was so caught up in what I thought I ‘should’ be doing.

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At the end of September, I was lucky enough to ride as a guinea pig dressage test rider at Osberton International Horse Trails. For those of you wondering what small furry animals and dressage have in common, a guinea pig rider, literally rides a judges warm up test. You go in, ride the test under competition conditions, and are marked. The idea is that the judges can then confer, make sure they are marking to the same level and iron out any issues before the main competitors come in.

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A great experience to don tails and ride in a full on setting. As ever Wanda was a superstar and it was great to ride through a test with a few more complex movements, canter serpentines and lateral work. Marks wise we sat in the middle of the class, had we been competing, so I was pleased with that. What I wasn’t pleased with was Wanda breaking free at 4am as I was getting ready to load her, galloping off across a ploughed field and heading across a main, unlit road… with cars. A life flashing in front of us moment when I lost sight of her, then realised a car was heading towards us both! Not ideal but I really had to pull myself together, wipe away the snot and tears, get on with things, throw her on the lorry and drive. For once I had a co-pilot with me… the wonderful Friendsberry kindly loaned from the charity ‘Willberry Wonder Pony’… so with a hug and a squeeze we set off on our 3 hr road trip to do a 4-minute test (nuts eh?). Creating memories and chasing dreams… to be continued!

P.S. While I am here! I am thrilled to announce that our little blog has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Haynet Equestrian Blog Awards 2016. Voting is open now and a final winner will be selected on the basis of votes and a judges decision.

If you have 30 seconds to spare we would love it if you could click on the image below and vote for us…

Our blog started 3 years ago, and has been a great way to share our experiences and news to a wider audience. Personally, it has offered me a change of career and more than that inspired other mum’s to get back in the saddle. We are very proud to be recognised for what we do. #equinebloggingawards

 

Do you love me… if so how much?

So I’m sitting in the lorry and it’s raining hard outside on a grey and quite frankly a rather bleak Sunday. I’ve decided to bring along my laptop as I want to kill time waiting for my class. I want to see if I can blog while I’m out and write something worthwhile in a limited time.

Lately I have been wondering what life would be like without horses. This thought doesn’t happen very often but recent events have made me ask myself if I would actually cope in a horseless world. A few nights ago in bed my boyfriend turned to me and quite seriously asked… ‘Do you love me as much as you love Wanda’ (Wanda is my horse). I have to admit I was half asleep when he inquired but I had to think to construct a romantically acceptable answer. ‘Of course I love you’ I thought as I struggled for the next sentence… ‘But Wanda needs me to feed her and look after her.’

At that point my inner cringe factor was at 100%. Had I subliminally admitted that I loved my horse more than my partner? Nothing else was said that night; I went to sleep, still wondering if I could have found a more subtle way of putting into words ….Sorry mate but the horse comes first.

The horse / love thing has been playing on my mind today even more so. I’ve left my 3 kids (6, 4 and 1 years old) with dear boyfriend to come out and compete. Today I have mixed emotions, I have guilt for not spending time with my kids but I’m starting to buzz with excitement as I know I get to jump soon. Is it right to do what I do? Should I be at home with the kids cooking Sunday lunch? Is this the bane of contemporary motherhood, the feeling that enough is never enough?

At this point Wanda is now banging merry hell out of the lorry and my pseudo pensive moment has almost completely gone. However, I think boyfriend is a bit of a secret Yoda or supplier of top caveats. I asked him if he minded me taking out so much time to ride ‘riding is your sanctuary Nick; you need to go do it’. And he was right, it’s the thing above all things that embodies who I am, the reason why I run myself ragged, the reason why I’m prepared to head off without my kids for the day. Because without a horse, I wouldn’t be me, and there is no way I’d be here writing this. Horses are indeed my sanctuary and my life is a lot better with than without them.

Jumping at Carlton. Photo By Cala Russell

Photo by kind permission of Cala Russell

2014 Fighting Fit Me!

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With the start of the eventing season only 8 weeks away and festivities almost certainly over I’ve turned my attention to loosing the 16lbs of baby weight I’m still holding onto, generally getting fitter and trying to get my core muscles back in shape.

Despite trying hard to focus on this it seems that my leg injury and family life have really taken over. It seems like now is the right time to make positive changes in my lifestyle so I can get the best out of my riding and also look great in my kit (vanity plays a large part here!).

To help me along my way I’ve been lucky enough to be supported by The Active Rider. http://theactiverider.com/

They provide Health & Fitness Solutions for Riders via workshops and programmes that help you develop your riding through simple exercises that you can do from home with just a mat, a band and a fit ball.

Apart from the fact that the course is home based and can fit in with family life the big draw for me is that the programmes are written by riders with expert knowledge. The Active rider team consists of two key members:

Carys Jackson, the strength and conditioning consultant.  Carys has been working in the Sport and Exercise Industry for over 10 years, spending nearly 5 years working for the English Institute of Sport as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, helping athletes prepare for Beijing 2008 and London 2012. She currently works as a consultant for the British Equestrian Federation, working with their development riders. Carys is also a mother to two little girls and clearly understands what it’s like to be a busy working mum.

She is joined by Helen Mathie, a physiotherapist for both riders and horses on the para-equestrian dressage World Class Development Squad.  She also works with the Performance squad riders and has accompanied them to the Beijing 2008, WEG 2010 and the London Paralympics 2012.
Helen joined the World Class team in 2007. In addition Helen is a National RDA Classifier.

Obviously such a strong team instils confidence and I have also worked with Carys personally when she helped me tone up before my wedding about 8 years ago.

To support me with my training goals Carys suggested that I worked through the online 12 week course. You can either by a hard copy booklet for £69 or follow a downloadable course for £59. To spread the cost you can also pay £25 per month over 3 months. Compared to personal training or gym membership costs the course is very appealing as I don’t have a lot of spare cash after I’ve paid for kit and entries.

I opted for the online course and was sent my first week’s programme over the weekend. Over the next 12 weeks I will be able to focus on warm ups, cardio, toning exercises and stretches. The really unique and stimulating part of the course is that the on the ground exercise plan is linked directly back to the work you do on the horse. Anatomy is explained in accurate but easy to understand terms and you get a sense of how your personal fitness will enable you to ride and compete more effectively.

Each programme includes a video so you can see the exercises in action, an easy to follow photo sheet and a weekly feedback email, helping you to stick to the plan. It’s all easy to follow and the exercise element is designed to be quick, another big draw for me.

So as from tomorrow (13th January ’14) I will be following the Active Rider Programme.

The first week looks like a great start. Nothing too intensive but some great exercises that look at the core, riding seat and shoulder posture – all areas I want to work on.

The start of week one has a great little lifestyle section, challenging you to make small changes to your daily lives in order to become more active and less stressed… there is also a little note about how it could boost your sex life (bonus!). Simple ideas like standing and walking while taking phone calls, having walking meetings or even timing yard duties and trying to work more quickly. All changes that are achievable and will help with fitness and wellbeing.

There is an interesting section on cardio vascular fitness in riders. Research has shown that experienced riders used 60-90% of their maximum oxygen consumption, whilst elite riders only used 38-58% (Westerling,D.,1983).  Add to this an increased heart rate caused by competition stress or riding a ‘flighty’ horse, or even having spectators watching you and it makes even more sense to be a fitter, leaner rider.

Before the exercise section of week 1 kicked off there is also a great section of core muscles and their importance. The term ‘core’ is banded about a lot in fitness literature but this small section really explains the muscle groups, the overuse of back and abdominal muscles and also the importance of a strong but supple pelvis and shoulders.

Lastly, week one’s pack contains a simple warm up sheet featuring some great stretches that will get your blood flowing. Following this are some exercises to get the pelvis moving, the core activated and gluts fired up. Finally, a section on stretching and the importance of finishing off a workout correctly.

In sum, week one is well thought out, engaging and exciting but not overwhelming. It’s also simple to read and understand, again great for me as I really don’t have much time to read lengthy instructions. Each weeks plan  is sent to you via an email. You simply click on the link which takes you to a Dropbox download. The great thing about this is you can download the programme onto several devices, so you could exercise away from home or read the theory while commuting or on a lunch break.

I’m aiming to complete week one’s exercises at least 3 times this week and have also made some changes to my lifestyle in order to get more active and lose some weight. I will be blogging about how I’m getting on and also Tweeting @bandw_eventing

Personally, with the eventing season really nearly here it seems a great opportunity and I am really grateful to The Active Rider for giving me the opportunity to take part on the plan.

 

 

 

 

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 🙂

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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!

 

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