I was messaging a friend today about horses and her pregnancy and talking about my life pre babies and horses. I evented and show jumped on a string of horses until I was packed off to university at 21. I then had a massive break of 16 years before returning back to riding when my second son was 4mths old.
So today’s chat over Facebook made me think about my return to riding, three and a half years ago.
Before I had Henry, who is just 6, I really struggled with pregnancy. I lost 5 babies over a relatively short period of time and then had a difficult pregnancy with him. He was born a healthy baby but I really found it hard being a first time mum. It was difficult to adapt to having no career and after longing for a baby for so long I found the reality quite a shock. Add to this awful post natal depression and I was really in a bit of a mess.
My second son, Piers, followed quite soon after. A straight forward pregnancy and easy birth but again the depression returned. I piled on weight and felt pretty miserable. Although I had two lovely kids it was really hard for me to adapt to not working in a busy teaching job. Four months after Piers was born my Mum suggested that we went looking for a horse to get me back into riding. My marriage was starting to fail and I think she was desperate to try anything just to get the old me back. We already had some kid’s ponies on the farm for my kids and their cousins. So we set about looking for a nice ‘mums hack’ and ended up buying a former field masters horse who had also team chased and evented a bit.
With the help of Val Gingell my trainer we set about trying to get me fit, core muscles back and confidence built. Clio was a beautifully bred horse. Out of Puissance, bred at Coolmore in Ireland and a quality horse. Sadly, although I really developed her flatwork she really was quite full on to compete. It was quite disappointing as some days I would have great dressage scores in the 20s and other days I would barely be in the 50’s – depending on where the cross country was situated. She was one of those very gifted horses who sadly didn’t have the right temperament to be a super amateur event horse.
Despite my setbacks with her I really did see an improvement in my mood. My self esteem retuned as I lost weight, a horse driven routine gave me a focus and my competitive drive returned. Sadly I decided to part with Clio as I felt I needed a horse that I could improve my riding on. Horses need to be placed where they can do the best job and she has now gone off to be a whips horse with a local hunt. She loves her job and is doing what she does best. I think she will be making some appearances in some Hunt races which she will adore.
Thinking back I can’t believe it’s only been three and a half years since I’ve been back in the saddle. It seems like much longer. My little chat with my friend today has made me feel quite proud. So many big life changes and challenges I’ve got through. Life has not always been easy but I haven’t given up yet and I have a lot to thank for my horses who have given me my positivity and tenacity back again. For that I truly am blessed.
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 🙂
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!
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.