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.

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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!

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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.  

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B&W Eventing Reviews Lucinda Grip Corkshell II Winter Breeches by Pikeur

These breeches came as a welcome Christmas present from my OH as I don’t actually own any winter breeches and have been wearing thermals for months – it’s cold on our farm! I’ve been wearing my new Pikeur breeches for the last few days in some very cold, damp and windy conditions; both riding and on the yard.

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The Pikeur Lucinda Corkshell II breeches feature some really interesting tech in the form of Corkshell™ fabric (made from natural cork!), combined with high performance textiles. The resulting fabric is wind and water resistant material helps keep you dry and the corkshell fabric is soft and warm against the skin, but also breathable. The manufacturers claim that the bi-elastic LUCINDA GRIP Corkshell™ breeches allow the rider to benefit from an up to 50% higher heat insulation combined with the best possible breathability for the first time ever.

The low waist fit breeches also offer a full Schoeller GRIPit seat which is really noticeable when riding, but isn’t intrusive when moving in the saddle, it also adds detail which is smart and fashion centric. On the left thigh, the breeches are embroidered with the Pikeur logo. They have a soft ankle cuff and I found the fit is superb and very flattering, despite being slightly thicker than normal breeches. They feel great quality and look really smart, I opted for the black (dark shadow) style as I figure I could get away with wearing these for XC for spring eventing.

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So, the question is do they perform? The answer is a resounding yes! I’m not a big fan of wearing layers of thermals, particularly when schooling and jumping. These breeches kept me warm in some pretty cold winds and sub-zero frosts, but I didn’t feel clammy or sweaty. They were great for yard work and riding and I didn’t return home with pink legs as usual! It’s a shame they aren’t manufactured in beige as I think these would be a massive hit with hunters and those going to winter shows.  The breeches aren’t cheap – hence why they were on my Christmas list! (RRP is £169.95) – but shop around as there are deals to be had. However, they perform so well I think the Lucinda Grip Corkshell II Winter Breeches by Pikeur are worth the expense as they are built to last and make winter riding much more fun.

For more information and retailers click here

Being friendly and pairing up!

A hectic half term for Black and White eventing with work, 3 children, the house build and a host of pony activities! So time for something different – you get to see me close up & personal (with no make up – EEEK!), riding out and Vlogging (without falling off)! A few words about what we have been up to, supporting one another and being positive (especially on social media).  A Massive thanks to Katie (my top notch XC partner in crime) and Kate (for being a lovely kind friend). Enjoy and have fun with your horses xx Nikki and Wanda

 

While I’m here… if you enjoy what we do and would like to support our work, we have been shortlisted as a finalist in the Haynet Equine Blogger of the Year Awards. The winner of the award will be selected on 50% vote and 50 % appraisal of their blog. If you would like to vote for us just follow the link by clicking onto the logo below. Voting takes about 30 seconds and we really appreciate your support!

 

 

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

 

Olympia set to welcome Victoria Pendleton in the Markel Champions Challenge

Olympia, The London International Horse Show, is delighted to announce that double Olympic gold medallist, Victoria Pendleton, will be gracing the Olympia arena as she turns her hand to show jumping in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund on the evening of Friday 16th December for the Markel Champions Challenge.

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She will be plying her trade against the best in the racing world. The Challenge is made up of a flat jockey team captained by Frankie Dettori and a jump jockey team captained by current National Hunt Champion, Richard ‘Dickie’ Johnson. The flat team will also include about-to-be-crowned Champion flat jockey Jim Crowley. Both teams will be gunning for glory making the adrenalin fuelled contest even-money.

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Frankie’s team: Frankie Dettori, Jim Crowley, Hayley Turner, Adam Kirby, 5th rider (TBC)
Dickie’s team: Richard Johnson, Victoria Pendleton, Sam Twiston-Davies, Tom Scudamore, Harry Skelton

The competition will see the five flat jockeys competing against the five jump jockeys over a challenging show jumping course built by the legendary course designer Bob Ellis. This exhilarating spectacle will task even the most experienced of riders, creating huge excitement around the Olympia arena for this year’s Friday evening performance.

Prior to the event, the former cyclist will undergo specialist training from a fellow Olympian, currently at the pinnacle of his career – Rio 2016’s individual show jumping gold medallist Nick Skelton. Nick will be giving Victoria special tuition as the multi-sport queen switches saddles yet again to take up this latest challenge.
Victoria Pendleton, multiple Olympic medallist, said:

“I am thrilled to be a part of such a prestigious event like Olympia. The Markel Champions Challenge will be an exciting competition with such a high calibre of jockeys and I’m really looking forward to riding in it. To be back involved in a team again and hear the excitement of the crowd will be immense, I just hope the jump jockeys can get over the line for the win!”      

Juliet Redfern, Markel’s Managing Director of Equine and Livestock, said:

“It is fantastic to see the return of the Markel Champions Challenge in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund; Markel are proud to be associated with such a credible cause at a brilliant event. To see Victoria on board will be enormously inspiring to everyone, and we would like to take this opportunity to wish all the competitors the best of luck.”  

Lisa Hancock, Chief Executive of the Injured Jockeys Fund, said:

“The Injured Jockeys Fund is delighted to be involved in this fantastic event. Not only will it be a lot of fun but it will help to raise awareness and crucial support for all injured jockeys and their families.”  

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To buy your tickets to this unique event and secure your place at one of the equestrian performances of the year, please visit www.olympiahorseshow.com or telephone the box office on 0871 230 5580.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.