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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And now for something completely different… the Booze berry!

Found up anlogod down the country in chic bars, niche suppliers, country events and all over social media, Pinkster Gin has ridden on the crest of the Gin renaissance that sees no sign of slowing down. Distilled in small batches, locally grown raspberries are then hand-steeped in the core spirit at the company’s HQ, local to us, near Cambridge, creating its distinctive colour and flavour. The gin is deliciously dry, with a hint of fruit and an exceptionally smooth finish.pinkster%20gt%202

There’s raspberry on the nose as the juniper comes through and then a slight spice that develops and lingers. For the perfect drink after a long day out with your horses, serve with Fever-Tree tonic, a raspberry and a sprig of well-spanked fresh mint.  Spanking the mint (clapping it in your hands before you place it in the glass on top of the ice) releases the minty aromas!

0000015_boozy-berries_550.pngThe innovation behind Pinkster came about purely by accident when founder Stephen Marsh was experimenting at home and, after working his way through an entire fruit bowl, discovered that raspberry delivered the best flavour. Best of all, the raspberries are recycled, albeit slightly intoxicated (28% proof!), and sold as Boozy Berries.

So aside from eating these fruity gems straight from the jar what else can be done with them? On a wet Saturday afternoon I decided to try out some of my own kitchen experiments, combining flavour ideas suggested to me by my children (who don’t drink Gin I may add…) and my own thoughts on what makes the perfect boozy pudding. What evolved was….

Lemon Curd and Boozy Berry Ice Cream!

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Ingredients

325 g Good Quality Lemon Curd

1 Unwaxed lemon

284 ml Double Cream

250 g Natural Yoghurt

¼ to ½ a Jar of Pinkster Boozy Berries (depending on taste & desired ‘boozyness’)

Mint to Garnish

Method

Finely grate the zest and squeeze the juice from the lemon.

Very lightly whip the cream with an electric or hand whisk until it is just starting to thicken but has not yet formed into stiff peaks.

Using a metal spoon, fold in the lemon zest and juice and yogurt. Gradually fold in the lemon curd then pour into a 1 litre freezer proof tub with lid.

Place in the freezer for 4-5 hours until fully frozen or dig out that really expensive ice cream maker you use about once a year!

Remove the container every hour or so to stir with a fork, making sure the more frozen edges are mixed in. After about 2 hours, when the ice cream is firming up, drain 1/4 to 1/2 a jar of Boozy Berries into a bowl. Crush them lightly with the back of a fork and stir  into the ice cream mix, so they are evenly distributed. Return the container to the freezer for another 2 – 3 hrs to, giving the odd blend to distribute the frozen edges.

To Serve -If making in advance, take out of the freezer and place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to soften slightly before serving. Garnish with boozy berries, fresh mint and if you feel in the mood a small shot of the Boozy Berry liquor or a well-mixed Pinkster G&T.

Boozy Berries are sold online at www.pinkstergin.com (£6 for a 300g jar) or via select retail outlets – see the website for details.

Many thanks to Pinkster for sending over the Berries & some of their amazing gin for Team B&W to try.

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

 

A Rookie Journalist’s Guide to Surviving the #MMBHT media experience

My good friend Sarah Skillin and I were lucky enough to be awarded Badminton Press pass this year. It was great to have this opportunity so we could cover the action at Grassroots and the 4* competition for Eventing World Wide, our own website ‘The Bit’ and for the social media group #TwitterEventing. 

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Sarah was able to arrive earlier in the week and wrote a great Grassroots round up for EWW http://www.eventingworldwide.com/mmbht-grassroots-championships-2014/ and we were able to cover trot up fashion, with Sarah in presence, sending me images remotely that I could comment on – a total double act. From that point on it became apparent that we would have to work as a team in order to cover the huge amount of research and social media reporting.  

After dropping off my kit at a friend’s lorry, my home for the next few days, we headed over to the media tent. A huge, smart marquee based in the heart of the Badminton complex. I exchanged my media ticket for a proper pass and signed in, was issued with a wi-fi code (essential as the locality is such a rural no signal area) and a lunch ticket – so no need to leave our desks and buy food later.

After setting up base(basically you hot desk and bag a spot) and logging on we thought about our first plan of action. Despite planning ahead we were slightly overwhelmed as to what to start with. In hindsight it would have been great to have had a larger team, sending people out taking style photos, walking the course and interviewing riders. But there are a limited number of passes that are issued so we decided to cover specific areas, not overlapping with the ‘big guns’ who would be focusing on things like live tweeting of dressage scores and reporting the big news.

As the sun decided to shine in the afternoon we set off to meet Rhea Freeman who is the PR rep for HiHo silver, a superb jewellery design company who was exhibiting at Badminton. It was great to talk directly to the company owners and really understand their products and design ethos but also see their customers and get an idea of what appealed to them. Badminton, for many is about the shopping as well as the event and we used our time to gather some new contacts and meet in person companies who we highlight via social networks. 

More writing, image editing and sharing followed and a constant look at the leader board with some interesting results. Following the end of competition each day there is a press conference where members of the press can ask the leading riders about their performance and hopes for the competition. At this point the BBC, fronted by Clare Balding, arrived and it was interesting to see some behind the scenes action and get an understanding of all that is involved. 

We had a great evening at the Outside Chance bar, chatting to Nico Morgan, an old friend and leading equine photographer. We talked about how he was planning to set up to get winning shots the next day and what publications would be looking for. It was great to get an understanding of this commercial element, and ultimately what will help to sell magazines.  

Saturday arrived and the various global press teams arrived at the media centre looking pretty worn out already, and definitely bedraggled by the wind and rain. The tent felt like it was about to take off at times and reports were coming in from around the site about blown over portaloos, not to mention the changes in going, caused by overnight rain… would the optimum time be changed? Would fences be removed? 

As an avid people watcher it was great to take five minutes to look at the press room in action. Listening to assorted languages, journalists deep in thought about how to convey the action scheduled to take place… real anticipation. We never would have anticipated what carnage would happen that day. After walking the cross country I understood the enormity of the questions and it was hard to even imagine riding the lines, but I couldn’t have guessed the outcome of the day. The press room was alight with live tweeting, draw dropping moments and total adrenalin. Togs coming back to upload images, radio and film crews flying about interviewing riders. It reminded me of my days working in a well-known restaurant kitchen… one false move and the whole thing goes into meltdown, get a tweet wrong and you pay for it. Above all the speed at which news is posted globally is amazing. There is no room for error and speed is the key, an hour old tweet is now yesterday’s chip paper. 

Writing this now on Sunday morning, with all to play for in this afternoon’s Show jumping I wonder what the outcome will be. I’m sure there will be tears shed and lots of collective gasps. So good luck to all the riders who have certainly earnt their places and not forgetting their amazing rides, as without the horsepower this spectacle would never happen. 

Tired, and slightly emotional we can look back on our few days with real joy. Amazing memories and such an opportunity to share what we were observing with the outside world. So thank you MMBHT… massive thanks to the generosity of the sponsors Mitsubishi Motors UK, Julian Seaman and his amazing press team and all those who looked after us so very well…it’s been a great one!

 

 

 

More great news – Im a finalist in the ESMA’s

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On Monday I found out that I have been lucky enough to be nominated as a finalist in the 2014 Equestrian Social Media Awards. The ESMA team received 17,131 nominations from 5,109 individuals. Then had the tremendously difficult task of selecting 10-11 finalists in each category from over 395 entrants. So it’s a real honour to be up there with some of the amazing bloggers, Tweeters and Facebookers and social media experts that share the finalists roll call.

There are a range of categories to vote for and I’m in category 5, best use of social media by an amateur rider including the this  blog on https://bandweventing.wordpress.com/ Twitter accounts @The_Flying_Cow , @bandw_eventing and Wanda’s own Facebook page… Wanda the Flying Cow pony

If you have time to vote for me, or any of the other really cool individuals and brands that would be great. I’m pleased to say #TwitterEventing which I help to admin is also represented in category 15.

Voting is simple… follow the link and tick the boxes. Many thanks and hope you enjoy my blogging as much as I enjoy sharing my adventures with you. It’s the chat, random conversations, encouragement and shared interest that make equine social media so special and such a really enjoyable way to meet new friends and keep up with old ones.

http://www.equestriansocialmediaawards.com/finalists-esma