BD Novice Petplan dress rehearsal with Terry: nerves, selfies and assertiveness

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So, we arrived at our first BD affiliated competition in quite some time with the birds tweeting and a feeling of hope (this is meant to be enjoyable after all!). I was looking forward to taking him out as training has been phenomenal.

However, when we got into the warm up and he was really holding his back tightly and tense. I tried to focus on everything I do at home to get him to relax and be more supple and it helped… for a short time. If horses get very near to Terry he can get quite tense. He leans towards the thoroughbred side of the Irish sport horse breeding to be honest. He is also chestnut. Enough said. He is one sensitive boy!

As I came into the arena, I was struggling to get the trot I wanted, then the writer told me to go inside the boards (as opposed to around the edge) and I felt muddled. Obviously, interruptions can always happen I just need to get better at dealing with them. I tried our little techniques to get him in a good trot but to no avail! I kept questioning: what was wrong with me? what’s wrong with him?… instead I should be asking how questions. How do I get him to listen? How do I give him confidence? How can I sit better? We ended up with a messy test where I was riding him forward at all costs and driving him on to the forehand at times.

Even still we got 64.79% and 2nd in our section. 10th in a big class with professionals. I was quite upset when we finished but quietly pleased that I was able to ride more assertively. We now just need the consistency of contact we get at home and we will be golden. Back to the drawing board it is… only two weeks until the big day (the petplan area festivals that is!)

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Dressage to music: I thought having dance lessons as a child would give me an advantage…

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Last weekend (6/05/19) as some of you may know I had a go at dressage to music for the first time and to be honest I didn’t expect to be as nervous as I was (I had proper butterflies for the first time in a while)! I thought having dance lessons as I child might give me an advantage but all it achieved was bringing back memories of the fact I wasn’t very good at dancing. Counting the beats, knowing when to come in and being graceful all at the same time…

That being said I always loved the performance side of it. Doing the dressage to music took me right back there. So, it was all worth it and as soon as I did my first canter transition, I was smiling away and actually breathing! The music for Lily cob is a medley of sassy and punchy pop songs which I love. Yes, by all means it was not perfect, and Lily has not been doing masses of flatwork training recently so she was a bit tight over her back and a not quite into the contact at times but Sunday wasn’t about that. It was just about finding our way.

There were times in the warm up where I lacked confidence in our training (I haven’t had a lesson before Hartpury because I have been focusing more on Terry) and I started to feel my breathing shorten. I think the lack of confidence also came from doing a freestyle test where there is a lot of uncertainty. What if the music doesn’t play, what if I go completely wrong and get lost and the music is still playing?

In the end I had to take confidence in where we were that day. Yes, our lead up to it wasn’t ideal but I know her well, I know how to get the best I can out her and I know what to work on after the show. Whilst we won on 68% there was definitely some other triumphs in there. Firstly, I was a little ahead of my music so improvised by adding a circle (anyone who knows me knows that I struggle with thinking on the spot!) And secondly I tried to avoid the temptation to ‘train’ in the warm up (new and challenging work should be done at home and if you are struggling with something at the competition you have to work with what you have on that day- don’t get frustrated if you don’t have your ideal ride).

Anyone who is doing their DTM for the first time I would love to know how you get on and what you found challenging about it.

 

 

 

Meditation, Mindfulness and Riding

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These are two words that will bring to mind misconceptions for many people. Something like an image of someone sitting cross legged in a forest with unrealistic calm and serenity (not the sort of thing you have time for when you have horses!)

More recently I have learned that the techniques of meditation can be used by ordinary people and especially sports people in order to feel more in control of their actions and emotions. Notice that I’m not saying your emotions will disappear completely… You will just have more headspace to act how you choose to and not give into frustration or bad habits.

What is it?

Put more simply, meditation is breathing exercises (and sometimes visualisation). The practice of it, in a constructive way, lead me to experience: a difference in my ability to handle negative emotions, increased quality of sleep and increased confidence). It’s not always easy or relaxing at the time of doing it, it’s about being consistent!  Then it will get easier. As I have learnt along the way, even a ‘bad’ meditation can be useful because you learn something. You learn that training your focus is like training a muscle. Persistence pays off.

Mindfulness is a particular practice that can include meditation, but it is so much more than that. It is centered around slowing down your brain to notice details in the environment and so anchoring you to the present moment. When I practiced it, I started to feel less worried about the future and less ‘stuck’ in the past.

Why are they important?

As for the science behind it, you are literally retraining your brain to have fewer ‘fight/flight’ responses.

If you are breathing deeply, your body will trigger the relaxation system. Whereas short breaths, occurring as a result of nerves/frustration, will trigger the fear system. The key point is that your body can’t do both at the same time. So the more you train your body in relaxation, the more this will become YOUR ‘normal’.

The ‘more’ part is something I can’t stress enough, you have to do it once or twice a day minimum to experience any difference, like brushing your teeth! Having good ’emotional hygiene’ habits is just as important as having good physical hygiene. They both start with the decision to look after yourself.

There is research which shows that those who have done meditation show actual changes in the structure of their brain. More importantly the changes are in the part of the brain that help you focus and overcome negative thoughts.

It is something that is hard to explain until you actually do it but I hope that this gives you a more informed view. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that it has been life changing for me and I do feel many other people would benefit from it. My confidence and enjoyment in riding has increased massively (we still have bad days from time to time but I find myself bouncing back from them much quicker).

I am by no means an expert but the book that really helped me get to grips with it was called ‘A practical guide to mindfulness: finding peace in a frantic world’.

Imposter Syndrome in Equestrianism

Imposter syndrome is something that sounds very daunting and scary but is becoming more and more common place in everyday language in and in sport. If you haven’t yet come across this term, it describes a feeling that occurs when you don’t feel you deserve the situation you are in. Like your credentials look better on paper than you feel in reality and/or you are concerned that people will see you as a fraud at any moment. In the most basic sense, you feel that your are an imposter in your own life. It is a specific form of lower self esteem that occurs in a certain situation (especially those situations which seemed unattainable to you at one point of your life such as a dream job or getting your horse of a life time)

So why is this feeling worth talking about in the equestrian community? Firstly, because it is related to self esteem. We know from the recent grooms mental health campaign that horse riders and those in the industry suffer greatly in terms of mental struggles. It is an emotionally challenging sport with many factors,  beyond your control. If we can acknowledge that imposter syndrome is normal, we can begin to understand that any sort of feelings of worthless are also normal and valid no matter what your situation is (from professionals and Olympic medallists to grass roots and amateur riders).

Another key part of imposter syndrome is how it is related to personal identity that is, the person you want the world to see. This is especially relevant for those that compete because we are continually putting our identity on display and attempting to show the world the person or rider we wish to be. As soon as something conflicts with that perfect self you want to show off, such as your horse misbehaving, your identity will be threatened. Leaving you with feelings of worthlessness as your brain compares how you ‘should be’ and how things actually turn out.

As an amateur rider qualifying for the a Area Festival champs at Hartpury for the first time, I have been experiencing this a lot lately. In the sense that my identity as an average grass roots rider is being challenged by the thought I should be in perfect harmony with my horse at all times, like the other national riders seem to be. From this personal experience, I believe that we have to remember this ideal self or idea of how we ‘should be’ does not exist. It is something our mind has constructed by comparing how you are right now to how you perceive others and even the self you want to be in the future.

I felt this was very apt to talk about with mental health week occurring recently and I hope that it can contribute to helping others realise it’s okay not to feel okay, no matter how good your life or opportunities within your life appear on paper.

The surprising things about receiving an equestrian subscription box: there is more to them than you think

Do you ever feel like you need to top up on the essentials (e.g. horse shampoo, saddle soap etc) from the tack shop but you rarely have enough time to go? Do you ever feel like you miss the excitement of trying a new product but don’t fancy taking the risk and so get stuck in the cycle of buying what you know? Or do you even just fancy a surprise package in the post ever once in a while to brighten up your day? If so, then an equine subscription box such as barn box could be right up your street.

 

Following the receipt of my first ever ‘Barn Box’ I have decided to write a review of the barn box itself and in later reviews, I will review each item. There are many exciting aspects of receiving a barn box which I hadn’t fully experienced until I was sent one:

 

1) Firstly, they send you useful items that you know will come in handy. So, you never feel like they are just giving you strange things that wouldn’t sell ordinarily. Remember as a business they want to evolve to serve you as a customer and in doing so it is obvious that they have put a lot of thought and pride into selecting the items in the box.

 

2) The feeling of surprise and anticipation when opening the box takes you back to child hood. As a result of our internet driven culture, we are regularly buying from amazon or eBay and in doing so, we know exactly which parcels are coming each day. To truly not know the assortment of gifts waiting for in the box is a gift within itself

 

3) The price itself offers you a great saving because the price of the box is less than it would cost to buy each of the items individually

 

4) You get to try out products that you may have otherwise walked past in a shop. As some of the products are sourced internationally you may not even know some of the products even existed.

 

5) Finally, my favourite thing about the box is that if you really enjoyed using a certain product, you can purchase any of the items from the box again at a discounted price! You can also buy a single box for yourself or for someone else as a one-off payment, with no commitment to a subscription.

 

If you would like to dip your toe in the water, they offer 3 month, 6 month or 12 month subscriptions so you don’t have to commit to the whole year if you don’t want to. For more information go to http://www.barn-box.co.uk

 

 

Why low marks can be a good thing and dealing with a spooky 14 year old cob: Unaffiliated Novice 9/09/18

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This Sunday I took Lily to South Staffs College to compete in the Novice. She came 3rd with a score of 67.9% which I was pleased with considering she hadn’t been out in a while but there is definitely room for improvement in there. As hard as it is, I am trying to be excited about working on those challenges and not shying away from them. Getting a big score is fine but can often leave you complacent. On the other hand, getting a lower score can be embraced as it means your weaknesses are brought forward and you have something to drive your schooling instead of just wandering around aimlessly. If you reframe the lower marks in this way, you can be more resilient when things don’t go right and even get excited about it. Even though it is uncomfortable being told your weaknesses by a judge, you are now in a place to face up to the weaknesses and propel yourself into more success. 

 

Anyway, as for how the day went, we arrived a little too early as I like to allow loads of time. The difficulty on this occasion was that they were running late. I went in to warm up and started with the first half of my warm up but then did a lot of walking, halting and rein back to keep her listening to me. However, even as I was getting ready to do the second half of my warm up I put loads of walk breaks in because we had so much time. However, for Lily its not just about being physically tired, she also finds it hard mentally to focus on me for a long periods of time. Even still I was really pleased with the warm up because she was really soft and working from behind during my medium canter exercises and counter canter. The trot was going well in terms of suppleness but this competition highlighted that she needed to be more on my aids during transitions. 

 

When we went into the test arena she was very spooky and unsure. So, I gave her a little canter as this tends to relax her, then did my transitions within the pace at trot before we entered. The best thing about the test is that she felt very straight and even between the two reins which is something we have been working on all year really. The things I would like to improve would be: getting my leg on more from trot down to walk transitions and getting her a bit lighter in the rein. Putting these things into perspective I know they have both improved a lot over this year but I also think there is even more lightness and engagement to come in the future. 

 

My main learning from this show was the importance of focusing on the journey and not the destination. When you get too wrapped up in what you would like to qualify for and how much you want to be at a certain level, it’s easy to forget that horses aren’t machines. Success is not a straight line and it isn’t quick. Unexpected events will inevitably slow your progress. You just have to find ways to helps you manage the unexpected and bounce back from it. I also had to take a moment to realise how far she has come with me in the 9 years I have been riding her, she’s not built for it and has a tricky temperament but she has a heart of gold and an amazing engine. I cherish every ride I have on her because she is my super cob. 

Activating the inside hind leg and being more adaptable in the warm up: BD winter qualifiers with Terry

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When I sat down to start writing this more in-depth competition update I took some time to think what people would like to get from reading it. So, for those just wanting to get a jist of the day, here are the tests I did and my results…

P19Q Silver = 68.96% 1st in my section and 2nd overall

P17Q Silver = 69.5% 1st in my section and 3rd overall

Meaning we are now 2 points away from achieving our winter regional qualification

 

Then for those of you wanting more detail about what goes through my head when I ride, here are my thoughts from each test…

Whilst warming up for my first test he felt very tense and like he was not respecting my leg enough. He felt very on the forehand, so I wanted to do something about it. With my previous cob type horses doing loads of transitions was the main key to this. However, with Terry he is very short coupled which means he finds it hard to be supple and give at the rib cage. So, the only way to get him truly over his back is to achieve a good inside leg to outside rein connection. Then the energy that I produce with the hind legs can be channelled and improve the balance. Instead of letting the energy fall out through the outside shoulder. As I am learning the hard way, this is why respect of my inside leg is essential for getting a horse to take more weight onto the hind legs and lift the front end. With more rib cage bend, the inside hind leg can step relatively further forward the horses body and this is the basis of all lateral work (and has made a lot more sense to me since teaching my other horse shoulder in!). Try watching any advanced horse and see how much their inside hind leg steps under the middle of the horse. This is a progressive goal in dressage, meaning that it begins on 20m and 15m circles and gets more exaggerated on smaller circles and lateral work.

So, the goal for my warm up was more inside leg respect on 15m circles (one of the test movements) which I felt I had achieved. The thing that I wasn’t so pleased with is that I felt that I deviated too far from my warm up plan. That being said, I still did all of the movements I set out to do, just in a different order which threw me a little, so it is partly down to personal taste in the end. Too much improvising and thinking on my feet doesn’t focus me and set me up well mentally for a test (but being more adaptable is a skill I need to cultivate). My idea for next time, is to number the sections of my warm up and if I feel myself deviate too much from my plan, come back to walk an have a think about how I am changing my plan and why. All warm up exercises must have a goal in mind. So as long as all of my numbered sections have an individual goal in mind (e.g. different sized circles to achieve more suppleness), I can have more flexibility by doing them in a different order according to how the horse feels, instead of giving up on my plan completely.

In the test itself I felt he was a bit tense and on the forehand. However, I rode this test about a month ago and feel his way of going has vastly improved since then, so it is all about putting it into perspective. I know we need more suppleness and energy to do the Novice tests and I do have to catch myself when I feel the impatience and perfectionist tendencies creeping in.

After the first test as, usual I had a chat with mum. Mum advised me to keep the warm up very short, so we did 20 minutes including walking. I focused on getting him supple in canter (as he seems to go better after a canter). Finishing with some trot walk trot transitions and some leg yield in the trot to get him pushing from behind and supple. When we were in the test I was thrilled. I had to be quite firm with him to start with as he wanted to back off but once I did, he was very relaxed and swinging more over his back than in the first. I felt that he was letting me in. I had him forward but not rushing, that magic tempo where he feels like he is floating. Whilst there were moments where he wasn’t round enough, especially in the transitions my priority was that he was working from behind to the contact. Because of that, the roundness then solved itself by me riding forwards. However, to improve even further I need to get the roundness quicker so that he isn’t calling the shots quite so much. On the whole, it was one of our best tests and I was really proud of how he trusted me and proud of myself for choosing to be more confident in my knowledge rather than crumbling in self-doubt (another blog to come on this). Everything else was a bonus.