BD Camp and Compete at Vale View with Sophie Wells

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Day 1 Friday

We arrived with Terry at 4pm and tried our best not to be overwhelmed by the facilities too much! Permanent stables and indoor and outdoor arenas as far as the eye can see. We had fish and chips in the cafe to meet everyone and then an early night ready for the 8am lessons

Day 2 Saturday

Early morning wake up to feed Terry and make sure he was comfortable. He gets a bit stressy when he stays away so luckily we found a place to graze in hand so he would relax and then decide he is also happy to eat the hay in his stable!

Lessons with Sophie Wells started at 8am and it was an honour to sit and watch them. I was a little star struck to be honest I couldn’t believe it was ‘the’ Sophie Wells. She was very precise and disciplined yet she also really wanted to encourage the riders when they did well. This cultivated a very positive learning environment. In my lesson, we worked on making sure Terry was forwards but not falling out of the shoulder. The canter was especially interesting because once I got him forward enough, more forward than I thought he was actually able to balance on his own!

From 4pm onwards all of the riders had test riding opportunities. I chose N37A as it was the harder one of my two tests. It went so well! He warmed up like a dream accessing some of the work from the mornings lesson. We got 67% and all 7’s for our canter work. I was thrilled especially considering over the last month I had lost a lot of confidence and was just meandering around the Petplan test just trying to get through it. In the evening we had another beautiful meal and a BD rules/stewarding quiz!

Day 2: Sunday Competition day!

The best part about this camp had to be the support in the warm up. I know realise how much my nerves were preventing me from riding forward. Having someone give you those pointers in the right direction was a big part of the confidence boost I received this weekend as was being able to compete at the same venue where I had a lesson the previous day. In my first test he was annoyingly spooky especially at a particular sandbag (it was longer than the others!). Some beautiful forward work meant he got loads of 7’s but also a 3.5.

The second test was much better with only a few wobbles. I was really pleased with the give and retakes as I had always found those difficult in the past. He was more forward and straighter, they were so much better. With all the scores being a lot lower in that class I finished on 62.8 and 6th out of 14. A bit of a disappointing score but all the scores were low compared to the first class and I know what I need to work on!

Sheepgate under 25’s dressage championships: sun, scores and sitting up

 

Photo credit to Hoofprints Photography

Sheepgate under 25s is one of my favourite competitions. They put on a great show and the standard is so high it makes me.want to up my game and I try to keep that inspiration in mind during the winter months!

We decided to do 4 tests over two days so a team test and a warm up before each. I kept my warm up roughly the same for all of them but with differing lengths. So stretching in all paces foe the first half and the spiralling out on a circle with transitions (trot walk trot and trot canter) to work on reactivity at the end. See my Facebook or instagram pages for the scores from each test.

I think in all of the tests throughness and bend were what we needed to work on but as I said in the previous blog he had come so far since last year overall I was pleased with all of the tests. With my highest Novice championship score to date on 67%. Sadly due to lack of bend mistakes started to creep in and I was really gutted to be making mistakes in the team test. I did feel like I let my team down.

The learning from this show was massive. My transition work helped him to be more uphill and we were definitely getting some.really good moments. I just know now that it is confidence in my judgement that will improve consistency. If I’m hesitant, he isn’t getting clear black and white signals from me. If I believe in my training enough to see it through, I can then reward him. A highlight of the show was getting 2 x 7s for my riding when I focused on pushing my hands forward and away from me. I thought if that is all I achieve, it will be a personal win for me, I didn’t think it would be a big enough difference for the judges to actually notice! It was also really nice to a few days break away from my masters dissertation.

Trailblazers Elementary Championships with Terry

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Photo credit to: Hoofprints Photography

Day one

I was feeling quite excited about my plan of using the quieter warm up for anyone who knows Stoneleigh there is an arena to warm up that is a bit further away and quieter. It used to be that you couldn’t move up to the quiet to main warm up until it was 10 mins before your time to keep it less busy but this was not the case this year. However for one reason or another (which I am not arguing against) they said they didn’t want people warming up down there for safety reasons.

So we timidly approached the big busy warm up. Which was hard. Very hard. I knew I was very physically anxious but at the same time I felt prepared to just get on with it because it is what it is and we have a job to do So I had my warm up plan but eventually ditched that and just weaved in and out of the horses to check we had bend. It was testing that’s for sure but once we were in canter we both breathed out. The test first day was really good. I was kind to myself and focused on my training for each move as opposed to thinking it was the end of the world as soon as something went wrong.

Day two

This is where it got a bit tougher. The training issues were the same really. It’s getting my inside leg on both reins that was tough and he was just holding his neck and body so tight that anytime I asked more of him he just got tighter. I think because it was second day, he was feeling the effects of the day before… so was I. The actual test started off okay but he was really tense in the halt before the free walk and. Then walk to canter it just blew his mind a little. He became very tense and not wanting to go forward so in the end I retired. Which at the time was disappointing but I felt these were training issues we weren’t necessarily going to get the other side of when we were both worked up.

Reflection on this show

This now links in to what I learned the hard way from this show. How you put pressure on when you and your horse are nervous has to be done in a gradual and confidence building. I feel that the natural reaction when you are lacking confidence is being flooded by negative thoughts and the perfectionism because you are clinging on to those results/outcomes. And on top of that you want the outcomes to be good immediately because that’s how the dopamine reward system works, we want instant gratification. In reality this has the opposite effect due to overwhelm and impatience, which damage your confidence.

The better thing to do is be kinder to yourself and your horse. Make it feel as easy as possible and only ask for extra once you have this foundation. Its often the same for any task we find stressful, we want immediate good results and this leads to a cascade of overwhelm and pressure. However in this case taking a step back, can lead to small steps or building blocks of confidence where you focus on the small amount of things you can do and it builds momentum. Instead of all the worry that comes when you think of what you can’t do.

There’s always more than the score: Field House BD Novices

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So, here’s the scores…

Novice 23: 67% 1st bronze

Novice 37A: 60% 2nd bronze

 

Here’s the ‘more’…

 

If I really put this day into perspective, I am amazed at how far I have come since starting BD.

 

I used to be intimidated at the thought of doing a BD affiliated Prelim, and always wondered how an earth I would feel confident at Novice and above. It seemed so out of reach. However, I have now done many BD Novices and this would be the first time I have done two in one day with my Irish boy Terry.

 

In our tests, he has not always stayed forward and supple to the contact but we had got a fair few Petplan scores this year which I was really proud of. Today was meant to be the day we achieved our final two scores for a second area festival.

 

The first test went really well, possibly one of the best Novices we have ever done. Still tight over the back at times but our good parts were rewarded with 67% and a win in the bronze section. After a year of just scraping 62%, I will definitely take that

 

The second test was N37A which is a bit harder but I really enjoy riding it. I find the 10m circles help to keep him connected and I enjoy riding counter canter. That being said in the actual test we broke into canter in one of our trots and he was quite tense throughout. Finishing on 60% was not ideal because it means we just missed out on finishing our qualification.

 

Whilst not getting the scores I wanted put a bit of a dark cloud over the day, I wanted to keep in mind all the things I learned from that competition. This is because in terms of test riding and him responding to me it is some of the best riding I have done.

 

No matter what happens, the feeling of a bad score or not getting placed (or insert outcome x here) will last for a few days at most but, a consistent commitment to developing your horse and your training goals will last for your whole riding career.

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!)

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’.