Friday, 29 May 2015

The final countdown....

I've spent the last couple of weeks having a bit of R&R which was very much needed and I spoilt myself a lot!! It was only when I was away that I realised how stressed I'd been with work and general life stuff and so I've made a pact that I am going to try not to take everything so seriously and try and keep chilled and not let work creep into my personal time. It's easier said than done but I am determined to try to make it happen and learn to say no and delegate a bit more!

Buddy was not fortunate enough to have any time off as we have our first event looming so my brilliant YO kept him ticking over for me in my absence. Although I was devastated to leave my blissed out bubble I couldn't wait to get back to see all my animals and get back on board le donks! I was also secretly excited as I had ordered my dressage saddle the week before I went away and was mega excited when Kate Hardt emailed me to say it was ready. She sent me a picture and wow - it was beautiful. 

It arrived on Thursday and it is even more beautiful in real life than it looks in the pictures. Not only does it fit B like a glove but the quality of the workmanship is just incredible. The saddles look double their value (if not more) and I am so pleased I chose Northumbria Equine, the customer service has been great. Plus I can actually ride properly in it, I can sit up and put my leg on and move my leg if I need to. B was not so happy about my new found ability to make him work harder so there was lots of grunting whilst we were cantering around but wow did he try for me and he felt so strong and so good. I feel like we are in a really good place right now and that I am growing as much as Buddy is.

Then today we were off to Lyneham Heath for an XC session. I've never been to Lyneham but wow.. it is a fantastic venue. Fields of jumps from tiddly logs all the way up to Intermediate fences, the ground is perfect and so well laid out and cared for. It's quite a trek for me but it's one I will be making again. I wanted to take B somewhere different to test out the work we've been doing as I knew I would be feeling a bit apprehensive too (always do in a 'new' place) so would emulate a competition situation as much as I could. I had a lovely message from G just as I was leaving the yard to help me keep a positive attitude - he definately understands what I'm like!! 

We started off in the baby field just getting in a rhythm but we quickly got into our old habit of ducking out of the left shoulder (by fence 3!) so G had me swop my whip over to the left and told me to keep more of a contact all the way into the fence. He noticed that B backs off three strides out which tips me forward a touch and so when I drop the contact B takes it as an invitation to duck out and I'm in no position to stop him at that point. So we tried something different... More contact (which feels completely alien to me), sit back and more core engagement to stop that naughty stop. It took us a few goes (for me) but then, all of a sudden it clicked for us both and we didn't stop again. 

To help cement the feeling we approached a fence up a hill (to keep me back) and although he backed off he went. Then we did it in the opposite direction and he was great, really taking me in. Then a ski jump type fence which would normally have us both looking but he flew over and felt really grown up. We went off to the water, trotted through and popped a skinny then onto a log with a drop afterwards onto a skinny which we went a bit off our line to but B let me correct him and popped it.  I was really pleased with him and just wanted to test our new found process over our nemesis fence - the flower box... He looked but wasn't stopping. Wahooo!

I'm so pleased with the way B is coming on and I can feel a huge improvement in us both. I feel like we have found a system that will really work for us and help us take the next step. B has more than enough talent and so when we finally get this process cemented we will be flying. My confidence has come on leaps and bounds, I feel like I am surrounded by people who are as excited about our journey as I am and who are willing to help me do whatever it takes to get me where I want to be. My job is to cement the process (I will be jumping scary things at least twice over the next 9 days) and make sure I don't get sucked into competition nerves and follow the process when I'm in that environment. I am excited (stupidly so) about next weekend but even more excited about the future - it's going to be awesome!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

What a week!

We had some more great news this week - we have been invited into the LegUpForTalent programme for Berkshire. This is a fantastic programme designed to help up and coming amateurs that do not have the financial backing needed to make it to the top. There is hard work needed to achieve the metrics that the programme requires but I am going to give it my best shot - it's not everyday that you are given an opportunity like this so I will give it my all. To celebrate we are running a competition on our Facebook page - come over and share with all your friends.

I had a really busy weekend planned to celebrate with a visit to Badminton and then Team Quest on the Sunday. My good friend Craig Nicolai was competing at Badminton for the first time and so, after years of trying to get in, I really wanted to go and lend him my support. I've known Craig for a long time and he helped me so much with my old horse, he is a brilliant horseman and generally lovely guy. I've cheered him round some of the best events so to be there at Badminton supporting him was just incredible.

Craig and Spida looked incredible in the warm up, definitely the best I've seen them, and once he stormed out the start box I could bearly breathe! Listening to the tannoy and commentary he was having a super round and I was waiting for him at the second last fence only to hear that he fell at fence 27. Craig thought it was a miscommunication between them that caused the fall but when I got home I watched the slo-mo footage and it was clear that actually Spida caught his leg on the decorative snail on the fence so nothing either of them could have done. I was absolutely gutted for him and ran over to check him and Spida were ok. They were both fine bar a few scrapes and will live to fight another day. I was amazed to see the outpouring of support for the pair of them on social media and I showed Craig later on when we were relaxing in the bar. He was feeling terrible, like he wasn't good enough for that level and those messages boosted him up - social media did good! 

I was utterly inspired by the day. I had watched some amazing horsemanship and spoken to some legends (one of the benefits of going behind the scenes) and it's reminded me why I love the sport so much. I used all of that to keep my mind positive for our Team Quest outing. Buddy felt fabulous in the warm up, really off my leg and working forward. Not as great as we get in our lessons but good enough for this stage in his education. We then went into the indoor school and I knew I was in for a tough ride...

The indoor is very spooky and I had real trouble getting B up to the ends of the school and into the corner. There were horses trotting past and lots of banging when we were doing our test which wasn't especially helpful. I'd chosen to go down the spooky side first to get to the judges box - thank goodness as the judge rang the bell as soon as I'd walked past! I had a think whether I had enough time to get all the way around and discounted it - I think if I'd been able to it would have been fractionally better but not that much. He was tight, tense, spooky and although he really tried it was all a bit much for him. At my final halt the judge said what a shame it was that he'd been so spooky as 'she' was a very smart horse.

I was really gutted as it was a terrible test - the only good bit was our give and re-take - and I had that horrible feeling that I was going to be the team let down AGAIN. I took B back to the box and let him have a graze as we were going to do some XC schooling after Em and Indy had done their test a bit later. I went to check my score a bit later and was prepared for something terrible - it was 60.4% so not as bad as I was expecting and actually I was near the top of the class (we were placed 7th/20) which made me feel like much less of a failure as we were still in with a shot!!

Em did a fab test in the Novice and then off we went to the XC course. We started off over a x pole - popping it from both reins and then I was told to come over to a not very small house. Now considering B can be a bit spooky I was prepared for a stop but no B flew it. My grin started right then and didn't stop for the rest of the session. We were jumping things I would not have considered jumping and he felt incredible. The only thing we had an issue with was a couple of water trays but G gave me some handy hints as he could see B wasn't focused enough in front of the fence and I rode with a whip. A couple of taps (8 strides out, 4 strides out and 2 strides out) down his shoulder to keep him focused on the job in hand made so much difference. I also stopped riding defensively which encouraged B to keep moving forwards too. It was a real lightbulb session and I came away with a huge grin on my face.

Lucy then arrived for her test and she went in and did the best one I've seen her do - she was super - and they nailed it! Down to the scoreboard and we had come 2nd. Phew! Back in the game after our disappointment last time - especially as I then saw our judge was BCA judge!! So glad I didn't know that before the test as it would have definitely affected my PMA. So another frilly to add to our ever growing 2015 collection. Packed away and we started our journey home.... Then we had a drama when my oil light came on and the engine temperature soared. I turned off the engine and hazard lights on and tried not to panic but was thinking the worst! It was incredibly stressful but SEIB recovery were great and had someone there within an hour. I was most anxious whether B would load into a strange box after all our loading issues but I needn't have worried as he went straight on. Phew. Plus there is nothing terribly wrong with the lorry either so that's a bonus and we will be back on the road without any hassle.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Area Festivals in the bag!

We started the bank holiday weekend with a British Dressage outing to Fairoak Grange. The only aim was to get over 62% in one class so that I have my sheets for Area Festivals in August but I also wanted to work on my test riding to see if I could relax, ride and try and get some of the same quality of work at a show as I do at home and in my lessons.

#hindleg #heelfirst
Despite having loads of time initially I ended up being in a bit of a rush to get ready and chucked B on the lorry, whizzed round the corner and threw his tack on! He was a bit googly eyed in the warm up so I concentrated on getting him off my seat and bending. I am spending the majority of my time in the warm up in walk at the moment, once he is supple and soft we move into trot and only have a quick canter before we go in. He still worries a bit when another horse comes cantering towards him but he is getting so much better and just stops now rather than executing a pirouette off in the other direction!!
We went into the test and he felt a bit tight and tense but before I'd had a chance to trot round the arena the bell went and it was time to go in. I was pleased with the test, we did the bits we were supposed to when we were supposed to but for some reason my circle riding was really off - it wasn't commented on but when I watched the video I gave myself a slap on the wrist. I also cringed when I saw my final halt - he felt incredibly wonky when I halted but on the video it doesn't look too bad and I should have left it rather than fiddled - lesson learnt! I did not ride to the best of my ability at all and was disappointed that I was tense through my elbows but it's a huge improvement from where we were so I just need to work on improving more now. We didn't have too many comments on our sheet but I agreed with the ones that were there and we achieved 65% so our final qualifying score.

I hopped off, let B have a breather before our second test (P19) which is a long arena test and is the AF test we will be riding. To try and help me focus on riding the test my lovely YO came and read it for me and I felt it made a big difference. I was much happier with the work we did and felt I rode better as well. Circles were a bit dodgy again but I thought there was an improvement from the first test. Was disappointed to see that we only achieved 60.91% and I have been left scratching my head again as to what it is that judges are looking for at this level. I was also very confused to see that my right canter achieved 5's with the only comment 'abrupt to trot' but my left canter got 6's despite the comments 'v hollow and strong' (he did bog off up the long side and if you could see my face it would be hilarious). Anyway - the test is below so you can judge for yourself - you'll miss the first centre line as videographer pressed the wrong button.

I am over the moon that we set out what we achieved and that we are now qualified for AFs which is exciting. However I am getting more and more confused as to what the judges actually want at this level . I know I have rose tinted specs on about my beautiful boy but I don't see how tests that are pretty consistent in the level of work can vary so considerably - my scores doing BD have ranged from 56% - 71% - its actually incredibly disheartening. However, now that we are qualified the focus is back onto Team Quest - we are back at Wellington this weekend - and I just hope we have a good result for the team this time as I'm sick of being the team let down!

Still from P19 video - looking smart!
 I am planning to just keep getting out there and riding tests as I'm sure that part is letting us down so I am going to be on the lookout for test riding clinics over the next few weeks as well as doing our TQ competitions to keep our competition eye in. I have also decided to do a couple of online dressage tests as I want to see if being at home makes a significant % difference as well. If it does then that'll give me a kick up the bottom to nail this out and about!

Full of confidence over the 'rainbow'
Enjoying our extended weekend (why can't it be a 3 day weekend every weekend?) we went XC schooling at Boomerang. As I compete and train on my own 99.9999% of the time I struggle to get out XC schooling as I need someone on the ground so when an opportunity came to train with someone new I took it! I joined the novice group as I just wanted a confidence boosting session and I also wanted to try out the new saddle. B started off pretty keen but not really listening or using his back end so the focus was for me to keep him balanced, keep a supporting leg on and keep more contact into the fence. This made a huge difference to B's jump immediately and we grew in confidence. We didn't jump anything massive but conquered a course of barrels, step up, log, train, rainbow log (see pic), log, step down and through the water. He was storming and I had a huge grin on my face - mission accomplished! From this session I think my old saddle was affecting Buddy's confidence as much as mine and he didn't feel completely happy either as if it went wrong and he worried I would also lose my balance so it was making him worry even more about making a mistake so I am hoping that now that's sorted we will go from strength to strength.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Perfect preperation.......?

It’s all starting to ramp up again here as the lighter nights have arrived, work has calmed down a fraction (not for too long I’m sure) and I have entered an event!! Since my last blog I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my new saddle and took it for an official test drive with Warren last weekend. I was a tad worried he would not agree that it was the answer to all out prayers (!) but luckily he agreed that there was a huge improvement and that I was able to finally balance over my leg. He also commented on how well B was moving and how good he looked #proudmum

Looking handsome in the lorry
As it had been a while since our last session we started with a catch up on what we’d been working on (flatwork, straightness and suppleness) and what our plans are moving forward. We started with a cross pole, working on our approach and line after the fence to make sure I didn’t lose the shoulder through the turn or approach. We then moved on to riding a line to a vertical and then to an oxer. These were then moved to vertical, oxer, oxer. The fences were arranged so that we could form a course of multiple jumps with varied approaches. At this point B was getting slightly keen and so I was working on ‘adding a stride’ to keep the canter bouncy and the hindleg active. I finished the session feeling full of confidence but with lots to work on. I almost need to practise things going wrong as I’m fine if its good but the moment it’s not quite right I revert to panic mode (and I do exactly the same on the flat too), my heel comes up, my shoulders creep forward and I ride like a complete lemon.
Then, in preparation for our BD comp, we had a flatwork session mid-week. The focus for the session was to practise P19 as it’s a long arena test and I only have a 40x20 at home whereas my instructor has a 60x20. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in B over the last 6 weeks and it’s a combination of the strength and suppleness work but we’ve also got his diet spot on and the sports horse mix from The Herbal Horse is definitely adding more muscle bulk too. Buds was feeling very lethargic when I got on so we worked on getting B to use his hindleg properly – lots of on and back in the trot, really encouraging him to sit and hold the power behind and he felt incredible but the exciting thing is that we are not even anywhere near his limit. We spent some time on his canter which has improved again – it’s got bigger to look at but it’s much more rideable and I’m getting to the stage where I can collect it up but B does find this hard as he’s not got the strength there yet – we’re capable of doing it in a smaller school but in the larger arena he struggled to continue along the full long side so I’ll be going to J’s to practise this more and build it up slowly.
Practising P14 at home
Next up was practising the test. Despite having a beautiful trot prior to starting, something happens to me when I know I’m riding a test and I went all stiff and then Buddy lost his suppleness. It was really helpful to have J watching so I started again and rode a few movements a couple of times and the main advice from her was that I need to relax, keep B in balance and not worry so much! I have particular issues with the canter transitions, I think as it’s been our ‘issue’ for such a long time I think about it too much and I get tight and tense which affects the quality of the trot, then the transition and the first few strides of canter. So my plan is to really focus on getting the trot right and only ask for canter when it’s right rather than being worried about it happening at the exact point in the test (P19 asks for the transition over the centre line) and make sure I’m riding the hind leg the whole time.
Both tests are qualifiers for regionals so are pretty busy but I am only going to get my final Area Festival sheet so I just need to score over 62% in one test to be qualified so I’m hoping we can get that nailed tomorrow so I can focus on team quest, eventing and training until AF’s in August.  

Friday, 1 May 2015

Review - Finding the perfect jump saddle

My search for the perfect jump saddle started almost a year ago when I realised his wow no longer fitted. For a short term fix I bought a Falcon Event saddle which was fab and suited what we needed at the time but it was never meant to be a long term solution. However I never thought I would have such a drama trying to find something suitable!!
The issue we had was that I am incredibly long hip to knee so need something very forward cut or my knees hang over the flap plus I needed something without knee rolls (otherwise my knees cling and my lower leg gets insecure) and then B has a decent wither AND big shoulders which saddles either restrict (if they are forward cut enough for me) or just get pushed back. Oh and I didn't have a massive budget.

I contacted several saddlers and most of them had nothing that would suit both of us but we tried an ideal (didn't fit pony as well as I'd like), black country vinici (I loved but didn't fit pony), albion (too blocky) and finally a style (uncomfortable for me). I was at my wits end so did a pleading post on the TwitterEventing facebook page and someone suggested I have a look at Northumbria Equine.

I toddled off to google and was mega impressed with the way the saddles looked and their price! I got in touch with Kate Hardt who is the MD and chatted with her about the challenges I was having and what I was looking for. She explained the fitting process to me which made complete sense and so I booked her in for a visit.

The session started with Kate looking at Buddy and then getting a huge selection of trees out of the car to try. The main difference with the NE saddles is that they fit the tree to the horse and build from there which pretty much guarantees a perfect fit. We tried about 10 different trees and Kate explained why some fitted better than others (points too far back, too curved for his back etc) and we found a perfect fit pretty quickly. It highlighted to me how important getting the tree right is. I have never ever seen the bare bones of a saddle used as a template and too often just a few measurements are taken to create a saddle but what happens if the tree shape isn't right?!
The final creation!
We then moved on to actually sitting in the saddles. I knew what I wanted so picked this one first and it was heaven to sit in. I tried it over a small fence and was happy that it put me in the right position but I wanted a bit more room so ended up ordering it 1" more forward cut than the one I tried. Buddy loved it too so I was happy to part with the cash!!

Kate kept in regular contact and the saddles were ready so quickly - I couldn't believe it. When they arrived the quality was incredible and I couldn't wait to sit in it! After riding in it for a short while it had dropped and needed a bit more flock in it to keep it off the wither so I was very sad to see it packed off to go back to the factory for a tweak. However I didn't have to wait long for it to come back - it was back in my arms less than 48hrs after Kate left the yard! Seriously great service.

Since then I've ridden in it a lot and have done fast work and jumping in it. I still love it! The first time I jumped in it I was really impressed at how I could just hold my position and didn't collapse on landing when B took off two strides out and caught me off guard. I then had a session with Warren who also agreed that it was a huge improvement, I was balanced over my leg the whole time and that it was a beautifully made saddle - he guessed it was almost £1K more than I spent. It has filled me with confidence over a fence and I am able to ride in a much better position so I cannot wait to go XC schooling in it.

I have been so impressed that I will be putting an order in for their dressage saddle as soon as I've saved a few more pennies!