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  • Ignore excruciating and ongoing pain and stiffness blaming lack of fitness / getting old / an old injury but call the physio, vet and backman at the first sign of mild discomfort in the horse
  • Keep horses teeth maintained twice yearly but avoid our own dentist unless the dental pain is so bad that it can’t be cured by whiskey and / or difene

  • Put on the brave pants, jump a bit higher than usual and leave the fences at that height in the arena for the day as a badge of honour, a symbol of success to other riders and reminder of trying and not dying.
  • Waste time looking at the rain willing it to feck off so that we can ride while knowing they are going to ride anyway and end up like a drowned rat
  • Turn up to a show in Winter with the horses travel rug, waterproof over sheet, cooler rug and an extra rug in case it gets cold but realise the one jacket we brought from ourselves isn’t really waterproof
  • Fantasise about doing grand prix dressage to music in their head while listening to instrumental tunes on spotify
  • Buy ‘fancy’ equestrian casual clothes reserved for special occasions and often not worn outside the house or near the yard for fear of the dirt / hay / slobber / shavings that will get on it and ruin it only for it to be relegated to normal yard clothes
  • Talk to our horse forgetting other people can hear the one sided conversation
  • Maintain two equestrian shopping wish lists – 1) things that are affordable if we eat noodles for a month and have no social life and which we may end up buying when drunk 2) things we can never afford but will buy within minutes if a lotto win comes along.
  • Play armchair experts when watching horse and country. “Hmm that piaffe lacked a bit of cadence” “Dunno about that approach to the water Ollie” “oh you shouldn’t have knocked that now”. It doesn’t matter than we might die attempting a BE90 we can still give some feedback to the lads going around badminton or competing at WEG.
  • Get home from a show (with the horse looked after and tucked up in bed) feeling absolutely wrecked tired beyond belief and sit in silence in the car in the dark pondering our life choices while dreading the thoughts of dragging ourselves and the now filthy competition gear back inside.
  • Watch someone else riding the dressage test before going in just to be sure we haven’t learned the wrong one.
  • Forget something obvious when going to a show or training session usually a girth, hat or whip
  • Buy lots of pairs of gloves and sunglasses but can never find either on demand when needed.
  • Change our saddle pads more often than our bedclothes and on hot days more often than our underwear
  • Head to the shop and wonder why people are giving us ‘the look’ and then realising we look like were dragged through a hedge backwards and sprinkled in hay and mud.
  • Wonder what ‘that smell’ is in Tesco and then realise its haylage and its us
  • Become known as ‘horse person’ in work and in family circles.
  • Lunge sometimes because we just can’t arsed to ride that day while convincing ourselves it’s for the horses benefit
  • Having a ridiculously organised equestrian event calendar for the year ahead but no idea when family and friends events are actually on. Also upon hearing of an impending wedding secretly really hoping the date doesn’t clash with an important equestrian fixture.
  • Drooling over non horsey friends holiday photos on Insta, booking a holiday and then dreading being separated from your horse
  • Surfing horse sales websites even though we havent even half the funds to buy  two legs of most of the ones we want

All content produced on my site is my own original content. Please share if you enjoy it but please do not reproduce without my prior permission thanks

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I have always had a ‘bad back’ for lack of a better expression. I remember as a child my mother telling me to stand straight, shoulders back and to be honest I just couldn’t. It never did me any great harm and I managed to learn to ride starting aged ten but over the years ‘sit up’ was ringing in my ears. I had an accident about 15 years ago. I was working leading treks and a pony kicked my horse and my horse bolted under a tree, I took a branch to the neck and was bent back and the cantle of the saddle went into my back. I was xrayed and as there was no structural damage I was given anti inflammatories and sent on my way. It was an accident pure and simple and anyone who knows me knows my hatred of our compensation culture – there is no blame there, I worked with horses I hurt myself, that’s life. I had another fall off my mare where her back legs slipped as she jumped and I went head first into the ground causing a concussion and vertabrea damage in my neck which made for some interesting weeks of being fairly out of it. I found an excellent chiropractor at the time who helped greatly with my neck diagnosed a mild scoliosis in my back ( I was never checked for it in school). This went some way to explaining my one sidedness and the fact that I have always ridden with my left stirrup at least one hole longer than my right! This man went back to his native country so I did nothing until about ten years ago I couldn’t put weight onto one leg without pain and a friend dragged me down to a spinologist in Carlow. That man changed my life and got me mobile again through cranio sacral therapy and manipulation.

Two years ago I had a new problem. If I lay on my back I could not get out of bed. Often, I could not get up from standing or would feel a jarring shooting pain on my side. At my worst I went to pick up a pole off the ground and got stuck. I went to physios, osteos, massage, acupuncture anything that might help but nothing gave more than short term relief. The most successful thing I tried was actually the Equusir best box used on horses – the infrared technology somehow helped. I didn’t take painkillers much as they really didn’t help, neither did anti inflammatories. I went to a local osteo and my horse back man last year and it helped but to be honest it got to the point where I wanted some answers and long term relief so my osteo suggested an MRI. I’d switched last year from a male to female GP so I actually could talk to her about my backpain without feeling patronised. I previously had a male GP who dismissed my breathing difficulties, tried to give me anti depressants and suggested I was ‘just trying to do to much’ is there any surprise we have an obesity problem in this country when a relatively fit woman in her thirties is basically told to go home and sit on her hole and watch tv rather than deal with breathing difficulties and try to be more active? Would a man be told the same, I genuinely don’t think so by this male doctor. Ironically the specialist I demanded to be referred to at the time a few years back  showed I have severe allergies to dust, grass pollen and tree pollen and asthma due to it, they prescribed medicine and I could breathe again! I still can! Anyway my female doctor was empathetic and referred me for an MRI as well as doing blood tests. However being Irish I am terrified of bad news so I got this letter in November and it took me until march to do the MRI only with my husband nudging me along. The daily dull ache was so bad at this stage I dreaded getting out of bed as that’s when it hurt most, I was tired all the time, I hurt standing up in the cold, I couldn’t ride without feeling useless and I started to avoid activity. Every time a well meaning person said ‘just sit up’, ‘just use/ don’t use your left leg’, ‘just try harder’ ‘just have an independent hand’, ‘just move your hands less’ I wanted to get off and give up as the harder I tried the harder it was. I spent most of the weekend in Cavan worried sick at what the MRI might show. As it turned out it showed an explanation – two bulging discs causing nerve pain, some spinal column narrowing, some bony spurs and one disc with a slight tear. Not great news but worse if you are stupid enough to google it which I was. My GP recommended physio with a view to working on the MRI results so I rang a friend who teaches pilates and is a physio for some help. The one positive was the MRI provided for once that I wasn’t just being lazy, not trying hard enough, not co ordinated or exaggerating pain, theres a reason for it which mentally is a relief.

Monday two weeks ago I rode out horses with my brother in law and loved it. Tuesday, it took me an hour to get out of bed and put clothes on. The dead dull ache in my lower back and left hip just would not leave me. I was by myself and just felt really really low. I climbed and I mean literally climbed like a 90 year old onto a horse just to trot around in light seat (couldn’t do sitting up) and feel like I was alive again. By Wednesday I was FUBAR. I mean took me a few attempts to get into my jeep FUBAR. I could not lift my left leg enough to get it into the jeep but once I was in I was ok so I headed on for my first pilates session. Linda quite frankly deserves a medal. I shuffled into the studio like a zombie dragging one leg and I just wanted to cry, I felt like I was 90. It hurt to put one foot in front of another. I could not get onto the floor onto the mat without agony and when I got down I couldn’t get up. Linda managed thank god to unlock my back a little and explained to me that my entire back muscles were in ‘protective mode’ in other words complete spasm. She referred me to a physio and also to my GP for some more referrals and help. On the way home I stopped into Avoca as I had a voucher and figured I could cheer myself up buying things you would never do without a voucher – six euro crackers, yeah why not. Five euro jam, yep. Organic extortionately priced meatballs, bring it. All grand until I got to the till, picked up my bags and had to shuffle very very slowly to my car. I could not move. It took me at least twenty minutes to get into the car – I was literally a reinaction of Leo Di Caprio getting down the stairs in the Wolf of wall street or Uma Thurman trying to move her toe in Kill Bill. Yummy mummies walked past with their swishy hair and probably thought I was either drunk or some lunatic having an affluent moment. I dragged myself into the jeep by the handle, rang my gp and begged to be seen. I got there and my own gp was away so a locum saw me and freaked out thinking id been in an accident when he saw me clawing my way from the waiting room to his office. After checking four times I wasn’t experiencing numbness or pins and needles, no just excrutiating pain, he prescribed Valium and difene and gave me a letter for a surgeon.

Me getting into my car last week!

I went home that night feeling worse that I have ever felt in my life. To be honest my husband and step daughter tucking me up on the couch and feeding me medicine was the only thing that kept me going. I headed to bed and just wished for it to ease a bit. It did, a bit and I went again to Linda to worked on my muscles – I was driven there after the previous days antics. I staggered in, I walked very carefully and slowly out. I had a hot oil massage from my back man and I went to the physio Linda recommended. The horseback man incidentally remarked that I always walk on my toes and ball of my foot not my heels.  The physio, I didn’t have high hopes for but it was not what I expected at all! She took a full medical history and then did a series of resistance tests asking me to hold a leg or arm while she pushed against it. I failed most of them. She explained what miltificus muscles were (I didn’t know we had them to be honest?!) and that mine have not been working so the messages from my brain just has not been getting through to my limbs correctly. This helps explain why I am useless through my core – the muscles were not helping me at all and my back has taken the brunt. She found some weaknesses and issues in my left leg and did huge work on them as well as my left shoulder and some dry needling. I felt like a new person the next day. I was of course banned from riding by everyone but I managed to groom for a friend at a show. I found out that weekend that I was in contention for the Dressage Ireland Winter league. I’ve never ever been in contention for any DI league before! The thing is, I had to attend the final. Well feck it there’s nothing like a goal to move you is there? I did my pilates exercises three times a day, I went to my osteo, I stretched and slept and on Wednesday I climbed onto Sammy who having not been ridden in a week and a half was a saint! I had another challenge, my bit I normally use is not correct for dressage due to it’s cheekpiece (more on that in a different post) and I couldn’t source another with another cheekpiece. So I had to make do with what I had! I rode on Saturday and had what I call my ‘no shock absorber’ issue – when this happens I want to scream as I cannot relax my lower back and hips to sit deep and absorb the canter its beyond infuriating! Now that I understand it more I went and did stretching right after.

On Sunday Sammy was quite predictably – high. Now at the start of his ‘bolting isn’t the answer’ training when I got him three years ago this would have been a write off but now he tries hard to behave and actually does the movements albeit with tension. I of course was not at my best so I couldn’t always give and relax at the right time. The first test had no major issues aside from a wonky circle. The second test … when your horse loves to jump and hasn’t in two months, do not try and ride him dressage in an arena full of xc fences. He was like a train and at one point took to squealing in the warm up which is never a good omen. To be honest he could have done with a few laps of the gallops on Saturday night but my back wont hold up wot that abuse yet. We headed up to the judge and Sammy froze. He hasn’t done it in a long time but its terrifying as if I react too much he will run so I had to sit there like a lemon for a minute giving him a counselling session to get him to walk on. A was beside an XC bank which he locked on to so my entry was interesting. The massive positive was that we rode through this test without ‘doing a Sammy’ he was on a knife edge and like a train but he kept doing the movements – last year a simple change serpentine when he was in that emotional state would have been car crash! Both tests marked fairly and as expected – a bit tense, a bit tight in neck and as a result not supple and engaged enough which I would 100% agree. We still managed two fifth placings but sadly two 63% so no qualifying scores. I’d been in contention for the league but I knew those performances wouldn’t keep me ahead and much as I have a goal to win a dressage Ireland rug before I die, Helen the very worthy league winner rode a fabulous test and deserved her win and her rug! I was delighted to manage second place – I’ve never even placed in a DI league before and never imagined I would at elementary. We won a beautiful browband by Special Edition browbands which is just perfect with both bling and pearls!

I am so grateful to have been on my horse yesterday and to the people who helped me to do it. If you are not sports and competitive minded it can I understand seem silly to put yourself through it for a competition but its not about that – its not about the rosettes and the winning its about wanting more than anything to do what you love and to be good at it. I want to ride more than anything else in life and to not be able to is not something ill accept. One thing I realised recently is how good my horse is to me. I cried in frustration a few weeks ago at not being able to get a younger horse to canter right because my weight involuntarily slips left. This happens on Sammy but as I trained him he knows no better so when I ask for right walk to canter he does it no matter how badly balance I am. He leg yields with my weight on the wrong side simply because he feels my leg go back. He is a horse in a million and I think being unwell has made me appreciate him all the more.

Today I am a bit stiff but I got up early and I had my first personal training session with a man who specialises in strength, core and rehab from injury including nerve pain. Nerve pain is the most tiring and debilitating and unrelenting pain and ill do anything to avoid it and get strong. I have realised that this issue was a long time coming, months at least. I haven’t been active much in ages – I didn’t want to get up in the mornings, felt tired and stiff and cold all the time, felt cranky and slept too much and comfort ate and blamed myself for not having the energy to do more. It doesn’t just affect you physically it affects me mentally as I feel less confident in my skin and in my clothes. I spent an hour today learning more about how to use my core and doing strengthening exercises. I learned that for years I have been compensating without realising – I don’t put weight on my heels (good spot backman) and don’t open my hips and use them enough. I’ll be going back to Colin in the Performance and Fitness Academy later this week (thank you Margaret and Evin for the recommendation) and will continue this, pilates, physio, osteo and supplements. It might seem extreme but its this or back surgery and I don’t want to go down that road unless I have to. Its expensive but its worth it if it works.  I have to relearn how I move and co ordinate myself. Riding lessons will have to wait as this has to come first. I’ll share my journey because I hope it might help someone else. If you are going through pain and are not getting the help you need or want from your GP or from anyone else, don’t settle for it! Demand more, get tests, get the scans, get treatment and help and do everything you can.  On a final note, when you see anyone out on their horse and think why don’t they ‘just’ whatever, be kind, you never know how much they might be trying to!

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Anxiety, fear, competition nerves, general nerves, fear of failure and awareness of vulnerability and the possibility of physical injury. Ever felt like this? Ever felt it before you got on a horse or even before you got to the yard or on the drive to a competition? Of course you have. Ever felt physical symptoms? Stomach ache, diarrohea, vomiting or even just sweaty palms and the little flutter in your chest? I bet you have.

On social media I don’t think we have ever been so aware of or supporting of nervous riders. I think this is a good thing. It has encouraged people to talk and to be open about their feelings. I wrote a piece on it myself a while back you can read it here:

https://equestrianreality.com/2017/06/27/competition-nerves-and-winning-against-worrying/

Nerves often got the better of me for a long time and it was something that for my own sanity (literally) I had to put a stop to. There are so many remedies and potions to help with nerves from rescue remedy to CBD oil to the homeopathic remedy I swear by myself. There are clothing and accessory ranges that celebrate being brave enough to try things. There are so many support groups where people can gain support from those who fear and those who conquered fear. All of this is brilliant.

That said, its great to talk and think and discuss being nervous, but can we allow it too much of a voice sometimes?

The thing about discussing and being open about nerves is making sure that we still take action and that we don’t allow them to become an excuse.  If this happens, nerves grow to the point where they become an identity and then the reason for nothing happening. I have seen this happen – “oh I was going to get up and trot but I got nervous” “I got all the way to the yard and tacked up but got nervous” this then feeds into nerves being part of every conversation. From “I want to canter / jump / hack but I am too nervous” to an a basic level “Hi, My name is X, I’m very nervous”. As an instructor it is daunting to hear phrases like “I want to canter but I am too nervous” because we as instructors can encourage and support but we can’t force a rider to do something. We understand people are nervous, we expect them to be nervous but when the nervousness is presented as nearly being more important than the wish to do something it is hard to work through. In fact when someone is describing themselves as “too nervous” to do something I feel personally that at the point it has been decided that they are not going to do it and “too nervous” has been designated the reason. Whatever we feed in life is what grows, simple as, so when we feed our nerves too much we allow them to grow like a weed. Instead we can acknowledge nerves while trying to feed and grow confidence through achievement.

So how do you go from being “I am too nervous” to “I am apprehensive but I am going to”? It really is a case of changing the mindset a little but – read those two phrases again – the difference appears subtle but the intent is hugely different. It is something I do every time I am in danger of competition nerves getting the better of me – I draw a line for myself that I do not cross. My line is simple because my nerves relate specifically to competitions or exams so my line is always – you are going to enter the ring. Once I have drawn that line I can be as physically sick as I want and fret in the venues toilet as long as I want but I am getting on and I am doing it. The very second you entertain not doing the thing you want to do is the very second you decide not to do it. I always find this when I am teaching show jumping with tricky lines – the riders who lock on to the line and commit to it will make it even if its not pretty whereas the riders that mentally say ‘I cant do it’ have a run out as the horse can sense that lack of commitment. That’s the other thing, horses like clear instructions and confidence so the more you commit to doing something the more likely you are to actually do it. One thing I reminded myself of last week was “what is the worst that can happen”- for example I am doing dressage on an 11 year old sane Irish cob cross with good schooling and a willing temperament and not on a sharp four year old that’s high as a kite – I am not at risk of physical injury.

So, if you are nervous and you have thought about and have let it creep in out of the shadows and sit like a cat on your lap that you acknowledge and understand and if you have worked with the encouraging coaches and have enjoyed the support groups and literally have your brave pants on – what can you do next if you are still tempted to let nerves be the identity, the introducing statement, the reason or the excuse?

  • Get on the right horse. If you are genuinely scared that the horse you are going to ride will willingly and / or deliberately cause you physical injury and harm because of behaviour / temperament / youth / sharpness / greenness, then get off as its not the horse for you. Genuine fear of injury is not nerves it is common sense and it is probably your brain trying to save your ass. I read something about over horsed amateurs the other day and yes – if your afraid of it for legitimate reasons just get off and get one you enjoy. Bear in mind we all have our own triggers so if a horse is hitting yours, it’s not for you. My horse was sold to me as people found his speed frightening – I don’t I feel perfectly safe on him but I would be unnerved on a very sharp horse – we all have our triggers.
  • Consider physical limitations. I have back issues. I try to ignore it and refuse to be limited by it but at a very deep level I know I am when jumping partly afraid that I will hurt myself. I hate admitting that, it pains me to write it but I am not capable of doing 1.20 sj or 2 star eventing on any horse even one with buttons because of self preservation. Again it makes sense. If you have a physical injury, talk to yourself, is it nerves or is it sensible self preservation? If it’s the latter, revise your goals accordingly. Only an idiot goes out to do things they are afraid will cause them pain, harm and further damage to an existing condition.
  • Draw your line. This is the single biggest most important step. Doing nothing is not an option. Going all the way to the yard or show and not getting on is not an option. The second you  tell yourself that and commit to it is the second you start doing things and stop bailing out and giving up.
  • Set realistic goals. If you are worried about cantering you wont be cantering around a field or sand gallops next week. However if you set sensible SMART goals e.g. by next Tuesday I will have cantered a 20m circle on my horse on three separate occasions, well that’s achievable. Setting unrealistic goals just feeds into not taking action and making excuses.
  • Stop introducing yourself as a nervous rider. Its not AA. You are not Mary who is nervous I’m sure your Mary who loves dressage or Mary who has two kids and a dog or Mary who is looking forward to learning counter canter but Jesus your not allowed to define yourself as a feeling.
  • Watch your language. You are not “too nervous to” you are “apprehensive but going to” you are not “too scared of” you are “inexperienced at”
  • Help your coach. Your coach cannot force you to do something that you have just said you are too scared to do. Explain what your goals are and let them help you achieve them instead. Yes by all means state that you are cautious of things but commit to actually doing them.
  • Remember you do not have to do this! I don’t know honestly is it an Irish thing but my god the amount of people who seem to torture themselves by making themselves jump when they are terrified and hate it astounds me. If you really and truly don’t want to do something – then don’t? Do something else! If you hate show jumping and its terrifying then do dressage or hacking instead. If you hate competing then don’t. Doing what everyone else wants to do has no benefit to you. Ask yourself what you want to do and set your goals around that – what you want to do not what others are doing / what you think your horse should be doing / what you wished you liked doing.

All content on my site is my own original content. Please share if you enjoy it but please dont reproduce without permission thanks 

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This is something I found myself speaking a lot about last week in person and online. I am, like many others, an amateur rider. Horses are not in my family background and much as they are what I live for, I had neither the talent, the support or the funds to be a professional at this sport. Thankfully I am good enough at other things to manage to be gainfully employed doing them which in turn allows me to enjoy horses which are my true passion in life.

As an amateur rider, my performance does not dictate if my mortgage gets paid and it does not dictate if I keep or lose the ride on a horse. It does not pay my bills (the opposite actually) nor does it determine my career success. From this perspective, it is easier to be an amateur rider. There is less pressure to perform. The horses are a hobby, a pleasure, an enjoyment. This isn’t my job, I don’t have to be good at it.

However, the flipside is one often not fully realised. As an amateur you do not work at your passion in life, instead you work long and hard at something you may not even enjoy just to afford your passion in life. As an amateur, horses don’t come first – neither does any aspect of it. Horses are squeezed in in the evenings, the early mornings, the weekends and the lunch breaks. Horses come after the day job, the commute, the family commitments and the jobs that have to be done at home and around the house. Having a job outside of horses often on paper leaves you financially well off enough to enjoy them and to afford lessons / clinics / saddlery but it can leave you very time poor and under pressure, making it hard to enjoy those perks. It’s the work – life – horse balance.

Pressure to perform as an amateur rider starts to mount sometimes because horses, rather than being what you do, become what you work all day to afford to do. Sometimes it can be hard to feel like there is no progress when you have worked long hours to afford to do a sport. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy the very thing you are so passionate about because it is always squeezed into extra time and you are tired from trying to balance everything ending up tight on time and clock watching. It’s the opposite of having the time and freedom to work on improving something. It becomes functional instead of fun, it becomes erratic instead of educational

It’s easy to say oh just enjoy it and take part but actually there is nothing wrong with being competitive and nothing wrong with wanting to be the best you can be at something that you love. I really hate hearing amateurs being criticised for being competitive – why shouldn’t they? There is nothing wrong in having drive and passion and goals. Sometimes being competitive is mistakenly seen as not enjoying something – quite the opposite – many of us would not enjoy the sport without an element of competition.

What I have learned as an amateur rider is to stop trying to act like a professional in terms of performance. I have learned to stop criticising myself for not getting enough done with a horse a particular week, for making a mistake in training or in the ring, for not having time after a long day to ride, for not performing to each time to maximum potential, for not being as good or as consistent as a professional.

There is one aspect of professional riding that I am now going to make myself take on board though – it is not performance, its planning. When going to shows I have learned that I need to proactively plan time in advance to allow myself to prioritise what I am doing and to enjoy my time with my horse – to enjoy the preparation and to feel relaxed and confident. I went to a national competition last weekend under way too much pressure. I committed to too many things the day before we travelled – trying to keep the day job, the family business and clients happy and I forgot about myself. The night before I ended up soaking from riding in the rain and freezing cold and tired at the thoughts of how much had to be done. I ended up working late and leaving late on the day of travel only to arrive at the show too late to ride, tired and feeling ill prepared. This was a show I had worked for months to qualify for, this was a show that I spent a lot money on lessons and equipment for only to ride undress pressure I put myself under. I didn’t prioritise myself so why would anyone else?

In summary, as an amateur rider, I think we need to stop trying to be professionals and instead try to learn from them. We need to allow ourselves to enjoy being with and competing on our horses. We need to remember that if we can balance the day job and the rest and still find time to ride, we are doing well. We need sometimes to block out time free of other people’s wants and needs and free of work just for us to achieve the things we work so hard for. We don’t have to be amazing at this, it’s not our job.

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Needs a sat nav

Rider with no concept of basic rules of the school usually riding along naval grazing while others have to swerve around them. Will have ‘left hand to left hand’ hissed at them at least ten times in the warm up but probably won’t even notice as they almost crush your knee against the wall.

Randomer getting a lesson

Will spend the entire time in the warm up arena riding a twenty metre circle while getting a lesson off someone. Shoots glaring looks at anyone who dares to enter said circle.

The Diva

To find them just follow the histrionic echoes of their tone of dissatisfaction that waft across the warm up. Will literally act as if their Olympic effort has been derailed if they realise a novice class is running ten minutes behind when they are ready to go in. Usually accompanied by a minion. Cannot possibly warm up at any level without the minion applying at least six white boots.

The Minion

Groom / partner / parent demoted to general dogsbody dominated to the point where they have no opinion of their own and just live to serve and hope they get out alive at the end of the event.

Nervous rider on young horse

How do you know a rider is nervous on a young horse? Don’t worry they will tell you in a very high pitched tone as they insist you stay at least fifteen metres away from them at all times.

Person who knows you but has their game face on

You know them, they know they know you but they are so engrossed in their warm up that you don’t dare risk more than an unacknowledged smile and a timid ‘hi’ as you ride past. These usually return to normal after riding their test…. Assuming it was a good day.

Warm up friend

The warm up equivalent of a friendly Labrador that you are always glad to see. Your warm up friend will bound over to you, reduce your nerves, wish you luck and help you when you can’t remember what letter to ride a movement to. Most warm up time is usually spent reminding each other not to forget a halt!

Rude Rider

Spends time in warm up being rude and ungrateful to trainer / parents / partner / groom / helpers and on very bad days, the stewards. Having witnessed a few of these in my time I honestly can’t understand how a parent / partner / groom hasn’t drop kicked them in the head by now! One spectacular example last year would have done really well to put as much effort into using her leg as she did in using her mouth to complain non stop to her groom and trainer.

Poor horse

So named because most people utter this phrase when they witness them. Will warm up for two hours, growl at the animal and generally be avoided by other riders

The one with the really long whip

Always rides in the warm up with a long long whip with a long flicky tassel which would be fine except it is held at such an angle that it accidentally flicks other horses as they pass them and sends them bananas.

Nervous Parent / Partner

Hasn’t a clue which end of the horse is which and is only there, terrified, because they were dragged by a horse addicted child or partner.

Helicopter parent.

Found hovering as close as possible to immaculately turned out child and pony. Parents usually have some knowledge gleaned from riding briefly as a child themselves and watching horse and country. Usually located pressed firmly against the warm up barrier only because they are not allowed in. Dangerous once they discover the microphone and headset technology as the child has to listen to a monologue of instructions.

Microphone Victim

Rider with headset getting a barrage of instructions looking confused and frustrated and trying not to mutter ‘feck off im trying’ back at trainer / parent

Multitasking trainer / coach

Usually manages to conduct the dressage equivalent of a three ring circus by having several riders in the warm up ring each connected by a headset.

Bored non horsey parent / spouse

Found by the side of the warm up ring on their phone while carrying or minding stuff – usually white matchy boots and a fancy warm up rug that serves as a second coat when its freezing cold.

The Glitter ball

These are easy to spot, on a bright day you might need sunglasses! Diamonte patent boots, diamonte stock pin, Swarovski browband, diamond dusted helmet, diamonte spur straps, diamonte trimmed saddle pad, diamonte and patent number holders, gloves with a sparkly accent, diamonte plaiting bands (Yes, I know I have these, I am not judging! ). These riders just about draw the line at glitter eyeliner.

Matchy Matchy

Everything from the jacket to the browband to the saddle pad to the boots matches so well even pantone experts couldn’t differentiate.

People who think they are out for a hack

Innocently stroll around the warm up in walk on the track on a long rein two abreast chatting away oblivious to other riders who want to ride over them in frustration

Overdramatic coach

Starts with verbal instructions but gradually introduces body language before ending in a crescendo of a performance where they are acting out the movements themselves.

The newcomer

Fresh to the dressage world and yet to spray their body in patent and diamonte the newcomer will warm up without boots from toe to knee while mainly trying to stay out of the way of the shiny riders heading toward them sideways at speed.

The steward

Praying for a cup of tea while giving up time voluntarily to try and keep the warm up free of helicopter parents,  placate the divas and generally keeping the body count to zero.

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Sunday was quite simply, an experience. I headed off with two friends to our first Dressage Ireland competition of the season. They were keen to qualify for Cavan,  I just needed three more scores myself and one wanted to test drive her new lorry so we thought why not and headed off out West to County Clare to compete in the North Munster region.

Now we knew the forecast was ‘wet’ which in Ireland means anything from slight rain to complete deluge. We left a dry yard and arrived to a venue half under water! The organisers were really welcoming and had great spirits in spite of the torrential and constant rain. After man handling tack and riders onto the two horses in a comical amount of mud I went up to help friends warm up. At this point I realised a) my ski boots are no longer waterproof and b) only a total moron doesn’t pack spare socks – oh yes – that would be me. We have been getting some building work done at home which meant I have no lights in the room where I keep my clothes so had to pack in a rush in the morning and to be honest me packing in a rush means I just shove random stuff into a bag and hope for the best. This didnt include spare boots, spare socks or enough clothing. So everytime I put my heel to the ground I heard a delightful squealch as the water hugged my sock urgh urgh urgh. #firstworldproblems

I went and got Sammy tacked up and headed up to the outdoor warm up. He thought it was all great craic until he realised we weren’t going hunting and I actually expected him to do dressage. I headed down to the indoor arena to wait to go in and it was baltic. I hate wearing gloves and mine were hanging off my fingers like wet blocks of ice urgh jesus no wonder I have hands like a ninety year old I can handle gloves. We passed the time chatting to other members who were lovely and to be honest we probably all looked totally mental to anyone non horsey – a group of freezing cold women in make up and used to be white show gear shivering in their diamonte on grumpy looking horses. My test went ok given I could barely feel my hands, bum or face. I felt like an extra from Titanic.

The organisers had a lot of withdrawals (sane people) so they offered to let me just go and do my elementary test outside. I took one look at the warm up, hand walked the horse with an exercise rug on in a roofed corridor and then went straight in to do the test. The test went as well as could be expected and I was just really impressed by Sammys work ethic he went straight in and just did his job. Typically our ‘bad’ leg yield was better than the other because i’d worked on it and the normally good one didn’t fire. The organisers had at this point wisely decided to close the outdoor arena but offered any of us who needed qualification the chance to immediately do it (there were three of us left!) which was really decent of them. I went straight in and honestly it was hilarious! I could not really see the letters, water and sand splashed us every stride and I was soaked to the skin. I’d been worried sick about Sammy being cold but he decided that rather than go into the warm dry lorry and get his rug on he wanted to stay in the rain and eat grass. One track mind!!

We went to check our scores which proved much better than the weather! I needed two novice scores and one elementary score to qualify me for both levels at the National Winter finals and we achieved it 68%, 69% and 70%. In our last novice we got an eight for medium canter which I can only attribute to the water splashing his tummy but hey a gain is a gain. My two friends got three scores and four red rosettes between them so at least our very wet day yielded some good results.

I was afraid to pee before going home as my jods were so stuck to me I wasn’t sure I would get them back up! At this point some friends at home started sending us photos of ‘the snow’ ha ha I thought yes there was snow last year but no joke – it turned out there was snow at home making the roads absolute chaos. With a lorry full of horses and damp riding equipment we set off on what proved to be a 4.5 hour journey home. Given my friend had only driven the truck twice before it was a bit of a baptism of fire.

Everything we owned was in need of a wash or an oil afterwards! Monday was spent trying to make anything look clean or dry again. My breeches were filthy beyond belief but as they are my favourite I couldn’t throw them out so after getting advice online I soaked them in boiling water with milton, punch ultra whitener and vanish powder and then washed them at sixty degrees with a dishwasher tablet in the machine – I’m shocked to say they are clean again! One item of clothing I love are the Aztec Diamond 3D knit leggings. I really really feel the cold so i wear a base layer on my legs competing – I despise the feel of tights so used to stick to leggings or actual base layers until I got these leggings – they are so comfortable. Plus I found an added bonus on Sunday – despite being soaked through unlike most riders I didn’t have pink legs and my under wear was still invisible which is a win!

So that is us qualified for the National Finals in Novice and Elementary. I have a terrible track record at this competition so I will be working hard to try and actually get the best out of us this year!

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Positive position changes! Before (below) and after (above) 

Fresh after our Roland Tong clinic on Friday a couple of weeks back, Sammy was rather intrigued at being put back into the horsebox on Saturday. “Jumps Sammy” I promised as I bribed him up the ramp with a haylage net. We set off for Killossery for the Sarah Ennis eventing clinic but ground to a halt at the M50 on ramp which pretty much resembled a car park. I rang the venue who rather than saying oh well go home, said take your time we will make it work in another session which was really accommodating of them. We arrived an hour later to find the clinic had it’s own delays but we were ready to join a group of four other riders and get going in the indoor.

The indoor had a range of brilliant XC fences set up ranging from nice and welcoming rollers to corners created from poles to challenging enough brush topped skinnies. There was an imposing looking dark hedge set just 2-3 strides away from the viewing gallery and two wooden ‘T’ with flag either size which I can only call a starving skinny as there was nothing to them.

We started with a talk from Sarah on rider position. She explained her own journey with coach Chris Bartle and how she has embraced his system and philosophies. Her advice was clear and concise – get your bum back in row 24 and keep yourself off the floor. Feet in front of you on the dashboard, backside and shoulders behind you, hands low at the breastplate strap and look up and never ever look at the base of the fence. We were advised that you need three quarters of the horse in front of you to jump and that you never try and tell your horse what stride to jump – keep him in front of you and let him figure it out as he has eyes and a brain and needs to use them. Now anyone who knows me will know I am useless at two things 1) sitting up. Jesus I am wonderful at tipping forwards but sadly I haven’t found a sport its useful for yet and 2) riding short. I am terrified of riding short as it helps me tip forward. I am not going to mention riding with even stirrups as my crookedness drives me mad. My mantra going into this clinic was – this lady is not much taller than you and won a silver medal in WEG so if she says do something, you are going to do it.

So, having put my stirrups up I learned another chapter – turning with the outside rein and outside flexion to control the shoulder into a jump. I love dressage and this made perfect sense as inside leg to outside rein is the goal there. I was glad to hear this myself as when I teach I try always to teach that outside rein is god and that no one ever did more than turn a head or bend a neck trying to use the inside rein to turn. When you like me are teaching at a lower level its nice to get that confidence in what you are doing. This tied nicely in to the work I have been doing in my show jumping lessons with my coach too around turning and using outside rein and flexion. Bridging the reins was a new thing for me and of course I was the only person with two sets of reins as I ride XC In a Cheltenham gag so learning to bridge was a co ordination challenge!

We started off jumping a roller focusing on position and then rode some lines with corners and cottages with the theme of ride your line and look up. I did my usual clinic strategy of going first as nothing scares the hell out of me more than seeing someone else go first and having an issue as my brain starts turning the hamster wheel too fast and I over think.  Sarah asked us what else did we want to jump so I said the brush skinny. She told me to go and jump the wide brush first. I set off down the line and every time I was tempted to check I just reminded myself to keep the horse in front of me  – we hit the hedge on a long one and not only did he sail it – I was actually looking up! We jumped the skinny on first attempt but were too quick on the way in with Sammy showing his most challenging habit of locking his jaw and ignoring me which is my biggest issue XC – nothing worse than coming into a fence with a horse pulling down on your hand.

Sarah told me to stop shortening my reins and not to tolerate him being rude and bullish. I do it to try and get control but she explained it only shortens his neck and then he pulls me more. I asked her advice on how to get him back with a longer rein – did I need to pull back my elbows or something and her answer was wonderfully simple – rattle the bit in his mouth with your hand and simply get him off the lean. I tried this and as he knew where he was going Sammy got gobby as hell on the way in trying to speed up and pull down which is exactly how I nearly ended up eating a roller in annaharvey last year. I did as instructed and Sammy yielded his jaw, backed off and got off my hand! She said he looked shocked – he probably was as I have never been that bullish back to him before. Myself and another rider were then advised to jump the roller, jump the corner at an angle and jump the starving skinny. I let the other rider go first while I tried to co ordinate what I needed to do – riding bending lines and angles mentally is something I find hard and is what put me off trying pre novice Eventing Ireland yet. I walked the lines and decided where to aim for and off we went. Sammy pinged it. I can honestly say it’s the best he and I have ever felt over XC fences and the angle and the narrow fence just were not an issue as he locked on and just went. I even managed to sit back and look up.

I went into the clinic not expecting a huge amount as I rode three intros in 2017 and did very little last year and I went home feeling like I wanted to take on a pre novice this year. I would recommend Sarah’s clinics to anyone – I loved her style as there was no fluffiness or indecisiveness – everything was clear, concise and methodical which is how I learn best. I have many times been told to sit up or sit back XC but no one had ever made it click before or given me a clear physical instruction of body position. All going well I’d love to gift myself a private session to set us up to event this year without me or the horse  leaning forward or on each other. I had a show jumping lesson a few days after this clinic and I am delighted to say my position looked a lot better!

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On Friday I took Sammy and Merlot to Leinster Dressage training with Roland Tong. I had Sammy at a session with Roland once before and also took Samuel last year. The thing with Roland is he fixes problems without me realising. One moment your lamenting the fact that you cannot keep the horse on a 20m circle without it falling out and the next you are somehow on a 10m circle without issues and unsure how you got there!

I love training with Roland for a number of reasons mainly that he makes me laugh, fixes issues and isn’t afraid to tell you how it is. Maybe its just me but there is nothing worse than someone blowing smoke up your ass in training and tell you it’s great when it isn’t.

Sammy went first mainly because having spent three days in the UK I trust him more when he is fresh and I didn’t fancy giving Merlot the opportunity to crack me into a mirror. I have spent a long time working on medium dressage movements and through jumping keeping him in a higher more uphill frame. The good news is I was told he is looking better, he no longer has tourettes and actually going sideways isn’t a problem. However, as I found out last week attempting to do a long and low circle in trot in a test and feeling like I was on a kangaroo, he now needs to be rounder and hold a lower frame in half pass. Basically he can go sideways but now has to do it with manners. On that note, he was described as ‘a bit rude’ which wouldn’t be unusual to be honest.

One theme that shone through this weekend of education was that I ride with my elbows out like a chicken which really offends Roland (sorry!) and that I give the rein at the wrong time – to be honest I’ll admit sometimes I give the rein just to get out of dodge which of course the horse is delighted about. Homework includes working on a rounder lower outline, riding straight lines off the track in trot and canter with maintained inside bend and being really disciplined about not allowing the contact until the horse does as asked. We also did a great exercise of canter straight with bend, a few strides of half pass and back to straight with bend which will help me to control the shoulder a lot more.

Merlot was up next and thankfully I had time to lunge her before I sat up. Merlot is the epitome of “street angel, house devil”. At home she is an opinionated little diva with no patience but put her in front of a trainer and butter wouldn’t melt.

Roland assessment of her was fair and constructive – she is a very weak rising five year old who probably will take another six months at least to mature into herself. She isn’t an easy animal to feed as hard feed sends her bananas so I have been using equerry mash, oils and fenugreek to build her but – she has also grown an inch in the last while so I think like her mum she will take time to grow into herself. I was very happy with her behaviour and work ethic.

My take homes with her were to use lateral to help regulate the rhythm and keep the forward motion. We worked on taking a twenty metre circle down to ten metres and leg yielding it back out again. It exposed her weakness a bit but no harm as it will strengthen her with practice. I was to ride with a wider hand and as with Sammy – only give the contact when the right answer is given. I do find this hard on this mare as she can argue with the contact and I submit instead of her for the sake of not having a stand off but when I took clarity in inside bend, make her rounder and only allow her down we both got on a lot better. We also went from wonky donkey on the left rein to cantering a ten metre circle. I am not sure how that happened but sure isn’t that the best part of a good session.

Huge thanks to Marguerite who not only organised the training, allowed us the use of her beautiful indoor (a gods end in this weather!!) but also allowed me to use her outdoor school for lunging and offered a coffee on the way home. It was such an enjoyable Friday afternoon on a sunny Winters day and a brilliant mental break having spent three days abroad working hard mentally on problem solving in work.

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