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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and as someone who has always enjoyed photography I would tend to agree but what is it that makes a specific photo special to us?
Why the national championships?
Goals are personal and what matters to each rider really does depend on their own experiences. For me, competing successfully at the National Dressage Championships has meaning because when I first started proper dressage training a few years ago it seemed ridiculously unlikely that I would ever be good enough to be able to do it.
- Get used to being on a circle. You won’t be moving sideways at the greatest of ease any time soon. The circle is your friend, embrace the circle. Don’t go large around the arena – this does not go down well. If you have enough grasp of spatial relations to be able to ride a circle that is circle shaped (unlike me) this is a bonus.
Hail to the bystanders
Always waiting to say
You shouldn’t be riding
Your horse in that way
Always ready with advice
When you fall to the ground
Although their only riding experience
Is reading horse and hound
In 2013 and 2014, Dolly the big chestnut mare and I focused on and achieved many goals in the show ring. We had not achieved what I hoped we could in dressage and given my passion for dressage this always frustrated me. I had performed well on ponies before but Dolly and I always fell somewhere short of the mark in competition. In a class of seven we were usually fifth or sixth in our advanced intermediate grade and with this consistent mediocrity I was afraid I was becoming one of those people who bang on about ‘potential’ for years without ever delivering any actual!