Well last week was full of ups and downs! On Wednesday I learned to play with balls while riding and it was not as erotic as that sounds!! 😃 . I will be the first to admit that when I first heard of Franklin Balls – rubber air filled balls that look like some kind of deformed sex toy I was sceptical. That said when you are wonky as a donkey you will give anything a try so I ended up cantering along with one of these giving me what felt like a Brazillian bum lift in the saddle. I was laughing so much I was afraid I would fall off. Sammy seemed quite happy with me in this position which was very interesting. I didn’t feel the effects until I removed the ball – apparently that’s what is meant to happen – you suddenly feel like you are sitting really really deep down in your saddle. I had physio on Tuesday and could feel the muscles that the physio stimulated (The multifidus on my left side) working when I used these so that’s piqued my interest. I rode briefly with a ball under each arm pit and the difference this made … was weird. I suffer from contraction of the muscle under my right armpit in particular and this is often worked on in osteo treatment – I also struggle to keep my right shoulder back. I swear these balls did something to get my brain to pay more attention and as I rode further on in the week I was more aware of how to open my shoulders and work my elbows. Its very odd but worth saving up for a set for myself I think.
I had a few people asking where to buy the balls – they are available on Amazon:
Full rider set – https://amzn.to/31lbH9b
Ball pictures above that goes between the rider and the saddle – https://amzn.to/2UNLnll
Set of two balls that go under the riders arms – https://amzn.to/2LF00mZ
The balls can all be used off the horse also in core strength and pilates training
On Friday Hugo and I had a dressage lesson with Sorrell (without the Franklin balls as he is 17.2hh which is high enough without lifting me!) which was brilliant as we really got him swinging along and I was a lot less shocking at sitting into his canter. I am actually enjoying riding him in sitting trot which is something I never ever thought I would say about riding any horse in it!
Sammy and I then had our first in hand lesson. Rather predictably he made a liar out of me. His phobia of things touching his leg doesn’t apply to people he likes and he decided Sorrell was his new favourite person and was doing shoulder in and leg yield in hand and picking up his hind legs on command. He took the p*ss out of me when I had a go but we realised that he was taking advantage of my shorter height and getting his nose past my elbow so I have a few tricks to practice now. I have never really done in hand work before and wanted to try it as I think its great bonding with the horse as well as training. It also was very beneficial for me to watch him being worked on the ground as there are a number of behaviours under saddle that present on the ground too.
Saturday we headed to Spruce Lodge. Hugo was very excited to be out and about after a break and piaffed his way to the warm up where I had to trot for a while to chill him out enough o walk and relax. I started warming up and he felt fantastic which was all great except we hit the pinnacle of adrenaline versus fitness at this point and it didn’t last until our test. In that test Hugo decided to show the judge his great his canter is – in the trot work. As the judge said … what a pity. I also forgot I had a right shoulder let alone how to use it so I rode like a bag of spanners. Our second test went a lot better. We placed third but missed out on our last score for Cavan by ….. ONE MARK. Oh yes how close can you get to 64% and not get it? 63.75% that’s how close. Seriously how do I do this? I got 63.86 last year it’s a skill at this stage. On the plus side everyone except me qualified so rather than having a whinge I want to say congrats to Clara, Genna and Niamh! I have a last shot next Saturday at Marlton so lets hope luck is on my side.
Sammy loved Saturday as Emma forgot he wasn’t coming to spruce lodge and gave him an early breakfast so he was fed early and didn’t have to do dressage which was a win in his eyes. Sammy got to go to Redhills for a well needed show jumping lesson yesterday. When it comes to show jumping you cant beat Tom Walsh. He makes it simple, has a system that works and isn’t afraid to tell me to shut up and jump and put manners on my animal. Before I got lessons with Tom I didn’t really have one system I embraced for riding or teaching jumping – I do now as what he teaches just works and doesn’t get over technical. Last time I went to Redhills I saw a duff stride and hit the deck while my confused horse jumped over me so I am pleased to report that yesterday I managed to keep my bum in the saddle and despite a few ropey strides we jumped a track that was bigger than what I jumped in a while. Chica was horrified that I had gone to Spruce lodge with Lottie Emma’s jack Russell and spent yesterday evening following me around the yard, stealing coarse mix and demanding her own adventure so myself and Kia brought her for a stroll on the Curragh!
The most insignificant achievement of the week was a big one for me – I went for my first solo hack on Chanel. Chanel and I have a history that’s a bit special that ill explain another time but sometimes a horse is just meant to be your horse. I rode Chanel back in April and had to stop when my back seized up. She had a break while I recovered and while we sold Merlot. Rory got her started again for me and has been amazing training me how to ride her not that I am capable of producing anything like that work he does on her yet. I had hacked her once before in company but yesterday tacked up, mounted up and had a lovely spin around the gallops and woods. Im looking forwards to really getting to know her.
Speaking of Merlot, if it was fate that brought myself and Chanel together it was the same for Merlot and her new owner who saw a video of her jumping and contacted me saying ‘that’s the horse for me’. She was right and they jumped their first double clear at BSJA this weekend!
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.