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Making a Balls of It!

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Sammy doing his first in hand session 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Hugo all dressed up 

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!

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Sammy at Redhills

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.

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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!

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Showjumping Holy Trinity – The canter, the line and the trust!

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When I am teaching show jumping or cross country I have a mantra I always bang on about. Why? Well the answer is two- fold. Firstly if you are going to be a coach you need to have your own philosophy on things and your own way of explaining things (Drive that bus Christa!), otherwise sure we are all just going to stand there bored reciting lines from a book. I have a list of my own choice phrases some of which are only adult appropriate. Secondly, banging on about something is the only way it will penetrate the massive level of noise the average human hears daily and embed itself into their brain. When that happens you have some hope that it might be recalled by the rider when you are not there or in competition. I know it works as it is what most religions and the Irish educational system in the 90’s was based on. I can’t remember what I did last week but Jesus I can remember some amount of random stuff from school simply because it was drummed into me day in day out. I haven’t a clue for example who Zacchaeus is for example but there is a song in my head for the past twenty years from school that says he was a greedy little man.

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Eventually Eventing

 

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Way back when – eventing on board chestnut TB mare Sally at Russellstown Riding Club I think this was in 2003. One of the best mares I ever rode and still sadly missed. 

While I have focused on dressage and showing for the last number of years I actually used to event. I evented for a few years on the riding club circuit in the intermediate grade. I used to event whatever I was allowed to sit on. My biggest challenge was a chestnut mare ex racer who went like a bullet cross country with her head between her legs. In the show jumping she also went like a bullet but would either jump clear or turf me off. I used to be terrified as the speed had my eyes streaming but after a few events, some of which we won I finally had control of her. At our last event together we would have won the national championships, having led from dressage only I was so delighted at having the mare going well I missed a fence cross country and had us eliminated. It was a hard lesson to learn and I was angry at myself as it was completely and utterly my fault. Sadly we never had a chance to try again as the mare died from a kick a few weeks later.  I still think of her often – she thought me the power of positive riding and more importantly how to stick your bum like glue to a saddle. My last ever riding club event was in 2008 or 2009 on a gentleman of a gelding who at 21 years old still thought he was a young lad. We had done a few events together and he was so experienced at his job that all I had to do was steer him. At that last event, also the riding club championships our team placed second which was a lovely finish to my eventing adventures. It is safe to say that I had learned from past mistakes and did not omit a fence.

 

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Competition nerves and Winning Against Worrying

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I think this photo sums it up. I was at the AIRC festival with friends on an absolute diamond of a horse who never let me down. I loved it I really did but the photo shows the effect the stress and nerves were having on me – pale, tired and hungry. 

My anxiety around competition was never really just about competition. It was a fear of the unknown, of lack of control, of new things.  It started when I was a small child and if I was anxious about something I would feel sick and nervous. Things like exams, trying new things, bus trips. Over time it got worse and I was anxious before things I was actually looking forward to. The anxiety in turn caused illness as I have a sensitive stomach anyway so it got to the point that I was anxious of being anxious. I missed a lot of things because of it – sleep overs, the first day of pony camp, scouting trips. I was afraid to look forward to anything. My poor mother was tormented by it and had the patience of a saint at times especially when it came to high stress events such as the leaving cert (which I did on three Valium and about seven packs of polo mints a day). I managed miraculously to compete on horses as a teenager and adult. It was hard going – I used to meditate on the way over to try and calm myself down (yeah I was the odd ball), couldn’t eat and would be white as a sheet before a competition and exhausted afterwards.

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Getting A Second Chance

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Sammy as himself

Last Spring I was helping my partner to sell a horse. It was a horse that I referred to as ‘that idiot cob’ having seen him cart himself full speed around the arena with riders on more than one occasion. My partner had bought him as a four year old from a dealer at a sale and always believed in him but unfortunately a career in the riding school or as a student horse just didn’t suit Sammy so as an eight year old he was up for sale to try and find him a new home. We brought him and another horse that was for sale to a local venue to do some schooling. I’ll admit I was very much surprised – with a professional rider on board the ‘idiot cob’ became something else and despite not having left the yard more than twice in four years he didn’t even look at the fillers in the indoor arena.

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Ladies Day, Like A Lady

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This year, at the 2015 Discover Ireland Dublin Horseshow, I did something I’d never done before. I did ladies day, dressed up like a lady. Normally at the horseshow I would be dressed comfortably and found either shopping, photographing, grooming or working on an article. This year I was invited to a lunch and a corporate afternoon of show jumping by Investec (www.investec.ie) which coincided with their sponsorship of the Irish Nations Cup Team.

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