Aston Le Walls BE90

Aston Le Walls BE90

“ Control the Controllables”

Unfortunately Amber was not one of the controllables today!

But let’s start at the beginning: This was my first BE90. So I was nervous but after an awesome Fab Feb full of some really challenging clinics I actually felt ready. There was no reason why any of it should be a disaster. We have worked very hard on our flat work, she has been so much more rideable show jumping and she’s been doing plenty of big and technical XC lines. We were good to go.

It started fairly promisingly with a calm dressage warm up. She was actually listening, relaxed and engaged. That’s a first! And the first half of the test felt really nice. She felt calm and relaxed. Then in the 2nd canter something spooked her. And after that she was just a little bit tense so we had a break in the canter, a late transition to trot, a jog in the walk, a poor final centre line. All of which will have been very expensive. No test sheet but I am hoping that it was basically very good (for us) and then very bad! Leaving us on a disappointing 40 overall. But my dressage instructor has told me not to worry about scores at the moment– we are looking at direction of travel and a very good then very bad set of marks is far better than a blah set all the way through. I know we are not yet consistent but it’s looking promising…..

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So now for the fun bit. SJ & XC on a calm, relaxed & listening Amber– no worries. This will be a breeze.

Ha bloody ha…..

Somehow between the dressage ending and me heading to the SJ warmup Amber morphed into Crazy-Orange-Beastie mode. I went down to the SJ warm up in a snaffle as I have been riding both SJ and XC in a snaffle all winter. But as soon as we hit the arena she was absolutely bonkers. And I had no idea what to do about it. I was in theory focusing on getting her into a nice rhythmical balanced canter. Show jumping is just dressage with obstacles and all that. But she had other ideas and every canter just turned into her bogging off with me. So I tried to canter-halt-canter-halt to get her listening. But that didn’t help much. So I tried to pop a X Pole which she ballooned. So I went back to the lorry to put her in a gag bit. Which meant I could stop her better but as soon as I released the brakes she tanked off again. Jumped the X pole a few more times but she never settled so put her at bigger fences but she ballooned all them too. So I just crossed my fingers, rode in and flattened the course! It was a total car crash. By far the worst round we have ever jumped in training or competition. Plus she was jumping so extravagantly that my saddle slipped on landing from fence 3 and I was almost off and had to do the rest of the course sideways. Not our finest moment. 16 faults and 12 time pens from circling to try and settle her. And get my stirrups back. Thanks  for that Amber!!!

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Really not sure why that happened to be honest.  But looking at the video (and no I am not brave enough to post my humiliating car crash of a round anywhere….) I think I was too afraid of her galloping on that I did not have my leg on at all. The round went a bit like:  jump – land – bog off, come back to trot, oh no there’s another jump, kick on, flatten it,  land, bog off, come back to trot. Repeat. It was embarrassingly awful. I wonder if I had kept my leg on and ridden forward she might have eventually settled into a canter rhythm. But she just was not rideable. Not by me anyway. Back to the drawing board!

I went straight down to XC after SJ and she was jogging and excitable but thankfully once we were out on the XC she felt great. She seemed to be saying FINALLY I get to gallop and jump. Why can’t I do this ALL the time?!  It was my first BE90 so there were a few questions – related distances to skinnies, a jump into space on the brow of a hill. Nothing too terrifying. But she did have a stop at the water which is about the only thing she is a little wary of. On the approach there was a fairly sizeable hanging log which looked like it went straight into the water so she decided she needed a look at that. But she popped it 2nd time and flew everything else.

And I did not go wrong! In any phase!! HURRAH. Now that is a triumph in itself.

So yet another cricket score.  But in the words of Matthew Syed the key to success is a progressive attitude to failure. Failure is our greatest teacher – providing the information you need to improve. As long as you embrace it as an opportunity to learn.

Well my fledgling BE career is giving me a LOT of failure practice…… which is good, right?!

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I can only be as good as I am.

I can only be as good as I am.

So positive 2019 is going well. PMA and Power-posing (yes really!) has seen me throw myself into clinics without the usual semi-apologetic “Amber is a good horse with a numpty rider” introduction and the preparing to fail “we aren’t very good at steering” excuses. Instead I act as if I believe I belong on her. The difference is striking and suddenly we have gone up significantly in terms of size and technicality of the lines we are jumping.

I was buzzing the first few times out – ecstatic at what we were achieving. But recent clinics and a BE training day left me feeling surprisingly deflated and frustrated and I could not work out why. Until it occurred to me that pretending to be a confident and positive rider helps to a degree but does not actually make me more skillful that I truly am!

We were jumping angles, a ski-jump to a weird mushroom thing, a skinny out of the water, trebles on a curve, a skinny to a corner etc etc. We had a couple of stops as Amber was confused about the questions being asked. Seeing and maintaining a line through a set of spooky obstacles was just a step too far to get right at the first attempt on every line. Amber, bless her, jumped her heart out  and we did the whole course/ the various lines without mishap in the end. So really it was a great learning experience for both of us. But I am riding at the absolute limit of my ability so I am making mistakes which is proving to be mentally testing. Those ‘I am letting my horse down’ feelings are back.

A year ago or so ago I wrote that I felt I was 6-8  weeks away from it ‘all coming together’. Then this month at a clinic at Somerford my instructor said ‘you really aren’t far away from it clicking and coming together.’

Wait, what? I am STILL 6-8 weeks away….. but I  have improved a lot since then. So what does ‘it all  coming together’ even mean?

Well I guess it means that the specific thing I am struggling with right now will ‘come together’ so something that is currently in the Learning Zone near or on the edge of my ability will slip into the Comfort Zone. But then something new will be a struggle. So as long as I am trying to improve I will always be in that frustrating place of struggle, mistakes, and crises of confidence. The Learning Zone is an uncomfortable place to be!

Thinking back to a year ago, I was trying to steer Amber around a simple course of jumps in some degree of control – struggling with her running on or breaking to trot. Now I am struggling with finding technical lines and holding her on them over spooky fences! A year ago I was trying to get Amber to canter on the right leg and move in a vaguely straight line. Today we are working on her being consistently engaged, relaxed and rhythmical. Those are not the same places.

So yes I needed to get better at being positive but I also need to recognise that confidence does not mean not making mistakes anymore. Quite the contrary – I need confidence to ride at a level where I will make mistakes. To strive to always be in that scary and frustrating Learning Zone, working on what I find hardest. And once I have mastered that, to move onto the next challenge. And the next and the next. Because I guess if it feels easy then I am just not challenging myself enough!

What I need to let go of is the impatience and the frustration about how long it is taking to truly improve. I can only be as good as I am so that just has to be ‘good enough’.

Krissie Ivings and Amber 10Krissie Ivings and Amber 14Krissie Ivings and Amber 12Krissie Ivings and Amber 9

Fake it till you make it

Fake it till you make it

I recently had a lesson with Nicola Wilson, eventer extraordinaire. During it we had to canter a bend over a pole, get straight to a set of canter poles and ride another bend to finish. Amber maintained balance on the bend and popped through the poles in a lovely rhythm and with good athleticism.

“You enjoyed that didn’t you” said Nicola. I beamed in response. But then my bubble was burst….

“You were enjoying your moment of triumph so much that you forgot to ride the 2nd bend” she said.

She was absolutely lovely and could not have been kinder or gentler in her feedback but she was spot on. I was stuck on being pleased with myself and literally forgot to keep riding.

Reflecting on the lesson I realised this is a problem I have a lot of the time. Frankly I find myself so surprised to be doing it at all that I don’t realistically aspire to do it well.

This attitude has been with me all my life. I did an ironman in 2011 and I chose to do it on a bright pink bike complete with a set of pink furry dice. This was partly because I like pink. But a more subtle message to the world was ‘I am not really taking this too seriously’. Which is bullshit. No-one trains that hard for that long to do something that challenging without taking it seriously! And it is also pointless because frankly The World has better things to worry about than what colour bike I ride. Or indeed whether I complete an ironman or fail to get round.

In retrospect I can see this as a defence against failure. If I make light of the event, keep my expectations firmly in check and ride a silly looking bike then perhaps falling flat on my face won’t hurt so much?

The trouble is that I have internalised this expectation to fail. I ride dressage tests hoping to avoid mistakes instead of riding to demonstrate Amber’s balance, rhythm, straightness or accuracy. I ride fences thinking ‘phew’ after every fence instead of focusing on the one coming up. And, as I did in the lesson with Nicola, if I ever do something well I am so surprised at myself that I inevitably fluff the next bit!

I simply don’t believe I belong in the eventing world at all, never mind on the podium. Last season I never plaited up. At the time I believed this was because I can’t plait for toffee and figured bad plaits look worse than no plaits. But I could LEARN to plait. So perhaps subconsciously my au naturel look is the horsey equivalent of the pink fluffy dice. My tacit acknowledgement that I know I don’t belong here so I need not look the part?

My friend is the opposite: she comes from the background of elite sport and no matter what she enters she is riding to win. Even if the idea of winning that particular event is bordering on delusional. But it makes her 100% more focused and positive in her riding than I am.

This attitude affects everything about my riding. Amber oozes class and credibility in precisely the ways I do not. I never set out to buy a horse like Amber and would not have dared have her had I known how good she is. But why not? After all plenty of riders buy fantastically well bred horses with great ability and I don’t judge them for that. But I have spent 2 years believing I am not a good enough rider for Amber. Believing she is wasted with me, is far too good for me. I adore Amber and she is with me for life so I accepted long ago that I had a responsibility to learn to ride her. But actually it goes further than that – I need to accept that she and I are partners. That I DO belong with her and on her. I DO belong at One Day Events. We are not just making up the numbers while enjoying a nice day out but are there to compete for placings.

I work hard, I  am determined and driven. And I do care. Very much.

So here is my 2019 NY resolution: I am hence forth banned from using a defence against failure that pretty much guarantees I will not succeed! After all in the words of Henry Ford: “If you think that you can or you think that you can’t, you are usually right.”

So I will enter events aiming to pull out a peak performance and to compete for placings every time. I will stop feeling apologetic if I mess up and start feeling bloody annoyed instead. I will never again express any doubts about my rightful place as Amber’s rider and our rightful place at ODEs. After all with a jump as effortlessly joyful as this, there is nowhere better  for us to be!

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Oh and I guess I’d better learn to plait 😉

 

Everyday Blessings

Everyday Blessings

I’ve not blogged for ages as I never felt I had anything to say. This time of year feels a bit blah. Amber lacks sparkle and so do I. Grey, leaden skies, wind and rain, the return of mucking out as the horses are now in, the onset of the annual war-on-mud and riding in the rain.

Weekday riding is often limited to early mornings before work (not very tempting on a cold wet day) or after work in the dark.

Riding feels more a chore than a pleasure and it is very easy to keep skipping sessions. Amber doesn’t mind. It’s meant to be fun, right?

But then earlier this week we lost my daughter’s pony, Ginny. She was only 6 but she had on-going physical, emotional and behavioural issues that suggested some underlying problem that months of investigations and treatments failed to identify or resolve. So we let her go and it broke our hearts.

And also opened my eyes. Having Amber is a privilege and a joy. Whinging about weather is nothing to do with the weather but to do with my state of mind. Most years I drift into a sort of anti-winter funk and stay in it till Spring, joining in with the chorus of dissatisfaction from various quarters this time of year. Well not this year!

Winter is about:

  • Jumping on a surface and indoors.
  • Horses waiting at the gate so I don’t have  to trek up a big hill everyday
  • The smell of fresh shavings
  • Quiet evenings on the yard later on when everyone’s gone home and it’s just me and my horse having a groom in a cozy stable.
  • Arena Eventing
  • Riding at dawn and in the moonlight
  • Hot chocolate in the bath after getting cold and wet
  • Fluffy coats.

Winter is not the dead time after the end of the season. Winter is when I can lay down the groundwork for next season. Where I can work on my limiting factors & weaknesses and build on my strengths.

And when snow stops play then I can just groom, reorganise the tack room, sort out bankings, wash numnahs, clean tack, learn dressage tests, scan the BE 2019 events, plan the season, browse the internet for winter gear, practice pilates and do those 101 odd jobs I never get around to when the weather is better.

Above all, I will try never to forget to appreciate the fact that Amber is fit, healthy and happy. As at the end of the day, nothing else really matters that much

RIP Ginny 2012-2018

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Run free my sweet Ginny, it’s now time to part

You are not gone completely, as you live on in my heart

The end of my first BE Season….

The end of my first BE Season….

Ok that’s my first season done. 2 more 80T courses at Eland and Kelsall to finish things off. True to form I went wrong on both. Amber jumped 2 fabulous clears. Unfortunately I got us both eliminated at Eland going down the metre steps, and then clocked up a whopping 40 odd time penalties at Kelsall taking an unnecessarily scenic route round the course!

So from one point of view my season has been a disastrous comedy of errors resulting in 7 XC detours and a run past, 3 dressage course mishaps, 1 missed SJ fence, 5 cricket scores and an elimination.

And yet from another point of view my season has been a totally awesome journey of discovery:

  • Discovering that Amber is a XC machine with 5 effortless clears from 6 rounds.
  • Discovering that I can learn dressage tests if I set them to poetry (yes really)
  • Discovering that 80cm fences really do start looking quite small if you do a lot of them
  • Discovering that Amber is actually capable of rideability and adjustability when show-jumping
  • Discovering that Amber really can do dressage with lovely comments all season about how promising she looks.
  • Discovering that I CAN plait (sort of…)
  • Discovering that  Amber LOVES to gallop but does let me ride her too so she always feels safe even when in full flow.
  • Discovering that Amber jumps everything as if we were on the metre course. Unless we are actually jumping a metre in which case she jumps like she’s jumping 1.20!
  • Most of all discovering that this crazy, glorious, insane, wonderful sport is simply the most fun you can ever have on a horse. Fact.

And now for a winter of dressage and show-jumping. But first have a couple of pics of Awesome Amber in her element and one of me looking the way finishing XC feels!

 

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And Now For Something Completely Different…

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Has it really been almost 2 months since I last blogged?! Where is the summer going!! Well there have been a few weeks of same old, same old (Amber over-jumping everything; me getting lost on XC courses at BE events and riding like a nervous novice in dressage tests grrrrrrr)

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But last weekend we tried something new at

http://www.guyrobertsonhorsemanship.co.uk/

I have no interest in Western riding but I do like the overall ethos of Buck Brannaman/Mark Rashid/Guy Robertson etc who all seem to  work much more with the horse’s mind than the trainers I usually use who focus on the technical aspects more. Which I also love but this just adds something else I think.

So Amber and I headed to Yorkshire for a horsemanship clinic.

The overall aim of the weekend was to work on confidence (the horse’s confidence in you and in general), control (being able to control the horse’s body and life so you can move in any direction at any gait or speed) and purpose: motivating the horse by making the work feel important to him or her. Giving the horse a job.

We did 4 sessions of 2 hours each which all aimed to achieve 1 or more of those aims above.

Session 1 was groundwork.  A key message was being particular about what you want. At any given moment a horse has a job to do. That job might be standing patiently in her own space while you talk to someone. (Or examine a fence, or doctor a cow, or look at a map). So lesson 1 in session 1 was ‘parking’ your horse. Some found this harder than others! Amber was pretty good at ‘parking’ as she used to be terrible at it and necessity meant I had to teach her to stand still. But a timely reminder that a lot of horses lack basics like this and are forever nudging you, stepping away or into or over you, wandering off in search of grass etc. The ground work then moved on to leading with the horse mirroring your feet. You move, they move. You speed up, they speed up. Stop dead, they stop dead. Walk backwards, they back up too. All with a float in the lead rope. Then we worked on backing up in straight lines and circles, figure eights. Then yields – hind and front quarters and rib cage. So by the end of the session the horse moved in any direction off soft cues which was aimed at establishing both leadership and control.

Session 2 was ridden in the arena and continued the theme of control. But first came getting on. The horse’s job was to pick you up from the mounting block or fence or wherever. So you’d stand where you could to get on and they would position themselves next to you and stand still till you were on board, however long you chose to stay on top of the mounting block or fence first. Again something Amber used to be appalling at, riders having only ever been legged up as she was trotting off down the road in her formative years!

Once we were on board the focus was on clarity and precision eg cue the horse to stop as the front inside foot leaves the ground and that foot should then land and stop. The transition should be both instant and smooth. Another good exercise was 2 trotting poles parallel to each other a horse’s width apart over X. Trot a figure 8 passing through the poles each time in walk. You needed to be completely straight through the poles then change bend as you left the poles. Smooth and instant transitions to walk as you enter the poles and back to trot as you leave. The repeat with canter-walk transitions. And if your horse starts anticipating the left lead (for example) go right. Then it was walk-trot-canter-trot-walk transitions in a straight line transitioning at cones spaced fairly close together and choosing which canter lead you wanted each time. Basically complete control over hindquarters, ribs, shoulders, head and neck, gait and speed!

Session 3 was with obstacles – putting the precise body control into practice with things like bending in and out of cones, side passing over things etc. This began to build the horse’s sense of purpose. Ie the horse recognising these movements aren’t random or pointless – there is a job to do. And finally cow working to further build the sense of purpose.

Amber has only seen cows once when we were followed by them on a hack and they freaked her out but I think all the previous work over the weekend meant she was curious not fearful, confident in me and task focused! So she was brilliant. Went into a herd, cut one out, guided it into the arena and then in a team with another horse we were guiding it round cones in a figure of 8 and finally penning it. If it made a break back to the herd Amber had to canter after it to head it back and she totally got it! She was alert, focused, willing and calm. A lot of fun.

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Overall the exercises seemed to be about getting Amber to feel confident in my leadership (through clarity and consistency) to be accurate in her movements (through being very particular about this – not accepting a 3 stride delay before halting or leaning into the bit or being sluggish off the leg etc) and having a sense of purpose by being focused and task oriented. The cow work gave ME a sense of purpose which communicated itself to her. But you can communicate a sense of purpose just by the focus and commitment you feel about a task. As Guy said to someone who’s horse was slow off the leg ‘imagine you’re on a level crossing and a train is coming’. The horse moved!

I’m want to be an event rider not a cowgirl and I am not  interested in Western riding but this sort of work feels really useful for any horse in any discipline, so I will definitely be going back one day…… and next time I meet some cows out hacking hopefully it will be a little less, erm… interesting than it was the last time!!

Happy Birthday/Jumperversary!

Happy Birthday/Jumperversary!

A year ago today I decided to celebrate my birthday by jumping Amber for the very first time. She wasn’t very straight but she was very keen!

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Since then it has become clear that she is born to jump. She’s built for it and she absolutely loves it. The only issue is riding her power and her enthusiasm. Amber jumps 80s like they are 120s and 100’s like they are 140s!

She locks on and launches, just running through the bridle. In our BE80s we have generally jumped clear till 2/3rds or 3/4s of the way round the course but by then she is running on and flat and we have had a couple of poles in the 1st 2 events of the season. She did jump clear (yay!) at Speetley but I think we were lucky! And it still took me half a lap to pull her up afterwards!

We hit a low point a few months ago when she literally pinged me right out of the saddle and I was told I needed to work on ME to be able to ride her. I have got away with poor riding for years because I have ridden easy horses and have never done anything either big or technical! That won’t do for Amber. Cue pilates, core work, lunge work, lessons on other horses and practice, practice, practice. I thought we were improving then we hit another low point at camp and I was advised to send her away because I simply was not up to the job of educating her properly. On both of those occasions I felt defeated and hopeless. And both times gave serious consideration to letting her go to a pro for a while.

But the eventing season was about to begin and having worked all winter towards eventing her this season, I was not about to send her off just now. 3 events later and I am having the most fun on a horse I have ever had. The 4 steps forward 3 steps back of the off season have been replaced with Amber being generally awesome during all 3 events.

Me – not so much – but she is doing her bit which is the main thing. I can work on me! SJ faults have gone from 12 to 8 to 0 in the 3. No XC faults in the first 2 events and a silly rider-error for a run past in the 3rd. (Let’s not mention dressage though….)

She is brave, bold, enthusiastic and she gives me so much confidence because I just trust that she will always jump what she is presented to. Always. She just never says no!

Today I celebrated my birthday/jumperversary with another jumping lesson.

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She was great and looking back over the year, I am proud of what we have achieved. Sure, a pro rider would be far further on but I’m in no hurry. I am not ready to step up to bigger tracks anyway even if she is! So we will just continue taking the slow and scenic route. Here’s to year 2 of our jumping adventures.