#horseyroom101

This blog post is inspired by buck off banter’s horsey room 101’s. If you haven’t listened to Katie and Karla’s podcasts then where have you been all summer?? Now, you need to understand that I am a grumpy middle aged woman, and I could probably fill a book with equestrian room 101 blogs but I am going to start with equine breeding. Not the physical part of it as that bit is essential for the sustainability and longevity of our sport. I am talking about the slight one upmanship that is only ever valid if the horse A. Is top class, B. Goes on to be top class or C. Goes on to breed something that ends up top class. Otherwise, your superb breeding that you are telling everyone about is pretty much demonstrating to everyone that you have bought the ‘disappointment’ of the family or that you have more money than sense and have hopelessly over horsed yourself.

Before reading anymore of this please be aware of the following disclaimers:

1. I know really very little about breeding horses, my degree in Equine Science was done in the 90’s and my expertise in this field is as outdated as my regent leather boots (with garter straps) and my love of flappy over reach boots.

2. I identify with Barbara in this blog, because on more than one occasion in the past I may have been Barbara.

Now I know we love to be proud of our horses. They are our substitute children. They cost a fortune and take a lot of time to produce, however it always makes me giggle when people tell me proudly how well bred their horses are, particularly when that breeding is for an entirely different discipline. Yes it’s great Barbara that your Johnny is a second cousin to a horse that was once ridden by Sir Anthony McCoy, but last time I saw it, you were trotting down a centre line, not jumping the last at Cheltenham. And what’s more, it’s a gelding, it’s breeding means nothing because no matter how amazing it all turns out, Johnny will never be a daddy horse.

I’ve only bred one horse ever. I will never breed another. I feel like I did ok when I bred Beau, but I could have every right to have been a little disappointed – and this is the problem with breeding horses. It’s a fucking lottery. Now, I have a horse that is every bit as talented as it needs to be for the job of doddling around BE90’s, but I had bred from a mare that had Ramiro Z bloodlines (great grandsire so a bit like Johnnys racing anecdote – far enough away to not be too influential I guess). But she was put in foal to a stallion from the zangersheild stud, that also had (even more distantly) Ramiro Z (the king of sires for SJ) and also had Caretino Z more closely in his parentage. If nothing else, I should have got a half way decent SJ for the breeding strategy I had used. Sadly if you look at Beaus SJ record for the last 4 years on BE you will see he has only jumped one clear round. He’s never stopped, he’s just not that careful, he’s no show jumper. Show jumpers and dressage horses can have similar breeding (this may be a massive over simplification) but Beau’s sire was a Grand Prix dressage stallion- so he must do a nice test right?? Nope he really doesn’t. It’s ok, it’s not terrible and it’s better than his shit SJ but he ain’t no Valegro!!! In Beau’s breeding is a tiny tiny tiny bit of Welsh Section D. Well, which bit do you think has stamped his galloping technique?? So yes. I have a 16.3hh ‘sports horse’ with the galloping knee action of a 15hh cob. I would have taken the medium trot of a Welsh D!! The one thing this boy does, is the one thing he wasn’t bred for!! He absolutely loves XC. I can’t really moan about not having a good event horse I suppose, when I actually on paper seemed to be trying to breed a show jumper or dressage horse, but imagine if I had been trying to breed a show jumper?? I’d be standing in the collecting rings while the pole pickers lift the remains of his demolition job, telling everyone that he really should be like his famous equine cousins!!

So yes Barbara, it’s really interesting that your half TB, non racing horses’ distant relative once ran in a race, but I would be more interested in us just chatting about ways you can school it to ensure that free walk on a long rein isn’t done in free canter on a short rein…..

Furthermore, thank god we don’t talk about our children in these terms. I’m a teacher, imagine if at parents evening the mother sat down to tell me that little Johnnys great uncle’s wife was a Dr so we are hopeful that Johnny will do well…. We don’t put these expectations of grandeur on our children for such distantly related greatness. My grandfather has an MBE, how close am I to the queen awarding me anything?? (Approximately 59 years if I live to be 100, but that’s about it).

Worse than the horse thing, is talking about prize winning heritage in animals that you end up eating. We have a dexter cow that is from show winning stock (get me being just like Barbara). There was nothing to stop us from having bought her for the freezer. Would I be telling everyone whilst eating a medium rare dexter steak about the fact that it tastes nicer because it was from decent show stock. No, I probably would not. (PS we are not eating you Lily!!).

Admittedly (and rather obviously) good breeding is a massive advantage over something with unknown breeding. People paying for top lots at sports horse sales are not idiots but it’s not just a paper decision. That’s why they watch them loose jump or breeze up depending on disciplines. Being sired by Frankel is pretty awesome but when it starts to be more distant is where I lose interest listening. The other thing that properly makes my eyeballs itch is when people get confused with the terms ‘by’ and ‘out of’. Some pretty knowledgeable people I know have managed to get themselves demoted in my admiration of them when they have either said some thing is by the mare and out of the stallion…… literally, what the fuck!! That’s not even possible! Don’t even get me started on the TB’s half brother only being a half brother if it’s out of the same mare…. I know we don’t talk that way in real life but in breeding it only works that way.

Of course the reality is that the horse doesn’t know how it’s bred. It knows if it finds something easy, and life is easy if you have talent. This is where careful and considered production comes into play. This is the hard part. So my message is, please folks, be proud of something you and your horse have done, or that you plan to do, or that tiny bit of progress you have made in any area of your horsing. Telling me about the the tiny proportion of DNA that it shares with Eclipse will only result in me telling you 1. How much DNA your horse shares with a banana and 2. The story about how my father has brought me up my whole life telling me that I am related to Ghengis Khan.

Footnote:

1. I have nothing against anyone named Barbara.

2. I take all of this back if I ever manage to get a horse sired by Sadlers Wells because I will be telling everyone I see that I own Istabraqs half brother.

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When you are a perfectionist but are so far from perfect that you feel like you are failing, constantly….

Today I got something right. I made a little person very happy. Sadly, he had better not get used to it because it’s unlikely to happen very often. As a full time teacher, a mother of 4, football mum, amateur event rider, wife, blogger, wannabe farmer (more small holder) and ever-so more occasional runner; I am starting to realise that I am spreading myself too thinly. I want to be good at all of these things but sadly, given to extreme range, I am failing. Failing miserably in fact. I will probably tell you that it is because my time is spread too thinly, but somewhere deep down I think that it is my motivation and drive that has taken a hit.

Today I made Finn happy. Finn is 4, he is my 3rd eldest son. Finn started school in September. I didn’t take him to school on his first day because I had to work. Work at my school, and I had a Y11 form, whose needs I put in front of my own child. Finns dad went, but ever since I have been suffering from ‘mummy guilt’. Today, thanks to my school giving us a disaggregated Inset day, I went to the church at 9.30 and watched Finns harvest festival. He wasn’t expecting this. When he saw me in the audience I could see him telling everyone on his row that I was there and pointing me out. I nearly cried.

This afternoon I am back in his school doing reading with his class. A day off from my school and I am spending most of it in another school! The point of this is that I am making the most of being able to do this, and hopefully it will make up for the nativity I will miss at Christmas, and his sports day in the summer which inevitably won’t fall on a time of day that I’m off. My parenting win on this occasion has been nothing more than luck. So I could request time off for these things??? With family friendly working practices in education, I know that in some schools people can, when convenient, have time to do these things – but I have 4 children. All of them have these important occasions and so how can I expect my school to allow me time for all of the things I would like to attend? So I don’t ask. I have had to have time off when they have been sick in hospital and I think this is enough. My eldest sons orthodontist, dentist, doctor appointments are now booked only in holidays and so I try to not allow any of my family stuff impact on my working day. This is not easy though. It certainly wasn’t easy going through IVF trying to do this – but I kind of achieved it with minimal disruption by waiting to have it when I could have egg collection and implantation in school holidays (with Finn) and a frozen embryo transfer (with Oisín) on a weekend.

I once had a miscarriage and didn’t miss a day of school. Another time I had a general anaesthetic for an operation on a Thursday in a half term (because I had been able to go privately) and was back at school on the Monday in spite of the 2 week sick note my consultant wanted to give me. After each child, I have gone back to work at 4 months. Most of the time I don’t feel mummy guilt, but at the moment it’s really bad and the sacrifice feels greater than any reward or benefit of this approach to my combined career and parenting.

A year ago, I added to my already busy schedule by my return to Eventing after more than a decade out of the sport. For my mental health this has been amazing. This is who I am. This is ‘possibly’ the path I should have followed (working with horses). But now I have something else to feel like I’m failing at – to add to my parenting and work. A year ago I came 20th at Monmouth Horse Trials. I then gave myself the chance to do whatever was necessary to return to the sport. A year of training, (100’s of hours of training) hours of fitness work, equipment upgrades, competing, 2.5 stone weight loss and this year I went to Monmouth Horse Trials and came………… 20th. Only I came 20th with £15k on my credit card!!! The cost of doing one of the most expensive sports on the planet!! Perspective tells me that I’m not really failing here though because the joy I have had from having gone through this makes me more determined to make it worth it and the reality is that progress isn’t always measurable in numbers (something that education perhaps should take note of).

This blog doesn’t really end with a happy up lifting moment of clarity because I don’t really have it right now. For all of the aspects of my life, the rewards are so few and far between, that sometimes (like now) I feel totally lost. I guess that every so often we all need a sign that we are moving in the right direction and I guess that this is possibly what is missing for me. My confidence is a bit low and self doubt have crept in (I also have a bad case of ‘post Eventing season’ blues). For the last 12 months I have been a case study for a lovely lady doing a PhD on the subject of women leaders in education who are mothers. My last interview with her was Wednesday night. For the last year I have outlined my journey, ambitions and goals. The final question on Wednesday was about where I imagined I would be in 5 years. I suspect she expected me to say that I would hope to be on a Senior leadership team, that I might be doing an NPQH…… but I told her I wasn’t sure any more about what I hoped or what I wanted out of my career. Maybe the personal sacrifices of working while having a one year old, in addition to the 3 older children, are catching up with me?? I cannot and wouldn’t want to be out of work. I have made huge progress in tackling my work / life balance. Maybe I need to be less goal/target oriented?? I have moved towards this with my riding. My 8 faults SJ at Monmouth which dropped us out of the placings was actually the best round we had jumped ….. ever. I have jumped horrible feeling, sketchy clear and 4ft rounds (admittedly not too many ACTUAL clears) but at Monmouth he felt sooo good. It just wasn’t reflected in the score. I know enough and am confident enough to appreciate this. Perhaps in all of those other areas of my life, I’m not as rubbish as I feel (she says, secretly hoping this to be the case)??? I just don’t know. What I do know is that I am going to leave the house in a minute to go to my sons primary school to hear him read and am going to have a happy little person for the rest of the day. My children make me proud every day. They make me proud that even though I’m doing such a rubbish job at being a parent, that they are growing into such lovely people. And on that note I am going.

A moment of clarity, 364 days later…

Tomorrow, one year ago, I woke up from being in a wilderness. I had been there, stuck in this limbo land for nearly 15 years. I had finally moved on, and in doing so set myself some fairly challenging goals for this year.

My hope had been that I might score in the top 10% (usually placed 1st-4th) of a BE90 to qualify for a regional final. So far, we haven’t even been in the top 13 finishers. Having started one year ago with a dressage over 35, a fence SJ and clear XC, we have had some progress, but progress does not always equate to improved scores instantly.

Our dressage is now consistently in the early to mid 30’s. We are still striving for the sub 30 that would be needed to get a qualifying result, but his work is improving and I am now riding better. We still need to improve the contact, left canter and transitions. It has taken considerable time, money and effort to reduce our scores by these 5 marks or so, but this is essential.

Our SJ is now the bit that is the difference between getting placed and not being placed. All of our ‘if onlys’ have been down to knocking either one or two poles. Our SJ is messy. It is the only phase that he is likely to nap in, so I probably over ride. I then fire him at the fences and they are only tiny. This phase needs considerable work. I have had some fab lessons where I have ridden well, and so I know what I’m hoping to achieve, but when it comes to the pressure of a competition I then completely default to type.

XC is amazing, he’s brilliant, we always end on a high. He’s actually one of the nicest XC horses I have ever ridden, and I have had some fabulous XC horses but they have pulled and he doesn’t. I obviously haven’t done any courses that are anywhere near the height that they did, but so far he has done nothing but impress me. The only penalties we have had have been for going too fast.

In another year where sadly rider fatalities are high on this phase, I appreciate that Beaus XC so far has been good. I know that accidents happen, and sadly this is the risk we all choose to take for our sport, and it’s a sport where it’s impossible to remove the risk. I didn’t feel like doing Solihull after that poor lady died there at the previous event. I decided not to enter it, and yet I always go to Sapey, knowing that a rider lost their life there a few years back. It’s hard to have perspective about the risk and it never sits comfortably with me, as I am sure many of you understand. I found Burghley hard viewing this year. It’s not the sport that we want to be involved in, for whatever reason that it happened. Too many rotational falls.

So next weekend is Monmouth and it’s fair to say that we are not as prepared as we had been earlier in the season. Returning to school and having so many things on with my children, and my husband being incredibly busy, has meant that Beaus not really had as good of a preparation. Since this situation is unlikely to improve, I have decided that the chance of keeping Beaus fitness levels high enough for another month to do Calmsden and Broadway is pretty slim, and would be unfair on him. In future years, when perhaps finances allow, I can pay for him to be worked by someone else in these months. For the meantime, I have decided not to do the October events. Nothing in the next month will improve our dressage or SJ scores, so entering these events will be a waste of time – so instead we will move to ‘plan B’.

Plan B: we need to sort our SJ. I need to improve our competition SJ. This won’t come from lessons or practising on my own. It sadly won’t even come doing UA SJ because my brain won’t consider these to be competitions. Instead I am going to use the Riding Club BS discount and do a winter of BS. What is really nice about this is that I have 3 show centres less than 40 minutes from home and 6 which are under an hour. I can pretty much pick which weekend I want to jump and find somewhere to go – I can arrange my competing around my life – unlike the Eventing which is round the other way. I have given myself some BS goals for my winter jumping and hope as a byproduct that we improve those areas needed for BE. I also have in the back of my mind that I have a horse that could probably be doing BE100 XC (and dressage), and if we were able to jump clears round 1m courses then the chance of us being able to qualify for a grassroots regional might be improved if we step up. The top 20% of scores qualify compared with 10% at BE90. The jumping is more influential too. Beau is already slightly too fast for doing 90’s. So this is where I am at. If I am jumping discovery’s by March then perhaps a couple of early BE90 runs will then lead us onto doing 100’s??? If I were being pessimistic I would be down on myself that I have spent all of this money and time and haven’t really improved my finishing position, but I am not being pessimistic. I am confident that the work we have done has laid foundations for doing bigger and better things- maybe bigger and better than I had originally planned??? So now to go and look at some show schedules 🙂

Good horses change your life, great ones define your life….

This is a bold statement. I have had several life events that have changed my path in life. I can think of 3 moments that I can attribute to this, but are any of them life defining? The truth is, I am not yet sure.

Changing disciplines:

One very rainy August day back in the Year 2000 I went to a Pony Club event at Berrington Hall. I knew it was a BE (was BHTA back then) course but I don’t think I had actually take too much notice of what I had entered. Walking the course following all of these yellow numbers I realised I had entered a class that was quite big. Only now I know that my first one day event was around a novice track. Fortunately I had been BSJA show jumpy Foxy around courses up to 1.20m. Up until this point I had firmly seen myself as a Show Jumper but from this day forward I wanted to competitively move to being more of an Eventer. I had always loved watching eventing and loved the thought of doing it through my childhood fantasies about riding around badminton, but hadn’t really ever had the right type of horse. Berrington Hall was one of the most memorable days of my life and not because I had won or been placed. In fact, due to the horse before me napping and being eliminated at the first fence, I couldn’t get Foxy going until after she had walked to the first fence and looked at it. She grew wings and flew the rest of the course.

Unfortunately it is an incredibly expensive sport. At that point in my life I earned £700 per month. With affiliated event entries, transport, start fees etc costing over £100 an event before looking at memberships, it was not a sport I could really afford to do. I did lots of unaffiliated PC events round some really decent sized 3ft 6 tracks, had the fun of doing 2DE etc. I did a few BE PN but sadly at the time that I had the talent, horses and bravery as a rider, I did not have the money to be trained and compete at the level that I could have done.

The beginning of the end:

On 29th May 2004 my dreams of being an eventer died on the side of the road. It is today 15 years since this date (at time of writing). I’m not in the right place to go into details just because of today’s anniversary, but I lost Harvey and he was an incredibly talented horse. His competition record does not reflect even 1% of his talent or what I believed he could achieve because he really was a season hunting, or team chasing, off being great. He never let the hand brake off XC and was a bit looky which often lead to faults in this phase. I firmly believed that he just needed to learn to run and jump. Sadly it never happened. I stumbled through another season and a half and gave up.

Starting again:

So with Harvey’s grandson Beau I have restarted eventing. On the 16th September 2018 I woke up after doing Monmouth BE. It was my first 90 on him. I woke up and after 14 and a half years I knew I was better. Better from something that I hadn’t realised was wrong with me. So now, having probably had nearly 15 years of PTSD I am back where I left off. Sunday is my first BE of the year. I feel as prepared for it as I could possibly be.

So Foxy, Harvey and Beau have all been good horses. They have all changed my life. Are any of them great? Are any of them able to be attributed as horses that defined my life? I don’t yet know. My suspicion is that the best is yet to come and each day the magnitude of this belief increases. Time will tell and so with a sense of great anticipation we will let our journey unfold 😊.

Making the most

It’s been badminton horse trials this week. Every year since I was a teenager I have gone on XC day (with the exception of when it was cancelled due to the weather in 2012 and in 2007 when I was weeks away from having a baby).

When I was young I would dream of the day that I would get to go around. The beauty of being young is that dreams like these fuel your imagination and give you something to get up for every day. My two eldest sons dream of being successful footballers and I hate it when people try to curb their ambitions with the reality that the chance of this happening is very slim. Like my mother would say ‘someone becomes those competitors’ and she is right. Growing up I have competed against people who have gone on to stardom in all spheres of equestrian sports. For these people, their talent, hard work and ambition has been met with a dose of luck. Being in the right place at the right time is significant.

I grew up wanting to become a professional rider but a number of factors prevented that from being a reality. I like to think at one point I had the ability. I remember being selected to represent Hartpury College on their inter college riding team. Only 4 riders were picked and a lot of the people I trialled against went on to being successful in the industry. I also remember riding in a demo and having Jane Holderness Roddam say that I was an exceptional rider. In spite of this, my riding career amounted to nothing more than being able to have started some lovely horses that went on to do very well and teaching some excellent riders who have gone on to do very well.

I know where I missed out. The opportunity to progress to that next level when I was 18 didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen for a couple of reasons. Firstly I didn’t chase the dream. I probably should have gone to be a working pupil on a professional yard rather than doing my degree at Hartpury (although I would never have gone into teaching and now be in the position I am now to be doing it as a hobby). I possibly missed my opportunity to being a 41 year old burnt out ex rider with no money. I possibly missed out on much more but I always strongly leant towards needing to be able to get a job that would earn me sufficient money to have a good quality of life. I also didn’t have the guts to give myself even a couple of years to see how far I could go. Secondly, by the time I had done my degree my parents were in a position where they were going to sell up their rather large house to buy a farm where my mother and I could have run our own yard. Sadly after a couple of years of nearly buying some superb places, their ideas and my goals had changed and so did theirs. They bought a house with 5 acres on a steep hill, not suitable for running a yard from. I fell into being a school teacher at the end of my degree because I had not got onto the chiropractic course I had hoped to do. Instead in the meantime I accidentally got a job as a school Science technician for a year and then realised that actually teaching was something I should probably do. I could teach at school during term time and spend my free time competing and teaching at pony club etc.

Being a successful competition rider on my own horses didn’t entirely work out either. I was fortunate to have some superb horses, but because I never had a huge budget to buy horses, I always had to get by with cheap problem horses. My horse purchase fund came from money that was always meant to be spent on something else. Instead of using my grant for my degree on living expenses, I lived in what could only be described as a shack and worked probably 40 hours + a week on yards to fit in around my lectures. I bought a horse called Foxy with the money. She could have been top class but had been spoilt by someone who had loaned her from her breeder. She was very well bred and I took my chance even though I knew she was a bit of a run away. She was the best jumper I have ever sat on. Her dressage was terrible though. Her best ever score was a 25 but this was a one off and most of her BE record shows scores above 40. I would sing to her while warming up and that helped her. When I sold her she was evented by a multiple Olympic gold medalist whom, after a while, realised that in spite of her talent as a jumper, she was never going to be able to get scores that put her in a competitive position. I eventually bought her back and kept her until she died. If I could have had any horse again it would be her. I would have loved to have had her as an unbroken 4 year old.

While starting to event Foxy I accidentally bought a problem horse, called Harvey, very cheaply that I had been breaking in. He had been to several different yards and had had several different people give up on him. He was 4 and he was stunning. He was huge. At 17.3hh if a horse doesn’t want you to get on then you don’t have many options. I worked with him in an arena alone until he trusted me. He then progressed very quickly and having Ramiro Z bloodlines he showed a lot of promise in both SJ and dressage. Sadly I wanted to event and he wasn’t keen on XC. We never got passed this. He died in an accident (the accident) before he could really show his true potential.

Before Harvey died I accidentally (see a pattern here?) bought another horse called Paddy. I had a ‘golden hello’ having taught Science for a year burning a hole in my pocket. I was in Scotland at a wedding and my lack of geographical knowledge led me to view a horse in Newcastle on the way home. He had a very good BE record having 19 points. He was nearly graded intermediate but being half Clydesdale wasn’t fast enough to go intermediate. He also wasn’t too keen on SJ at that height. He was cheap. He was also in Newcastle so it took a bit of sorting to get him home.

Not long after I had him Harvey died. Things changed. I evented him for a season but my heart wasn’t in it and I got pregnant instead. Apart from a few events on Foxy (having bought her back) after the birth of my baby, that was the end of my competitive riding.

I always had horses that had 2/3rds of what it took. I did not have the finances. I did not have the facilities. Yet I did so much more back then, with so much less than I have now. Time and enthusiasm were key factors.

I now have the facilities, I potentially have a lovely horse (who at 9 has done virtually nothing). He is Harvey’s grandson and I bred him from Harvey’s daughter Willow. I just struggle now with time, motivation and I’m not the rider I was 20 years ago. I’m working on all of this.

So having been watching at Badminton this weekend I am being reflective about my riding and am looking at how to be able to get the best out of Beau. I am realistic. I would love to get to baby badminton but need to be able to get sub 30 dressage and clear SJ to go with his usual good XC. I need to improve him so that he is good at all 3 disciplines rather than excellent at 2 of the 3 as I had found with the horses who came before him. He doesn’t need to be a world beater. He just needs to be consistent and then maybe one day we will get to achieve our goal of competing at badminton (even if it’s just baby badminton ☺️).

Feel the fear and do it anyway……

Fear is a funny emotion. It is meant to save us from harm right? In my experience I have found that fear in itself can be quite destructive. You are afraid, you overthink, you are not relaxed in your body and then your worries become a self fulfilling prophecy. I have seen it a lot with people riding sharp horses, they are scared, they tighten their body, the horse spooks, they fall off. They become more afraid. I’ve seen it with parents of toddlers, the toddler climbs something, they ‘helicopter parent’, the child believes there is something to be afraid of, tightens up, falls off. These are two examples where something that should protect us from harm causes harm. There are lots of occasions obviously that fear is lifesaving, and even in my two examples, a level to which this fear is entirely legitimate. The counter productive fear cycle is the one that we as riders constantly work to diminish. My mum (god rest her soul) would say ‘fortune favours the brave’, I try to live by this even at times when I really struggle to believe it.

As a child and young adult I had an interesting relationship with fear – in that when I sat on a horse, I didn’t really have any – and in fact the adrenaline or cortisol that I had from doing anything a bit risky I actually enjoyed. I was a bit hooked on the come down mix of the endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. The downside of this is that I now have virtually constant low level pain from the injuries I accumulated during this time.

I now generally don’t do things that cause me actual fear. I simply opt out. The reality is that I do suffer with a certain degree of anxiety in my life. Not that many people would know this because my anxiety seems to be quite selective. I spent a large proportion of my early years performing in front of people when competing my horses in a situation that I am entirely in control of. Public speaking, competing horses in public etc are all things that you wouldn’t associate with someone who suffers with a degree of anxiety – however I thrive on it. The sort of anxiety that I have is at its worst when having to make small talk with strangers. I hate it. I find it stressful and generally avoid it. However, I do it all of the time in my professional capacity with absolutely no problem. You see ‘teacher Nicola’ is a persona, a bit of an act, one that I have done for nearly 20 years. Every so often I have a bout of ‘imposter syndrome’ over it, but the role generally generates very little anxiety. I have learnt to moderate my anxiety at work by trying hard to be good at my job, by building good relationships with the people around me, and with the exception of one case where this wasn’t possible, this has served me well. Socially, I overcompensate for my anxiety by completely dominating conversations. People who meet me would say that I am a loud, gregarious attention seeker and I fully understand why but at home I’m actually really quite a quiet person.

I avoided confronting the demons in my head about eventing through total avoidance. I thought I had lost my nerve, which in hindsight makes no sense because it wasn’t a riding related accident that had seen my competitive riding come to an end. It was the aftermath of a road accident on the way back from an event, that over 3 years, and the subsequent birth of 2 of my 4 children that had led me to give up competing. My intention was that I would never do it again, and for 12+ years, I believed I was happy and comfortable with this. I now know that I wasn’t happy. I’m now fairly confident that I had PTSD for over 14 years. I only found this out in September when I woke up one day and was better. In one of my previous blogs I have talked about this, but in short it wasn’t fear of riding that had stopped me.

So on Saturday I had my first outing of the year on Beau. There was genuine fear around this outing, but I had broken it down in my head to being able to define what I was afraid of, and this helped considerably. I was afraid of the journey. 15 years ago I went to an event with a beautiful 9 year old horse in a new mode of transport and he never came home. He was shot lying in a pool of his own blood on the side of a road in a heap of mangled metal. Saturday I went out with a beautiful 9 year old horse in a new mode of transport…… you can see why my brain was concerned. Ironically, Beau would never have existed without that accident in 2004. He is the grandson of Harvey my horse that died. Beau is called Harves Legacy. Harvey was called Beau up to the age of 2, my son has Harvey as his middle name…. Yes that accident was significant, changed my life but I never dealt with it internally. It wasn’t my fault, and I knew that, but knowing and understanding are different.

Anyway, Saturday went fine, my concerns were nothing but a waste of emotional energy. It was just a fun-ride but it couldn’t have gone better. The journey was fine, my fear was unfounded, Beau was perfect (other than constantly kicking the tack locker in the trailer with his front legs!). I was cautious at the start on the ride and took a while to jump much, but we haven’t left the floor since September and the jumps were mainly hunt jumps (a little agricultural). The journey home was fine and I am now floating on air, once again slightly addicted to the feeling you get when you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone and everything went well. This is called progress, it’s a learning curve.

It is only right that we feel some sense of emotion when we do things. Riding is a risk sport. Horses and riders get injured, horses and riders from time to time die (rider fatalities these days are far more rare than they were 20 years ago thank goodness). The sport has moved forward in leaps and bounds in terms of safety but you cannot eliminate all risk. A healthy respect and an awareness of your own and your horses capabilities is vital.

It is true that most of the things that we are the most afraid of and worried about, never hurt us, and that it is the unexpected things that do the most damage. Be a little braver, don’t listen to that little voice saying you’re not good enough, don’t take ridiculous risks – I hold the MER to compete at BE Nov but won’t be starting at this point because that would be a recipe for disaster. My mother also used to say ‘what’s in the brain goes down the rein’. This is so true. If you think you will have a run out at a skinny coming out of the water, then guess what happens. Use positive visualisation to help qualm your concerns.

The feeling you get before you do something is easily misinterpreted. I guess this is particularly so if you have previously had a bad experience or memory. Anxiety and excitement feel the same. The context and how you make use of the emotion is key.

My anxiety is now pure excitement about the rest of the season. I will now be excited to go out and not anxious. I promise myself not to overthink and to remember that everything that happened, had to happen for me to be here, with this horse now. I will feel the fear and do it anyway 😊.

Making plans and my struggle with mediocrity

So in my last blog I mentioned that I am a bit competitive. It is my Achilles heel. I am overly ambitious in every area of my life. My goal of being the best, at everything, and the realism of not being able to achieve this, is exhausting. Back in September (2018), I had a bit of an epiphany, I now have more clarity on what I actually want to achieve in my life. I am coming to terms with the idea that I am not able to do everything at the best of my ability and that I need to focus on one goal at a time. My intention is to be micro ambitious.

So my one goal is that I would like to try to qualify for the 2020 Mitsubishi motors cup at Badminton horse trials. It will be a challenging goal because since 2006 I have only done 2 BE events. These were last September, as mentioned in my previous blog.

In September I began to formulate my plan as to how this might become possible. The biggest obstacle in my way was me. I did 2 events last year weighing about 3 – 3.5 stone more than I should be weighing. I have PCOS. The combination of this and several years of fertility treatment and pregnancies have taken their toll. Being this heavy and competing over a longer period of time would inevitably be physically detrimental to Beau. I have worked hard over the winter and have lost 30lbs and I am pleased with this progress so far. I want to lose another 14-20lbs ideally. I am working on becoming fitter, stronger and more flexible. On Saturday mornings I do parkruns with my eldest son, my husband and the two youngest boys in a double buggy…. I say this, my husband is currently injured from a trail run he did about 3 weeks ago, but he normally does the buggy running. It is only 5k but I just don’t have time to be doing further and I only run once a week nowadays. In the past I have done significantly more running up to half marathons. As previously mentioned, I am ridiculously competitive, but sadly really quite terrible at running. Completing organised runs partially filled the hole that riding had left for some of those years when I thought I couldn’t ride anymore. I suppose this statement isn’t entirely true, it wasn’t that I couldn’t ride, it was more that I had thought I wasn’t able to ride competitively at a level that I found acceptable anymore. I was wrong.

In addition to being aerobically fit, I have been working on my flexibility and core strength. In January I started to do 10 minutes Pilates or Yoga before bed. My body is a complete wreck. A combination of the accumulative effects of previous riding injuries, SPD during pregnancy and 4 caesareans has left me with significant pain and weakness in some areas, in particular my core. I used to go to Pilates but with 4 children and the youngest having only just turned one, I do not have the time. Instead I use you tube tutorials. I was doing really well with reasonable consistency throughout January, then in February my baby had sepsis and was in hospital for nearly a week. This set back a number of our plans and I haven’t really got back into the routine of doing it every night. My baby recovered (thank goodness, it was incredibly stressful for all of us) and despite another little stint in hospital this week he is (hopefully) fine.

The difference between being the competitive rider that I was in my early 20’s is considerable. Back then I had the time, whereas now I have to work around having 4 children and a full time job. I am fortunate that I now have the facilities at home that I would have given my right arm back then to have had. It comes at a price though because there would be no way that I could work part time even if I wanted to. The balance and compromise between having the time, the money, the facilities, the horse, the motivation and desire to compete have never quite lined up, but one thing is for sure… I bred a horse to event, he is now rising 9 with low mileage and if I wait 5 years until everything it easier in my life, then I will have missed my chance.

So with me in a somewhat improved condition both physically and mentally, I am not too far off being ready to do some things on Beau. Now I haven’t even mentioned my work on him over the winter and the reason for that is because we have done very little work actually together. I know all of the areas we need to work on and am addressing these a bit at a time. It has meant we have missed the start of the season but with my little one in hospital and the annual round of events being abandoned at this time of year, I’m not too concerned.

Beau has had a bit of weakness on his left rein since he was young. Among many different reasons as to why he has such low mileage, one of them was that we knew he would be a fairly big boy. He was broken and ridden away aged 4 and we did enough with him to do BYEH classes at Gatcombe and Hartpury (ridden by my friend) before turning him away. He threw a splint on one of his forelegs so he didn’t do too much as a 5 year old (and I had a baby that year too) but did a couple of 80t’s and a BE90 at the end of the year. As a 6 and 7 year old it was like he had hit puberty and he developed a real attitude at various points. Looking back now I can see potentially a couple of reasons that might have contributed to this – hopefully things that over this last winter that we have fixed. At 8, once I was back riding we had some fun and he mentally was in a really good place.

Over the winter my aim was to improve his strength, forwardness and straightness- but I knew I wouldn’t have sufficient time to keep him in full work. I had his back, teeth and saddles sorted and worked him regularly on the lunge and rode at weekends. He’s loads better now. I have also treated him prophylactically for stomach ulcers because he started chewing wood and became a bit arsey when being ridden. This has made a real difference.

Anyway, the plan is to now get him fitter through incorporating more fast work and working together to achieve a more balanced, forward and accepting picture of harmony. My next blog will layout our plans to prepare for our first outings of 2019.

Attempt to start a blog number ……..

Right, so for 2 years I have been trying to start a blog. So far I haven’t got past the first post because I have had no idea which element of my life to write about.

I have finally decided that I am going to write about my return to competitive equestrian sports as an old, overweight, never quite a ‘has been’, on a 9 year old homebred horse who was bred out of sentimentality, whom should have done more over the last 4 years. I have reached a point of now or never and while I could continue to use the excuses of; lack of time due to working full time and having 4 young sons, not having enough money due to having 4 young sons, being too tired due to having 4 young sons, being overweight and unfit due to ………… you get the picture right?? I could continue to give myself genuinely good reasons not to have made a return to competitive riding, and believe me when I say that there is far more to the story of my riding career and why I gave up than I have as yet eluded to, but that’s a blog (a very long one) for another day.

A much shorter story is my surprise return to eventing at the end of last season. I say surprise because it happened by accident and I got carried away. I am a strange combination of being a complete control freak, over thinker, over planner and an impulsive lunatic. I had given birth to baby #4 in the February of 2018, gone back to work (I am a teacher) in the June and had just started riding my horse a bit more and a bit more. My husband had previously told me that if I didn’t start doing something with him then I would have to think about selling him. I couldn’t do that. Too much history is involved in the story that resulted in his existence for me to sell him on…. and to be perfectly blunt, he is at times a complete little shit.

It got to August of 2018 and for some reason I entered an unaffiliated one day event. It was a little unplanned (unheard of for me – impulsive lunatic side coming out), and this unplanned thing was a good thing because I had no time to overthink the situation.

I am fortunate that I have a couple of really good friends who help me with Beau. One who has been riding and helping me with him since last spring. As another busy mum, she had sold her horse but still wanted to be able to ride, have lessons and compete. We were competitive friends throughout our childhood and I trust her without question with my horses. Without her involvement he wouldn’t have been fit enough for my impulsive return- so I am very grateful for that. The second friend, has been with me through the tail end of my competitive life 14 years ago to my return. This relationship is a really interesting one because our roles have almost totally reversed, he is now coaching me whereas I had taught him when he was a teenager. He again is someone whom I entirely trust with my horses.

I have gone off at a massive tangent so back to last August. (PS. If you like blogs with short sentences and a direct pathway through a concise and short explanation of events, then this is not the blog for you). So on entering the unaff event I then realised that I was too overweight (by about 3.5 stone) to fit into any of my competition riding clothes. The safety standards had all changed and I was now looking at needing to invest some money in buying new equipment. So out with my 2000 Rodney Powell body protector, my porter boots and bandages, gone is my over girth and my regent leather boots with their garter straps. Hello to all new clothing for this overweight, old woman and her grumpy, lazy horse.

I had for a long time held the belief that I had lost my bottle. As a child I was fearless. I regret being fearless now because much of the pain in my body when I lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, is because I once was fearless. My body carries long term effects from the injuries I acquired through my recklessness of my youth. Back then I had a high pain threshold and a do or die mentality. I broke lots of bones while finding my physical limits. It didn’t really hurt at the time, but it does now. Anyway, once again, back to the story…… turns out I hadn’t lost my bottle, it was just another excuse.

I went to the event and although I got a disappointing mid 30’s dressage and a pole SJ, we had a lovely clear XC (yes I was actually disappointed with this because I kind of thought I might win!!). With this under my extra large belt I entered a BE 80t class at Sapey. This is great because back in my day Intro’s (BE90) barely existed. With my sister in law in tow we went and again disappointingly I didn’t win. I had a lovely day though and it pushed me to enter Monmouth BE90. As my third competition this one for me really felt like the first ‘proper’ competition so I was really pleased to get around with a fence SJ and clear XC even though I hadn’t won! On the way home I realised that something in me had changed and I now needed to formulate a plan………

Tales from an underachieving overachiever and the struggle with embracing mediocrity

This is my third attempt to start this blog. I have tried for the last two years, but my distinct lack of direction has completely impeded me… I didn’t know whether to write in my professional capacity as a teacher, striving to provide a better experience to the students in my care, while constantly having fewer resources due to budget constraints. I didn’t know whether to write about my chaotic journey through motherhood, loss of pregnancies, secondary infertility, IVF, parenthood to 4 sons. I could have written about my experiences as the worlds slowest runner or my life as a frustrated event rider. Unfortunately I couldn’t decide, and I couldn’t separate myself from the fact that actually I am all of these. So this will be a blog that will appeal to an incredibly niche market and hopefully this won’t be the only post I write until this time next year….

Where to start?

I am a 38 year old mother, teacher, small holder, wannabe runner (very slow runner), fair weather horse rider, racing enthusiast, wife, aunty and sister. On the 1st January 2017 I decided to write a blog. 2016 was an interesting year and I intend to write this blog to document the fallout that follows. I plan to write about my views on life, parenting, teaching and to record life events.

Happy reading