Dressage Divas

It has been a while but here is a post all about my riding progress. My stables are now on holiday for two weeks, the Royal Highland Show and the local shows are on and my instructor is competing at both I believe. A few different things to update you all on just now.

Riding & Road Safety Course

I have been doing the British Horse Society’s Riding and Road Safety course now for a few weeks. I have been learning all about the correct way to ride on the road and how to keep your horse, yourself and those around you safe. It is fascinating. However, I am finding certain aspects challenging, looking behind me enough and far enough behind me as I am not particularly flexible but I need to push myself around more to really be able to see any cars or bikes coming up behind me. I also have a tendency to do ‘jazz hands’ rather than the closed handed signal I need to when showing the direction I plan to turn. I also need to ensure the horse is walking forward smartly as sometimes I have a tendency to allow the horse to dawdle as I am thinking about other aspects. I have so far ridden Am and HB for the riding and road safety which has also been interesting as I have never ridden HB before. He immediately became bolshie with me, which I wasn’t expecting but I managed to get him back to listening to me. Once I worked out he is similar to Tx, hungry and inclined to laziness but with the added ‘I don’t want to do that’ element we got on okay and I had him walking smartly for me. I have another couple of course dates and a mock exam before the real one so I have a few more chances to get it all ingrained in my memory. I have also been practising in my normal lessons and very sadly on my bike when cycling about town. I am confident the car drivers thought I was mad with the grand turning gestures I was giving but at least it stopped me doing jazz hands 🙂

Regular Sunday Lesson

As I mentioned in a previous post I have injured my ankle, currently it is improving but I am limited in what I can do and it is causing me a bit of an issue at the riding. Sunday’s lesson for example I had to accept that my ankle was sore and I couldn’t do as much trot work as the others in my lesson. It was a shame as I had Ct and I think we could have done quite well. I got to spend some time in the walk bending him, leg yielding him left then right, putting in lots of bends and it felt great – I actually felt him soften in my hands and drop his head to me. It was also interesting to note that when he did get distracted and threw his head up I was able to get him back quickly and easily. So far so good…or so I thought. Next up came a canter exercise – canter at the corner, canter large, change the rein across the long diagonal, pull back to trot through X, then when you feel ready canter on again, then change the rein again on the next long diagonal, trot through X again then canter on to the corner and trot. Whew! Well I had to call off on that one, I wouldn’t be able to stay off Ct’s back in canter with my ankle – I was gutted it sounded great. All I was asked to do while my two friends worked away on this exercise was to place myself in the corner (with Ct) and stand. Simple you say?? Oh not if you are Ct & I. I just could not get him to halt. He was wandering all over the place and I started to get a bit panicked, what if he got in B’s way? B would not stop cantering for Ct even if it meant a crash. Me being the fool that I am started my refrain of ‘Errr I am a little worried..’, my instructor shouted back ‘Oh for god’s sake Steph he is just walking about, it’s not like he is cantering around or even trotting. Get a grip, halt him if you want him to halt’. To be fair she was entirely right and it wasn’t nice of me to but in while she was teaching someone else, I felt suitably pathetic. Thus chastised when she called Ct and I over to do some individual work I asked to work on my halt transitions and trotting with him, I thought I really need to understand what I am doing to cause various things to occur. For example my instructor explained that Ct thought I wanted him to walk on from the corner as I kept tipping my weight forward while trying to sort out my stirrups, so entirely my own fault. I also asked to do a final canter on Ct as I really wanted to and thought my ankle would hold up, it was great – more of the giraffe sensation again but this time I got him to canter around the corner beautifully and my instructor explained that is because I had him bending really well. So a mixed lesson in a way but good in the end, let’s see how much I have forgotten after 3 weeks!

Dressage Test

Now for a little more details about the dressage test. I did introductory test b as did most of the participants although a few did so well last month they graduated to the preliminary test which involves canter. The whole night was really good fun. I was more nervous than I had expected as we had been working on the test during the previous lesson and Am & I had done pretty well.

I had originally wanted to do the test with Tx but due to my ankle injury was advised to take Am as perhaps I wouldn’t need to push her on so much 🙂 Tx is a lazy wee guy but if you get him paying attention he is brilliant.

First thing to do was to get some correct width stirrups then I could get on and get Am warmed up. While I was away getting some stirrups from the tack room I heard what I thought was farm machinery being started up, it was so loud it gave me and my mate a real jolt and as we went outside I could see Am getting a little worried. All of a sudden there was a flurry of activity and we realised someone must have fallen off in the warm up area. That’s when we were told that it was a plane flying so low that one of the horses galloped off and threw his rider – no wonder, it was far too low and we reckon he thought it was going to land on his head. In fact some of the other riders were saying they thought the plane was making an emergency landing in the fields at the back! The stables did complain about this as it really is dangerous, they are meant to receive notice and it is only through sheer luck that the other horses didn’t all react as well.

With that drama out the way it was time for me to get on and get into the warm up area myself. That was odd, not having someone even giving you ideas of what to do and of course telling you if you had done it correctly. I started by moving her about in walk, honestly it was as though she had never been in that field before – everything got a good staring with the ears pricked forwards and some kids in the field well that deserved a stationary stare. After a couple of minutes I was feeling happier and started working on the bends with her. Doing circles, changes of rein and leg yielding her. I was also practising halting her and getting her to stand square – that horse loves to wander. It felt like ages that I was warming up for but I think that was because I really wanted to get in and started, finally the call came for me and Am to enter the school.

It started badly in the sense that the lass calling the test for me had gone to put her horse out and was in the furthest away fields with no idea that I needed her. Cue lots of people rushing to try and find her. I tried to amuse Am and keep her warmed up by working on trotting but I was getting quite nervous and was forgetting to do anything other than trot around and around. My caller appeared running into the school and begining to call the test on her way to the corner, she is so sweet and so funny honestly it just made me giggle. So ‘ding ding’ time to start!

Well our move up the centre line to enter was a bit wiggly and I didn’t make it to C, I turned far too soon. My 20m circles were really pretty good and my transitions to walk then back to trot were okay as well although I was in walk for too long on one rein. Throughout the first half of the test I had a great quality trot from Am and a decent walk initially for the walking section but then we lost compulsion. I can see on the video (oh yes we videoed everyone, if this blog allowed videos you could be laughing at some interesting dressage right now!) that I started to shove with my butt during the walking section and I think that’s what lost me the energy we had. I think I would have been better to use the whip once to get her attention and then I would have stopped the kicking. I did ask my instructor if I often shoved like this in walk but she said no and believes it is something to do with my ankle.

Before I knew it we were coming up the centre line in trot, back to walk at X (that was a nice transition) and halting at G. Unfortunately she didn’t stand square but given that Am hates standing still the fact she stood while I saluted was impressive enough for me. Back into the warm up area for a cool down and I was relieved it was over and quite happy with how I had done, I knew I had lost energy and I had thought some of my circles might have been squint but at least I had remember my left from my right! Once I dismounted I did the most important thing and grab a picture with the beautiful horse I was on then went to watch my friends.

Don't we look smart? All smiles afterwards!
Don’t we look smart? All smiles afterwards!

They all did brilliantly, they were on much tough horses to bend and keep moving than Am. In fact one of my mates was riding the horse that spooked earlier in the evening, however she rides that horse so well that the test looked effortless.

There was a wee prize giving later on so we hung around for that and to watch everyone else. Unfortunately I didn’t get placed – I was only a point away but still I was a little disappointed as Am is such a brilliant horse and frankly if I had put her in the school by herself she could have done that test 🙂

I did get a rosette, a Special rosette for taking part! Honestly it counts against me that I was really chuffed with it. But more excitingly two of my friends got placed – 2nd & 3rd!!! They totally deserved it. I on the other-hand now have bits of paper to help me work on getting placed next month. The only way is up!


7 Hills Challenge – A Guest Post

As you all know from my previous posts I was unable to run the 7 Hills Challenge on Sunday so I headed up Carlton Hill to cheer on my mates who were running it.

Me at the start of the 7 hills
Me at the start of the 7 hills

Since I was being petulant and in a huff 🙂 very kindly Lisa has provided me with a post for this race.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time, but by the morning of the Seven Hills race when the alarm clock went off at 6am, I wasn’t so sure.  Due to injury, Steph is stuck in trainers for all the wrong reasons, so this race was dedicated to her.  So thank you Steph for cajoling us to sign up for the seven hills, leading the way on training runs and for your cheerful farewells on the start line.

I’d promised myself that if I finished the race then I could buy myself a t-shirt and if I got a sub 3 hour time then I could have a doughnut (one of those cream filled fudge doughnuts that Greggs teases you with).  So much for that, I bought the t-shirt before the start of race!

The start gun went off, the first of my energy gels fell to the floor and off we went.  I made a new friend on the Royal Mile when we both got stopped by traffic and we stuck together and chatted away the Ks until Craiglockhart.

I shot up the bank at Craiglockhurt like my tail was on fire, thought that I smiled for the camera at the top, but looking at the photos on the website, apparently not:>  Felt pretty good at this point.

I was advised that a pair of gloves were a good idea to help scramble up the hills.  As it was a warm day I didn’t need them on for the whole race.  What to do?  Brainwave, stick them down my bra.  Don’t try to imagine it………..

Took an ‘individual’ route between Blackford and Arthur Seat – the allotments are far too over rated, but didn’t lose too much time.

Witnessed some interesting manoeuvres through the turn stile at Pollock and off up Arthur Seat I went.  By this point my quads were on fire and as I crawled up to the top I couldn’t care less about the rabbit poop.  If only I knew where those gloves went.

What was humbling was to see the women’s race for life, and all those people running for charity when I bet the vast majority of us seven hills folk did it for nothing more than personal gain.  Was wearing my lucky pink race vest, so I think most people thought I was in the Race for Life, but going in the wrong direction.

Anyway, nearly there, finish line in sight, but I think they kept moving backwards.  No chance of a sprint finish, but at least I didn’t vomit.

Thank you to my new friend Martin for the enjoyable run to Craiglockhart and to those people who pointed me in the right direction when I was standing in the middle of the road looking gormless and of course to Steph, who is already talking about the training for next year.

I finished in a miracle time of 2.17.29, came 9th out of 260 Challengers and was 2nd women, just a pity that I didn’t want that doughnut in the end.

Did it, got the t shirt??
Did it, got the t shirt??

May WWC Round Up

So during May I had to deal with a new challenge, I had a holiday abroad, not only that but somewhere hot. Now I am sorted on the ski gear and woolly hat front, running gear – tons of that. Beach wear?? Hmmm not so much of that. Quite frankly that kind of stuff isn’t really my style so it seemed a bit strange to be looking in my wardrobe trying to decide what to pack.

Woolly hat not required!
Woolly hat not required!

I mentioned previously about finding a couple of sarongs and shorts in the charity bags my riding instructor gave me but when I tried on the shorts again they were slightly too tight, I have kept them because they are a nice fit and pattern. Next up swimwear, now I will be honest here and say that I had a perfectly serviceable swimming costume but that I wanted a different one. I wanted a bright colour and a nicer fit – I feel bad in a way for getting one as was clearly a want not a need and although I promised myself I would swim at least once a week when I got back that hasn’t materialised and now both swimming costumes are glaring accusingly at me whenever I open my underwear drawer. The other issue for me with swimwear is sizing, unfortunately I am largely limited to where I can get swimwear that will actually hold my chest in place not cause any embarrassing moments in the sea/pool. That meant that I spent £46 on a new swimming costume and used up 8 coupons in process. I am hoping that this feeling of guilt will spur me into swimming more so you never know in the long run it might help improve my fitness and I am all about that.

Beautiful but unnecessary

My guilt has also been increased by Nik and Franca who are both participating in this challenge and both have vintage swimsuits that look absolutely amazing, there really was no need for the purchase. It is a must do better mark for me!

Having used up 8 coupons and feelings of guilt abound due to the buying of a brand new garment with little to no information available about its origins I really didn’t want to get anything else new and this is where my family and friends stepped in. My mum lent me a tunic top and a pair of cropped jeans, and my friend who I was staying with in Egypt lent me some full length trousers after the mosquitos decided my ankles were the tastiest things around (seriously I still have red marks from the bites, it looks horrific). Between them this saved me a lot of coupons and unnecessary purchasing for a week long holiday. It did get me to thinking that it is a shame that we don’t lend our clothes more, when I was young I was often given hand-me downs from my sister as she is only two years older than me and I was happy about it, well most of the time. As I got older I found the items my mum had kept from the 70s and started borrowing them and frequently flatmates and I used to wander in and out of each other’s rooms looking for items of clothing for a night out. I have to say I really appreciated being lent clothes by my mate and my mum, it made kitting myself out for a holiday much more straight forward and I want to ‘pay it forward’! So if anyone needs a loan of something drop me a line 🙂

This shirt is older than me and looks 100x better!

Next month – errr could someone remind me I am on WWC  and also slap me each time I reach for the credit card? July needs to be a moratorium on any form of shopping, I will explain more in the June round up. Also to continue a theme I managed to borrow half an outfit for my dressage test and even had second hand jodhpurs to wear – I think you will agree I look sharp! I will be putting up a full post about the test later this week.

Don't we look smart? All smiles afterwards!
Don’t we look smart? All smiles afterwards!

Miles run: 0!!!! – I am not a happy bunny

Coupons Remaining: 14!!!!  (I am using half points for second hand but with tags but more about that next month)

A bit of an issue

Now I am well aware I am uncoordinated but I have been relatively lucky over the years and rarely had an injury that might make me pull out of a race. The last time that happened it was because a horse had stood on my foot.
I am pretty sure you all realise what is coming! I was doing one of my final reccie runs of Arthur’s seat for the 7 hills on Friday lunchtime. The pace was good,  I felt ok – given I had been out with colleagues drinking cocktails and gin & tonic this was impressive. We made our way up to pollock halls discussing best routes and idea of times, these guys I run with are much faster than me and this pushes me when I run with them.
We ran around some fences put up in the car park for building work and suddenly I felt my foot land on something unstable,  before I could do anything my ankle collapsed to the side and I fell down. I will be honest here and say I was a jessie and burst into tears. The guys I was running with were great, as were the builders. I had to hobble the mile back to the office but I kept it elevated, iced it and had it wrapped. I was sure it would ease and the 7 hills would be possible on the 16th. Well now it is the 9th, a week to go and my foot is swollen, painful and bruised.

I can’t give up quite yet, not after all the training and the tribulations of that training. Plus it just looks beautiful!

Hairy Haggis Relay – The Point I realise I am competitive over really bizarre things!

I know this has been a long time coming, sorry about that. I thought i would just put together a short race review of the relay I took part in on Sunday 26th May. I ran the first leg for my team. We were a mixture of staff from the University and we were raising money for the Emc. Some were experienced runners others training for their first-ever race which meant it was a nice mixture although we were all joking around about being the fastest team.
So Sunday dawned early but overcast. I had laid things but the night before and since we had team vests the clothing choices were made easier. I decided upon shorts as if this is the only summer we are getting the legs are coming out! I also put on my trusted sweaty betty long sleeved top as it looked a bit chilly outside. I had my breakfast of champions, note the electrolyte water.

Then stuffed some money and gels in my shorts before dashing off for the bus. I started getting excited/nervous on the bus, there were a few other runners on the bus and as the bus made its way up Leith Walk there were more and more sporty looking people on the streets.
My starting pen was one of the middle ones so I started on Regent Road, it was strange to be alone at the start I am used to running races alone but as I didn’t know the two first leg runners on the other teams I just hung about. At twenty five to ten I decided a trip to the loo was in order. It never fails to surprise me, there were literally tens of thousands of runners and about forty portaloos. Hmmm that one baffles me. Anyway as the minutes ticked away I started to get anxious, I didn’t want to let the team down by not starting on time. At five to I was at the front of the queue and dove into the next free loo. Out again as quick as possible only to realise that my start pen was the far end of the street, I hared off like a demon briefly questioning my wisdom to be running flat out before I had even crossed the timing mat.
Once I had squeezed into the pen behind mine I started to take in the atmosphere more. All the runners in various combinations of clothing, some with gels, some without, many running for charities and most looking pretty nervous. It actually made me think I might like to try a full marathon one day, but first I have to destroy a half!
So we moved forward, first at a walk then a jog then a run. Before I knew it we were over the timer mat and off. The first leg of the relay is pretty much flat and downhill although as you can imagine it was really congested. I was really conscious of the fact I was running with people who would be going a lot further than me and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t hinder anyone else’s progress as I weaved my way through the field. Like all people who have entered a busy race know, frequently I was trying to run through gaps only to find people running diagonally into me or jostling me backwards.

If I am honest I am a little immune to the beauty of Edinburgh as a city so it was nice to be amongst runners commenting on the view to Arthur’s Seat and parts of this route are great. I saw a couple of photographers so did the stupid ‘thumbs-up’ pose at them or waved madly and before I knew it my watched beeped for the first mile! 8:34! That is fast for me at the minute. I know the route well having done the half a couple of years back and lets face it if you run in Edinburgh you will have run parts of this route. The miles ticked by all under 9 minutes and while I did feel like I was pushing it I wasn’t feeling particularly tired yet. Around mile 5 I decided to have one of my gels – here is my top tip do not rely on stuffing gels into the waistband of your shorts, mine kept trying to escape and I eventually accepted I would just carry them – unfortunately I couldn’t open it easily and had to stop to open it, that really frustrated me as I had been feeling like I was really in the rhythm. After finally managing to eat my gel then start off again I tried to get back up to speed but did struggle slightly for that mile so when my Garmin showed 9:43 I wasn’t surprised just a bit angry with myself.

At the end of the prom in Portobello I spotted one of the other runners for the Euan MacDonald Centre teams so ran over to say hello. I knew he was relatively new to running and wanted to say how well I thought he was doing. After a minute or so chat he indicated for me to head on so I pushed on a bit. Around 2 minutes up the road I saw the other team’s first leg runner and decided that I should try to give my team the lead at the start. I hadn’t met this lass so didn’t stop to chat, then decided to keep pushing as I realised I really wanted to come in first! We rounded a corner near the race course in Musselburgh and I saw a sign with relay runners keep to the left. I realised I must nearly be finished and started to pelt through the crowds towards a woman standing there shouting ‘Relay runners, across the grass!’ I dove down the grass and there was my team mate waiting in the coloured pen I just held out my arm for her to take the wrist band and told her to ‘Go, go, go’!  I decided to have a breather briefly here, have another gel and then continue on and aim for 10 minute miles thereafter. I was being optimistic but I always am with times 🙂
When I started off again my legs felt heavy but soon warmed up. It was a hot day and I was already roasting from the first leg. I took more water on and kept moving but my stomach started to hurt around mile ten and I slowed down. By mile eleven I made the decision to go to the loo and had to wait briefly in a queue but once I left I ended up walk/running the last two miles as my muscles had tightened up so much. But considering this was the longest run I have done since October 2012 I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, still a little frustrated. Having said that the crowds and other runners were great, everyone clapping and cheering. People offering out sweets, water and spraying runners with water- which was welcome. At mile 13 I saw the relay signs again, this time relay runners keep to the right. I quickly weaved through to the other side and was at the grass before I knew it. I found my teammates then collapsed to the ground and lay there for a bit while finding out which team was in the lead. Still my team, Team A, had been in the change over first. Woo hoo!
We decided to head to nearer the finish line to cheer the teams in. Everyone did brilliantly. One of the other girls who was running legs 3 & 4 for the second team had overhauled my team’s lead and came down the last mile running really strongly. Then my team mate came barreling past shouting at us to find out how far in front she was. In the end my team won but only by 30 seconds, the competition element definitely livened it up where we were all cheering and comparing times. Brilliant fun.

Team A Leg 1 and 2 runners – all done! Plus Team B sneaking in on the act too 🙂

A couple of things that could be improved, please put more toilets at the start and the finish. Or at the end have toilets for runners only in addition, just it must have been annoying for the marathon runners to queue with all the spectators. Also it was pretty tough walking alongside the last mile of the race due to the width of the pavement. Maybe they need to get people across the race or direct them to the other side of race at the finish line where there is at least triple the amount of space. Especially for the people with the buggys who were having real problems.
The final verdict though, great race bit of a rubbish goody bag burst most importantly we raised over £3, 000 for the Euan MacDonald Centre!!!!

Much needed nachos and burgers after it all! Note how I am shovelling the food in!
Much needed nachos and burgers after it all! Note how I am shovelling the food in!