Success! (and a Little Bit of a Fail)

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So….I passed my Riding & Road Safety exam!!! Cue a round of applause please 🙂

It was a great experience all round and I have to say I would recommend it to anyone who will have to hack on roads either by themselves or in a group at a riding school. I have learnt a lot over the past few months and feel a lot more confident on the road with it all.

This exam is in three parts – a multiple choice theory paper, a simulated road route set up in a field and a route on the roads outside the stables. You have to pass each part to progress to the next one, the theory paper I was pretty happy with.

I had a couple of minor moments during the simulated route, the first was when MJ decided that the “scary” obstacle was actually fascinating and he should really take a closer look. Now MJ is not a spooky horse, as his owner tells me he walks past wood cutting machinery, combine harvesters and all manner of farm equipment and barely bats an eyelid but what he is, is a curious horse. All he wanted to do was to take a look, but of course in the Riding and Road Safety exam what you are doing is showing the correct way to ride past a scary obstacle (in case you are interested: turn their head away while keeping your right leg on to ensure their hind quarters do not swing out) so I had to slightly fight him to get him to look away from it. This then meant my line was compromised when I got to the flared junction but we still rode that pretty well. I thought I had messed up my remounting (you have to demonstrate dismounting and remounting as though in an emergency) as I thought I had stopped him too far from the block but I just managed – that will be the yoga working its magic! To be fair the simulated route was over in a flash giving me far too long to wonder just whether or not I would have passed.

On the road route we were fine bar one minor moment where MJ was put out that we had to halt to let Mr K and another candidate pass as they had right of way for passing some parked cars and we had been warned to treat the other horses as hazards. This is fair enough, if you met an unknown horse you would do just that but MJ was not in agreement, I think his view was ‘I am nearly home and it’s only Mr K’cue fidgeting and me having to give a good squeeze with the right leg to stop him from putting his arse into traffic.

We all passed, which was great. We then got a group photo taken, then to celebrate I bought a fluorescent hat band – I know how to celebrate 🙂

Unfortunately my lesson was not that great. My body hurt all over and I wasn’t really pushing Am on. We did a lovely canter transition and some nice leg yields but I was just too hot and uncomfortable. One of those slightly rubbish lessons (never that terrible if I get to ride) but I did manage to get a better understanding of light seat – mine is okay and secure but could definitely be improved.

Oh and an update on my physiotherapy. I had been doing my exercises and headed to yoga on Friday – I was feeling virtuous and definitely felt things were improving. So…I fell down some stairs on Friday night and sprained my left ankle! I was entirely sober (had a drink afterwards) but the lighting in the bar area meant I didn’t even see the final step. Oh well – it is healing okay after a day of rest and a 24 mile cycle plus the riding yesterday doesn’t seem to have damaged it. Fingers crossed eh? Inelegant doesn’t even cover it when it comes to me at times 🙂

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Bring It On!

Well I can’t believe it is Monday already, that weekend just flew by with an uncharacteristically quiet Saturday, in the exercise sense of quiet. Then a day yesterday that saw me soaked to the skin not once, not twice but three bloody times! It is lucky I’m not a fair-weather rider although by the end of yesterday I was begining to wonder if I should be 🙂

I have been good and doing my physio stretches each day but I need to create this ‘peanut’ thingy that my physio wants me to use – it was brilliant when she let me use it as it is like a foam roller for your shoulder and back muscles as it nestles right in there. I need to buy 2 tennis balls and some sports tape and get all Blue Peter to create one, I will post a picture when I do this as given my history with these kinds of projects it may injure me more.

I haven’t told my riding instructor about my trip to the physio as I am hoping that the exercises help with my positioning as I have certainly been feeling my hips tightening up during lessons. Fingers crossed some kind of miracle happens and all of a sudden I start to improve!

So yesterday, well folks I passed the MOCK Riding & Road Safety (the capitalisation is mainly for my benefit as I keep acting like I actually passed the exam). The weather also decided yesterday that is was going to make the conditions so atrocious that we were all tested by our horses. But before we even got on we had the first hurdle – the written exam in the world’s smallest porta-cabin. To be fair it does the job but unfortunately I arrived late meaning I had to do the multiple choice answer paper sideways with my legs dangling over the arm of the plastic chair as I couldn’t fit my legs underneath the table I was at. Pretty amusing to everyone else, I pretty much had to jump back out of the chair. Luckily we all passed and were sent off to check our horses tack and ensure we had all the fluroscents and hi-viz we needed. Now I was thinking that in the coming weeks I might do a couple of posts about my riding history as it is the 3rd anniversary of my riding at the stables I am at now and I thought it might be nice to do a look back. Something I have realised looking back is that things are done differently in different stables and hi-viz and fluroscent clothing when riding on the roads is actually something I have only come across at my current stables but when you see the difference this clothing makes it is quite amazing. Just look at this picture on the BHS website. Startling isn’t it?

Anyway for the riding and road safety exam your horse must have 4 leg bands on and you must have a hi-viz item of clothing on, we use tabards at my riding school but a lot of people have got their own gilets or jackets and I am thinking of investing in one. So off I went to find MJ all tarted up in his stable and to wait to hear if I could bring him out for the simulated road route. The wind was getting up meaning we had to pull the doors shut on the stables and the rain was hammering down creating pools of water in the yard, frankly MJ and I were beginning to hope they would forget about us so we didn’t have to go out in it!

Slowly I started to see other horses being led past the doors indicating that we were getting on, there are 13 of us sitting the exam with a few people sharing horses so the people sharing were getting to do the route first then the others would be called. I wasn’t sharing MJ so I knew we would called later on. I chatted away to MJ and the other girls sitting the mock exam who were with their horses in stalls round about me. I also paid some attention to the horses who weren’t being used in the exam as they seemed a little put out to not have anyone fussing over them.

Then the inevitable call to leave the warm stables and head out into the truly autumnal scene outside the doors. As we followed B and his rider outside MJ, who is part shire, tried to hide behind me to shelter from the rain. It was clear that this wasn’t going to be easy.

Actually even as I got on I realised that I was lucky. MJ while a bit put out at being outside only wanted to halt and put his butt towards the wind and rain. Some of the others were backing up and being real wee troublesome so-and-sos. Everyone handled their horses brilliantly though, it was a young lass who was on B – the part clydesdale – and she bossed him around and he responded brilliantly. I am a little in awe of some of these youngsters who just got on with it. After my realisation that the most I was having to deal with was a stubborn MJ I got on at him to get him walking smartly as we warmed up, one of the important things for the riding and road safety exam is to get your horse walking smartly, people have been failed for their horse walking too slowly. I got called forward to take my turn at the simulated route and do you know what….it went fine. I kept reminding myself to make it very obvious when I checked for traffic as I was warned it doesn’t look like I am checking as I don’t twist very well. We had one moment where I had to halt MJ at a flared junction to turn left, his hind quarters were all over the place but I felt in control and continued to check behind me left and right before turning. I worried that this might make me fail but I did feel that I was still in control.

Before I knew it the simulated route part was over, and MJ and I were squelching our way back to the stable where I used a sweat scraper and a towel to squeedgy the worst of the water off him while we waited to hear if we had passed. We did! Next up the road part of the exam. Well after a moment where MJ wasn’t sure if he wanted to leave the stables I reckon we did really well on that part, but I was pretty nervous during all of it. In the end we passed! A couple of things to work on was to show a longer trot on the road to demonstrate how in control you are in trot then and to watch his hind quarters to stop them from swinging into the road. So I can’t be complacent but it feels good to have passed the mock exam, it has calmed my nerves and I am looking forward to next week now! I will try to post some pictures from next week’s exam, yesterday was so bad I think my camera would have been blown out of my hand!

A quick update on riding more generally, last week we had a few cracking canters in the stubble fields but yesterday was a lesson in the school due to the weather. I had Am, great canters with her – the transitions, she was really listening but I needed to push her on in the trot more. I had to back up the ask with the whip yesterday but I got a much better trot that felt like we were really motoring. We also managed a brilliant canter transition where I got her walking, trotting then into the canter in a few strides since she was so sparky. If only she was as great in the stable as she is to ride, she is just grumpy and very sensitive on her hips, I always feel like a horrible person if I don’t get her rug on perfectly the first time. She did seem happy when I turned her out with her friend though and allowed me to scratch her neck as a thank you.

And as the title says next week…bring it on!!

Miles run: 0 (don’t know why I am writing these any more)

WWC Coupons Remaining: 3

Friday Update

A quick Friday update. Well I took a trip to the physio yesterday on the recommendation of my pilates instructor as he thought I wasn’t moving very well. It is a case where listening paid off – often the case, you think I would have learnt this by now.
Anyway I have been told to stop running again for 2-3 weeks and been given exercises to increase my flexibility. Feels like 1 step forward 2 steps back but at least I am allowed to cycle and swim plus hopefully this will make me a better runner in the longer term.
On a riding related note I have my mock riding and road safety exam on Sunday, wish me luck as the weather looks awful! I have MJ who I rode for a trip round the stubble fields last week, I think we work ok together but I need to work on my observations more. I have been practising while cycling this week so fingers crossed that helps.
Will give you the rundown next week, have a wonderful weekend folks!

August Wartime Wardrobe Challenge Round Up

So it is September now and time for the monthly Wartime Wardrobe challenge. Well August turned out to be an okay month for me WWC wise, but that’s only due to my lack of financial planning for the Edinburgh Fringe which always seems to sneak up on me even though it is in August every year for gods sake. Basically shopping was curtailed for “cultural” activities and a holiday in the lake district.

However, I have a secret that I want to discuss – I am finding myself becoming slightly stressed by the whole WWC. It is becoming a challenge, and I reckon I am finding more out about myself as a consumer along the way, things that annoyingly Mr Inelegant Horse Rider keeps going ‘Yup, you do that quite a lot’. Now I am not about to blame the WWC for my higher than usual stress levels I had a bit of a low point time with my riding recently and have started a new job so my stress levels are slightly elevated but I have found myself feeling worried about if I buy a certain item of clothing or if I go over my coupons etc. More worrying to me is that I am making wish lists of items that I would buy if I could,  I never thought of myself as someone who thinks about buying things so much!

I am also feeling a bit out of sorts regarding most of my workwear, this is apparently quite normal when you start in a new job but oddly enough even in items I have owned for a few years I just don’t feel myself. I am finding myself much happier in my jodphurs and tshirts for riding or in my running gear (although I am still only able to run for 20 minutes). Again I didn’t think my clothing effected me quite this much and I suspect that it doesn’t but that it is more in reference to a large change in my life, I was in my old office for seven years and it is quite a shift in office culture to where I am now even though I am within the same organisation.

As a final thought before I talk briefly about the purchases in August I wanted to mention fashion magazines. Now I get two fashion magazines a month delivered on subscription, well I suppose one classes itself as a lifestyle magazine more than straight up fashion. What I have been interested to note is that August and September’s issues have both been mainly talking about the Autumn fashion and must-haves, and to be frank it has been getting on my nerves. There are articles telling you not to follow trends but then detailing each trend and where to get them. Various people telling you what you have to buy for this season, what the new coat shape is and if you only buy one thing make it one of these fifty things articles. Now again I would anticipate that part of this is to do with the fact that these articles will not be influencing me in the slightest this year but I do also take issue that these magazines rarely, if ever, reference alternative ways to do fashion. This to me is quite strange as one has a section on street style where people frequently cite items as vintage. I know that this has been discussed endlessly elsewhere and that this kind of opinion is not new but it does make me sad that each month we are still seeing the same thing, also go into any high-street shop and you will find ‘must have’ tags littered around. Sorry for the vague thought there, I will try to get a more coherent post on my ideas together but I just think that with all the journalists, writers, bloggers etc. out there that there must be another conversation that could be had about fashion.

Finally as I mentioned above August was a lean month, I purchased a lovely purple dress second hand from eBay and wore it to my cousin’s wedding. A great buy but not sure whether it is quite my style or whether I bought in a bit of a panic.

I also bid on a running bum bag by Sweaty Betty, a company who I seem to have a mild obsession with, and won. I felt that I needed something to help keep the extra things I tend to carry when I run long distances, unfortunately not done any long distances to try it out but I remain optimistic that next year I will be able to do my first M-word (not saying it out loud yet for fear of scaring the ankle into giving up entirely). In the meantime I will give it a test run on one of my lovely 2 mile jaunts and see whether it annoys the bejesus out of me. In the main though I have always found Sweaty Betty products to be well made and well suited to their use.

I also was given a pair of shoes by my colleagues as a leaving gift, I need to exchange them for a bigger size although I might have to do a full exchange for different shoes as my ankle was not impressed by the heels on these bad boys!

Irregular choice heels with tweed
Absolutely beautiful aren’t they?

So my question for my fellow WWCers – do we count gifts? I am counting the trousers I bought using the gift vouchers they gave me but do I count the shoes?

Miles run: 4

Physio Appointments made: 1

Coupons Remaining: 3 – all things bought in September, August I was coupon free

A Review of Cumbrian Heavy Horses

So here it is, the review that I promised on Cumbrian Heavy Horses. Now rather than just doing a straight review I will warn you now that this will also include my less than stellar performance on the beach. I want to record this not only to show how brilliantly Annie and her team dealt with me but also to remind myself of what happened and how I reacted to it all. It still makes me angry with myself thinking of it now but I want to record it. Thanks for reading this one and as always comments are really welcome especially to let me know if you want other things covered in my reviews.

So on the Tuesday of my week in the Lakes I had booked for a half day beach ride with CHH. I have done this ride before and I was looking forward to it especially to help me get over the hiccup from my last hack. As always there was a great welcome, we were to be a group of seven including the owner of CHH Annie who would be our leader. Sitting in the small but friendly cafe that they have at the stables the ride was fully explained to us. Annie went through everything which helped to allay my nerves, I find that I do trust Annie and the team at CHH.
The horses are boxed to the beach – which means more time on the sand! A nice touch was that we were assigned horses before we headed down. We were also asked who was nervous which I appreciated and the horses traits were discussed to help everyone get a good match, I was given Mac, a Clydesdale. Beautiful beast and he was a true gent, most of the time which makes what happened later even more difficult for me to work out.

Once we were down at the beach and started to unload the horses we began to gather a fair amount of attention, Annie had warned us of this so we all made sure to ask people to keep a wee bit of a distance purely due to the large feet of the horses. We set about all mounting up – we had to bring a mounting block down with us getting on a heavy horse from the ground is near to impossible 🙂 We were then asked to walk around the car park, getting used to the horses and in the case of myself getting in the way of some lovely people trying to park – oops my lack of spacial awareness strikes again! Mac seemed to be responding nicely to me although as always wanted to try to stick with his friends, I managed to keep him listening to me though.

Off we went! The moment they set their hooves on the beach they were all sparkier, their heads went up and they became more animated. We did individual trotting exercises to ensure  we were in control, then we did a couple of group trots with the strict instruction no one was to pass Annie, another test of our ability to ensure the were listening. I was feeling pretty good with Mac, he seemed to really stride out in walk but respond nicely to me to slow in the trot. Then we did a couple of canter exercises, trotting away from the ride then turn and canter back. Frustratingly for me Mac wouldn’t canter for me instead he just extended his trot – I did feel a little nervous which is probably why I didn’t gather myself and ask again. So Annie came with me and we immediately canter, this made me a bit angry with myself as I don’t have these problems in my lessons but hey different horse, a wee spot of nerves and these things can happen. So off we went on a nice collected canter which was lovely, it really does feel like riding and armchair at times and ‘light seat’ is pretty easy on these beasts.

We did a few more canters each one quite collected and calm. We were out trotting and walking through the sea, pausing to do some photos.

Mac the Clydesdale
Paddling in the sea with Mac

Okay time for home! And at this time the first wobble with my nerves happened, essentially I halted Mac and didn’t release the tension which meant he took it as me asking for rein back so he started backing up. I panicked but once Annie explained what I was doing I felt okay again and decided to do the gallop up the shingle bank. It is just a short gallop and we were all instructed to whoop and shout to encourage them up the bank. It was great with Mac and I heading straight over the top into the dunes although I am still not sure we won.

So time for home!  I knew what to expect but phew! Acceleration like a sports car initially then slows to a van then a tank 🙂 It was great but then didn’t feel I had control once out of the gallop with Mac not responding to me and trotting to get to the front of the ride. This sent my nerves rising but Annie and the girls I was riding with were brilliant, getting me back under control. So off we went again. Woo hoo- honestly I was shouting and whooping! Urging Mac onwards, we were at the front of each gallop although we were passed by everyone on each go – we had a lot of initial oomph but not enough to keep it going! Then another two gallops and on the last one Annie wooped passed us all, when you have a leader enjoying themselves so much it is totally infectious. The whole ride until this point was brilliant fun.

But then! I don’t know what happened but I was feeling totally stressed. I felt I had no brakes, Mac just kept trotting.  All the girls were lovely,  trying to calm me down but I just wanted off. In the sea Annie talked me round but I was in tears, a full on panic attack – it was horrible,  I haven’t had one in years! I stayed on because else I would have hated myself but the full credit should go to Annie and the other riders. After I was off all the riders and Annie kept trying to remind me that I had done the whole ride, that I hadn’t given in to my nerves and that I could ride but I still wasn’t convinced and remained frustrated with myself so….I decided to do another ride with them. I really didn’t want to leave it like that.

Mac after the beach ride
After the panic attack, good old Mac didn’t deserve that!

So it was on the Thursday that I turned up to do a 2hr farm ride. When booking the ride Annie took the time to chat me through which ride she wanted to put me on and why, she also sweetly explained who I would be riding and what he was like. I still had my nerves and could feel myself getting a little panicky even coming into the yard but I did some controlled breathing and headed up to wait in the cafe where I met Brenda again their cafe manager who I want to say is absolutely lovely and a total gem, she was so nice to me after the ride on the Tuesday and chatted away on the Thursday morning, I doubt she knew she was helping distract me from my nerves but it was much appreciated.

So then it was time to meet our ride leader for the day, that was Yvonne who had been fully briefed on my daftness and instantly made me feel better. I didn’t feel like she judged me at all and that was really nice. I also couldn’t have asked for nicer people to ride with in Jane and Rosie, Jane was back on a ride after a twenty year break while Rosie had been on the week long ride with CHH previously and was a confident rider.

I was introduced to Zak, a beautiful shire horse absolutely huge but a very cuddly big horse. Once I was on the nerves were there but I had them under control. Yvonne talked us through everything and initially kept me directly behind her in the ride telling me to let me know if I started to feel a bit nervous.

Zak the shire
Zak the shire

We headed out from the farm and into their practise fields where again we were assessed in the different paces to work out what we could do on the ride. The trotting back to the ride exercise was fine but the walk away I did from the other horses was a really wiggly line, honestly he kept trying to turn but he did listen to me. You always have to turn the horses then halt them before setting off back to the ride regardless of the pace and in previous years I have had difficulty with that (honestly Ollie and I were cantering on the turn) but Zak was perfect. I had double reins with him and I think that helped as I was concentrating on how to hold them and I believe it meant I actually rode rather than focused on my nerves. Again I failed to get Zak to canter, but I believe my nerves overtook on that one and I didn’t back up my initial ask Zak was quite laid back to he seemed to need the extra insistence.

So Rosie came with me to help me canter back, well that worked brilliantly and started a great little team for the canters. Rosie always checked I was ready then we set off in canters, haring about in the fields. I absolutely loved it, we had a good four or five canters.

Here we come can you see us yet?
Here we come can you see us yet?
Come on Zak!
Come on Zak!

It was really good that Yvonne ensured we were all catered for as Jane wasn’t quite read to canter on this ride but she ensured we did fantastic ride and I am so pleased I went back. On my final canter Zak stretched out for me and he was loving it, in fact I had a video of this one which you can see on my Facebook page (rather than pay for the video upgrade as I am cheap :))

At the last canter point I was beginning to tire and decided against doing th last canter which meant that Rosie had to try to keep her horse Miracle back while we trotted on. She did brilliantly but Yvonne decided that Miracle was becoming a little worried so told Rosie to just come on then warned me that they would appear behind Zak and I suddenly which might mean Zak would spook (absolutely nothing could be done about this) but by this point I was feeling really comfortable with Zak and the idea of him spooking didn’t phase me, at all and he didn’t do anything. I felt in control throughout the ride with Zak’s big and bouncy trot making me smile while his walk feels like he is wearing heels. I loved Zak and he was the perfect horse to help me over the issues I experienced on Tuesday, can I take him home?

At the end of the ride, do you think I could just walk off with him??
At the end of the ride, do you think I could just walk off with him??

So a round-up. CHH is fantastic. The horses are brilliant and they will match you appropriately, they take time to ensure you can ride to the correct level and the horses are always put first which is the way it should always be! But it is also the people who make this place. It is rare that I could go somewhere where the people do not know me and receive no judgement on my panic attack and nerves. They were all unfailingly encouraging and kind, there were hugs all round at the end of each ride. I was constantly told that I can ride but I lack confidence in my abilities and told to focus on the positives e.g. I did not get off, I did every gallop on the beach and refused to give up. I was also advised to investigate my nerves to help me progress and told that I would be welcomed on the 3 day Central Lakes ride – now that is a goal for next year. Thanks to everyone at CHH especially Annie, Yvonne, Rosie and all the other girls I rode with, I will be back but with less nerves!

P.S. I have decided that a new riding helmet is required, one that doesn’t look quite so daft in pictures 🙂