An Opinion Piece on Hi-viz

As most readers will know I am a horse rider and a cyclist, and a big fan of both. This post could be considered contentious as I am aware that there are many opposing views on these ideas but lately I have been feeling the need to put mine across. Continue reading “An Opinion Piece on Hi-viz”

Some Mud and The Duchess

So last weekend was a busy one. Some mountain biking on Saturday down at Glentress near Peebles in the borders. It felt great to be out on the trails after so long, especially as I have been doing a lot more cycling due to my inability to run – I thought I would be blasting up the hills but no. Instead I found I was a bit nervous with my bike meaning I had difficulty in getting my gears correct and riding straight lines, I began to get frustrated with myself as I used to be able to ride these trails no problem but the frustration just meant more errors and tension led to my back starting to complain. Continue reading “Some Mud and The Duchess”

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 🙂

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

A giant, an electric fence and the beautiful Scottish rain

So this weekend it was another double riding session. I think that as well as this being due to the opportunity both literally and financially of riding twice a week it has at least in part been due to the fact I can’t run.

Riding & Road Safety

Saturday was an opportunity to work on our riding and road safety manoeuvres. I have ridden out on the road quite a lot and feel confident about that along with the written part however the more complicated simulated route I was not so sure of so this was a great opportunity to work on this. This is a series of different obstacles you could come across on the road and we are taught how to negotiate them in the relative safety of the fields at the stables with beams for kerbs and flour for road markings. There are even fake traffic lights!

I have been riding the beautiful Am and the bolshy but sweet HB for Riding and Road Safety so far but on Saturday the stables were quieter and we were all able to have a horse each as many more were available. As the tallest person there by a country mile (to be fair the majority are kids) I was given MJ. Now MJ is a big horse, they believe there is some shire in him and he is a beautiful dun colour and his coat changes with the seasons. He is a friendly lad although he doesn’t like to work too hard. 🙂

I have ridden quite a lot with the lass who has him on loan from the stables so I have seen how fantastic he can be. Many of my friends in our group lesson also enjoy riding him but I have rarely had the chance to ride him and was wondering about him in the riding and road safety environment.

Well I found him difficult. I found him difficult to get moving and difficult to stop him from hugging the fake kerbs of the road or taking me into the electric fence. I assumed the electric fences wasn’t on as he was literally leaning on it and my stirrup was touching it but then I heard the shout, ‘Get off the fence, it is on!’. Woops. I was getting increasingly frustrated with him, which wasn’t fair as he wasn’t being naughty just lazy. We had a nice trot and I am definitely improving on looking behind me to check traffic. I did mistakenly signal left when I planned to turn right but I noticed my mistake quickly and corrected it. Apparently I don’t signal for long enough so I am practising counting to 3 while holding my arm out. The fact I have to practice this kind of worries me anyway! However when it was all over and we had been soaked to the skin in a Scottish ‘shower’ I was told that if that had been the test I would have passed. Really pleased but think they were being generous either that or didn’t see that during the emergency dismount my stirrup also decided to dismount!

A Sunday Hack

Sunday’s weather was horrible here, just heavy rain followed by slightly lighter rain followed by rain so heavy even the ducks took shelter. So full waterproofs it was! We all looked really beautiful and add onto that a hi-viz vest, well that’s a look everyone can enjoy. We were heading out and about as the school was pretty drenched and the rain over the last few days had softened the ground outside – time for longer canters anyone?

I had Au when I went to collect her she was happy because she was eating so got to do all the tack up no problem, but still after how many times I can never get my stirrups correct and have to fix them once on.We were last in the ride which made Au grumpy, she seemed pretty stiff initially in the walk and I had to push her on quite a lot which is unusual for her but I had been warned that she needed to be active from the start.

It was so green and lush in the countryside around the stables that all the horses kept trying to have a cheeky wee munch. I was lucky with Au that she listened to me and didn’t try to eat again after being checked the first couple of times. With MJ it is a losing battle as he is also tall enough to get to the leaves on the trees, Au & I were sometimes showered with leaves as a result.

After a great trot Au loosened off and when the call for the first canter came we were off like a rocket. She is brilliant in canter, easy to steady and steer – we kept a good distance from MJ as he was kicking up mud with his hooves and I think the pair of us decided it would be best if we could see! 🙂 It was a decent length of canter and the ground felt really nice and springy, not like the hard concrete feel of the mud trails previously. When we are outside we all canter in forward seat to keep off their backs and I felt my balance was good in the 1st canter.

In the 2nd canter I was taken a little by surprised. Usually in a larger group we pass the messages from the instructor back, well one of the riders didn’t pass back that we were to canter so all of a sudden they accelerated away from me. I was very lucky with Au that she is so honest she waited for me to ask her to go rather than just zoom off after them. That canter was great again but I didn’t feel I had her as straight, she also nearly grabbed a snack on the hoof! That was interesting! I should point out that this is not my instructor’s fault that I didn’t hear, I should have been paying attention myself.

The only slight issue with Au out and about is that she is pretty nervous. At one point she spooked from her own farting! That was a first. Luckily she is quite easy to get back under control and I kept reassuring her, making sure she knew that I was in control and that everything was fine. Our last canter was up hill and do you know I reckon we could have passed the larger horses if we had wanted to! She was great and seemed to really be enjoying herself, I felt I had her much straighter again and I felt totally balanced on her in forward seat. We were approaching walkers and as always slowed to a trot then a walk a good distance before we reached them but unfortunately the dog they had with them scared her and she tripped making her spook. Again I just spent time talking to her. By this point it was getting really hot and waterproofs are NOT breathable regardless of what they say!! Luckily we were nearly back to the stables. Once there the usual routine ensued taking the tack off, lavender washing the horses, then we were just helping put rugs on and leading the horses to the lorry.

So two horse riding sessions, two different horses and two different experiences – going to be sad to go back to my once a week riding sessions. Oh and I have booked my beach ride with Cumbrian Heavy Horses again – this should be fun!

On the running front I am going to try a walk/run this week and have been keeping my interest in running going by reading a couple of books on running – Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Both good books but really different, only part of the way through Born to Run and I am enjoying it. Interestingly Running Like A Girl has made me more interested in upping my distances, watch this space – the M-word might crop up 🙂

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!