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Tuesday, 7 January 2020

December Round Up

So I took a little break away from my blog over December, Christmas and the New Year. It was a busy month with a work trip away for a full week almost, my parents flew in for Christmas on 21st December, and left on new year’s eve, and I overall just took some downtime to catch up on some rest & relaxation.

But that didn’t mean that all the fun with Louie stopped, and after such a FANTASTIC November, I was on cloud nine…full of motivation, determination and energy to push forward during the remaining winter months.

As you’ve probably seen from our previous blog post, we had an amazing weekend up at Morris Equestrian Centre doing our firstever British Showjumping classes. The final day competing was the 1st December…and what a way to kick the month off but also finish up our year, reaching what has been a long term goal AND taking home a double clear!!

Back home I carried on working Louie the week following, working mostly in a longer, lower and more relaxed frame. As I stepped onboard it felt SO strange to have a long and elegantly placed leg after spending more than a week in a jumping saddle, but Louie felt great! I expected him to be short, a bit tense and take some working to go into a longer frame, but he didn’t. He just felt fabulous!!

The following weekend we’d booked a training session in with Philippa on the Sunday. During our jumping at Morris, we’d become very “gung-ho”, a bit untidy & generally being a bit of a demon when riding round! That was fine, as it was what was needed in-the-moment, but I knew I now needed to work on polishing up certain things and starting to allow us both to really enjoy jumping around courses.

During the session, Philippa worked really hard to get me to keep the canter but not to chase it. There are a few times watching the videos back that I can see coming off the turns that I fire us onto the straight line and towards the fence. I was also started to raise my hands and pull (without realising I was pulling).

I fed back that I didn’t feel like I was, but clearly, for her to say something, I was. I figured out, when Louie’s head was coming up into a fence, I was pulling up, rather than keeping my hands still and low. Philippa noted that doing this over the fence would mean Louie’s head would stay up and therefore he couldn’t use his back and finish off with his hind correctly.

The final time around the course, I chose to lengthen my reins, only by about an inch and tried to become sensitive to feeling a lower connection through my hands by physically touching his withers. The improve was incredible. We had a consistent rhythm, made all our strides and distances, and Louie made a great shape over all of the fences!

It was a super-challenging session but felt really good to work on technique and some more technical areas to our riding!

The following week I was in Copenhagen for a work trip, where our full team met to enjoy spending time together. We visited the amazingly festive Tivoli where any equestrian would have been in awe of the bling on show at the Swarovski crystal-covered Christmas tree.

On Friday, I was back in the office in Newcastle and was super excited to be heading up to the yard for a ride on Louie that evening. Andrew joined us and took some video clips of us. Again I wasn’t too sure what to expect… Louie had been kept in all week due to the bad weather, had had no exercise and was fairly fit. I knew he wouldn’t be heading for a rodeo, but times like this often leave him very fresh and where he can’t possibly concentrate on anything inside the arena, only all the monsters around the outside!

How wrong could I be!?!?

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to ride that weekend, as we enjoyed a family afternoon lunch for Andrew’s Dad’s 70th birthday, and decided to get all of our Christmas decorations finished. We’d put the tree up (a real one of course) the Sunday before, but now it was time for all the lights outside…Andrew is fresh out of a scene from ‘Deck the Halls’ when it comes to the Christmas lights on the house. Every year, he seems to need more and more! I have to say though, it always looks so pretty and elegant when he’s done!

The final week at work before I finished on 20th December was a little manic but I managed to fit in riding two evenings – one was a school at home, and the other a training session with Cathy. Unfortunately, Andrew couldn’t make it so we’ve no footage, but I think it was fair to say it was the best of the year, and I’m hoping that version of Sophie turns out for all of 2020 too (& so is Cathy!!)

Cathy is great at sharing what she herself is still learning from a coaching perspective. She shared a tip around the visualisation of a square set of poles with gaps at the corners. Each pole represents your fundamentals and as each one improves during the session, you can roll it in. But as you start to work on another, you’re likely to lose something of the one you just did so the getting the poles to touch in the corners is no easy feat. It’s all visual (no actual poles), and while it won’t work for everyone I found it an excellent way to think about focusing yet accepting things slip back even during the session.

Great – I was now full of motivation and hunger for both showjumping AND dressage!

Friday night I should have been at my work Christmas party, but on the day I decided not to go. No, I didn’t have a case of the Christmas grinch, but still had lots of “little” jobs to do, ready for my parents flying in the next morning. I came to the realisation that I cannot do everything and I really wanted to go for a long ride out with Louie before they arrived in case I didn’t get a chance while they were here.

I headed out bright and early the next morning at 8am to go on a two-hour ride. Another livery was leaving at the same time, so it was nice to have a bit of company on the way around especially as the weather was a bit grey and miserable… Sunday morning I popped some poles in the arena on a three-stride distance and two over X. I wanted to work on coming up the three strides with a good turn and rhythm, coming round on a 20m circle and through the two in the middle to be straight for a few strides before carrying on around the circle.

I couldn’t hit three strides for anything. And then it dawned on me…I was too open, too flat, too long. Riding too much for the forward canter. So the next time down the long side, I sat tall, held with my core, kept my hands low and really closed the canter. I got three even strides easily, with a rhythmical approach before and after the line, and my 20m circle miraculously became considerably easier. I learnt A LOT in that one minute!

Louie then enjoyed a few days off – I went to do Christmas dinner at my 95-year old Grandma’s on 23rd (I know, great genes!). It’s my Mum’s birthday on 24th and we headed on a beautiful beach walk with Harry before going north to a small traditional fishing village called Craster to enjoy a meal at The Jolly Fisherman. If you are ever in Northumberland, I cannot recommend it enough! I had crab and whiskey soup to start and enjoyed the fisherman’s pie for the main course, all washed down with a beautiful bottle of cava and some white wine. It was absolutely delicious!

Christmas Day was a family day, as was Boxing Day. I’ve ridden on Boxing Day in the past, but I wasn’t worried by not riding this year, it was nice for Louie to have some time out in the field and giving him a fresh thought for what was coming up.

Friday 27th I’d arranged with two of the girls from the yard to enjoy a morning out riding. We went on a long one, but by the time we’d chatted and joked along, the time soon passed. We finished up on the beach. Louie went on boldly, but halfway across the soft sand, decided it was safer the way he had come. I hopped off, which sounds odd, but I led him to the hard sand and used a little stump to get back on. It calms him down, gives him confidence and doesn’t make the whole experience one he thinks negatively of from fighting to get him across the beach. Hopefully, in time he’ll understand that the soft sand is OK to walk on!

Saturday morning, my parents headed to Edinburgh for the day, and I headed into the arena to do some flatwork. I could have spent HOURS in there. Louie was like a dream! We worked on our leg yielding and should-in, and he was just ace! On Sunday, I’d booked onto a British Showjumping academy session in a group of three, but it was led by Philippa. It was good to have a session focused on the real basic technique and aspects that you need between fences. We worked on a five stride distance from a pole to a jump, before changing the lead over a jump at X and coming down the other long side on the same exercise.

I dropped my parents at the airport on New Year’s Eve lunchtime. I was sad to see them go as it had been a lovely 10 days together. So I headed to the yard to enjoy a long ride out on Louie. We watched the sun go down and it was a really peaceful way to end 2019 together, reflecting on everything that we have achieved, all the memories throughout the year, and of course, planning for 2020!

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