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Tuesday, 1 September 2020

August Round Up

Team Tunnah Equestrian Blog - August Round Up

It doesn't seem two minutes since I was publishing my July round-up blog, and yet I feel like we've done so much in August! Make sure you catch up on July's blog if you haven't already as there were a few exciting updates - getting back onboard AND moving yards.

So what have we been up to since the end of July?

Louie settled in excellently to our new yard, and although had to spend the first three weeks on isolation without turn out, he was content and was working well in the arena each day. Unfortunately, our initial two-week isolation was extended by a week or so while we had to wait for our test results to come back before moving onto the main yard. Louie did start to get a little bored and more interested in the horses that came past each morning to go to the field, but it didn't affect him at all when I was riding. 

At the end of the first week in August, I got the FANTASTIC news that I was finally discharged from all the treatment I'd been having on my leg. I was a little anxious about not having the now small scab checked each week, but I was so thrilled that I didn't need to go back to the nurse each week. And within a few days, the scab was no more and has simply left me with a small pinky scar on the back of my leg. Hard to think of the mess that it was right at the start! 

Best of all, I was able to have a proper shower and after a week or so enjoyed a lovely long soak in the bath! 

Back to horses! I had a go at our first jump around a course of small uprights. I was so pleased to be back jumping, but it was also pretty awful! Louie was obviously keen, and I found him charging into the fences a few strides out and I wasn't able to make good turns after the fence, let alone a circle to remind him just to relax. 

I sent the videos to Philippa, who suggested I arrange a polework session with her so we can figure out what's happening, get some homework planned and come back a week or so after to jump. Philippa quickly spotted the issue started long before the jump, but in fact before the corner and turn into the jump. I was allowing Louie to have outside bend and dive across his turns; he wasn't around my inside leg at all. 

So we took the speed & pace off the canter and worked on an 18-yard two-pole distance with 5 even strides. Usually, that would be a 4-stride canter pole distance, and so I did struggle at first, but each time I got 4.5 strides it highlighted how I wasn't coming off the turns well enough to hold and sit for 5. I needed to put the hard work in two corners before, and even use a circle before turning up to the pole to really make sure Louie was wrapped around my inside leg and was almost yielding into the corner. This was the homework I took away.

I'd booked a jumping training session for 29th August, which in all honesty felt a lifetime away, but by the time I'd had my polework session, worked on the homework from that, and gone back for the jump session, it came around quicker than I expected. More on how that went later...

In the arena, I also worked on my flatwork (for dressage), concentrating on Louie's suppleness, flexibility and rhythm. We've done plenty of leg yielding in walk, trot and canter, along straight lines, on circles and across the diagonal, yielding both away from the inside leg, but also away from the outside aids. 

Before my accident, I'd started to try to improve the quality of Louie's canter by introducing more counter canter. Unfortunately, he found it quite hard, and as we had a fairly small space previously to work on it, I was finding it really difficult to get around the first corner. Since moving, we've got a lovely big outdoor arena, so I've been able to start to work on this more, and his balance and fluidity is starting to really improve, and we can do consistent figures of eight without the need to break or transition down when he changes in front or behind to catch his balance. 

The first two weeks of riding Louie, everything felt awful! Not just out of shape and unfit, but just very disorganised and as if I'd lost the ability to feel when riding. I was a little worried about how long it would take to get back into the swing of it, but just like that, after three weeks, all of a sudden everything started to really feel like it was coming together. Riding Louie felt easy, actually easier than before my accident...

I'd got a flatwork lesson booked for 22nd August which I was a little apprehensive for as it's always a frustration to think where you last left off. But I really needn't have worried, as it was tremendous! OK, yes, I was still a little unbalanced in some more basic movements and could feel that my core just wasn't strong enough to give me the stability needed at all times, but the basics were really strong.

Ordinarily, I've never have spent 3-4 weeks working on the basics - rhythm, contact, suppleness, and nothing else. But that's exactly what I'd done since getting back on and it really felt rewarding during this session with Cathy. It made me think... I've been so busy the last year aiming to progress into Elementary that I've maybe focused too much on the movements & quality needed and what I missed the memo on was that to do this, I needed strong basics. 

This will be my motto from now on - work on the basics. Give some more difficult movements a try but from stronger and stronger basics, those movements will become less of a challenge and almost feel like they just fall into place.

A few days later, I decided it was time to enter my first dressage competition. I selected a local venue that we've been to many times that was running some unaffiliated classes the first weekend in September, so I put two entries into the Novice classes. I'm really looking forward to getting back out and about into a competition environment and start to feel like we're back to normal. 

Throughout the month, I've been making good use of the hills in the fields around the yard to help to get Louie's weight back to normal and get him fit again. They are perfect for spending 30 minutes trotting & cantering up, down and around to get his muscles working, and I've also found it's been helping my core strength & stability. The first time I tried to canter down the hill, Louie felt like he was going to fall on his head and as if I was about to roll out the front door! But a few times later, and everything is much more balanced, albeit still with work to go.

I also ventured out on my first long solo hack since my accident and since moving, but it was around roads and trails that we'd used a few years ago when stabled at a yard close by. We were out about 90 minutes, and Louie was really well behaved, not spooky or silly, unless of course one of those pesky pigeons flies up out of the grass or trees! I would say I was more cautious than I was previously, not especially nerves, but just conscious of going from zero to 100mph again. So no long, loose reins on the buckle end this time, except for a minute for Louie to stretch ever so often.

I managed to fit 2 sessions in to practice our polework homework, and I was really surprised at how well Louie and I progressed with it. A few days before our jumping session was planned, I worked on it again. It was the first time that Andrew had seen us over poles since that first "attempt" at jumping, and he was very pleasantly surprised with the progress, commenting how easy it looked, and how balanced & together we both looked.

I was REALLY looking forward to our jumping session. We started with the usual warm-up; Louie felt keen but listening and on-form. First, we went over an 18-yard pole distance, but straight away moved up the pace to go on the correct four strides. I expected it to be "off to the races" style, unbalanced and disorganised as I thought about upping the pace. But I put that aside and concentrated on the corners before the poles but at an increased pace and rhythm. We made the four strides correctly and neatly, but they weren't even as I couldn't get the right stride to the first pole. I was making the corner approach too square and falling out slightly through the outside shoulder. 

Philippa gave me the guide of a plank to support coming around the corner without falling out and suggested making the corner smoother and less square. It made a massive difference.

We did the same exercise on the left rein but using a 3 stride distance, before adding in a pole across the diagonal going from right to left rein. I needed to be straighter after the jump and not cut the corner, but still keeping the inside bend. It all went well, so the second pole in each distance and the one across the diagonal were popped up to small crosses before being made to small uprights. We jumped around very rhythmically and I held a good position, keeping my eyes up and hands low, waiting as the strides came with my leg supporting. 

It was a great training session, and on the way home Andrew asked if I was OK, as I'd usually buzzing when things go so well. I was of course, so happy it had gone so well, but it felt so normal, so regular and so easy.  Nothing was a battle or felt like I'd overcome a major achievement, but it did feel SO much better than some of the best sessions we'd had in the past. I was really pleased without any doubt! 

Of course, I've got some exercises and homework to do, but I'm looking forward to our next jumping session and hopefully getting out to some shows very soon!! Make sure you're following me on social media to see how we get on with the homework in the meantime...

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