Last year, I travelled up to Hartpury in Gloucestershire with my local RDA group to watch disabled riders from all over the UK compete in the National Championships – the biggest show of its kind in the world. I was bowled over. Such talent, such an incredible atmospehere and such professionalism. Right there and then I decided that was my challenge for 2018 – to get to the National Champs and compete in dressage.
As a horseless rider (who hasn’t ridden much at all in the last 15 years), and now dealing with shonky legs and immense fatigue, this was always going to be tricky, but hey-ho…
Lambourn RDA were there to help as ever, contact with willing horse owners was made and training commenced. I was assessed by para sport physios so that I could compete and given a Grade V, profile 23 classification. Hartpury, here I come!
I trained fairly relentlessly for a year on 5 different horses – each one giving me something different to think about. MS gave me lots to think about too, sapping my energy and tightening muscles all over my body. My MonSter doesn’t like riding but I do – time to do one you little critter!
A very generous friend lent Arnie Bear to me so that I had a safe, calm, reliable school master to go to the regional qualifiers on. Brilliant! Arnie was largely angelic in training and I thoroughly enjoyed riding him. Off we went to the regional qualifiers, convinced we had this nailed.
In Arnie’s pic above (top right), you’ll see the little white boards that mark out the dressage arena. Well, that’s how humans see them. Through Arnie’s eyes – little white jumps! Arnie is beautifully schooled, but he’s not experienced with dressage arenas. He does like to jump though. Whenever we came down the long side of the arena, he locked on to the boards, getting himself ready to take off! Didn’t see that one coming… I kept him in, and we qualified by the skin of our teeth.
I switched horses for the Nationals, another incredibly generous friend lending me her mare, Mabel. We had just 2 months of intense trianing to get to know each other before heading off to Hartpury. Test learned, horse bathed and plaited, tack gleaming, we enter the arena. I do my best to keep relaxed, remember the test and ride my line. Half way through, it was going really well then bang! Mabel slipped and fell right in front of the judges box and crushed three of the little white arena boards (I’m rapidly going off these boards..). I stayed on, she recovered and got back up on her feet. The judge came over:
Me: “Umm, well that doesn’t happen everyday – I guess that means I’m disqualified. Sorry about the boards by the way..”
Judge: “Are you OK? Your horse is OK. Well sat. Don’t worry, we’ll rebuild the arena. You can carry on if you like?”
So we did. A bit shaken up, slightly red-faced, we completed our test and left the arena to much applause. And we came 4th 🙂
“Dressage is the safest discipline” they said.
“You just need to stand out from the crowd” they said.
Safe, hmm, that’s yet to be proved. Standing out from the crowd? I think I’m going to be good at that part, albeit for all the wrong reasons!! Onward..