The upcoming RDA National Championships at Hartpury College (12th-14th July) is the highlight of my year – a three-day festival of horses, hard work and reward.
It’s an honour and an achievement in itself to qualify for Nationals but make no mistakes, this is Competition with a capital ‘C’! People often think it’s just ‘the taking part that counts’ for disabled people, but they couldn’t be more wrong. We want to win!
Class: Level 4
Judged on: Style (marks deducted for knock downs, etc.)
Last year wasn’t much fun because I’d only jumped the horse once (two days before…) and he was very, very excited. I learnt a lot about myself that day! I know Boysie better but still we’ve only jumped around a course twice (once 3 years ago, and once at this year’s qualifier). He’s a good lad so I’m hoping I’ll be more relaxed this time.
On the other hand, we just haven’t had the time to practise. Setting up a Level 4 course requires a lot of time and effort, and it can’t be done in a 40x20m arena, so it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be able to jump again until we actually get to Hartpury. It’s an imperfect situation but when the RDA group only has access to the horse for two hours a week (and everyone has to ride) it isn’t easy!
Class: Grade 6 Canter
BD equivalent: Prelim
In the last year I’ve ridden this test three times, all on Boysie – once at last year’s Hartpury, once in training this year, and once at this year’s qualifier!
I don’t ride Boysie very often because he is very popular, which means that lately I’ve been riding horses who are new to the group. I do really enjoy doing this and it certainly improves my riding to be able to adapt to different mounts, but it’d be good to get used to Boysie again and to see how he goes with the things I’ve been working on with the other horses, such as my weight aids.
It’s a double bill for me in vaulting this year! I’m entering the team event this year (on the barrel) as well as individual on the horse – I’ve never done anything other than individual at any vaulting competition, so I’m really excited!
Class: Team event (6 vaulters)
Vaulting on: Barrel
Requirements: compulsories and freestyle on the barrel
The team event is the culmination of more than 18 months of hard work setting up the vaulting side from scratch: getting qualified to coach, acquiring a barrel, training some helpers, persuading riders to have a go at vaulting, getting them to a higher standard, choosing music, creating a routine, arranging practices, funding and sorting out costumes (work in progress!), making instruction videos, drilling compulsories, etc…
The main work has certainly been putting the moves together and working out how to accommodate a vast range of experience and capability within our team. I’ve also tried to up the interest and variety by including some new and difficult moves. I’m black and blue all over from falling off!
The team’s worked really hard too and I can’t wait to show off our routine at Hartpury. In the interests of maintaining a sense of occasion we won’t share our theme and music until we get there – but I’ll certainly be sharing a video of it afterwards!
Vaulting on: Great Bear (Perry RDA)
Requirements: canter compulsories and walk freestyle
I’ve met Bear once before, when I competed on him last year. He’s a lovely boy and, since last year we just walked, I just hope he has a nice canter! Yesterday I went through my compulsories a few times in canter for the first time since early February. They weren’t amazing, but they were OK for now and manageable. Then I tried the freestyle…
Trying a new freestyle on the horse for the first time (having perfected it on the barrel) is always interesting – some things which are very easy on the barrel are suddenly impossible when you feel the change in shape from barrel to horse, and, of course, the element of movement. Even the horse’s coat is a factor to take into consideration – it’s often slippery! Inevitably there are tweaks to moves and new things to practise but I only fell off once!
I’ve also got a new dismount, which I did three times yesterday. I fell on one of them but hopefully it’ll get more consistent with practice. I need to build up some confidence with it – for me it’s a ‘vaulter frightener’ and I haven’t admitted to my mum that I’m doing it yet. Generally, it’s best to let her find out when she’s watching the competition…!
Generally my training is going OK but I am certainly struggling more than ever both with the lack of opportunities to ride (especially on the right horse!) and with my health. My legs, in particular, are getting far worse, especially when it’s warmer. I work so hard in the gym to fight back against my disability but sometimes it feels like I’m not even managing to keep my head above water despite churning away underneath.
It’s affecting me a lot in the saddle and I have to be careful not to get too frustrated. The RDA motto – ‘it’s what you CAN do that counts’ – isn’t just to celebrate the efforts of the disabled; it’s also an instruction. There are things that I’m struggling to do, but I need to find the things that I can still do and work out how to make best use of them. It’s easy to moan about the things you don’t have or have lost – be they health, money, opportunities – but, whereas you can’t do anything with nothing, you can with something – and I still have some things. You have to use what you have.
I’ll let you know how that goes!