Tuesday, 14 November 2017

My UK adventure! An Enlightening Experience...


After the bungle of my flight from Lisbon to London, it was a relief to finally make it to Totnes, Devon on Monday to start my Enlightened Equitation Teacher Training. I only ended up being an hour late - which under the circumstances, was not too bad! 

One of the advantages of going by train from London to Totnes in daylight was seeing more of the beautiful English countryside - even if a peak fare rail ticket cost me £125! (gulp!). I'd never been that far west, so exploring new places is always fascinating (note to self - glad I did not hire a car as I would have freaked out about those narrow sunken Devon lanes....oh my!). 

Many people would probably think it strange that as a hot blooded eventer I've kind of "gone alternative" (for want of a better term). After all, I've missed the last three events of the season! However, my time training in Portugal in January and then subsequently training with a classical dressage coach on my horse this year has opened my eyes to just how much rider position affects the horse's way of going. It's taken me months to have a more symmetrical position, independent control of my body and to stop being so "busy" with my hands and legs (and there's still work to be done!). 

Out competing, yes there are many riders who are successful, even with a less than ideal position. But how much better would they be if they sat straight and quietly, moved with the horse without blocking him and didn't have distracting waggling legs, busy hands and a nodding head?! My goal is to ride with barely perceptible aids and a quiet, elegant seat...and to teach others to do the same. I'm also inspired to train my school horses to a much higher level, in order to teach correct "feel" and show how correct training can improve any horse - whether competing is the goal or not. 

It is difficult to put into a few words what I have learned in the first module of my course. The core work for the week consisted of observing numerous "guinea pig" riders of various abilities have a lesson with Heather Moffett. I found her teaching and training methods are simple and easy to follow, making the basic aids very clear, yet without force. Position is obviously the key theme - however it is being able to maintain a good position whilst correctly applying the aids and making transitions where many come unstuck! I like the fact Heather has the ability to train horses as well as riders - meaning horse and rided together make considerable improvements. 

                                      Observing Heather Moffett teaching 

                                    The Irish wool blanket my sister gifted me - very useful!! 
Saddle fit was another major issue. It is astounding how much correct saddle fit and balance affects a rider's position. I know a lot of emphasis is now placed on making sure the saddle fits the horse, but if the seat size is too small for the rider, or the saddle doesn't sit the rider centrally, it is extremely hard for a rider to achieve the correct shoulder, hip, heel alignment in flatwork. In GP saddles, the problem is compounded by stirrup bars being set too far forward and knee blocks in the wrong place, so they are continually forced into a chair seat. We learned some simple remedies for some of these issues - not always requiring a new saddle! 

                                       Saddle fit and balance was a key theme 

As well as discussions on the various schools of classical training, we spent afternoons on the Equisimulators, which are machines that (with assistance of a coach) teach riders how to correctly absorb movement - particularly in sitting trot and canter - often what riders find most difficult. The electronic machines are good for developing feel in walk/trot, whereas the rider powered mechanical simulators enabled us to practice walk, rising/sitting trot and canter, plus transitions - an invaluable tool whether for a beginner or an experienced rider needing remedial work (let's face it - none of us are perfect!!). The rider powered machine is great in that if you follow the movement incorrectly, it will stop - much like the effect of blocking the horse.  The beauty of teaching this way is that corrections to position can be made whilst a rider is in motion - not even possible when teaching on the lunge. 

                                          Feeling the "flex" in rider's back on the Equisimulator

So...I'm now a trainee EET and will return to the UK in 6 months to complete my training (with a number of assignments inbetween). I look forward to meeting up again with a lovely bunch of like minded individuals - we all had a wonderful time and many laughs! 

                  The group of 2017 EE Teacher Trainees - what a great bunch! 

My most exciting news is.....Gretgrix Equestrian will soon be home to the only rider powered Equisimulator in Victoria (there are currently only two in Australia, in New South Wales). This means I will be able to offer lessons on the simulator alone, or in conjunction with a lesson on a horse to transfer skills across. All of my beginner clients will soon have the opportunity to use the simulator to get the basics right from the start - speeding up the process considerably. It will be an invaluable tool for those returning to riding and/or lacking confidence - once their seat is more secure, the transition to a real horse will be much easier and less scary! It is also a great way to improve rider fitness and core strength. 

                                    Work on the Equi

Next year, once I have transport for the Equisimulator sorted, I hope to be able to offer demonstrations and lessons at Riding Clubs, Pony Clubs and other groups. Unlike the much more sophisticated computerised machines, the Equisimulator is transportable. Lessons can take place regardless of the weather or time of day (as long as shelter/shade is available) and unmounted workshops are another possibility. 

Watch this space!! 

                                     Heather's amazing book

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Farewell Portugal....!


Sunday started off ok, with a beautiful sunny morning and a ride on Hostil. After warming up, he gave me some nice work, getting softer with a good rhythm. One of the things we worked on was flying changes, which I find a bit tricky and want to do too much! Single changes across the diagonal went ok, then we started to attempt 2 and 3 changes across the diagonal of a 20 x 40 arena...which is where things fell apart a bit! I forgot about sitting still and maintaining quality of the canter....and Hostil started anticipating and getting a bit strong and quick. We then broke the exercise down into two changes across two short diagonals....then got 3 changes across the diagonal....finally! It was a good lesson for me as I have been starting changes with my horses at home - with mixed success. Frederico gave me some good exercises to try, so will be putting these into place when I get home.

    Ulisses and Vingador in the background doing kids' lessons :) 

Trains, planes and automobiles

After farewelling Julia (who was off to spend the afternoon in Sintra) I began the journey to London. I arrived at Lisbon airport, with plenty of time. Checked in, all good. Got to boarding gate before 12:45 only to be told...."oh, we don't have a seat for you" 

Say Whaaaaaaaat? *insert long line of expletives*

I have to admit, I was flabbergasted - I've never had this happen. 

It turns out that TAP Air Portugal regularly overbooks flights. I was an unlucky one to be "kicked off". The (not very friendly) boarding gate lady told me to go organise a 4pm flight, but to do so, I had to get all the way back through the airport backwards....not easy when you've already been through security and passport control. I had to find ground staff on a few occasions to let me through staff doors, passport control (again!) and finally a tearful stressed out me found my way to the TAP desk back near check be met with a huge line up. It took close to 2 hours wait in line, where I discovered many others had the same issue with other flights...some poor travellers were kicked off a flight to Rio they'd paid for in June! I also wasn't sure what had happened to my suitcase I checked in that morning....another worry! 

Anyway, I finally got a boarding pass issued for the 4pm flight, given a card for 400 Euro and was assured my bag would be on the flight.... then had to go through security screening againnnnnnnn (time was getting tight by then)....get to passport control and I think, because I had already "departed" it would not accept my passport in the Australian/NZ etc e-gate. I then had to join a huge line up and started panicking. Very kindly, people on later flights let myself and others on the London flight jump the cue. There was NO way I was missing that flight. 

I arrived in London, got my bag (hurrah!) and then took the easy option of the airport desk organising a hotel and transfers. By that stage, it was after 8:30pm and getting a late train wasn't an option (I actually think I missed the last train option). I was tired anyway, after such a long day stuck in an airport. I finally had dinner at 10pm (after having nothing to eat since breakfast) and went to bed, and slept well, but was up again before 5 am. 

And to today....I checked out of the hotel at 5:20am to catch the bus to the airport station....plenty of time to get to Paddington for me train to Totnes, right? Wrong! One of the tube lines was down causing delays on other lines. I got to Paddington at 7.03, when my train was scheduled for time to buy tickets here I am on the next train and will arrive an hour later...but I'll be happy to arrive at all. 

Let's hope the week improves.....! 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - Revisited, Part Two

Today has been a fantastic day. This morning I had the opportunity to ride another amazing schoolmaster, Ulysses. He is quite different to ride, but was an excellent teacher, particularly with the piaffe, passage and spanish walk. 

I have ridden piaffe and passage as single movements before, but not put them together, so it was great to experience this. It was also a good test of my reaction time and making my aids clear to the horse - if I didn't get it right, he told me! It made me much more aware of what my body is doing....and also aware of just how much more there is for me to learn!! 

Another fantastic part of today was seeing my youngest sister, Julia, who flew over from Ireland to join me for the weekend. We spent today in Cascais, down by the marina, shopping and tasting the local pastries ;) There was a market in the centre of town with a beautiful carousel - my kids would have loved it! 

Tonight we'll go out for a traditional dinner. Tomorrow, after another ride I'm off to the UK and Julia will stay on to explore Sintra ;)  

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - revisited!

                                          Sunrise from Dubai airport
I'm back! 

It's amazing how some places seem like a second home. Cascais seems to be one of them - I can't quite pinpoint what it is, but I always feel relaxed when I'm here. Even strolling along to the local supermarket in the rain (dodging trees and signs with my umbrella) I was thinking how funny it is that I can love going shopping in a place where I can't understand a word of Portuguese, but feel totally at home. 

It was a long journey (I had forgotten about that part). I was very fortunate this time to have three seats to myself for the 14 hr Melbourne to Dubai leg, meaning I did sleep (a bit). Even having all that time to lie down meant I arrived in better shape, not so stiff from being stuck seated all the time. The connecting flight from Dubai to Lisbon departed at what seemed like the opposite side of the terminal, so I got a good half hour walk in too - and a chance to appreciate the Dubai airport (last time I hardly had to move, the departure gate was much closer). There was the most beautiful wall size mural of Arabian horses somewhere in my walk....I wish now I'd stopped to take a photo! 

Clear skies greeted me as we flew into Lisbon, but alas not for long! 

                                           About 20 mins from beautiful is this?

I arrived to stormy and damp conditions, but the storms were very intermittment. I still like rain, coming from the dry country it is not something I ever wish away. I did get a bit wet walking to the supermarket, but then avoided a massive downpour just as I was about to venture back out again.

Time to ride

So, as I did last time, I kept myself awake on local time by having a dressage lesson at 5pm! I rode Hostil, the 5yo Lusitano I spent time riding during my last visit. It was interesting that Frederico remarked how much straighter and supple my body is, so I'm glad my riding has improved in 10 months! (NB - I have hardly ridden in the past 3 weeks since my own horses were turned out for a spell, so this is very good news!). 

Hostil felt a lot more established since I last rode him - although still a bit cheeky and fresh, given the wet and stormy conditions. We did some suppling work and really made him focus, so there was no excuse to be distracted when it decided to rain. His canter work was very nice and rewarded me with some straight and balanced flying changes - it felt very easy. We worked on some leg yield and then into half pass which was great (when I got it right!!)

The other interesting thing Frederico incorporated into the lesson was use of Franklin balls to help with my sitting trot. I had seen them on the Internet, but had never tried them. These are inflatable/water filled balls that you can sit on or place in other areas to assist with position issues. It felt very strange to begin with, however once they were taken away - wow! My sitting trot was so much better, my seat and body more free and able to follow the horse. I was sitting much deeper. This is something I am going to explore more, not only for myself, but for the benefit of my students. 

I found an article about them here - 

Continous improvement 

This next week will be a great opportunity to work on myself as a rider and coach. It is good to work on myself, not just the horse and dealing with specific issues that come up when training for a competition. This is part of what has me frustrated when competitions run close together in a season - there's no time to work on specific issues - and I end up with 'band aid' solutions just to get better marks in a dressage test. 

So many lessons in my many years of riding have been all about how the horse goes. More recently my own training has been about correcting my riding so I can be more effective and not block the horse or unbalance him. I think as riders we tend to get "stuck" once we've been riding a long time and then bringing on a range of horses...and forget to check in on ourselves. There's always something we can do better that makes our horse's job easier - in competition or just in everyday riding. 

"Letting go" 

Lately I've been finding things a bit hard and really have burnt myself out (I only have one mode - flat out). The last two weeks have been difficult for me personally, with sick kids and nursing a cat with snake bite on top of everything else. I had to shut myself away a bit, for my own sanity. I took some rare time away from social media (ok, I'm back....but purely because people were having trouble contacting me!!!) 

Time in transit and having a lesson yesterday has been a good time for relection. I'm letting go of the guilt that has encompassed me. Guilt for taking time off riding - which is silly because with increased work commitments and two small kids that need me, riding can't always be #1. Not to mention, I had decided to end my competition season early and give the horses a why the guilt? I was freaking out that with time off, my riding would be terrible once I got here, but it seems that was a myth I'd conjured up. You don't suddenly forget how to ride! 

I feel bad also, that my health and fitness is not what it could be. I feel a bit self conscious about still carrying around a partial baby belly (and then some). Yet again, life does get in the way. I do need to take better care of my body, for the sake of my kids, if nothing else - but by making small steps and sustainable changes...and not beating myself up. 

Let's see what today brings :) 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Silver Linings....

    Photo credit: Equine Focus Photography

As mentioned in my last installment, the poor old motivation has taken quite a beating of late. I was wondering why I've been finding eventing SO much harder this spring - this time last year I was still on maternity leave, so although I had two smaller children, I didn't have the added time pressure of working for an employer. Lately, I've been clocking up 20 hrs in the office per week, so juggling this with two very busy small children and then teaching in whatever time I have left, it is any wonder I feel like I'm burning the candle at both ends. It has also really put a dent in my own riding time, which used to be my number one priority. If I can't do things properly, I don't really feel like doing them at all, such is my nature.....and why I've hit a slump motivation wise. 

That aside, I had a good weekend with Snip at the Prydes Eventing Victoria Spring Horse Trials a fortnight ago. He put in a solid dressage for 65.8% and then jumped double clear in SJ & XC, to finish 5th in a strong EvA105 class, also taking home the best performed OTTB. 

I was then relatively psyched up for Candlebark HT, marking a return to 1* level. We were 10th after dressage, on 63%, which I was happy with. However, upon walking the cross country course, my heart sank. The ground was a lot harder than I expected, and the course ran up and down quite undulating country. Given neither of us are at peak fitness and Snip does not like hard ground, I decided to withdraw and save him for another day. With no qualifers needed, and now at 17 years old, he did not need to run. I think I made the right call, as the XC caused lots of issues. We'll be back!! 

I too, really needed a day at home to catch up on sleep, hang out with the kids and just "be". As my kids have grown older, they've started to really miss me when I'm away competing, which tugs at the heartstrings. I'm already away enough with work, which adds to my conundrum. There's not enough hours in a day. :(  

So, Snip is now on a spell for a while and I'm taking a break from eventing until March 2018. A perhaps bold move, but with every cloud, there's a silver lining. Some time out from competition will enable me to have more time at home with the kids, to solidly train my younger horses and to reassess my riding and coaching goals. There's lots of exciting stuff in the pipeline for me soon - including some coaching professional development to improve and broaden my services to clients next year. It is possible to "have it all" - just not all at once. ;) Now is the time for laying those foundations, brick by brick. 

Watch this space! 

Monday, 25 September 2017

Slump busting - motivation, where art thou?


Since Mildura Horse Trials in July, I have to admit I've hit a bit of a slump. Tonsilitis, sick kids, increased work commitments and absolutely abysmal weather have meant my riding time has been reduced significantly. One week I didn't ride at all....I panicked that it could be the sign of a midlife crisis (!) however I have since regrouped and got on with things (well, to some extent). 

Eventing Squad 

The last two outings I've taken the boys to have greeted me with sideways rain and gale force winds. Typo did not appreciate his XC lesson at Squad in the howling wind and it was only after an hour and a half of jumping he finally settled in the group (without threatening to tip me off!!) . He jumped really well though, which is some kind of silver lining. I then had an excellent XC lesson on Snip where we jumped every ditch fence I could find! This particular squad day gave us access to the Civinex paddock where competitions are run, so we conquered the ditch brush I fell at at M3DE. :) 

     Not the best photo - but we did it! 

I also participated in a rider safety session. It was really interesting - the two important things being if you are past the point of no return to let go of the reins and adopt a "brace" position. I was always taight to hold the reins if I fell off to stop the horse running away....however, in a serious fall, it can make matters worse.  It makes sense, as it prevents the rider being pulled down into the horse's path and reduces the chance of head and neck injury. I think all riders should do the training - which incorporated balance exercises, as well as fall practice in a safe environment. 


Ballarat Hunter Trials

Most recently, we headed to Ballarat for the training Hunter Trials. Once again we were greeted with terrible weather! Typo was not impressed and was very hot and the SJ this time. He shied at a crow on the fence and nearly deposited me. We did get around all the XC clear though and scraped a 5th place. 

Snip was full of beans and wanted to showjump by Braille, so although he jumped cross country with his usual enthusiasm, we have a few things to tweak before the Spring Horse Trials at Werribee next weekend. 

One of the interesting things to come out of the weekend was hearing from one of Typo's former owners, who contacted me when they saw his name on the draw.  I've been able to piece together more of his past and it would seem he's had at least 6 homes in the past 3 years, probably more. I have a few insights now into some of his behaviours and now he needs lots of calm, patient work. Group work with others is not his thing....

"How do you do it?" 

This is a question I keep getting asked. How do I juggle a part time job, two small kids, teaching casually plus keeping 3 horses in work? The truth is...I don't! Like everyone, I go through phases where work or family has to take precedence. Gone are the days I ride several horses daily (although with better weather and daylight saving, they will return). I usually try to keep 2 horses ticking over whilst one is spelled and rotate them around. Inevitably, one horse will need time off with problems from time to time, so three horses gives me options. I ride and teach under lights a few times a week. I have a cleaner. I do minimal housework, I don't iron (!) and I rarely cook (thankfuly my husband is a good chef!). He also works quite manageable hours so our split of child caring is more equal. It really is a team effort. 

Back to slump busting...

As for the competitive side of my riding, I'm going to take some time out after this season. I love training, I love having lessons and I enjoy teaching. Competing however, is becoming a chore. I'm not sure what it is, but the thrill of competing is currently not outweighing the huge effort involved. It is getting increasingly expensive, which is prohibitive when competing more than 1 horse. Eventing is time consuming too, both in terms of keeping horses in work AND requiring whole weekends away (or even longer). The time away, I'm not as enchanted with as I once was, as it means I'm away from my small kids. I mostly travel alone, which is tiring. Then when I get to a competition, It is me having to look after and muck out 2 horses, walk 2 courses several times, plait, wash, clean gear, put bloody studs in (urghh!) and then actually ride....then drive home, unpack and show up for work the next day. It is a lot of work, often for little reward. I've been doing it for so long it's become "normal" - only now am I starting to question if it is good use of my time. 

The FEI's proposed change from next year to make 1* (which to cut a long story short, becomes 2*) long format/3DEs obsolete has also affected my thinking.  I'm an amateur rider, for me, getting to a 3DE is the pinnacle. Take that away, and what am I aiming for again?? Although I one day would like to ride beyond 1*/Novice/1.10m - it isn't a given and without a major focus, I admit I feel rather lost. 

So, it's time to do some soul searching, hug my horses and get out to lots of lessons and clinics. I may do more dressage/showjumping next year which require less time away from home. I'm also interested in having a go at Working Equitation. Something different! 

My love of horses will never diminish, but my direction may change - and that's ok. 

Two Sides of The Coin

The last couple of months have presented me with several challenges. Obviously I've had to recover physically since my fall, however the mental side has been much, much harder - and not in the ways you might imagine. 

Not being able to remember the fall is a blessing and a curse. It is good to not have any direct negative memories - however in being concussed and not being able to remember, my brain seemed to "invent" various (scary!) scenarios. The days (and even weeks) after were a very confusing time for me. On one hand, everything seemed normal, but a chunk of time had gone missing forever. On the other hand - my cognitive function was not as good as I thought it morning, I went out to feed horses and couldn't remember what to do (and had a few incidents like this - eek!). Am really thanking my lucky stars that my injury was not more serious. It's only when I look back I can see now why people kept telling me to rest (oops!). 

One of the hardest things for me to grapple with at the time was other people's reactions. Some seemed almost angry at me, I guess out of frustration and disappointment. In the aftermath, I had much well-intended advice and many people asking "what on earth happened??!!" In normal circumstances, I'm not one to shirk constructive criticism, but when really not myself and unable to recall the fall or process anything, it was not the right time. 

Other people were consoling, bracing themselves for me being terribly disappointed. The weird thing is that I *wasn't* disappointed - I didn't feel anything emotionally in the days after, the concussion wiped that out of the equation. Ironically, even now, I'd have been more angry and disappointed had I had a silly run-out or a simple fall landing on my feet. Eventer's logic! 

These reactions from everyone are all normal, given the fright I gave so many people close to me. Riding is a dangerous sport, and as riders we accept the risks involved. The impact on my family and friends,  I must admit, is not something I've often thought through in depth. Because I have no recollection of the fall (or the 30 seconds before and some time after) it's like it never happened to me. It's like that day never happened, like it happened to someone else. However, for many others, it was frightening and caused a whole mix of emotions. 

Riding wise, my confidence was not directly affected; I felt the same as always when I got on a horse again. Over time though, I started second guessing myself about ditch fences, so have had to deal with this. It has been weird to run into people and hear various versions of events and what "supposedly" happened. Some thought Snip had fallen. Some told me I'd landed head first. For the record, it would appear from the video analysis we somehow simply misjudged a fence, Snip's legs caught the back of it and I hit Snip's *poll* with my head... was knocked out and then limply fell to the ground. He stayed on his feet and galloped off! 

I am still proud though, that despite everything, we made it to MI3DE. We had such a good season until then, with no placings outside of the top 12 and clear XC rounds every time! Just unfortunate we had a mistake at the big event, but that is horses and sport in general. I am very grateful to not have been more seriously hurt and so glad Snip was ok too. In the weeks following though, he unfortunately had a bout of cellulitis, which meant a slightly longer spell than I had planned for him. 

Return to competition 

The exciting news - we are out competing! I also have another little thoroughbred to compete alongside Snip, named Typo. He came to me to be a school horse, but has made the progression to eventer ;) 

Typo did his first HT at Maldon and was very good, despite being green, with a calm dressage test, clear XC and 1 rail SJ. We then travelled up to sunny Mildura for their wonderful event, Snip in the EvA105 and Typo in the EvA65. I was probably not in my most healthy state, having a bout of tonsilitis! Snip was a star, one of only 2 horses in the 24 strong field to finish on his dressage score, placing 8th. Typo placed midfield with a relaxed dressage, super clear XC and 2 rails SJ. 

Monday, 12 June 2017

When things don't quite go to plan...and a safety reminder

                               Beautifully through the first water 

Ok, so that didn't quite go to plan (!)

After jumping the first 7 fences beautifully at MI3DE, I made quite a blunder and we had a stack at the "simple" ditch brush - a type of fence we've jumped confidently many times before. I don't recall the fall at all, but it would seem to be an error on my part as we apparently had a massive "miss" and Snip's hind legs caught on the back of the fence. I was ejected...! I am mortified to have made such an error, however, we are all only human and capable of making mistakes.

I suffered loss of consciousness and was apparently not "with it" for some time after. Medical services at the event were great - I was well looked after and my family were well supported by MI3DE event staff in making sure they were ok too.

I also cannot thank my friends and family enough for taking care of me and my horses. It will make me think twice about going to events alone, as I often do. I am so lucky to have had friends and the event vets to take care of my horse, and family to drive me home & look after my kids.

It has really hit home about the safety issues - I am *so* glad I was wearing a good helmet, my BETA 3 Racesafe back protector, plus a Point Two air vest. Aside from a few bruises, the rest of my body is fine. :) Not a mark on my back/torso. The doctors I saw were intrigued by my air vest and wanted to look at it, as it was not something they were familiar with.

The other thing I always wear (even though it is no longer compulsory) is a medical armband. In this instance, I was still wearing it when I arrived at hospital, so the ED team had immediate information without having to ask a rather befuddled me a million questions. I have had other health conditions and take medications, so this is really important!

                                     Not my weekend plan! 

So - my birthday present to myself will be a new high specification cross country helmet. I am looking into the new "Conehead" and helmets with EPS technology & crush resistance. Anything to reduce the chance of a major head injury is money well spent in my opinion. Always, always wear a helmet!!

                                 Time for a new helmet! 

                                   Obviously hit my eye on the way down 

A rather sobering blog - but as I have said to other people - if you ride horses for long enough, you *will* fall off. It is a matter of taking all safety precautions and training well to be as safe as we can be.

We will be back to competition after a bit of a rest for me, a spell for Snip and (finally!) a holiday to the Gold Coast ;)

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The pursuit of a dream


I've had many blog posts on the go, but haven't managed to actually finish one - I kept getting bogged down in details. I also feel the need to delve a little more deeply into my current personal journey and how important it has been to me.

So, I'm AT MELBOURNE 3DE! We qualified, we got here! 

What has this journey given me? Some of my answers have surprised me. 

It has made me appreciate what my body can do

In this superficial world, we are constantly bombarded by the pursuit of the ideal body. Whatever that is. (Even moreso after having a baby, or know, you should snap back to "pre baby" magically as if nothing had ever happened. Yeah right!!!). 

Like many women, I've been plagued by body image issues all my life (pause for sharp intake of breath, Somehow, I got a mixed message that my weight was a measure of my self worth. It led to decades of disordered eating and very flawed thinking. It was suggested to me recently by someone (who should know better) that I should exercise off the wobbly baby tummy. Umm, hello, it's mostly loose skin. Besides, I walk on average 18,000 steps per day, ride several horses and look after 2 small kids. I don't think inactivity is my problem! Besides, as I head closer towards four decades on this earth, it is silly to think I'm going to retain the figure of my 19 year old self. 

No, instead, I appreciate my body for its strength. I am fit, I am strong. I can lift heavy things and gallop over fixed obstacles on a 500kg horse. I am back riding at the level I was before two kids. My body rocks, even if I don't resemble a stick insect. 

It has given me back my identity

Motherhood does change priorities dramatically. That's a given. But being able to ride and do things I used to do is so very important to me. For a long time, horses have shaped my life, so to take that away from me made me feel very lost. Time on the sidelines when pregnant or with small babies was a huge change. Spending time daily with my horses and having goals to aim for has given me "normality" in a crazy time of re-adjustment. 

There is nothing wrong with being identified as a Mother. But for myself, and many other Mums, we are many, many other things too. 

It has rebuilt my self worth

Having perinatal/postnatal anxiety and depression (twice, yay...go me!) sucked me into a black hole of nothingness and made me loathe myself and feel worthless as a person. I also lived in constant fear of being judged...the simple worry that my house was never in order would be enough to send me into a spin and I experienced constant hyper vigilance. I would read things into everything that anyone said, because I felt it must be about me and how I was a failure as a mother and as a person full stop. I wasn't worthy of even existing. Get the picture? If you have never experienced that feeling, it is very hard to understand. These overwhelming feelings made me at one stage consider selling my horses - thank goodness that didn't happen! 

Alongside finding good medical help, having riding goals has given me another reason to dig deep and keep on going. When there's horses to ride and feed, it's another thing to get up and out of bed for. Then there's the enjoyment factor. Having something to look forward to makes the fog lift and the Black Dog's shadow no longer lingers as a constant threat. 

Doing something well has given me a feeling of accomplishment and pride. This is also evident in my coaching, as I really enjoy being able to help others on their riding journeys. 

So, no matter how the next 4 days goes....I did it. I got here. I'm happy and proud. And even better, I now have my husband and kids to share this special journey with. Along with my very special horse...

As 3 1/2 year old Hamish said to me the other day after watching me jump - 

"Snip is a good horse Mummy. He's your best friend" 


Happy tears! 

Photos by Andrea Dunn Photography 

Sunday, 9 April 2017



For a long time, I have always had fairly 'out there' big goals. One such goal was to ride at the Melbourne Three Day Event. I was very committed, driven and hungry to reach this goal - and it did eventually happen, in 2012. However, in being so focused on this one over-riding goal for a long time, it did mean I missed out on other things along the way. I didn't have much of a life, my house was neglected, my work probably suffered and my husband and family had to put up with me and my somewhat selfish pursuit of a dream.


Since having a family, my goals have been more modest, more training oriented and I've not been in such a hurry to go up the grades. Riding again after kids has been an opportunity to get all of my basics more solid (and have to re-learn a lot of what I had previously been taught). Despite, or perhaps because of this - my results have been better! I'm more relaxed about competition in general too, knowing that no matter how things go, as long as I come home safe to cuddle my kids, it's been a good day.


Tim Minchin in one of his speeches advocates "passionate pursuit of short term goals." He maintains "you should be careful of long term dreams...if you focus too far in front of you, you won't see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye" 

His whole speech about the lessons of life can be seen here. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you watch it...

He is so right about "that shiny thing" - for me, backing off on my sole focus of eventing has meant I've got to achieve some quite different things. Having children. Bringing on a young horse. Going to Portugal, travelling alone, experiencing the thrill of riding piaffe & passage. Developing my coaching skills. All things I'd have missed if I had my blinkers still firmly on.

This year, I am aiming for Melbourne again. We might get there, we might not, but for me this time it's the journey along the way that's most important. To get there again (or even to consider it) after five years and two children is huge in itself.

Time and wisdom now means I put my sport in perspective - I do this for fun. I don't want to miss out on any other 'shiny objects' or opportunities to experience things that I might enjoy just as much (gasp!) as galloping cross country.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - Part 8


...And back to the real world

I'm back. I have put off writing my last installment as it makes me quite sad. I'm now well and truly back into the "real life" of working and being a Mum. The holiday is really over. 

My last ride in Cascais was the morning before I departed Portugal. I had a magical lesson (again with Frederico), riding Vingador. We continued our work on laterals, flying changes and passage. For me, the lightbulb moment was realising that for these movements I had to wait (and wait a bit more...!) and prepare. My eventing reflexes have me wanting to do everything in a hurry (and in doing so, trying to do too much). So it was a revelation in riding the flying changes to sit up, half halt, slight change of flexion...quietly ask for the change. It worked! 


There is, much to my surprise, actually time to do this, even between 3 x changes (if you have seen the video I recently posted on my Gretgrix Equestrian Facebook page, you can see me finally 'getting' the sequence changes...5 across the diagonal). In the passage too, it was quite the experience for me to learn to slow down and travel in that much slower rhythm. I'm sad that I had to leave when I'd just had a brief taste of how much more there is for me to learn! 

Maria gave me a souvenir of my stay - my very own CRC shirt ;) Very happy to be the first Aussie recruit (well, after Sarah that is! ;)) 


Upon packing my bags, Paulo collected me from Quinta da Bicuda to take me to the Airport. We had a slight detour to make - I had been looking for a special souvenir tile to take back. Earlier in the week I saw beautiful tiles of Lusitanos at The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. I naively assumed they'd be everywhere, which wasn't the case. Anyhow, Paulo specially took me back to Belem so I could get my beautiful tile (2 actually...oh and a print for the wall!). As a result, I got to the airport an hour before departure and only just made it to my boarding gate 15 mins before closing. Gate 46 is the furtherest away of course....! I like living on the edge ;) 



So what have I learned? 

Many people have asked me how riding other "fancy" horses can help me with my own riding. I cannot emphasize enough the value in riding schoolmaster horses in developing "feel". To understand straightness, you need to ride a horse that can go straight (when I sit straight, of course!). To understand true collection, it is something that must be felt. To get the feeling of the higher level work, it is best experienced on a horse with a higher level of training (and tolerance!) before attempting to train the movements on a less educated horse. I also had the opportunity to ride younger horses, to learn the process of their training and experience riding a range of horses. I could write volumes on so many of the things that I've learned. Many of them that I'd been told before, but needed extra time for the penny to drop! Riding under instruction for consecutive days also saw quite a transformation in my position, feel and timing. It taught me I need to be more disciplined in my training - both on myself and my horses. 

Both Sarah and Frederico gave me exercises to do off the horse, to improve suppleness and body awareness. Use of the Balimo chair helped get my lower back, pelvis and hip flexors more free. Regular visits to my osteopath and off horse strength/suppleness training is now part of my routine. 

Experiencing "pure" dressage training has seen a shift in my thinking/training & ambitions. I now view dressage as it was originally intended - training, and an art in itself, not just related to competition. Whilst my first love is still eventing, I really enjoy dressage training. I have the utmost respect for those who ride high level dressage - and am in love with the Lusitano horse ;) So beautiful, so much power, personality and yet a forgiving, willing nature. I now just need to win Lotto to bring home one of my own....In the meantime, I have a lot of learning to do with my current horses first! 

On a more personal level, this trip was a way for me to step outside of my comfort zone - going somewhere new, to concentrate on a different riding discipline was an exciting adventure. Much to my surprise, I felt relaxed the whole time I was away (must have been the nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night....bliss!!!). Travelling alone teaches you so much about yourself & what you are truly capable of. I was able to talk to my kids each day (hurray for the internet!) and it wasn't as hard as I thought being away from my family. So many people said to me they could never leave their kids for so long - however, I have faith in my husband's parenting ability, not to mention my wider support network of family. 

If you ever want to do something like this - just do it! It might be a leap of faith, but the rewards are great. Life is too short. Get out there and seize the moment!  

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A tour of Lisbon

I was going to include this as part of my "Lusitano Diaries" but it really deserves a chapter of its own. On Monday 23rd January, I went on a guided tour of Lisbon with Paulo and Agnes of Amazing Discovery Tours. What a fabulous day!

We started off in Belem, where there are many significant monuments and historic buildings (I have included hyperlinks for those wanting more historical information).  The first of note is the Tower of Belem . This is just magnificent!

We then visited the Monument To The Discoveries. It is difficult to comprehend the size of this until you are right up next to it.

Nearby is a world map set in tiles...

Next up was morning tea at Pasteis de Belem - home of the Pastel de Belem, their spin on the Pastel de Nata (or as most Aussies would say, a custard tart). They are quite different to the custard tarts we are accustomed to. The pastry is light, more like a puffed pastry, and the egg custard filling more fluffy. They were delicious - I had mine with cinnamon and sugar. 

They even have a display window so you can see them being baked ;) 

From Belem, we moved to explore the older part of the city. Alfama is on the slope towards St Jorge Castle. The old houses with coloured walls and distinct terracotta coloured roofs make a magnificent picture.

It was then time for lunch, so we moved into the Central district. 

We had a delicious tapas lunch with piri piri chicken, cuts of cured pork, local cheeses (including goat & sheep milk cheeses) with bread, cod cakes and a local white wine (sorry, totally forgotten region!). 

Then it was more exploring of the central district -

Anyone for some vintage port? It was only €1,000 odd...

We finished our meandering through town with a visit to a Ginjinha bar. Yep, you just walk in to be served your shot of cherry liqueur. Bottoms up! 

!!! Felt a bit lightheaded after that at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. 

On that note, I have to say I had a really enjoyable day. There's heaps more to explore, but it has given me a taste of many of the things Lisbon has to offer. A good reason for a return trip ;) 

Thankyou to Amazing Discovery Tours - it was great to have company and to learn more than I would have exploring on my own. One day I will have to come back in the summer time to see the city at night, with all the restaurants and Fado singers bringing the city to life.