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Insta-Love – Equestrians on Instagram

When you think social media you could be forgiven for not being overwhelmed by a surge of warm fuzzy feelings, but that is exactly what I get when I think of community I have found via Instagram.


While I am lucky to have many meaningful friendships in my life, there is something special about the way you connect with another person who fundamentally gets your passion, someone whose life revolves around the mighty horse. Where I live in North Queensland there are very few other dressage enthusiasts, in the past this has left me feeling a little isolated and not fully understood.

As patient and supportive as my partner is he doesn’t quite get the ecstasy that comes with riding that perfect flying change on your own or how a bad ride can totally ruin your day. 

But when I joined Instagram a little under two years ago I found a group of people who got it. They are people who celebrate  each other’s successes, comisterate over injuries, tell it like it is and most importantly remind me of the type of rider and horse person I want to be. 

Instagram has allowed me to connect with people all over the world, some of whom now feel like real life friends.

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Getting the most out of your riding lesson

This weekend I was lucky enough to ride at the Kim Weston clinic hosted by PVS Training & Equine Services in Bowen, North Queensland. This meant a three hour drive, but it was definitely worth it, as Kim is a incredibly experienced coach and this comes across in the way she communicates and approaches dressage in general.

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Because I often have to travel to lessons and they are not as regular as I would like (I am lucky to get lessons once every six weeks) I have figured out a few strategies to ensure that I make the most of this valuable lesson time.

Be warmed up and ready to start on time.

Allow plenty of time to get to your lessons so that you don’t start off flustered. It sounds simple, but nothing will throw you out more than arriving without enough time to settle in, saddle up and warm up. If you are traveling any distance it is worth considering your horses fitness level and factoring in some recovery time. Being warmed up means that you can maximize lesson time spent on new exercises or working on more challenging areas of your training.

Of course, there may be times when you want guidance and input on this aspect of your training, however you will still likely want to have a walk and trot on a loose rein to get their blood (and yours!) pumping.

Know what you want to get out of your lesson.

Coaches will often ask at the beginning of the lesson what you would like to work on, so it is worth reflecting on what areas of your training have been challenging you or where you are loosing marks in your tests. This will help to guide the direction of your lesson as well as enabling you to articulate to your coach exactly what is happening.

Be open to learning and making changes.

This one probably seems pretty obvious, after all we are having lessons in order to improve our riding and our horses way of going and we understand that change is required to facilitate improvements. However, sometimes a coach will ask you to do something which initially seems strange and almost any time we need to make big changes these will initially feel awkward. Some of the best outcomes I have had have been from lessons where a coach has made a big change to my position. In other situations my coach will push me further or make me do something I wouldn’t normally try . Again this is a good thing it means that I am leaving my comfort zone and after all our greatest growth occurs outside our comfort zone.

 

Ask questions.

I cannot emphasise this point enough. As someone who likes to know how and why things work I ask lots of questions especially  when working on something new. This helps to cement this new idea in my brain. Equally, you may feel that you should already know the aids for canter or leg yield, but if it is not 100% clear in your mind ask! Many coaches and riders will use a slight variation on aids and one may suit you more than the other. Furthermore, your coach would prefer you know, than to just bluff your way through.

Write notes as soon as possible after your lesson.

I am a visual learner and also slightly type A, so writing down the points I have learnt from my lessons is something which comes fairly naturally to me. I find that the process of thinking back over my lesson and identifying new exercises, key points and changes really helps to solidify this learning in my mind. I have also had times when I have been having difficulty with a particular movement of area of my training and have looked back over my lesson notes to help me trouble shoot.

Wear comfortable clothes and tack.

No! A lesson is not the right time to wear your new Celeris top boots no matter how excited you are to christen them. Equally, clothing which rubs or pulls is likely to distract you from your horse and your position.

I personally, also feel that it is important that both you and your horse be clean, tidy and well presented out of respect for your coach and to put your best hoof forward.

 

I hope these tips will help you to maximise precious lesson time.

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My love affair with dressage

“I probably could have really tortured both of us and just stuck with dressage, gotten a top hat and tails, and gone on to prix st George’s, but who wanted to spend that much time in a sandbox trying to look pretty? Life was still about galloping when you came right down to it.” Courage (The Eventing Series book 3).

Andrea and Nonie enjoying a gallop at the beach

I love a gallop just as much as the next person, ok maybe not as much as an eventer, as but I do genuinely love the feeling of thundering through the waves at the beach, the salt splashing up in my face. So why then do I ride dressage? Let’s assume that it isn’t because I am a glutten for punishment. Let’s also assume that it’s not because I have a type A personality.
As a young rider I participated in all disciplines (dressage, jumping, showing gymkhanas, I even tried my hand at team penning and camp drafting a few times) on my one horse. For the most part I enjoyed them all. But it was pretty clear back then that I wasn’t like the other kids who yearned for the thrill of the jump off or the all out speed involved in the gymkhana events. No my favourite event come gymkhana day was rider class. While I loved training cross country, my heart was never in it on competition day and show jumping could be fun when it all went to plan, but I knew that it wasn’t my jam. A few serious concussions and my fathers growing concern sealed the deal, my purpose in life was to be a dressage devotee.

Andrea and her horse Gilbert training cross country

 I remember clearly when I made the decision to put all my focus on dressage. My horse at the time Sullivan was a super warmblood x Percheron gelding. He gave me my first taste of sitting on a powerful equine. Some time later I was offered the ride on my coaches super sensitive but exceptionally talented mare Selesta. This is an opportunity that I will be eternally grateful for because the chance to feel advanced movements like passage saw me fall in lust with dressage. 

Andrea and Sullivan

Life. It’s about a finding that thing that makes you feel alive that sets your soul on fire. And those rides on Selesta had lit a fire in my belly and set me down the centreline chasing the ultimate – Grand Prix. But it wasn’t until many years later this lust developed into a true love for the sport of dressage. This love came from feeling the multiple incremental improvements that result in the most spectacular feeling. It’s knowing that the success you and your horse have achieved is the result of your hard work. It’s the pride that swells in your chest when you start to ride advanced movements on a horse that you have brought along from the beginning. But most of all it’s the ability to communicate and connect with your equine partner without so much as a word.

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Blast from the Past – Stepping up to Elementary

A year ago today Nonie and I had just completed our first official elementary dressage competition. In honour of this I thought I would share the first ‘blog’ post I wrote, which was originally posted on the Wilson Equestrian page. 

Walking out of the arena at our first competition of the year, reaching down to give Nonie a pat, you couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face. I’d had one of those great days where it all comes together, the lessons, the late nights on floodlit arena’s and the long trips to competitions.

In North Queensland we are a little slow to start competing, with last weekend marking my first dressage competition of the season. The event was held in Townsville, a casual 380km drive from home. Needless to say I was glad to have my partner Steve as my co-pilot for the trip. After loading up the ute and float (a feat which resembles a life sized game of tetris), checking my packing list about 3 times and putting Nonie on the float we were on our way. One coffee stop, a stretch for Nonie and five hours later and we made it to Townsville.

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The balmy overnight low of 21° meant that Nonie only needed her stretchy hood to keep her plaits firmly in place and a rip-stop rug. I was excited to try my Wilson Equestrian stretchy hood and I was pleased to find that it sat really well on Nonie, in particular the extra-large eye-holes stood out to me – this meant that it didn’t creep up overnight and rub her eyes.

With the goal of competing at the QLD State Dressage Championships in mind, I had nominated for three tests, with the novice being up first. Despite less than ideal conditions in the warm up arena, including maintenance work on the adjoining BMX track, heavy machinery nearby and killer plastic tarps blowing about unpredictably, Nonie felt great! She was up through the shoulders, pushing forward and focussing solely on me.

 

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PC: Jordan Wicks Photography

 

This was my first time riding in the Wilson Equestrian super stick breeches and they did not disappoint! The material whilst being light and stretchy is substantial enough to cover even the brightest of bright pink undergarments, an accidental discovery on my part. I was really pleased with the test that we put forward, and the judges seemed to agree giving us a score of 68% which was good enough for fourth place.

Our next test was at 11.30 and I have to say that the Wilsons Equestrian long sleeved show shirt really came into its own, I felt cool in the light fabric despite a top temperature of 29°. This being our second elementary test and now having to ride the lengthened trots sitting, I was grateful to be wearing those exceptionally super sticky breeches. I know that I breathed a little easier once we got through the canter/counter canter three loop serpentines without breaking or changing – Nonie’s most recent trick is to pop a flying change in during this movement, but you just can’t be upset about that!

Copyright Jordan Wicks Photography - JWP_2579
PC: Jordan Wicks Photography

My final test of the day was the 3.2 for which I was determined to be brave in my riding. I achieved this goal and left the arena feeling that we had really nailed the test – I was on a high for the rest of the day. As an added bonus we scored a 7.5 and an 8 for the counter canters. I couldn’t have asked for more from my mare and can’t wait to see what the rest of 2016 brings for Nonie and I.

Posted in Equestrian Fashion, Uncategorized

Summer Staples

After a short break over Christmas, I went through by equestrian wardrobe and realised something truly tragic. I had nothing to wear! Well practically nothing. All of a sudden, breeches that I had owned for a few years were ready for the bin, and I was left with very few pairs to wear. It also became apparent that I had no comfortable short sleeved shirts. Naturally I have been stocking up on some staples, and over the next few weeks, and I want to share some of my favourites with you.

Lets talk breeches…

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One of my favourite pairs, my pink and grey suede breeches, are from Wilson Equestrian (http://wilsonequestrian.com.au/product/wilson-equestrian-jodhpurs-grey-with-pink-seat/). Not only are they are super comfy and but they are on the cheaper end of the spectrum at just $64.95. These breeches are super hard wearing making them perfect for everyday use, and the grey is perfect for hiding stains and marks (great if like me you aren’t the tidiest of people).

The other thing I love is the abundance of pockets on these breeches, the generous back pockets easily fit even a larger phone (like an iPhone 7), while the front pockets are perfect for stashing treats like sugar cubes.

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Stay tuned as I share more of my favourite items with you all.

 

Posted in Dressage, Training, Uncategorized

Rain Rain Go Away

As an equestrian, my relationship with rain one of love-hate. While I can accept that regular doses of rain are necessary, bringing with it wonderfully lush grass, providing respite from the oppressive humidity and filling up rain water tanks and bores, there are also several negatives associated with the rain. When summer starts and brings with it several days of seemingly endless rain my heart sinks a little. Here in North Queensland, we are currently in the thick of it, so I thought I would share some strategies which have enabled me to retain my sanity in the rain.

When the inability to ride in your rain soaked arena becomes an issue, the obvious recommendation is to build an indoor… Just kidding, clearly this is outside the budget of many equestrians. Having an arena which doesn’t drain well has forced me to become both more creative and make the best of a situation. I am lucky to have wide grassed verges around my agistment centre and regularly make use this area during the summer rain. Although, the area is not wide enough to ride a 10m circle comfortably, it is great for riding transitions within the pace and lateral work such as leg yields, shoulder in and travers.  I also like to make use of this time to do a little bare back riding, I find that this helps me to engage the correct muscles within my core as well as allowing greater feel of my horses back.

When the ground has reached a point of complete saturation and riding just isn’t an option there are still things that you can do to get that horsey fix. Some strategies you could try include:

– Reviewing what progress you have made towards your goals and setting new ones

– Reflecting on your most recent training sessions and considering any areas of your riding that require more attention

– Visualising aspects of your training on which you are getting stuck or that you want to improve upon

Working with Danielle Pooles a performance coach at Dressage Plus (http://dressageplus.com.au/) has helped me to develop these skills.

Now I love my mare dearly, but I do on occasion wish that her skin was not quite so sensitive. Sensitive skin combined with two and a half white socks, quickly growing grass and bucket loads of rain is a recipe for greasy heel. Obviously a stable where she could get high and dry would be the simplest solution but until I have my own property, I will have to settle for dreaming about my future barn. In the meantime, to prevent greasy heel, I use a combination of antibacterial washes (such as Malaseb), drying her heels and pasterns and then lathering them in Pottie’s cream. Despite my best efforts in the past, there have still been two occasions that I can vividly recall, where she has developed a mild case of greasy heel resulting in her normally elegant legs looking more like those belonging to an elephant from the hock down! Fortunately around 18months ago Mum stumbled across Mud Guards (http://www.mudguards4horses.com), which are a pleated canvas wrap (similar to gaiters that hikers wear) that fasten just above the fetlock, that help to keep the pastern and heel dry as well as keeping the sun off. I have used these over the last two ‘wet seasons’, they have saved me time, money, stress and best of all no more elephant legs!

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Nonie enjoying the fresh grass in her Mud Guards.

I hope these ideas help you to make it through to winter with the least amount of drama possible. If all else fails enjoying stomping in a few puddles and wait for the rain to pass!

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The Story of Us

Nonie came into my life in less than ideal circumstances. In 2010, I was a slightly dramatic 22yo, in the second last year of a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics. I’d just broken up with a boy who at the time I thought was the love of my life (second of course to horses) and lost a really special horse, Gilbert, to melanoma.

Not long after Gilbert passed away, I also lost my competition horse at that time Sullivan, a Percheron x warmblood. We’d taken Sullivan out to a competition and he just wasn’t himself. I struggled to get him moving in the warm up, consequently the tests were flat and lackluster, but what was more alarming was that he hadn’t broken a sweat. We realised that he had anhidrosis. Over the next month, mum and I tried everything under the sun, we added herbs and supplements to his feed, we even added stout to his feeds, an old wives’ tale which proved fruitless for us. The heat and humidity of summer on the Sunshine Coast meant that trying to keep him in work all year round just wasn’t an option. We discussed a few ideas, maybe keeping Sullivan in work during the competition season over winter and getting a pony for me to ride during summer. Ultimately, we realised that Sullivan would have to be sold to someone living further south in a cooler climate. Needless to say, I was devastated.

Anyone who has ever bought a horse will understand the frustration that is part and parcel of ‘the horse hunt’. I’d be down this road before, but it was different this time. I’d had Sullivan for about three years, bringing him on from a horse who struggled to trot in a straight line, to being almost ready to compete at elementary level. But with the decision made, mum and I scoured Horse Deals, Facebook horse sales pages, the internet and we put the word out amongst our local equestrian community that we were on the hunt. I swooned over educated schoolmasters and lusted after youngsters with talent to burn, however they were all well outside our modest budget.

After trying several horses locally without so much as a skerrick of luck, mum stumbled across a small add in Horse Deals with the headline, ‘4yo Sir Rocco Mare’. Pictured was of a gangly baby with a barely there stripe on her face, but she was almost within our price range and within a 45 minute drive so mum gave the owner a call. Her then owner was a lady was in her 50’s who had bought Nonie as a green 3yo. The combination of green horse and green rider plus more feed than was needed, resulted in her owner having a fall, losing her confidence, and the purchase of an older experienced mount. In a twist of irony, the horse she purchased was advertised on the same page as Nonie.

The day we went to try Nonie, the stockman who had been riding her threw on a swing fender saddle and warmed her up for me. I started to put Nonie through her paces, they were light, she could walk, trot and canter and she could turn, but that was about it. I remember asking her to move up a gear in the trot but the only answer she knew was to brake into canter. I left feeling just like I had after the last five horses I had tried, frustrated and disheartened! She was a sweet mare, but she was so green. If I got her I would be starting all over again. While I now love the whole process of training horses, as a younger more impatient rider, I just wanted to feel like a ‘real’ rider who was doing the fun stuff, the lateral work, the flying changes and more. I felt like I had just started to reach this level with Sullivan and it had all been snatched away from me.

My dad agreed to contribute to buying the horse on the condition that my coach felt she would be suitable for me. This being done the last, the final step was a vet check. I returned to my textbooks to prepare for my impending exams, as mum towed her off to have the vet check done, I clearly remember the thought that entered my brain ‘I hope she fails the vet check, I don’t think I want this horse’. Looking back, I can see now that this was because I was grieving for Gilbert and wanting no horse other than my Sullivan. I never told either of my parents about this until fairly recently, Mum was horrified and would never have bought Nonie had she realised this. As it was, Nonie passed her vet check with flying colours and that was that we bought her. She stayed with my coach for about four weeks to make the transition a little easier for me and to teach her some of the basics. One sunny day following a patch of rain, mum asked me to take out a clean rug to put on her, she handed me a few carrots and off I went. I can pinpoint the beginning of our partnership back to this moment, after gobbling up the carrots Nonie started licking me. A seemingly simple moment, nonetheless that was when my heart opened up to the possibility of loving this horse.

One thing that stands out to me as I look back on this process was my reluctance to make any decisions – I felt paralysed by the knowledge that any decision I made would be the wrong one. So it was rather fortunate that things worked out as they did and Nonie and I ended up together.  The last six years has produced a partnership that has been more rewarding than I could ever have anticipated. We recently started the flying changes and are preparing for our first medium level start in the new year. I can’t wait to see what the next six year will bring as we continue our journey down the centreline.