Equestrian: Show jumping

This weekend, I am going to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of bezzie Katherine, who is marrying Neil.  I’m very excited about this. I’ve never been a bridesmaid before, I get to wear a pretty dress that I chose myself and wasn’t forced upon me like a Coronation Street actor at a Justin Bieber concert (allegedly), and a corsage which is very SJP, plus she does a good line in cheese boards, does Katherine. Obviously, in addition to this, I love Katherine very much and am delighted for her and Neil *wipes away solitary tear*. So, perhaps I was tempting fate a little bit, by following up BMX racing with show jumping. “I’m sure your dress’ll look really nice with a plaster cast”, Vera mused.

“What sports have you got next?” my mates Charlie and Omar had inquired, a couple of weeks ago, as I was going about the important business of eating all Charlie’s chips, whilst listening to Sven decree what can rightfully be considered a sport, “Anyone can run – Finn (pointing at his two year old son) can run, it’s not a sport”.

“BMX. And show jumping”.

“And when’s Katherine’s wedding?”

“Two weeks time. It’s OK though, because you wear a full-face helmet on a BMX”

“You don’t wear a full-face LEG HELMET though do you?? Well, if you fall off, just aim for your face, then. You’ll be fine as long as you fall on your face”, hilarity, as I’m sure you can imagine, ensued, among the boys.

Even Paulo, my BMX coach, had drawn breath sharply, like a mechanic who’s about to deliver bad news (so I’m told by comedians almost universally. I can’t actually drive, never been to a garage in my life) on hearing that show jumping would be my next sport. “Now that’s scary – I can control a bike, but I can’t control a horse”.

So with the world pissing on my show jumping bonfire, and feeling like I was starting to push my luck a little bit, injury-wise, I returned to Trent Park Equestrian Centre to have a go at a sport that I actually have some experience of, but was terrified of even as a child. As we know, age has certainly not done much to ease my fearful disposition.

Trotting like it's hot, etc

Trotting like it’s hot, etc

Last time I’d been to Trent Park for my Dressage event, despite having ridden horses throughout my childhood, I was catatonic with terror. Mostly because, as Paulo had correctly identified, whilst if you’re a good rider and you have a clue what you’re doing, you’re going to have a better shot at it, ultimately you’re trying to control an actual living animal with it’s own brain, and horses have weird brains sometimes.

How it's actually supposed to be done like it's hot, etc

How it’s actually supposed to be done like it’s hot, etc

Now add to this equation, trying to make that actual living animal, with it’s own brain, jump over a ruddy fence with some great lump (i.e. me) on it’s back. And then consider the fight against gravity as you attempt to remain, lump-like, on said brain-possessing creature’s back whilst it jumps over that ruddy fence. We’re pretty good at this, as a national team and we even won a gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics, but I was frankly awful at this even as a comparatively fearless child, who regularly rode horses.

At Trent Park, I explain to my instructor, Kat, what I’m trying to achieve and understandably, she’s a little doubtful over whether or not it will be safe for me to try jumping in one lesson. Still, we’ll have a go and see how we get on.

I’m introduced to Woody, my Trusty Steed for the lesson, who reminds me of my favourite horse as a child, the dearly departed Sundance. I don’t know why this is the case, given that he’s a different colour and doesn’t have the same markings on his face, but he is about the same size and, I suppose, horse-shaped, at least. Is he nice? I ask Kat. He’s lovely, apparently. Once I’m back in the saddle, I find, to my surprise, that I’m not scared. “How are you feeling?” Kat asks me, and actually, I feel fine.

We start off with some basics, it’s a good six months since I last rode, after all, but I remember how to do it and I’m ok at it. When Woody’s being a bit annoying and not moving with the sense of haste I would like, I just give him a little kick, and he gets going. I am still not scared. Rising trot is fine, though Kat does have to re-explain the concept of “diagonals” to me, which is about sitting and rising when specific legs move. It’s something to do with the horse’s more powerful leg or something equally tricky sounding – there is a science behind it, but it also feels more comfortable if you’re doing it right. Once it’s been explained to me, it’s fine.

Kat decides we’re going to trot over some trot poles, these are just components of a fence, but laid flat on the floor, rather than rigged 6 feet high. Again, and perhaps not unsurprisingly, these are fine. So, Kat decides we’ll try a canter, and I start to feel a little nervous, not least because when we decide to go for it, I do something odd with my feet which sets Woody off, moving with a little bit too much haste. I have visions of being thrown to the floor, my leg crushed beneath me. It doesn’t happen though, as I follow Kat’s instructions, squeezing on the reign and bringing him back to a walk. She’s right, he does do what you tell him to do. I fear the damage has been done though, and I’ve lost my nerve – the point at which Kat decides we’ll try a fence.

Jumping like it's hot, etc

Jumping like it’s hot, etc

The poles couldn’t be any closer to the floor without being on the floor, but this is probably not much lower than what I used to jump as a kid, and I have memories of horses deciding at the last minute, understandably, they don’t much fancy it after all, and the rider falling. But I have a go, and to my surprise, I survive and I even enjoy it. I want to go again! But that’s enough for today, Kat thinks, let’s leave it on a high. If I come back again, we can do some more.

So two days later, I find myself in an outdoor paddock with one of the nicest views I’ve seen within the boundaries of the M25, introducing myselt to Daisy. Also a nice horse, I’m told, but she’s female so she’s “different”, and indeed she is. Daisy is a bit cheeky. She tests me a bit more, she wants to cut corners round the paddock and she takes a bit more work to get going, which is frustrating, but I think I cope with it reasonably well, she’s by no means the worst horse I’ve ridden.

Sitting in front of a nice view like it's hot, etc

Sitting in front of a nice view like it’s hot, etc

Today, Kat is teaching me more about moving around a course, and she sets up trot poles in different parts of the paddock so I can get a feel for what it would be like. We also work on the three different positions used in jumping, which are basically sitting, standing and somewhere between the two, which I try as I trot over the poles. After this, we’re going to incorporate some fences. I’m nervous, but this time with excitement. The fence is, again, tiny but it feels enormous when you’re on the horse, seemingly leaping through the air.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwF3LnorRRU

Kat is impressed. My form needs some work – my feet are ridiculous, for a start, and definitely not where they’re supposed to be, and I need to get better at telling Daisy what to do, but the latter is something that I think comes with confidence as much as anything else.

Looking back on my last equestrian outing, back in October last year, it really is incredibly rewarding, reflecting on how far I’ve come. In fact, I actually think I’m better at it now than I was as a kid, which can’t possibly be true, but is an indication of the extent to which my confidence has grown over the last 9 months. Not only am I relatively nonplussed by this event, despite being scared of EVERYTHING, but I found it hard work, physically, last time. It’s an absolute breeze now, or at least that’s what I think until I can barely walk from muscle ache, a few days later. I must let tutor Kat take some of the credit for my new-found bravery, however. Her handling of my nerves was absolutely spot on and she just didn’t give me the opportunity for my fear to set in, by setting me straight to it.

This is Woody, I liked him better, if I'm honest. I've also run out of "witty" captions.

This is Woody, I liked him better, if I’m honest. I’ve also run out of “witty” captions.

I have loved riding again, in particular at Trent Park where I’ve benefited from two great teachers, now. As I’m nearing the end of this challenge I’m thinking more and more about what I might take up afterwards, and this is definitely in my top five possible future sports. Bring on the cross country!

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

Jen

12

13

2

27

Gemma

3

3

Jade

2

1

3

Nick

2

2

Uncle Becky

1

2

3

Pete

1

1

2

Harriet

1

1

2

John D

1

1

2

Aliki

1

1

Chloe Rogers

1

1

Colin

1

1

Dalston Dunkers

1

1

Daniel

1

1

GB Handball

1

1

Grant

1

1

John T

1

1

Naomi

1

1

Otter Water Polo

1

1

Romford HC

1

1

Ruislip Eagles

1

1

Simon L

1

1

Steve

1

1

Su

1

1

Vera

1

1

Simon M

2

2

Nic

1

1

2

Ali

1

1

James

1

1

My Mum

1

1

Nancy

1

1

Joss

1

1

Olly

 1

 1

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