02, February, 2019

As my riding is currently in a hiatus, I’ve got plenty of time on my hands to plan the future. My goals and aspirations remain as high as they ever were – to be the best trainer & rider I can be and see where that takes me – the ultimate aim is to ride at the very highest international level – Aachen, Olympia, the Olympics and WEG (in whatever form that may take). I know that at 47 years old and without a horse to ride those goals would seem absurd to most, however I’m confident I will attain them. But then I’m not really one to listen to what ‘they’ say, I never have been.

I’ve also got form. I was in my 30’s when I got my first ‘proper’ dressage horse. And when I say ‘proper’, there’s a reason I put the quotation marks in. Yes, he was the first horse I’d bought with the primary purpose of riding dressage. However, he was 9 years old and graded Novice, having just had a handful of starts at Elementary. I myself was pregnant with my second child and had never ridden above Novice level in competition. He was euphemistically called a stationbred and was in fact an eclectic mix of Thoroughbred, Clydesdale, Arab and Standarbred blood. His grandsire was a race winning pacer of all things! He was a talented mover, for sure, but hot and had a world class spook. (see the video below for evidence).

 

It was my trainer at the time who lit the fire in me. I vividly remember our first lesson. I’d never trained with him before and he had a reputation as one of the best. I was extremely nervous and had no idea why he’d agreed to take me on. I came in and walked around. He asked me to warm up as normal, so I popped Gosh into trot and proceeded to potter around in 20 metre circles for about 5 minutes. Just when I thought Bill had gone to sleep in the corner, he came over the headset and said in his laconic way ‘well, the trot is world class, I guess I’d better take a look at the canter’. I called my husband on the way home and said ‘honey, Bill thinks we could go International!’ It was a life changing day for me, and I fully believe I’d never have taken the path I have, nor have the conviction I do that I will reach my goals, without Bill Noble’s belief in my ability.

 Of course, I also had my knockers. I remember telling one friend that I was looking at buying some tails and asking for her recommendations as she had been riding at Advanced level for many years. She scoffed ‘don’t you think you’d better concentrate on getting good enough first? You’re years away from needing a tailcoat!’ Guess who I beat at regionals the next season in the PSG… The haters also came to the fore when I started looking at heading to Australia to experience some true International level competition. Most people thought I was crazy. I wasn’t good enough, my horse wasn’t a fancy warmblood, we were relatively new to Grand Prix, the Australians would eat me for breakfast. I went anyway. The way I saw it was that I never knew when I’d be in the same position again, with a sound, sane and capable GP horse, and also have the funds to pay for the £15,000 round trip (yup, £15,000 to fly both ways, compete in three CDI’s and base myself in suitable yards in between – you don’t know how lucky you are here in the U.K. with so many shows and easy access to the continent – for now).

 As it turns out, it was the best decision I ever made. I met some wonderful people, gained a whole new support network, was exposed to a level of training and professionalism I’d never seen before, experienced looking after myself and my horse in unfamiliar showgrounds, flew with my horse, sat in the cockpit as we landed at Sydney airport, met William Fox-Pitt and Steffen Peters, earned my Silver Fern and even won a couple of ribbons. Plus, it gave me the exposure and experience that lead me to being selected to ride at the Olympic selection trials the following year. And the thing is, I was right - I’ve not had a sound sane and capable GP horse since. If I hadn’t made that trip, I’d still be sat in New Zealand wondering if I could…

In my last blog I mentioned that I was using the mantra ‘Touch the frog’, inspired by Adam Hills. In his book ‘Best Foot Forward’ (which I thoroughly recommend for an inspiring, uplifting and hilarious read) he talks of a career decision where he was tossing up whether to do a gig with the Muppets. As he’s the same age as me, he’d grown up with the Muppet Show and they were his idols. Of course, he was incredibly honoured to be working alongside them, but he had a couple of misgivings about the changes he’d been asked to make in his set. When he asked his friend for some advice on the choice, his friend so eloquently said to him, ‘Adam, you’ve got a chance to touch Kermit. For god’s sake, touch the frog mate, touch the f**ken frog!’ That’s a philosophy I live by, to take opportunities when they arrive. In the end we only regret the chances we don’t take, there is never a right time, the only time is now, and you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Gosh and I competing at the CDI-W, Werribee, 2010

If you’ve got something that you’re hesitating over, go for it. Buy the horse, enter the show, call the trainer you want help from. You never know where that path might lead you.

 

 


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