The Coco Chronicles ~ Here we go again…

Horses are great levellers…one minute you’re sky high, the next you’re flat on your back.

My Instructor after my 3rd fall of 2019

…and ain’t that the truth! So there I was, doing a jumping lesson just one week after Coco and I absolutely bossed the AIRC Riding Club festival in Mullingar – check out my blogpost all about it – and we were feeling as good and confident as ever. The lesson was part of a clinic being run at our yard with my usual instructor so there was a nice tricky little course set up for the occasion, complete with combinations and fillers.

The amount of air she gave that puny little water tray is ridic…

The lesson started like all our lessons, a quick walk, trot, canter warm up, some flatwork to get the horses engaged and listening and then onto jumping. We schooled over every jump a few times which I was grateful for as I was slightly concerned about the little water tray underneath one of the jumps. When it came to jumping it Coco gave it a good hard look as she leapt over it leaving plenty of room to spare. I was actually thrilled with how she handled it to be honest..yes she had a look but she stilled jumped it first time! In the past she’d refuse first time and then jump it the next time so I was delighted to see the progress we had made..we had real confidence in each other. We jumped it a few more times just to get the wiggles out and after a while she didn’t even look twice. So on we went with the lesson as we gradually started piecing the whole course together. I was feeling great with how Coco was jumping and she felt like she was having fun.

So effortless and loving every second

It was time to jump the full course and my instructor put the jumps up another two holes so this was a nice 90/95cm course. The first half felt so easy, we just sailed through it. As we got into the second half, this is where things started going slightly pear-shaped. Coco was getting tired and I could feel that so I slightly reverted back to my old ways of throwing her into fences which resulted in a few off strides..BUT this is what these lessons are for. You make mistakes, you learn from them, you try again and do your best to get it right the next time. So I gave us a minute to get our shit together and we started again from the second half of the course. We were ok through the combination, definitely better than the first time so I continued on to the related distance which had the water tray. I brought us back to our calm, steady rhythm and Coco jumped beautifully into the first jump – 1, 2, 3 strides (with a slight drift to the left which wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary for her) and BAM..Coco decided to dip out to the left of the water tray.

Big bold head on her…delighted with herself she was

My balance was completely gone as I fell over her right shoulder and my right foot held in the stirrup for just that bit too long as I tumbled down to the ground. As soon as I landed I knew I had done something to my ankle. I had hoped it was just a bit of a sprain but the pain wouldn’t subside so unfortunately we had to call it a day. I was raging I couldn’t get back up and get her over that jump at least once..I HATE ending on a bad note but there was nothing I could do. I hobbled back to the yard, using the boyfriend I had dragged to take videos (thank god!!) as a crutch. I got my boot off and started cold hosing my ankle all the while telling my instructor, “Ill be grand. I should be fine to do the lesson on Wednesday”. Little did I know that I had just landed myself with an avulsion fracture of the cuboid bone in my foot. Which is basically when the tendons and ligaments attached to a bone, pull a piece of bone off the bone (wow there’s a lot of bone in that sentence..bone. Bone. BONE).

So it’s been three weeks since all this happened. So far I’ve spent it building a solid case of cabin fever as my foot is stuck in a boot which means I can’t drive or ride (shocking). Coco in the meantime has been put out to the field for a holiday while I’m left hobbling around on crutches. I had my two week visit to the consultant on Monday so I’ve been told it’s going to be about 3 – 4 weeks until everything’s healed and I’ll need another 2 weeks or so before I can ride so it looks like I’m out of the saddle until the middle of frickin AUGUST #nocraic. I’m devising a plan of what to do with Coco when its time to get back to work so I’ll do up a little blogpost once I’ve got more details decided.

And that is all I have for you today so I’ll leave you with the below video of the fall. It’s not the most exciting video as you miss the actual landing but it is funny hearing everyone’s reactions.

I’m starting to laugh at it now…just a little bit

As always, thanks for reading

Orla

Coco’s AIRC RC Festival Rundown – The Hard Work Pays Off!

Where do I even begin? It’s been a few weeks now since we ventured to our first ever away show to Mullingar Equestrian and I still can’t get over what an experience it was. Darielle gave a great overview of what the facilities were like in her blogpost and the whirlwind of getting there and getting the horses settled etc. so I won’t go into too much detail on that side of things. To be honest, the only thing I want to talk about from the show is Coco and how damn proud I am of the two of us for what we achieved.


When the schedule of competitions first came out for the AIRC Riding Club Festival, I knew instantly what competitions I wanted to do – the AP Team Showjumping on the Saturday and the AP Individual Showjumping on the Sunday. Getting a team together for the teams competition turned out easier than expected as there were other members of my riding club, Abbeylands RC, who were looking to form a team so I was in there like a shot! With entries, stabling and accommodation booked it was time to start preparing myself and Coco for our first competition since our last diabolical outing to Coilog at the end of the riding club showjumping league. This was the competition where I rode like a donkey and Coco refused twice – we managed to finish the round but it was by far the worst we’d ever done in competition. So with that as my last competition, I knew I needed to knuckle down and get some good training in if I wanted to not make a fool of myself.

The Prep

After Coilog, I was quite disappointed in myself and how I rode (but at the same time also feeling proud for managing to finish the round as I was genuinely seconds from giving up and calling it a day). Up to that point, we had had a few weeks of competing and I was looking forward to some quieter weekends taking it easy, with no lessons or particular focus in my riding. It was nice to take the break, I think we all need it from time to time. But with the Riding Club festival looming, it was time to get my ass in gear and start getting myself and Coco ready for a weekend of jumping and so enter my brilliant instructor…Ann Hatton.

Doesn’t seem that big but those fillers freaked me out!

I started with a private lesson in Ann’s own yard to brush off the cobwebs and get my jumping legs back. It was incredible how rusty I had gotten and how much my confidence had been knocked by our last outing. Ann doesn’t take it easy though and by the end she had us back jumping a fairly decent sized oxer which sent shivers down my spine as I rode Coco into it. We ended better than we had started but there was still a lot to work on.

A few weeks later we were confidently jumping bigger fences

After that, I made a point of doing a lesson with Ann once a week to keep us progressing and to get me back to riding Coco the way she needs to be ridden and not panic riding into fences. It was the best thing I could have done. Week by week, we got better and better and by the last lesson before the festival, it really felt like me and Coco had become partners. I felt confident and ready and so did Coco…

Day 1 – AP Team Showjumping

For those who don’t know – AP stands for Advance Primary which is the level I’m registered at for Riding Club competitions. Showjumping at AP level is all 80cms with little or no fillers (although they can throw some sneaky ones in at particular venues). All AP showjumping competitions are judged on Optimum Time which means there is a set time to complete your round in and the person who goes clear and finishes their round the closest to that time, wins. For the teams competition, each member of the team jumps a round of 1 – 9 one after the other and then you jump again, so you jump two rounds altogether.

Coco was on her toes!

My first competition of the Riding Club festival was the Team Showjumping. My team were due to be jumping at 1pm so thankfully I was able to take it easy that morning. I got Coco into the warm up and she was feeling good, forward and springy – just what I like to feel in the warm up. What I was shocked to find was actually how good she was REALLY feeling which I discovered as my team mates arrived into the warm up ring with me! The minute another horse trotted past her or came too close Coco would take off. And it wasn’t just running away with me..she full on leapt through the air. She did it about three times and the last time everyone in the arena was actually in shock that I managed to sit her solid attempt at a capriole – bitch must have thought I brought her to the feckin Spanish Riding School with the moves she was coming out with! All I could do was laugh as she was just feeling so good and happy to be there. Thankfully it didn’t come across to her jumping which was all spot on in the warm up.

Last jump of the course

Once it was time to jump, I had my usual belly of nerves but today was different. I realised I wasn’t petrified. I went into the ring feeling confident and ready to tackle jumps 1 – 9 with my partner in crime and man she did not disappoint. We approached number 1 and I felt a small flicker of doubt from Coco as she struggled to focus on the task at hand but with a squeeze of reassurance she put her game face on and soared over number 1 to start our round. We tackled every fence as if we were schooling around in one of our lessons, with a small exception in the combination when she got a little too eager and decided to take the four strides in three (unsuccessfully might I add, she ended up chipping in an extra stride at the last second). I didn’t mind too much though as we finished our first round with a clear and a massive smile on my face.

The form was mighty

Onto our second round and I went into this one with the sole intention of having fun…and apparently so was Coco! We started our round and it felt like Coco suddenly realised that she had done this before and decided to take the course on without my assistance. She became quite strong and started trying to tank into fences. For the most part I was able to hold her off and get her to come back to me, with the exception of that bloody combination again. We only had one very unfortunate pole down that looking back on the video I realised there was genuinely nothing I could have done any better to stop it from happening, it was just one of those things that happens in showjumping. Regardless I was thrilled with her and how we rode together. By the end of the competition, our team had put in a fantastic effort to finish in 3rd place so we came home with a lovely frilly for all our hard work 🙂

3rd Place for Team Abbeylands!

Day 2 – AP Individual Showjumping

For the individual showjumping, the format was Optimum Time again. You jump 1- 8 and if you go clear you continue to jump 9 – 13 which is timed.

Day 2 and it’s time for the Individual Showjumping! I’ll be honest and say I was feeling just a little worse for wear after a few beverages the night before. I wasn’t jumping until 11.20am so I had a bit of time to get my head right (although I definitely would have appreciated more time!). I went into the warm up and decided to keep our warm up jumps to a minimum as she was jumping just as well she had been the day before.

Number 1 and she makes it look about 40cms

We went in to jump our round, with the commentator remembering our success from the day before wishing us luck. I gave Coco a little pep talk..”Alright Pops, let’s do this.” and we kicked off with a huge-mongous jump over fence number 1. You can just barely hear me laughing and asking Coco to slow down in the video as she tanked off after the jump. Thankfully I was able to get her back to me and we jumped 1 – 8 clear. Before you go on to number 9, you have the opportunity to circle before going through the timers so when Coco landed on the wrong lead after number 8 I decided to bring her back and get her on the correct lead. We set off for our final few jumps of the weekend finishing with a flyer over number 13 giving us a clear round and just 1 time fault. I was absolutely beaming!!

Our flying finish over the last

While our time fault kept us out of the ribbons, I was over the moon with how well Coco and I jumped. Of 190 competitors in the class, there were only 19 clear rounds so to finish in the top 19 in our first national competition..I mean, what more could I want?


Well deserved much after a great weekend

And then it was over 😦 I’ve said this to a few people since Mullingar – I have genuinely never had so much fun competing. It’s incredible what a difference it can make to feel prepared for your competitions. I rarely come out of a round happy with my own riding, there’s always something I think I could have done better, but in Mullingar I was of course thrilled with how Coco jumped but I was also delighted with how I rode. I feel like we’re really ready now to go out and start jumping some SJI courses…

…or at least I did until our most recent mishap which has put a very sudden stop to all plans. Post coming about that soon so keep an eye out!

If you’ve gotten this far, thank you so much for reading! I appreciate every pair of eyes 🙂 If you’d like to see some videos from the weekend, check out the below!

Orla

June Jumping Exercise #2 – “The Mercedes”

For anyone who follows us on Instagram, you may have seen this picture a few weeks ago. Well I have finally gotten around to writing this post to explain what this exercise is all about so check it out…

WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Jump-off practice
  • Maintaining a rhythm
  • Practicing lead changes over fences
  • Having a bit of fun!

HOW TO SET IT UP

Depending on what selection of jumps you have you can set this exercise up using

  • 4 x jumping blocks OR 5 x wings
  • 6 x poles (you’d get away with 3 poles if you don’t use ground poles)

Start by laying out 3 poles as per the diagram, ensuring that they are equidistant from each other. Next place your blocks/wings at the end of each pole. When setting the height, I decided to keep them relatively small so we could focus on doing the exercise right.

HOW TO RIDE IT

Once your horse is warmed up on the flat, give them a quick pop over one of the jumps on each rein by itself to get their head in the jumping game. Once this is done, you can get started with the exercise…

To make it a bit easier to explain, I have numbered the jumps and added arrows to help you follow the diagrams.

Step 1: Starting on the right rein, ride a large circle by jumping from jump 1 to 3 to 2. Do this two or three times or until you feel that you’ve been able to achieve a steady and consistent rhythm between each fence. Ensure you give it a go on each rein before moving onto the next stage.

Step 1 – Ride a full circle over each jump

Step 2: Next, you can start changing direction over each fence. Starting on the right rein over fence 1 and changing direction to ride left over number 2 and changing again to rider right back over fence 1. This incorporates your change of rein while keeping the loops relatively big so you have time to prepare for the next fence.

Step 2 – Start changing direction

Step 3: Lastly, it’s time to put you and your horse to the test by putting it all together. Start off on the right rein over number 1, changing the rein to go left over number 3, staying left ride a turnback to number 2. Change to the right rein over number 2 and turnback to number 3. Land left and finish over number 1.

Step 3 – Put it all together

This isn’t an overly complicated exercise to do but it can take a few attempts to get yourself and your horse settled into the rhythm of it. Here are some things to remember as you ride it:

  • Know where you’re going after you land – some of these turns are tight so you need to give yourself and your horse time to prepare
  • Remember to look up and around at where you’re going
  • Your horse may lose its momentum on the turn so make sure not to let your canter die by riding your horse through the turn
  • Before starting the exercise make sure you have a good consistent canter and you maintain that rhythm throughout the exercise. If you start to rush, you’re guaranteed to run into trouble
  • Don’t just use your hands when turning – make sure to turn your entire body – head, shoulders & torso – giving back-up with your outside leg to bring your horse’s whole body around on the turn
  • Have fun!! This is actually super fun to play around with and try some different combination of turns. It can really bring the fun back to jumping if you find your training is always quite serious.

Check out the video below of me and Coco giving a few different layouts a go! Coco was seriously enjoying herself with this exercise. By the end she really got into the swing of it and found her rhythm!

‘The Mercedes’

I hope you guys give this one a go and have some fun! If you do, make sure to tag us in your videos so we can see how you got on 😀

As always, thanks for reading,

Orla


Your Tips for Having Steadier Hands while Riding

Over the last few months I’ve started noticing that my hands weren’t very steady so I decided to ask some of our followers on Instagram for their tips and advice on how I might be able to improve my hands. I got a lot of solid advice on that post so I thought it would be good to share the advice with everyone. Everyone’s account name links to their instagram account so be sure to check them out!

SHORTEN THOSE REINS

wildatlanticrider: You have to be really conscious of it and be strict on yourself.. but start with a shorter rein, that’ll help. My mare takes advantage and will spook if I’m not consistent with the contact. If Coco comes out Of The frame, even with the shorter reins, just keep focusing on your line and riding forward with the steadier contact.. It’ll feel weird at first but practice makes perfect! #alsoaownerofaspookymareWild Atlantic Rider is a fellow blogger so be sure to check her out!

Trying to be more conscious of my rein length

d_foran02: Shorten reins and lift your hands up and forwards. Encourage her to follow your hands and lift her frame a bit more in front. Also second making sure she’s really listening to your leg and bending her body around it. Hands are just for slight flexion changes so should remain quiet majority of the time. If she pops off the bit use your leg to encourage her back on to it and try avoid using your hands unless she really distracted. It helps keep a steady frame in the long run but kills you

ITS ALL IN THE ELBOW

jennie_connell: Reins a little shorter and hands a bit in front of you and allow the elbow to open and close when rising and sitting.
insidetrackeventing: Soft elbows – if you keep your elbows fixed there is no give and your hands won’t move with the horse. Its something that comes as you get stronger in your core – another fellow blogger, Inside Track Eventing!

IMPROVE THAT LOWER LEG

Doing some light seat canter work to help stretch out and strengthen my lower leg!

sarahburritt: …to improve your flat work you should first start with your seat and lower leg because the movement in the hands and upper body often comes from instability in the lower leg. I recommend starting with dropping your stirrups a hole or two and work on extending the leg because you’ve got room to go there for a very nice look and you need to build lower leg strength and not use your heels to apply a on and off stabbing pressure. It will be hard and you will feel a little unstable the first couple times but you will build lower leg strength and a nicer position, take more breaks if needed but try to hold your leg on and really think about straight lines between you thumb to wrist to elbow and shoulders to hips to ankles. 

HANDY (excuse the pun) TIPS

Getting there, slowly but surely!

laurensmyth93: Hold a whip horizontal under both thumbs 🙂 did the job for me!
smarty_marty_: Remembering thumbs on top, keeping an even contact on both reins and elbows by your side. Ride the contact from the leg…
becksbackinthesaddle: One of the things that I learned is opening and closing my elbows – I never knew you were meant to do it! One of the exercises that I have doing on the lunge is threading my little fingers through a loop (threaded through the d rings on the saddle) in trot. It gives you a senses of how much opening and closing your elbows need to do just to keep your hands still. – Last but not least of the bloggers, Becks Back in the Saddle!

SOME OF THE MORE AMUSING SUGGESTIONS…

danger_byrne: Hold a cup of scalding tea in each hand , and you definitely won’t move your hands

rayconnolly2157: Furry handcuffs maybe …


I definitely found a lot of this advice very helpful (although maybe not the furry handcuffs). I’ve slowly started seeing an improvement in my hands and my contact on the reins so thank you to everyone for the advice!

Have you got any tips for improving your hand position? Make sure to share in the comments!

Thanks for reading,

Orla

Bouncing Back After A Fall

When you suffer a fall, no matter how bad it is, it can really have a lasting impact. It makes you question your abilities and it can break the trust between you and your horse. And that trust goes both ways. After a fall we tend to think of ourselves as not being able to trust our horse but a lot of people don’t realise that our horses can also lose trust in us. So depending on the situation it can take a lot of time to build yourself and your horse back up again – believe me, I would know after the amount of falls I’ve had even just this year! While I’m fully aware that my falls could have been so much worse (as we all know how bad they can be), it still didn’t lessen the impact they have had on my own confidence as a rider and I’ve definitely seen the impact they’ve had on Coco.

The good news is that there is always a way to get back to where you were. I mean, look at Jonty Evans after his catastrophic fall at Tattersalls last year. The man was in a coma for weeks and only a few weeks ago he was back jumping around the cross country field. And while I know we’re not all Jonty’s, he is still an amazing example of what the love for our sport can push us to do. We just need to allow ourselves the time we need to have that “I’m Back” moment.

If you’re struggling with your confidence after suffering a fall, here are some of my suggestions for helping yourself get your confidence back…

Take it one step at a time

Depending on the type of fall, this could mean any number of things. If you fell while jumping then it’s no harm to decide to take it easy for a little while. Why not stick to flatwork for a week or two and throw in some polework. This will not only help develop you as a rider but depending on why you fell it can also be a great place to start working on whatever issue may have caused the fall in the first place. Either way, don’t feel like you HAVE to start jumping straight away. The jumps aren’t going anywhere, they’ll be there for you when you’re ready.

Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing more than you’re ready for

It’s very easy for people to tell you what you should be doing. They imagine how they would act in your shoes and they feel that you would benefit by doing what worked for them. And you know what, maybe they’re right. Maybe their advice to get straight back into jumping or riding through the bucks that landed you on your arse is the best thing for you. And if you feel that will help get your confidence back then go for it..but if you don’t think that’s the best way to go, then don’t do it. It’s not worth shattering your confidence any further or even worse, giving yourself a more severe injury. You do you and don’t worry what anybody else thinks.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you’ve gotten to a point where you don’t feel like your confidence is getting any better then maybe it’s time to ask for help. This help can come in the form of a trusted instructor, a friend or even your yard manager. Talk it through and come up with a plan of action even if that plan is to maybe start from scratch in a riding school with a school master to build your confidence back up. Just don’t be afraid to do what you need to do.

Learn to trust your gut feeling

Sometimes you can find yourself in a situation where you feel like history may be repeating itself. The circumstances are all screaming “It’s going to happen again” and you have that gut feeling that something bad is going to happen. It’s natural instinct. Our bodies do this to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. There are times when we know we need to push past that feeling but there are also times when we need to respect that feeling and listen to it. If that feeling is so strong that it’s making you doubt yourself every stride then sometimes the best idea is to stop and try again another day. There’s absolutely no shame in it..it’s all part of the process.

Know when you’re ready to push yourself

This green oxer seriously terrified me

After all the hard work of building back your confidence, there comes a moment when you have to decide whether or not you’re ready to push yourself to try again. This is a vital part of the sport we love. We know it’s risky and we know that if we want to do what we love then we are going to have to try again some day. It might be jumping by yourself for the first time since your fall or it could be trying another canter after your horse bolted off the last time. Whatever it is, if you decide you’re going to go for it, then give it your all. There’s no point making a half attempt. You need to believe in yourself and know that you are 100% ready for whatever happens. It’s the only way you’ll be able to achieve that glorious “I’m Back” moment

My “I’m Back” Moment

I had my “I’m Back” moment at our show last weekend. Me and Coco were in the middle of the worst showjumping round of our lives. We had dropped two poles and after two refusals (where I nearly came off on the first one) I was struggling to even get her to pick up canter. I was nearly at the point of giving up and retiring but then I thought “No. I am going to get her over this double”. And with that, I settled her for a second, picked up a trot on a circle and asked for canter and straight off she picked up the right canter lead. We turned the corner for the double, I gave her a tap on the shoulder with my stick to tell her that I meant it this time and she soared through the bloody thing without thinking twice. After that I was just so happy she did it that I contemplated finishing the round on that (as my head was certainly not in the game for many reasons) but I thought again and said “No. You’re finishing this god awful course”. And we did. It wasn’t pretty by any means but by god did we finish it and I left the arena laughing.

While a part of me was disappointed in myself for riding so terribly and letting Coco down, I was also so damn proud of myself and Coco for finishing. It was a massive step for the two of us. Even a month ago and that round could have ended with Coco having a full blown strop and me on my arse at the bottom of the fence, confidence well and truly destroyed and me resigning myself to the fact that I was going to be a dressage rider for the rest of my life. How grim would that have been?

Walking out of the worst round of our lives with a huge smile

I hope that this post helps someone get their nerve back after a fall. It’s not an easy thing to do but with determination and a love for the sport, it is something anyone can do. Have you had any bad knocks to your confidence? If so, when did you have your “I’m Back” moment? Tell me about it in the comments, you never know who could be reading who could use the pick-me-up!

Thanks for reading,

Orla

Quick Tips: Get Your Horse Moving Forward Again After they Start Spooking/Napping

When Coco gets into a bad way with spooking she starts napping and walking backwards and hopping around the place – all so she can get as far away as possible from whatever she’s looking at. It can be very frustrating because no matter how much leg I put on, sometimes there’s just no way to get her to budge. During our last spook-a-thon during a schooling session however, I was taught a new method to get her moving forward again and I have to say I was very impressed with how well it worked so I thought I’d share it with you all! Check it out…

When your horse starts avoiding whatever it is they’re spooking at, turn their head away from whatever it is and ask them to move forward. Then quickly turn their head back the other direction while still asking them to move forward. Turn them away again and then back again. Continue to do this until they start walking forward as normal.

Hopefully that makes sense but if not, check out the video below where you can hear my instructor telling me what to do and you can see how it helped to work Coco out of her spook-fest and get her back jumping again.

I imagine the idea behind it is that you make it so difficult for your horse to do what they want to do that eventually they give up and decide that your way is much easier. I’m not saying that this is going to solve the problem entirely but if you’ve ever been in the situation where you’re exhausted  from fighting to try and get your horse to move forward when they start spooking – then this is definitely worth giving a go.

It’s worth trying anyway so if you need to give this method a go, make sure to let me know how you get on! Or if you have any other helpful tips you use for dealing with this issue I’d love to hear it…I need every tip I can get!
Thanks for reading,

Orla