Happy New Year!
It’s been a busy month so far; in addition to managing some horseback archery practice I have enrolled on the Archery GB Level 1 Coaching course (for target archery). This will be useful in my goal of becoming a horseback archery coach in future as it will mean I’m qualified to sign off the archery section of Club Horseback Archers’ logbooks. As well as helping me to improve my general archery form, which can only be a good thing as I start to do more shooting at speed.
I have also been accepted on to the social media marketing initiative, Leg Up for Talent. This allows riders, like me, to offer social media marketing services directly to companies in return for sponsorship. It’s a powerful way to ‘give back’ to a sponsor, so if you’re interested in letting me help promote your company to a massive national and regional online audience please do get in touch.
I have a limited number of sponsor places available and the first one has already been taken by the lovely folks at TreeFree saddles, who have given me a beautiful new Dressage saddle to try out. I will be blogging more about my adventures on this lovely comfortable new saddle!
The Cotteswold Mounted Archers also ventured down to Somerset this month, to train the members of a brand new horseback archery club, the Avalon Mounted Archers! If you’re in Somerset and are interested in getting involved with horseback archery then check out their Facebook Page for details of how to get in touch. It’s exciting to have another club so close, and we’re planning on holding an inter-club tournament later this year!
The yard where Gandalf, the horse I share lives, have recently built a small indoor school. Although it’s only about half the size of a standard school it’s big enough for some walk and trot archery practice with a single target, very useful now the weather has turned on us.
So this month, the Cotteswold Mounted Archers have managed to squeeze in quite a few mounted and dismounted practice sessions, which has been excellent. I even managed to get some hat cam action video of some trot runs – I hit the target every time too! Check it out here: HatCam Horseback Archery footage.
Shooting from the trot rather than walk, has highlighted some postural issues which I will need to correct before I’ll be successful shooting at canter; namely that I’m getting behind the movement and leaning back. Argh! Much of this is due to a lack of core strength – unsurprising as nerve damage in this area is what’s wrong with me anyway, but it is something I will need to find a way to improve if I want to progress and compete at speed. To this end, I’ve started having lunge lessons at a local riding school which I’m hoping will really help me to be able to focus on my posture. Gandalf and I also entered an Inter Dressage (online) walk test, getting a pretty decent score and some great feedback for things we need to work on – much of it my posture. So that’s my 2017 goal, right there.
Happy New Year, everyone. 🙂
More horseback archery practice this month. With a new indoor school at the yard we have had the opportunity to practice even when the weather is less than kind. It’s good to have somewhere we can ride so that we’re not restricted by the ground conditions outside. We did manage one final outdoor shoot for this year, which gave me the chance to test out my shiny new horse bow, a KTB Nomad. It’s a big step up from my little Snake bow that I bought to learn with so I have been switching between the two as I continue to get strong enough to manage the extra draw weight.
The archery practice has also been continuing indoors at the target club I go to. This has given me the chance to work on improving my technique, with the help of the club coaches. By working on this, in theory once I get on the horse I should be shooting more consistently and therefore more accurately.
I have also been on revisiting my hobby of painting horses, which has proved popular with people looking for Christmas presents!
A month of learning.
This month I had the chance to ride young Etta at a Cowboy Dressage clinic. This was a new experience for both of us – for Etta her first overnight stay away from home at an unfamiliar yard, and being asked to work in a school with several other strange horses. For me it was the whole experience of riding at a training clinic on such a hot young horse!
Etta coped amazingly well – I think it was a great sign of the relationship I’ve built with her that she was prepared to work with me. Her owner started off each session with a bit of groundwork, to make sure she was listening and ready to be sat on, then I got on board. We were working on helping her to calm down by using lots of small circles, serpentines, and work through and around the cones and poles that make up the Cowboy Dressage arena. By asking her to listen, and bend, she was not able to get over emotional and start rushing off.
We finished each day by riding an individual Dressage test to see how we had progressed during the day. Etta was very happy to have the whole arena to herself for these, and offered some lovely calm moments – very different from the fire-breathing mare who clattered off the lorry on day 1. I came away from the weekend with lots I wanted to work on, and improve.
Sadly I have no photos from the clinic as it was too cold – we were either riding or huddled up defrosting by the woodburner in the den!
My next session at Summerfield Stud, Etta’s home, built on this. We worked to really improve my understanding of contact, what it is, how to keep it consistent, how much to have and especially how to stop a horse leaning on your hands. I started to get a much better feel for how to use my body to direct movement and bend. I was given the privilege of riding Etta’s dad (now a gelding!), a beautiful Lipizanner who is far more advanced in his training than Etta. He very clearly showed me the difference between what I was actually asking for, and what I thought I was asking for, by giving me some beautiful lateral moves around the school….until I had a lightbulb moment and got myself coordinated enough to get the straight lines and circles I had actually intended!
This new found understanding was put to the test out on a training hack with Etta – she had become upset after going through some trees, spooking when the greenery had caught the saddle and made a noise she wasn’t used to. An emotional horse, she found it hard to come down from this so when we came to the gate out of the field, she flatly refused to go through it. I asked a few times but when it became clear it wasn’t happening, I asked her to work on small bends and circles in the field instead, keeping her moving and doing the patterns she had become familiar with from the school – not letting her lean on me but asking her to stay soft, and relax. When she started to feel calm I pointed her at the gate again and she went straight through after a short hesitation.
Riding a horse like Etta is a huge confidence boost – she’s a fiery, emotional character and it takes all my self-control not to get sucked in but to trust, leave her alone, don’t hang on to the reins and help her calm down by being a point of calm myself. Talk about the ultimate exercise in mindfulness! To be able to help her find a way through the emotion to a position of calm where she can begin to listen again, without getting into a fight, is massively rewarding.
I’ve not forgotten about the archery either – it’s been a bit soggy in the practice field so I’ve been working on improving my form at indoor target archery classes instead. If I can improve my consistency like this, it should help a lot with actually hitting the target when I start work on shooting from canter.
September has been a very exciting month – I feel I have achieved more in the last few weeks than in most of the rest of the year put together!
After several mounted archery practice sessions during August and the start of September, it was off to the Nationals for the Cotteswold Mounted Archers. Before being eligible to ride in the competition I had to achieve my Club Horseback Archer qualification – proving that I could ride safely at walk, trot and canter without relying on the reins (as you can’t hang onto them and shoot at the same time!). A basic understanding of safe practices and horse handling is also required and I was pleased to pass with no problems.
Then it was on to the competition! I’m not the first rider to pass the Club Horseback Archer qualification as the BHAA did some work with an ex-servicemen’s charity up in Scotland and some of them achieved it. However, I am the first disabled riderto compete, ride in the BHAA Nationals, and to win, so it felt like a pretty big deal.
Despite only having begun target archery lessons in May, and mounted archery in July, I was amazed to go on to actually win the walk class, missing only one of the targets once, out of all six runs. Although I was competing against younger archers, most have been doing this far longer than I have and were pretty competitive about it! Fellow CMA club member, nine-year-old Éowyn was convinced she’d beat me, and did in fact get more golds (that’s hits in the centre of the target) than me, but overall her shooting was less consistent so she was pipped to the post by the newbie. And now owes me a bar of chocolate.
The BHAA are hoping to enable more disabled riders to enter next year, and hopefully even set up some canter runs for disabled archers so my goal is to keep improving and start practising my shooting from trot and canter. To do this I’m going to have to get fitter, ride more regularly and see how far I can push my body to co-operate. It’s one of those things I just won’t know until I try so I am going to do my best to find ways to gently improve my fitness without breaking myself; finding the right balance between rest and exercise so that I can continue to improve.
I am looking forward to the journey!
August has been a pretty action packed month for me!
I’ve been to visit friends to play with their ponies; first getting a refresher in how to ride a recently backed youngster who is still not really sure what leg aids are, or steering is, or where her own feet are all the time. Lovely pony and a really good way for me to remember about staying calm, and quiet and balanced. We finished the day with a lovely hack and nobody died or teleported sideways or anything, always a bonus… Beautiful little horse.
I also got to improve my technique for leading from the mobility scooter and teaching a horse how to move around the scooter; something I have not yet had the opportunity to try with a bigger horse.
Another day, another visit, and the opportunity to have a go at some in-hand horse agility; again helping me to further refine my technique for leading from the scooter. We stopped where we were supposed to, went over a ‘bridge’, backed up between poles and navigated cones and tarpaulin all very successfully! Taz the mare was a star (she’s an old hand at this, as her job is working with people with physical and learning disabilities). All useful stuff and I am far more confident leading from the scooter now. I then had a chance to potter round the course riding bareback with a rope halter on the horse, something I’ve not done since becoming disabled. We even managed some rather nice lateral work. Who says cobs can’t do dressage? Picture shows us successfully stopping in the circle, perfect.
I have also been continuing with the mounted archery training; I can now hit the target from a moving horse! I’ve only attempted walk and trot so far as even walk seems pretty fast when you’re trying to nock an arrow (that’s getting the end of the darn thing on the bow string), draw and shoot as you approach then move past the target – all without looking at your hands/fumbling/dropping the arrow/getting the bow tangled up in the horse’s mane/stabbing your hand with the point of the arrow ’cause you can’t take your eye off the target. As you can see from the picture, on the whole I do manage to hit the target – I now just need to work on my nocking speed so I can have a go at shooting whilst cantering! And remember to wear gloves. Ow.
I am hoping to complete my club archer qualification by the latter part of September so I can compete in the BHAA National Championship in the walk category.
The dressage has taken a slight back seat simply due to the lack of a suitable horse (archery having the advantage that I can ride other people’s horses) but, I’m still looking and when the right one comes along I’m still very keen to see what I can do on that front. It will probably mean entering some e-dressage competition initially, as I dip my toe in the water and see if I can realistically compete against able-bodied riders.
A great month, which also found me spectating at a couple of horsey clinics, including a Cowboy Dressage one, which looks like brilliant fun and is now something else I’d rather like to have a go at…