I have 20 days to find my confidence.
My show jumping confidence that is.
Yes, I know someone my age really shouldn't be gallivanting around like a teenager - but I love it. And loving it should mean that I am confident about it - shouldn't it?
It does not seem so at present.
Two years ago I was persuaded to take part in the British Horse Society's Riding School Competition, which is held at Moreton Morrell in Warwickshire every year. It is a horse riding competition that is only open to those who do not own or loan their own horses or ponies and all the horses and ponies have to belong or be used at a BHS Affiliated Riding School or Equitation Centre.
It is a wonderful opportunity and somehow I qualified for it being one of three adult riders selected to go. I might add there were only three of us who could!
Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed myself and came last after a disastrous dressage test where I and my caller got in a frightful muddle as to what test I should actually be doing and generally mucking it up (note ALWAYS learn your dressage test off by heart). I then had complete a stable management test - where I astounded myself by getting all the answers right.
And finally I had to jump a course of nine show jumps in a professional arena with full watching audience!
My lovely equine partner at the time, Candy, took me round with aplomb and although not a tidy round - it sufficed. I was incredibly proud as only three months previously I had never jumped a show jumping course in my life!
|Me riding the wonderful Candy aka My Sweet Girl at Warwick in 2015|
God only knows how but I really did.
Normally I ride ponies that need a bit of encouragement to get a move on and wake up - and that is fine with me. But I am getting better and so I have progressed onto horses, which thoroughly love their job - especially jumping.
And that is the rub I think.
I am not quite as keen to go at their speed as they think I should be and we tend to part ways - sometimes quiet literally.
Tonight I have fallen off twice.
Once I landed perfectly on my own two feet and would not have disgraced the most elegant of horse vaulters and the other time I involuntary dismounted so as to avoid being smeared against the riding school wall - the look on my mount's face was of total astonishment and consternation.
This loss of confidence - which I fear now is becoming a somewhat self fulfilling prophecy - all started I think about two months ago when I was competing to be selected to go once again to Warwickshire. I was riding the incomparable Poppy, a 15h bay thoroughbred mare with pretty white snip on her nose. Usually she is very quiet and will happily plod on if you let her so is excellent for those learning to ride. She was my mount of choice when I returned to riding through the 2012 Olympic Legacy's Take Back The Reins programme. While she is great to learn to ride on she isn't just a one trick pony: with the right rider she can also pull out all the stops: four years ago she and her rider Helen won the heavily contested Dressage competition at Warwick.
But the thing Poppy loves most is jumping.
The change in her attitude is astonishing from barely going forward, suddenly she is very up for it! Positively dancing in excitement. Her ears twitch forward and she flies.
However, she is not a push button horse and you do have to have her straight and balanced before a jump and when you do she just takes you - she loves it SO much!
When I rode her, I had actually never ridden a full show jumping course on her before. In fact, I had only ever jumped one or possibly two jumps in succession on her.
We did a lovely dressage test then we went in to show jump. I will admit I was a tad nervous - wrong make that suddenly very afraid.
We got to the practice jump and refused. I had taken her in at an angle and quite rightly she said (if she could talk): You what???!
It wasn't very elegant.
I bottled it and was not keen to ride at all. I was all set there and then NOT to do this silly thing and leave.
However, I was persuaded to jump the practice fence properly, which we did. And although I was ready to leave and everyone was just about OK with that; I realised that I could not do it and with the understanding that I would be overseen round the course, I went for it knowing I would only kick myself if I missed the opportunity.
I can honestly say I have no recollection whatsoever of how I got round - we flew. At one stage I was told by my coach to sit up and back as we soared over a skinny and tore round a corner. I never heard her but everyone says I did it beautifully almost before she spoke.
I don't think I breathed at all.
The whole way round.
I rode out not feeling pleased and happy as you would expect - but utterly shaken.
I burst into tears.
And that I think is when I started to overthink.
And lose my confidence.
Each and every time I have jumped since, it seems I go backwards in ability. If I watch others ride before me I almost start to hyperventilate and I look for almost any excuse NOT to do it.
It has landed up with me today - on a new horse I will admit - unable to jump a cross pole. And it was only one side of a cross pole as well - barely off the ground...
I have only 20 days to get this sorted and be able to jump a course of nine 2ft 3 inch show jumps on a new horse - the fabulous Earwig, with whom I really am doing very well with on the flat. We are unsure that the gorgeous Poppy will be fit enough to go - but that is beside the point as I am just as scared about show jumping on her at present.
So my many friends, and any who are into horses - what on earth should I do?
How am I going to get over this lack of confidence and do myself and everyone else proud?
Is there enough time?
Should I just forget it and stop the pressure and perhaps just concentrate on the dressage?
Do I go at all?