July has certainly been a month of mixed fortunes, at the beginning of the month I was made redundant from my job, which is a devastating blow to my finances and is a real worry when there are so many bills to pay associated with horses, as most of you know only too well. On the plus side it has given me a bit of extra time to really focus as much as possible on both my riding and my personal training, and its really having a positive effect, which makes you realise how lucky professional athletes are being able to completely focus on themselves without the worry of trying to hold a job down in order to do your thing. I think disabled athletes find this dilemma a huge challenge as you need to work to fund your sport, but its difficult to fit all of these things in without completely wearing yourself out both physically and mentally, which then puts pressure on your performance, anyway, keep your fingers crossed for me as I have a couple of really exciting interviews coming up.
On the 13th July, Prince and I had a visit from our sponsor, Jo Beavis from the National Saddle Centre. Jo has provided and maintained our saddles for over 10 years, and has seen me develop as a rider, so she really understands how my body works in the saddle and the effect it can have on the horses. Jo watched Leonie ride first, as she obviously has to ride in the same saddle as me, then she watches me ride, after this she will make any adjustments on site, whether it be re-flocking, altering the gullets or in this case playing with prolite shims to equalise the asymmetry on both myself and the horse. It is really important that my saddle is checked on a regular basis to avoid any negative impact on the horse, so Jo will usually check everything every 12 weeks or so, plus the saddle fit also gets checked at squad training by the World Class saddler, who works very closely with Jo.
So with the saddle sorted, now Princes fitness levels have improved so much and our basic partnership has developed, my trainer, Leonie Smith has really stepped up Princes schooling sessions. Most importantly she has been working on getting Prince more reactive to my forward aids, when I have to work so hard to get a horse going forward, it ends up compromising my position as my right side goes into spasm the harder I work, which then twists the whole of my body, so this work is really important as it allows me the sit straighter, which means I can then have a more positive influence over the rest of the riding. I now have steering too, as a result of Prince being more forward, and as his suppleness is improving too, so we have been working on some of our test movements ready for the squad training and our first competition. I’ve really missed being part of the competition scene during the summer, but again we have a well defined fortnightly plan of what we are doing with Prince to get us where we need to be, and its really important that we work for long term gains.
It was a relief to have my usual physiotherapist (Louise Davis) from EIS back from her rugby tour, as I had been suffering with my back in her absence and due to working with me for a couple of years now on a weekly basis, so she knows my body really well now and always manages to fix me. With my body sorted we are really working on building my fitness, core strength and suppleness as much as we possibly can ahead of our first competition on the 7th of September. David Dysen at Urban Fitness liases with Louise, along with their world class counterparts to develop training plans for me, he is a hard task master and really pushes me during our training sessions.
I did another school visit on the 15th, this time to my own secondary school (Kings Norton Girls School), this time as a judge in their talent contest during their annual fete. It was so strange being back in my old school, and lovely to see a few of my favourite teachers, I felt a bit like Simon Cowell, but much nicer, obviously!
My final piece of news is that the Nationwide company, Countrywide have kindly sponsored myself and Prince, and they have sent us a couple of these lovely fleeces and a saddle pad, which Prince will wear when he is out and about competing. I will also be attending a store event at our local Bromsgrove store in October, so will be looking forward to that. Sponsorship means so much, not just in term of financial support or in kind by the supply of goods, but it is also lovely to know that people believe in you and want to be part of my Journey, so a big thank you to National Saddle Centre, Miasuki, BettaLife, Showerking, and of course Countrywide!