SportsAid, Excellence and Superstars

September started with back to school and a new start at Chesham Grammar.  It was a big change, not only a new school year and a new school but also I don’t now need to wear a school uniform.  And so it was an opportunity for shopping with  my mum and unusually for normal clothes for me not jodhpurs or something for Aslan!  While it is a big change, I’m loving CGS and am very happy with my subject choices too. 

No sooner was I back at school then I was off to Hartpury to be inducted for my Equestrian Diploma in Sporting Excellence. It was a fantastic day to be in Hartpury as it was also the start of freshers week with all the first year students turning up.  There was a real buzz about the place and Hartpury was like I have never seen it before, with swarms of students and emotional parents everywhere laden with duvets and boxes and boxes of kitchen stuff from Ikea!

My induction day at Hartpury for my Equestrian Diploma in Sporting Excellence 

My DiSE cohort combines Eventing and Dressage, but I will be sticking to Dressage for sure.  I met my mentor and assessor Claire Moir and the other twenty or so riders who are on the program.  I’m really looking forward to getting started properly and there are some really amazing day visits already planned, which I won’t spoil by sharing now it’s going to be pretty exciting.  The next session is during October half term when I also have Excel Squad training and a cross discipline day so it’s going to be a busy time.  The session in on foot again, but in February Aslan is going to be with me too which will feel more normal at Hartpury.

Training with Aslan this month was back to basics, focussed on continuing to build up to competition strength and fitness for both Aslan and me.  

We are now focussed on gaining the remaining 5 points I need to qualify for the Gold Winters at Myerscough having picked up 7 points in two outings at Widmer and Sparsholt before Bishop Burton.

I also had my second training session with Stephen Moore at the beginning of the month before he headed off with Erin to compete at The World Equestrian Games at Tyron in North Carolina and I’m really looking to working more with him when he gets back from WEG. 

Next up on the agenda was a a trip to the British Film Institue to an event organised by SportsAid and sponsors Royal Bank of Canada. Last year I met Eddie the Eagle Edwards at the same event when we watched the movie of his career and his participation in the 1988 Winter Olympics.  This year I knew we were due to watch Race which is the story of Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics in Munich but I didn’t know who was going to be there.

Time Lawler interviewing Dina X and Y at this years SportsAid Friday Night Film Club

This year there was a Q&A panel which included SportsAid Allumni and footballer Liah Williamson, pro squash player James Willstrop and the amazing athlete Dina Asher-Smith. It was really inspiring to listen to their experiences and particularly so from Dina as she has achieved all she done while also studying full time for a degree in History at Kings College London.  That’s some fine balancing of priorities to manage for sure and something I can definitely learn from.  It was really amazing to meet her.

Meeting Dina Asher-Smith at the SportsAid Friday Night Film Club at the British Film Institute 

While Aslan has been going from strength to strength through the summer it’s also been a bit without routine as we have moved yards and also with me being away on summer holidays and changing coaches too.  We’ve been trying to keep everything as normal as possible for Aslan but equally been looking at all options to make sure he is back to full fitness.

Aslan getting the works from Sherie – it made a massive difference to his way of going

This month included a visit from Equi-Senses Sherie Vicary-Carter.    Sherie focusses on the muscular and skeletal systems and uses myofacial trigger points to release muscular tensions and spasms.  Sherie was amazing and after a couple of days rest for Aslan after his workout with her I can honestly say he felt so relaxed and tension free.  It was truly amazing and he genuinely has felt fantastic since, so no more excuses the rest is down to me!

Should say 2* not 3* but next year…

Final day out to report on in September was a trip to Stoneleigh Park to receive my certificate for representing Great Britain from the Friends of British Dressage during the Summer Nationals Festival of Dressage.  It was cold, wet and windy just like last year but lovely to be invited and nice and dry in the marquee although I would have preferred to be competing in the Gold Summers earlier in the week.

That’s it for this month.  October will be a busy one with a trip back to Hartpury for the next session of my DiSE, Excel Squad Training, a cross discipline day at Solihull and back out for Winter Qualifiers which I am really looking forward to, having not competed since early summer.

Thanks for reading and I hope you come back to catch up with us then.

Ilse x.

Holidays, GCSE Results, a New School and a New Coach

August started with a holiday to France with my family.  There was ten of us all together and we headed to the south of France. It was a hot summer in the UK and even hotter in France. It was time to chill out and relax after my GCSEs and competing, just spending time in the pool and recharging my batteries – it was fantastic!

At the back of my mind though, I knew I was coming back to my GCSE results the very next week, so as much fun as it was I was a nervous as well.  It was a journey into the unknown for all GCSE students this year as we were the first year to study a new curriculums, there were new exams and even a new new marking and grading structure, so we were all in the dark at results time, even the teachers. I have spent my years from year 7 to year 11 at The Misbourne who have been fantastic to me. I moved from The Netherlands, where I was born, in year 5 so I really only  had a year or so of primary school learning English before moving up.  Where I live in Buckinghamshire we have a Grammar school system, but having just started education in English it was hard doing my 11+ and though I wanted to go to a Grammar School, my English wasn’t good enough at the time to pass the exam.

On GCSE results day I was flabbergasted.  I got two 8s two 7s and four fives and a Distinction, I was ecstatic.  My results translated to A* A* A A B B B B under the old grading system and after a remark on of my English  Language paper, my grade went up from a five to a six, which was fantastic ( I won’t mention my grade in Computer Studies as that is what my mum and dad do for a living….).

Me and Mr Preston my retiring headmaster at Misbourne School and who has shown me amazing support


Like plenty of young equestrians I’m sure, I had always wanted to be a vet, which was always going to be difficult to achieve and probably even harder with my CP.  However my mock results and also my GCSE results showed that my strongest subjects were in Humanities (and to be honest the subjects I enjoyed the most) and after some reflection I decided that I wanted to study English and History at A level.

Perhaps oddly for a teenager I have also developed an interest in Politics so when I was looking at my A Level options I was struggling to find the right balance at The Misbourne.  With help from my parents we enquired with the local Grammar school I had wanted to go to in Year 7 and although we had not applied previously they offered me a place based upon my GCSE results. I was very emotional and happy as I had eventually achieved what I wanted five years earlier.  Chesham Grammar offered me exactly what I wanted –  History, English Literature and Politics alongside the Equestrian Diploma in Sporting Excellence which I was also selected for at Hartpury College and also counts as another A Level.   So another couple of hard years studying ahead of me to get to university and balance my equestrian development too and I an really looking forward to it…

Results out of the way I had an opportunity to do a photoshoot on our new yard with Jennifer Gillan. It was casual shoot with Aslan in hand rather than ridden and on a very hot day.  In the circumstances Aslan was not on his best behaviour and while he is pretty good at showing off, doing it in the sun on one of the hottest days of a very hot summer was obviously not in his plans!  Jennifer was really lovely did a great job despite Aslan having a bit of an attitude in the heat and the photos we received were really lovely..

One of my favourite shots of me and Aslan from the photoshoot with Jennifer Gillan

And finally after moving yards last month, I made another big change to my home team arrangements.  After training with Sacha for over three years I decided it was time for a change.  I  have learned an amazing amount and grown in ability and knowledge working with Sacha and I am grateful for what she has taught me in more ways than I can describe here.  But I came to the conclusion that it was time to try something different in order to take the next step in my development.  Change is always difficult, and its the easiest thing to keep on doing the same thing in the same surroundings.  But I’m looking for big improvements, so I took the decision to make a big change which was tough on everyone but necessary too.

We were fortunate that Stephen Moore already coaches on our new yard.  Stephen is very familiar with Para-dressage at the highest levels as he already coaches Erin Orford who is on the World Class Programme and competed for GBR at last years Europeans, and in this year’s World Equestrian Games in Tryon in North Carolina.

I had my first training session with Stephen before the end of the month, and it was good. It felt different and challenging, but in a positive way.  I had a second session before he headed off to WEG 2018 with Erin and while it’s early days, I am really enjoying working with him.  I’ll let you know next month how we progress together.  Here we are below working together during our first session together in the indoor school at Donna’s who is also helping me with some coaching so I’m building a bit if a team approach which feels right and feels very positive.

Might first training session with Stephen Moore

And that’s it for August, a short month in terms of riding but big on emotion, excitement and change.  September will be a time of settling into new routines.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading,

Ilse x

Squads, Internationals and a New Home for Aslan

After a good month in June, particularly getting out there and competing for the first time since the Winters, we decided to make a major change in July.  After three years at Sacha’s yard, with Aslan there and before him Isla, (a mare we had on loan at the start of my first Excel programme), it was time for a move.

Me riding Isla during one of my first rides at Austen’s Farm with my Mum looking pretty anxious in the background

I learnt such a lot at Sacha’s from being an RDA rider when I arrived, having just got my own horse for the first time, to being self sufficient and representing Great Britain before leaving.

It’s been a heck of a journey and one we are all still travelling, but the time had come to move closer to home.  We had recently moved house and the new yard run by Donna Hughes at Sedges Farm is within walking distance.  It was a difficult decision, but one which made sense as I could be more independent in getting to and from training and spending more time on the yard with Aslan rather than travelling back and fore.

Getting Aslan back into fitness had been my number one priority, but now that he was progressing well the time had come to move. While we kept everything else the same such us our vet, farrier and even Sacha coaching, it was still daunting and emotional to leave having spent so much time in the school in the sunshine, rain and the cold winter nights training under the lights.

My last session at Austen’s Farm with Sacha on the day we left the yard

I really feel that I had grown up at Sacha’s, which I guess I had as I was thirteen arriving and sixteen leaving, and saying goodbye to friends, liveries, staff and horses there was emotional and I’m sure it was for Aslan too.  We had one last lesson outdoors in the sunshine with Sacha on the day we moved, and I could not resist one last walk down the centre line as we warmed down.  Then it was emotional goodbyes all round and we loaded up and were off to our new home.

I couldn’t resist one last walk down the centre line towards C as we warmed down for the last time at Sacha’s

Arriving at Donna’s with Aslan onboard 

Aslan’s new home with Donna Hughes at Sedges Farm was somewhere we had often walked through with our dog Molly.   I remember having my eye on the big indoor school, and the amazing horses from there we’d often see hacking through the woods nearby.  I couldn’t quite believe it was going to be our new home.

Off-loading at Donna’s for the very first time



Aslan took the move in his stride and was soon settled into his 5* accommodation and room with a view and he was soon making new friends during turn out in in the block.  One thing I was grateful of is that big indoor arena. While we had a beautiful summer and the sun was shining when we arrived, dressage is an all year round sport and there is plenty of work to do in the Winter. Most of my mid-week training is during the evenings after school too so being able to train indoors out of the rain and the wind was something I was definitely looking forward to as we headed into Autumn.

But having just arrived we didn’t really have much time time to think about it as the following week we were off to Squad Training at Solihull.

Aslan’s room with a view.  He seems pretty happy with it.

I always enjoy Squad training and Solihull is a great venue to visit as well (my dad always says cafe breakfasts are the best!).  This camp was as good as ever and this time included video analysis with judge Jayne Peberdy.  We worked on straightens and correct flexion and being able to be debriefed by video during the sessions is amazing feedback.  It’s a bit daunting being scrutinised by the coaching staff and other riders too but its great experience and also teaches you to focus under different pressures while riding which is really really valuable as every competition comes with different people watching you and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it but concentrate and do your job.

Under scrutiny at Squads with Jayne Perbery

July really was a boom boom boom month.  Moving home, Squads and then my second ever International Competition – the 2* at Bishop Burton, which I had competed in for the first time last year.  This time I was more relaxed in  the preparation.  Last year it was a bit overwhelming as it was also my first time riding the Team test in a major event but this year I really felt that mentally I was much more prepared.  But while that was good, our preparation was far from perfect as the main priority had been getting Aslan back to fitness.  It was a tricky balance, as while I knew Aslan still had some time to go to get back to his full competition fitness, we had also scored a personal in the Individual and a seasons best in the qualifiers during June.  Still I knew in my mind we were not as ready as we could have been and would have been, if Aslan had not been out of work and my GCSE exams for that matter.

All smiles on the way to Bishop Burton

There was also extra pressure as while I had posted the qualifying scores I needed for World Class Podium Potential selection I needed 64%+ at Bishop Burton to post the final score I needed at 2* or above.  I had missed the Gold-Semis and Gold Summer Nationals due to my GCSEs, so Bishop Burton was the only event in the qualifying period I could use, and I only had one test (the Team) to get the score I needed..

It was a mixed bag.  At best.  I was very disappointed and upset with the outcome. There were other things not right about the week that I’m not going to go into here, but on reflection it was a week I learned more from than I achieved.

To be fair, Aslan had been a real superstar all week despite our lack of quality preparation.  He produced 2 solid tests placing us third in the Novice and Team and up from fifth in these classes from last year.  This, I should have been really happy with but it was difficult in the circumstances as we had missed a major target.   We scored 62.708% in the Team, which was up on last year by over 2% but it wasn’t what I was hoping for  and wasn’t enough to provide the Minimum Performance Score I needed in my category for World Class Podium Potential selection.

I could reflect on how tough the judging seemed to be at 2*, but equally I know it is my personal responsibility between salutes and is where the buck stops.

I competed the Freestyle the next day but this had been the lowest of our priorities in the limited time we had for preparation and while I don’t think we really did the event justice, still with 63.575% we improved on our 2017 score by nearly 2% and again our position from 5th to 3rd.  One thing I did reflect on was my music, which might have been prepared last minute and fitted to the test not the other way around but it had a special meaning for me.  My Dad found the track  ‘The Journey has only just begun’ from the movie soundtrack of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe from which Aslan takes his name.

I’ll be back in 2019 a year older and a year bolder for the 3* and more determined than ever.

I am taking a bit of a break next month as we are heading on a family holiday to France for a couple of weeks, but I’ll let you know in my August blog how we finish the summer.  One thing for sure, it will be shorter than this one!

Thanks for reading.

Ilse x

Exams over, my Prom and Season’s Bests

June was a positive month in Aslan’s recovery back to full work, we were never going to do too much too soon but he went from strength to strength and genuinely look happy to be back in work together. So much so, we were able to compete twice at the end of the month.

For the first couple of weeks of June I was still sitting my GCSE’s, so if anything it helped to be getting back into work gently, both for Aslan and me.  Exams also meant I missed out on the Gold Semi-Finals for the Summer Nationals.  The date coincided with my Maths GCSE and while I love riding and love competing there was no contest in terms of priorities.  It’s a hard balance concentrating on education and working towards being an elite athlete, but equally no contest on days like this.  I was disappointed not to be there, but with Aslan being out of work for a while, perhaps it was just karma or kismet or whatever the right word is.  What is for sure is that we’ll be working hard through the winter to be there next year and Aslan was back in work and on the mend.

Aslan getting back to form with some mediums

While exams have been a big focus, getting Aslan back to full fitness has also been a big priority and pretty stressful too and I am really grateful to Equilibrium Products who really helped us out with a massage pad and mitt for Aslan.  I am a brand ambassador for Equilibrium so you might think I would say that anyway, and while they have been very generous with their support, trust me that Aslan loves his XL massage pad and you can see him relaxing when it is on.  Aslan is 16.3, and perhaps a bit more, and also long in the back so the XL is a perfect fit for him.  The photo of him wearing it here is not ideal (sorry only one I have) as I haven’t crossed the front straps and so its slipped a bit to the right, but trust me when it’s fitted properly it fits him perfectly and is very very effective.

Aslan enjoying a massage in his Equilibrium Products XL Pad

After the first few months of June were over, so were my GCSEs.  It was a pretty stressful experience spread over five weeks as anyone who is my age reading this will know and agree with.  The whole curriculum and even grading system changed for this year so no-one know what the results were going to be. Only that everything was going to be harder than before.  But at last they were done, and I could look forward to a long summer.  Aslan was making good progress and after another visit from our vet Simon Knapp we were ready to build up the intensity and get back out competing.  It was such a relief in more ways than one. Exams over and Aslan getting back to competition fitness.  Before we could get out though I had one more minor and very enjoyable distraction Year 11 leavers PROM!  What a night. After the stress and emotions of exams it was fantastic to party with my school friends. It was a brilliant night, and the planning was amazing too and the full Kardashian experience, thanks to makeup by Juliet Cunningham and hair by Lorraine. I felt really special and it was an amazing night out with my friends and teachers to.

Me getting ready for Prom with help from Juliette (make up) and Lorraine (hair)

And then we were back to business.  It was a long and hot summer for me. Training in over 30 degrees and competing too.  First time out was at Widmer Farm which is a local venue for us.  It can be a bit bleak in the Winter as its at the top of a hill but in June it was scorching and close to 30 degrees on the day.  It was our first competition since Winter Nationals and I was just happy to be back out with Aslan competing.  We rode the Novice first as a warm up followed by the Individual Championship Test.  The way it works is that you usually don’t know your first score before you ride your second test so you don’t really know what the judge thinks about your performance until its too late. So you have to use your judgement and the feedback from your coach between tests.  I felt as if Aslan went well for the Novice even better in the harder Championship Test but didn’t have high expectations having not been out for four months.  In the heat and circumstances I was very happy later with a very decent 66.90% in the Novice and 66.83% in the Championship Test and a PB by 1.3%.

I was almost speechless afterwards, which us unusual for me!.   I can’t get excited about the red rossettes in qualifiers as you even get them when there is no-one else in the class as was the case in Widmer that day, but a PB is always significant and more than ever after not being out.  It also gave us 4 important qualifying points for Gold tests in next Winter’s Nationals and a qualifying core for the World Class Programme (or Podium Potential as its now called).  So all in all a massive achievement for me but most importantly for Aslan.

Just a few days after Widmer we were back out at Sparsholt.  I really enjoy this venue as the Paras are usually part of a bigger show and in particular I really enjoy the warm up arena where you get ready alongside everyone else regardless of level, ability or disability.  Traffic delays meant that we had a little less time than usual to get ourselves ready and get warmed, up but that seemed to work in our favour.  He was on it from the point we entered warm-up and on another hot day which we will all remember this summer for Aslan was on form.  Twenty minutes warm up though as not quite enough and he was going well I felt as he could relax a bit more as we entered the arena for the Individual Championship Test which unusually we were riding first before the Team.  As I went down the centre line, Miley Cyrus sang  ‘I came in like a wrecking ball…’ which made me laugh inside as I halted and smiled at the judge!  The test felt good and Aslan’s canter in particular felt awesome.

Fifteen minutes between tests and we were back for the Team and Aslan was a bit more relaxed and again it all felt good again.  And sure enough 64.88% in the Individual Championship was filled by 67.12% in the Team, and while I did not feel that much of a difference, we were left with a seasons best in the Team, very close to an all time PB, and PBs on both tests at Sparsholt.   And most importantly another qualifying score World Class qualification, and this time with my Dad as top groom, nutritionist (Tesco meal-deal), driver and coach on this one.

Jacket ready with the Union Flag sewed back on

Well that’s it.

June done and dusted with July ahead of us with Squad training and a 2* International at Bishop Burton to look forward too as our qualification was confirmed.  You know you have qualified when you post the scores, but when you get that email to say you have done so and you will be representing Great Britain it’s special. Very very special.

Thank you for reading and following our development, and thank you as ever for your support.

Ilse x

SportsAid, Vets and GCSEs

Well its been a frustrating couple of months, no update in March or April as I really didn’t have anything to share other than frustration and concern about what was happening with Aslan.  I decided to wait until we knew more about what was happening, before giving you an update and although we are not out of the woods, I thought it was time you heard from us as I know we have been quiet on Facebook.

On return from the Winter Nationals, Aslan started showing signs of discomfort in training. Not his usual forward self at all.  First thoughts were towards a tooth that seemed to have splintered but following some treatment from his dentist David and some rest to recover, he was no better in the school when we went back into work.

This meant that for the first time since our partnership began two years ago, I had to go to squad training alone and on foot.  Not my favourite experience but I still had the benefit to me from the squad nutritionist, sports psychologist, physiotherapist, conditioning coach and mentor –  just no coaching in the saddle.

Back home our vet Simon started further tests, trying to pinpoint what exactly was troubling Aslan when he was in training, as in every other way he was his usual cheeky self, stretching and craving attention in his stable as you can see in the video below.

Aslan was perfectly happy in his stable, eating and in turn out but continued to show signs of discomfit when in the school, so he was sent to our vets for more tests.  He was checked for ulcers and happily there were none,  but X-rays of his neck found what appears to be the problem – some inflammation around Aslan’s lower cervical facets.  It was not great news, but at least we knew what was going on and we could get him some treatment to help ease his discomfort.

As I’m writing this we are still not back in work, but Aslan is back out hacking as the second stage of his rehab and I’m pleased to say we were out both Saturday and Sunday of last weekend for lovely hacks in the sun – can’t believe how much I have missed riding him.  It was great to be back out together and Aslan felt very very relaxed as you can see in the video, which was so fantastic as I have been so worried about him.

So its been emotional, and it’s another couple of weeks before we start some gentle work to see where we really are, but things are looking positive so fingers crossed and in the meantime I can spend my time  focusing on my exams, which is probably the right thing to be doing anyway.  After a big rest I’m hoping he comes back stronger than ever.

While all this has been going on, I’ve been working hard on my strength and conditioning training at Fitness4Less with my personal trainer Iain Duncan, and also sessions on my own, working on my endurance.

I was also privileged to visit The Royal Bank of Canada in the City of London for the launch of their 2018/19 support to SportsAid. At this years launch I was invited to be one of four athletes taking part in the Q&A session which I really enjoyed.  The same time last year I remember watching others do the same thing and being slightly in awe of them talking so calmly and well in front of the audience, this year it was me and I think I did pretty well.  There is some breaking news on my support by RBC but I’m going to save that until next time when I’ll know more about it.

On the SportsAid Q&A panel at RBC with Tim Lawler asking the questions

One of my goals for this year was to qualify for the Gold Semi’s but this is now not possible given the current situation with Aslan, so receiving  the new Musto squad kit has definitely helped cheer me up – check out the photo below.

That’s it for now, a little short on excitement as my focus is really just trying to make sure Aslan makes a full and speedy recovery and of course getting my GCSE exams over with…

Hopefully, I’ll be back next time with good news on both fronts and I’ll keep you posted on Facebook, but in the meantime keep your fingers crossed that my boy gets back into work soon.

Ilse x

SportsAid, Blustery Qualifiers and Gold Winter Nationals

February was all about preparing for the Winter Nationals.  First up though was a Summer Qualifier at Solihull, the venue for our Excel Programme Squad Training this time around.  We planned the Solihull SQ as a training run for the Winters and also an opportunity to pick up some qualifying points for the Summer Nationals.  Our scores at the last couple of outings have not been our best scores and as it turned out we were in front of the same judge but at a different venue, so it was a good opportunity to test ourselves with that combination and get some more feedback on both Novice and Individual Championship tests we’d be riding at the Winter Nationals.

In the run up we had the great news that I was to recieve a SportsAid grant again this year following a recommendation by the British Equestrian Federation (which is my sports governing body).  As a bonus it was confirmed that I was again selected as one of the fifty athletes across many sports that are supported by The Royal Bank of Canada, so I was doubly pleased as I really enjoyed participating in the many events they put together last year and the challenges it presented too.  More on that next month, but back to Solihull Summer Qualifiers…

My support team for the day was Mum and Sacha which is a pretty formidable combination, so we were well set!

But it turned out to be a pretty mixed bag.  The weather was pretty foul and very very blustery and we were competing outside.  We warmed up ok, but when we entered the arena we were confronted with flying boards whipped up by the wind.  Aslan understandably had a pretty major spook, it wasn’t safe to start our first test.  The judge halted proceedings and the Solihull staff were called to secure the arena boards to prevent a reoccurrence, as it was pretty unsafe to compete in.  We used the time to settle Aslan back down which he did brilliantly.  That took about 20 minutes to fix altogether so we were having to compete with both a delay and longer mounted than we’d planned before the Novice and we still had to follow with the Individual test.

Eventually the bell went and we went down the centre line.  We took our first school movement… and the judge rang the bell for a second time.  I couldn’t believe it.  I have always had a thing about not having my tests called,   I was sure we hadn’t gone wrong and sure enough it wasn’t us,  the judge had been given the the wrong test.  So another delay, more time passed and another restart.  I wasn’t particularly happy as we were competing for a reason and this wasn’t giving us the preparation we were there for, but we gave it everything we could in the circumstances.   We ended up with 63.62% which was off our usual scores, but  two Silver qualifying points for our Novice.

Needless to say we ran out of puff in the Individual test with way too much time in the saddle, which resulted in 61.58% and just a single Gold point.  Not our best scores, and in general a frustrating day out, but in the circumstances I’m just glad we got through it with the experience behind us and perhaps we were better for it.

Here is my Novice test, even Mum’s iphone ran out of puff before we competed the Individual so I don’t have a record of that one!


Solihull behind us we travelled to Myerscough a day early to settle in and take up another opportunity for Summer Qualifier points as a warm up test.  Travel to Myerscough was a five and a half hour journey through congestion and roadworks on the M6, so we arrived later than planned but we still took the opportunity to stretch Aslan off with a light session in the outdoor arena before getting him settled in the temporary stabling.

We had entered both the Novice and Individual SQ tests. Unusually the Individual test was before the Novice, so we decided in advance that if the Individual went well we’d withdraw from the Novice rather than over work it.

The Regionals championships were held all that week at Myerscough and the whole thing was being streamed live on which was very cool.  Dad’s a bit of a technology geek so it meant that we were able to capture the videos for analysis aftewards.

It was the first time I saw my name on the screen!

We had a good warm up and rode a decent test.  It was a bit interesting because when I entered the arena I realised some of the Team GBR World Class selectors were sitting watching in the judges boxes. Nothing like a bit of pressure to concentrate the mind and motivate you to do your best!  We ended up with 65.32% in the Individual, fourth in a class of 5 including some experienced competition and just a few tenths off a PB.  It felt like one of our best Individual tests too, so we called it a night and withdrew from the Novice.


Championship day and we were riding the Novice at 12:32, so we had plenty of time to prepare in the morning. We did the the Arena walk at 11:45 and then straight into good warm which again went well.  By this time my Mum, sister and brother had arrived to support us and we were all set.  I was happy with the test and had some positive feedback from my coach Sacha.  When the results came through we were given 66.90% from the judge at C who placed us 3rd behind a winning score of 68.19% but the judge at E had us at 62.78% from E pushing is down to 64.83% and fourth place over all with over 4% between judges which was a bit frustrating.  So an improvement on my 2017 Summer Nationals Novice score but a place lower in the rankings.  You can see what you think here….


Before the Gold Individual Championship Test I had to attend the Silver prize giving which was not ideal as there was not much time in between the classes.  I was riding second in the class and it didn’t leave much time to get back into warm up.  It got worse as the ceremony was delayed and it ended up with us having just about ten minutes warm up for the Individual which is much more complicated than the Novice, which much tougher movements for Aslan.

We gave it our best shot in the circumstances, but Aslan and I got a bit confused on our first 10 metre volte and the following medium trot.  A change on our medium canter didn’t help our score and we ended up with 60.30%.

This was both frustrating and very disappointing after yesterdays 65% in the Summer Qualifier, and again annoying to see that even with these mistakes there was a 4% difference in the judges at C and E.  I was placed 8th in my first Gold Championships and while I probably shouldn’t be disappointed at my first outing, I was.

The prize giving photo…

Not quite the result I wanted but my first Gold Nationals

So that’s it from a pretty mixed and in parts frustrating February.  I set high standards for myself and I am very competitive, so when we don’t quite achieve our targets and potential I get a bit frustrated. Then again it was our first National Gold competition, there was a very strong field with only one notable combination missing in my grade so perhaps I shouldn’t be so frustrated after all as it was a valuable learning experience.

Next month it’s Excel Squad Training, the kick off of my SportsAid funding and more Summer Qualifiers, so come back then and see what we have been up to.  I’ll be updating you on Facebook and Twitter in the meantime so if you havent found me there already please look me up and LIKE me on Facebook and FOLLOW ME on Twitter.

Ilse x

New Year, New Boots, New Hat, New Venue

So here we are in 2018.  My blog is 1 year old having made my first proper monthly post in January last year, and a lot has happened since.  In fact its quite hard to believe that just as this is only just the start of my second year blogging, its also just the start of my second year competing properly.  Looking back, I only went out 5 times in altogether in 2016 and hadn’t even started worrying about qualification for National or Internationals.

2017 was a busy year and this month has been no different, its been a really busy month given its the middle of winter…  working Aslan into a double bridle, treated to new kit for him from my sponsors Equilibrium Products, a new hat thanks to Charles Owen, a saddle refit from Kay Humphries at Norton and Newby Saddles, 560 miles on the road travelling to qualifiers and prepping for the Winters Nationals.  Phew!

Aslan’s new Equilibrium Products Hardy Chaps for Turn Out

At the start of the New Year, Aslan was treated to some new protective wear from our sponsors Equilibrium Products.  With all the wet weather leading up to Christmas he had been showing signs of dermatitis.  Equilibrium Products  recommended their Hardy Chaps (which you can see Aslan modelling in the picture left) to offer him some protection from the wet and mud during turn out and they have worked a treat.  They are made from neoprene and come in five different sizes so they are easy to fit and put on snuggly.  They have worked well and after some initial treatment they are certainly helping keep everything under control.  Aslan also received some new brushing boots and overreach boots for hacking out so he’s been pretty spoilt this month and is all all kitted out for the new year thanks to Equilibrium.

We competed twice this month, both Winter Qualifiers, at Mysecough College in Lancashire and Hartpury College in Gloucestershire.  Myerscough is a long way north of us, but it was worth the long journey as the Winter Nationals are being held there this year and I hadn’t been before, so it was a great chance to check it out under a bit less pressure.

We travelled up the night before to settle in and managed to exercise Aslan in the main arena to stretch him off and acclimatise him which was perfect.  He actually took the venue in his stride, which perhaps wasn’t surprising as I later found out he had competed there before with his previous owner Rebecca, so in some ways he was back on home territory in the North West.  Rebecca came to see us compete the next day with her daughter Libby.  It was great to see her and I think Aslan enjoyed seeing them again too, the first time since Bishop Burton last year.

We warmed up well on the Sunday with a 65.5% in Team Test followed up by 64.88% in the individual championship test and only two tenths off a personal best.  Second place in both classes, unbelievably missing out on first on collective scores in both tests as the first place rider had the same scores.  It was so nearly two red rosettes and against a really experienced competitor too, and while we came for the qualifying points its always nice to come first, so I was both very happy and a bit miffed at the same time.  So no red rosettes but 3 qualifying points for the Gold class Individual Championship Test in the Winter Nationals,  so very successful trip.

While in Myerscough I also caught up with triple European Gold Medalist Julie Payne.  Julie represented TeamGBR for they first time at the Europeans last summer and absolutely nailed it individually and for the team securing three Golds.  Just last year we were team mates for the Central Region at the 2017 BD Home International in Vale View.  She was a great team mate and helped calm my nerves at what was my biggest ever competition at the time.   It was the first time I’d seen her properly since the Euros so it was nice to share some proper time and have dinner together on the Saturday.  Here we are together last year.

Me and Julie representing Central Region at last year’s Home International

This month I also have the opportunity to apply to become a Brand Ambassador for Harry Hall who were looking for six new Ambassadors for 2018.  I submitted my application and posted a comment on their Facebook page and was surprised to see myself featured in their update later in the month, which I though might be a good omen!  They haven’t released the results yet so I’ve still got my fingers cross as this blog goes out at the end of January.  I’ll let you know next month if I was lucky enough to be selected.

Next up it was Hartpury College, again it’s quite a trip but one of my favourite places to compete as the facilities are great and it was also where I first experienced my first big competition – the RDA Nationals.  It was a long day out in pretty horrible weather that started with snow on the yard at home in Buckinghamshire which turned into constant rain at Hartpury.  Despite this everything pretty much went to plan (well nearly anyway).  Aslan travelled very well and in comfort, thanks to the kind loan of a lorry from Sarah at home.  Aslan was very chilled when we got there and we had a good warm up in the barn, despite the cold and the wet, before competing the Novice for the first time since November.  Short of not quite getting the mediums we had in training last week, I thought it went well and felt pretty good.  Back into warm up and it was the Individual Championship Test next.  Again it felt good and felt like a definite improvement on Myerscough a couple of weeks ago where I had come close to a PB.    But then the scores!  My lowest Novice for over a year with 61.90% and my lowest Individual ever (or Team for that matter) with 59.27%. I was devastated and came home shattered in more ways than one.  As I promised on Facebook, you can see the videos below and make your own mind up but I’ve never been more disappointed. 

You always hear people talk about learning lessons when they don’t get the scores they want and it’s true, you have to,  but it’s also really hard sometimes when you think it went well but turned out not to.  I also think that no matter how hard it is sometimes and how disappointed you are, it’s important to share the experience, bad scores and good. Nowhere to hide anyway, if you are a BD member you can see everyone’s scores  on the British Dressage website anyway!

After that disappointment I was cheered up by news that my beautiful new riding hat from Charles Owen was read for delivery.  It’s made to order and identical to the one they were kind enough to provide for me last year which I kept in pristine condition for competitions only.  Thanks to their

Me in my new Charles Owen Ayr8

generosity, I can now train in the same safety and style as I compete, having demoted last years hat to my training wardrobe.  It’s such brilliant support like this that not just really helpful, in which is a very expensive sport, but also really really inspiring, when a massive brand like Charles Owen says “yes, we will help you”.  It’s a real show of belief and reward for all the hard work we put in as a team and makes me feel very special.  I could not be more grateful.  Here I am in my old South Bucks RDA hoodie (that I think my mum bought for me to grow into) and my brand new Ayr8 (my favourite navy leather with silver piping and yes I know I need to tighten the chinstrap, we took the picture in a hurry!)

The new kit didn’t end there, Aslan also had a saddle refit this month.  We had our first new saddle about this time last year which was made bespoke by Kay Humphries in Oxfordshire.  Kay is a very experienced fitter and very nice lady too, and looks after several of the liveries at Sacha Hamilton’s where we are based.  The new saddle last year made a massive difference to my position and posture, but at Excel training in the Autumn, our Squad Saddler Mark Fisher noticed that there was a bit too much movement going on.  Not surprising as Aslan had toned up by a full inch both sides when he measured him which is a big difference.  We tried making slight adjustments with a Tri-pad which Mark adjusted to fit, which helped but nothing like the difference since having the the saddle readjusted properly, which feels a much better fit and balance.

So that’s it for January and next month is going to be equally exciting.  Next up I’m competing my first Summer Qualifier at Solihull on 9th February which will also serve as a competition practice for the Winter Nationals the following week, riding the Silver Novice and also my first Gold Individual Championship class. I’m not going to win that one just yet, but I’m going to have fun trying!

Please come back and see how we went, thanks for reading about my January.

Happy 2018!

Ilse x

December and Twenty Seventeen

After Winter Qualifiers at Wellington and Hartpury in November it was back to Sparsholt for a PYO in December, and our first visit there since August.  Then, Aslan was not overly impressed with the venue but to be fair it was one of those occasions when the traffic was against us, time was tight, there was lots going on in the warm up, it was a new location and it was all a bit full on… one of those ‘learning experiences’ you hear about which was in reality a fairly ordinary day out!  Aslan took a particular dislike to the full size horse skeleton in a glass display cabinet down the long side on that occasion, which is kind of understandable, and it was still there!But this time we were much better prepared and much better able to take it all in our stride, despite warming up in the dusk and the skeleton!  We warmed up with 63.25% in the Team before a break between tests and a chance to be back in the warm up arena with riders preparing for Inter tests, which was a great experience in itself.  Under the new rules I can gain up to four qualifying points from PYO competitions,  so while it wasn’t a proper qualifier, it still counted for me as I hadn’t used my PYO allocation.  Aslan went well after showing off to the Inter horses in warm up and we ended up with 63.08% and 2 points towards the Winter Gold qualification, which out us on six in total.  Not quite what we were looking for, but no excuses we both dealt with the venue so much better than last time which was positive.  Back in August we were competing  two Novice tests and here we were in December riding the Team and the Individual Championship Tests.  You can check out the video below…

Even through that was the last competition of the year, we trained pretty much as normal, including the dark and cold mid-week evening sessions, but we did factor a lighter week in the lead up to Christmas to give Aslan and me a bit of a break, and also so we could maximise our training time together over the holidays.  The lead up to Christmas also had the excitement of going to the London International Horse Show at Olympia for the first time.

Having never before and I very excited, giving my Dad a hard time as we battled through the traffic to get into town in time.  But it was worth it and absolutely lived up to my expectations and more.  We got there just in time to see the Metropolitan Police Activity Ride  which was amazing (how do they do that?) I We were also treated to a master class by Carl Hester with Charlotte Dujardin riding a demonstration on Carl’s new horse Hawtins Delacato, while he explained what he was looking for.  It was just amazing to watch, let alone listen and learn.  I found this great video of it someone posted on youtube and while I haven’t included it here there is a second part you can find too.

Me Aslan and Grandpa

The main event was the FEI World CupTM Dressage Freestyle to Music competition which was incredible to see at this level and resulted in a really exciting finish with the Swede Patrik Kittel just beating GBs Emile Faurie, who actually teaches my coach Sacha Hamilton.   My Dad even liked Patrik’s music and insisted on playing Gun ‘n’ Roses in the car all the way home, to be honest it was a bit more rock ‘n’ roll than usual, Dad was made up and we agreed we should make it an annual event!

Olympia was a great start to the Christmas holidays and I had a fantastic Christmas with my family.  My Grandpa came to stay and he came to see us school on Christmas eve which was a training day for us.  We had Christmas and Boxing Day off, though we visited Aslan on both days at the yard, and were back schooling on the 27th in the driving sleet (and learning the lesson that if the sun is shining on Boxing Day, you should take the opportunity to ride because you don’t know what weather’s coming at you next!)

That was it for December really, but I do want to reflect on our achievements for 2017, which has been an incredible year and has gone so so quickly when I look back.

In January we launched this website (with a bit of help from my Mum and Dad but it’s all done by Team IlseDressage with no professional help!)  I received the support of Charles Owen (who provided me with my first dressage helmet which they have done again this year) and gained the sponsorship of Fitness4Less who provided me with a personal trainer all year as they continue to do.  In February I owned my own saddle for the first time, helped by funding from The Royal Bank of Canada through a grant provided by SportsAid who sponsored me after being recommended by the British Equestrian Federation.  Aslan and I also competed in our first Winter Nationals this year, competed our first Team Test and by April had competed in our first Home International too for the Central Region.  In May Aslan and I celebrated our first anniversary, and by July we had represented GBR for the first time and in our first CPEDI 2* International at Bishop Burton where we also competed our first Freestyle to Music.  By September we competed our first Summer Nationals, and in November I became 16 and a brand ambassador for Equilibrium Products.  I met Olympic and Paralympic medalists, competed at the same event as Sophie Christiansen (my inspiration to start competing) and I even met Eddie the Eagle!  We started competing the Individual Championship Test in the Autumn, and we finished the year with half the points we need to compete at next year’s Winters at Gold rather than Silver which we did this year.    All this and I completed my first BEF Excel Talent Programme and was reselected for the next, still the youngest para in the squad.

What a year!  I am very proud of our progress this year and I am looking forward to an exciting 2018.  We have worked hard as a team and I am very grateful for all the support we get, so to finish the year I want to say thank you.

Thank you of course to my Mum and Dad who make all of this possible.  Thank you to whole family especially my brother Dylan and sister Grace who have to put up with an equestrian sister.  Thank you to my Coach Sacha and Personal Trainer Iain Duncan.  Thank you to everyone at the yard and the liveries too, including Emma who has loaned me her lorry to get to competitions and Sarah for her music and compiling my first Freestyle.  Thank you to all the BEF coaches and professionals at the Excel Talent Programme.  Thank you to all the judges and stewards and competition organisers.  Thank you to all the other athletes and competitors who inspire me to be the best I can be.   Thank you to my sponsors and supporters Charles Owen, Fitness4Less and Equilibrium Products, and The Royal Bank of Canada and SportsAid.  Thank you to my friends for listening to my horsey stories even though they don’t like horses.  And thank you to everyone who follow me and like my posts on Facebook and and everyone who read this blog and everyone else I have forgotten to mention.

Thank you all and Happy New Year everyone.

Ilse x

November Celebrations

November started with the celebration of my SIXTEENTH birthday!!!   Whoop Whoop!!!  The excitement kicked off the weekend before with a short break into London, including afternoon tea at Jamie Oliver’s place in Piccadilly on the Saturday (but not before I’d finished training that morning). I also couldn’t resist some equestrian fun with my brother and sister in the evening on Southbank, though I’m not sure my hands and posture were that great and in general I don’t think Aslan needs to worry as my collected marks were much lower than usual!

Carousel Test (excuse my brother’s dab)

There were some horsey presents of course, including some new things for Aslan, but more importantly tickets for the Grand Prix Freestyle at Olympia in December!  I’ve never been to Olympia before so I am super excited and can’t wait for it.

I also had the most amazing surprise that I had been selected as a Brand Ambassador by Equilibrium Products.  Equilibrium has already supported me by providing some fantastic kit and I was even featured in their Winter Catalogue last month. To be selected as their Brand Ambassador is really special, not just for the help I will get with brilliant products for Aslan, but also to be trusted as an Ambassador for such a great brand at my age and stage of development is something I genuinely appreciate.  It was also an absolute surprise as I didn’t know it was happening and found out while checking Facebook for birthday messages before going to school. It was a massive surprise,  so thank you to everyone at Equilibrium and my mum and dad for planning in secrecy!

November has been a busy month in more ways than one and I have had to pace myself a bit.  It was also my mock GCSEs this month with fifteen exams to revise and sit for.  I am really committed to doing well at school, which is helped by my competitive nature!  It’s a tricky balance at times as I also have to take time off for competitions and squad training, but this time it’s actually working out a bit better as the last squad training was during my school half term.

Even while focusing on my exams, I managed to fine the time to start riding my Individual  Championship Test.  It has similar school movements to the Team Test that I started riding earlier in the year, but the combinations are a little trickier.

Having already qualified for the Silver Novice test at the Winter Championships, I had an opportunity to ride the Individual test for the first time at Hartpury on November 18th.  It’s a couple of hours away from us, but a venue I and Aslan like. It has great facilities and you even get to warm up inside, which is a bonus in the winter!   But it was a really really wet miserable day and we were riding late in the afternoon,  so we were tacking up in the dark and the rain which poured down as we arrived.  This competition was with my Dad driving and my sister Grace along to help out. We competed the Team first as a warm up for our first ever Individual Test and it was an interesting experience.  I lost my right stirrup in our first medium which is a bit tricky in rising trot!  I had to ride a 10m volte, a shoulder-in, a three loop serpentine, another medium, another volte and another shoulder-in before I had the chance to fix it during rein back!  Straight sixes for all that then, but we still ended up with a 63.25% and second place which in the circumstances I was very happy with.  Our first Individual Test an hour later wasn’t as good, with just 60.0% after hanging around in the damp and cold.  To be honest I was a little bit surprised, as at least I had both stirrups all the way through!  Here are the tests, you can make up your own minds!

Just one training session during the week with my coach Sacha, and a quick run though of our test on the Saturday and then the following Sunday we were off to Wellington Riding School for another Winter qualifier and a second crack at the Individual test.  I hadn’t competed in a BD Para class at Wellington before and hadn’t actually been there since I qualified for the RDA Nationals before winning back 2013.  That’s a while ago now, and a lot has happened in between, and I really hope Wellington put on more Para competitions next year as its a great venue and not very far away for us.  They also have a new outdoor school which is really fantastic, and in some ways it felt like the biggest show I have competed at as there was able bodied classes running in parallel with the paras, so the lorry park was full and the warm up arena busy with combinations of different grades and abilities.  There was lots going on and it was also a beautiful sunny day so the whole place looked spectacular and it was a great day out altogether.

Warm Up at Wellington

We had a decent warm up in a pretty busy school as you can see of both able and para combinations.  I think Aslan enjoyed the company and took it all in his stride!  We competed inside and gained 66.63% and a first place red rosette in the Team Test, and followed it up with 65.73% and third place in the Individual Championship Test, earning 3 gold qualifying points in the process! Only our second time out for the Individual so we are very satisfied with a pretty decent score and a decent PB that might just stand for a while. So a definite improvement on our expedition to Hartpury but plenty to continue working on over the winter at home.

To round off the month I had the good news that I had been nominated again by the British Equestrian Federation for SportsAid sponsorship.  I was fortunate to be supported by SportsAid and corporate Sponsor Royal Bank of Canada for 2016/2017 and I really appreciate the opportunities they gave me, as well as the funding they provided.  So I submitted my application and have my fingers crossed that I will be supported again in 2017/18.

That’s it for this month, one more Winter Qualifier to come in December in a Pick Your Own Test at Sparsholt College in Winchester then a bit of a wind down for both Aslan and me towards Christmas, and time to take stock on what we have achieved this year.

Thats it and thanks for reading this month, and please do sign up if you enjoyed catching up and find myFacebook page and Twitter stream @ILSEDRESSAGE.

Ilse x


Excel-lent October

It was a quiet start to October after the excitement of September, but a bit of a crazy November so this is a bit late going out!

You get a little reminder that winter is on its way when the lights go on in the school for the first time during evening training and the thicker stable rugs get set out for Aslan.  On October 6th it was World Cerebral Palsy Day.  I don’t often blog about my disability but in some ways I probably picked the sport least compatible with my disability!  Dressage is about balance and symmetry, two things that my body is sometimes not the best at.  I have Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy which means that it’s a bit difficult to control the right side of my body and also have no feeling on that side either, but then I don’t like things being too easy!

After being selected last month for my second BEF Excel Talent Programme this month was Induction day quickly followed by our first squad training.  This time around, both induction and our first squad session was at Solihull Riding School rather than Vale View where we did our training last time around.

Solihull is a bit closer to us than Vale View so it works pretty well and the facilities are great there too, as they are at Vale View for that matter… my Dad prefers the breakfasts at Solihull so he is definitely happy!

It was good to see the other squad members from the previous programme including Hope, Molly and Caitlyn and it was also nice to welcome the new riders to the squad.  It feels like a long time since my last induction and this time at fifteen it was a little less daunting than last time around when I was only thirteen, but I am still the youngest on the para squad so somethings still haven’t changed!

Our first squad training was in the 23rd and 24th and was a great experience as ever.  In fact this time around it was better than ever.  The para squad has reduced from 13 last time around to just 8, but we have the same level of resources available, which means we get more time with more of the equine professionals together.  You can see below the attention we get, with Ben the Farrier, Mark the Saddler, Angie my coach, Russell our Bio-Mechanic all working together to improve my position andd posture.  I even had Sophie Wells the Grave V Paralympic gold medalist looking on and evaluating my analysis.  It’s a genuine privilege and one I really appreciate.

For my first Excel squad training last time around I didn’t actually have a ride so I had to go on foot, which was not the best of experiences, so to be there this time on Aslan, having competed for GBR for the first time this year was a very very different experience and a measure of the difference two years of dedication, training and development can make.

It was also #MondayMotivation for the This Girl Can campaign and I couldn’t resist using their app to post this picture on my social media, but it really is true!

Squad training was followed up with a couple of Winter Qualifiers.  The first was at our local competition venue Windmill Farm Dressage & Livery, which was very blustery thanks to the tail end of Storm Brian. Despite the conditions Aslan was on best behaviour and our 66.2% in the Novice was followed up by a very satisfying 67.12% in the Team,  and so a very successful day out collecting Silver qualifying points for the Winter Nationals.  You can see us riding both tests in this video.

Next up was another local venue at Widmer , but before then I had a bit of a surprise when I realised we had been featured in the Equilibrium Products catalogue, that happened to have been distributed with every copy of the British Dressage magazine!  Here we are showing iff the benefits of Equilibrium’s Symmetry Straps which I have as ab FEI approve compensation aid to assist with my right side.

That was a nice kick off to half term which was rounded off nicely with a surprise weekend in London which my mum and Dad had organised as an early celebration of my birthday, but not before we completed Saturday training which for the first time was with a double bridle as an experiment which actually went very well, so more of that to come.

The WQ at Widmer Equestrian Centre was another successful day out on my last day of being fifteen on October 31st.  We picked up our final qualifying scores for the Silver category for Winter Nationals with a score of 67.24% in the Novice followed up by 67.5% in the Team which included my first 8 for my Canter Trot down the centre line to finish, and a personal best for collected marks with 42!   So we finished up with couple of red rosettes in the lorry to celebrate… even if I was the only one in my class the pb’s deserve it!

That’s it for October, next month we’ll be competing the Championship Individual Test for the first time to collect Gold qualifying points.  Thank you for reading my blog and following my progress, I really do appreciate all the support and encouragement I get.

Happy Halloween everyone .

Ilse x