A Special September

At Stoneleigh with the British Dressage Supporters Club

It was back to school at the beginning of the month to start year 11 and to begin preparing for my GCSEs next summer.  There were no competitions in the first half of the month so my first trip out was without Aslan, just me and Dad, and the opportunity to visit the Le Mileux Dressage National Championships at Stonleigh Park.  It’s also the venue and occasion of the KBIS Para Gold Championships which I hope to be riding at next year.  This time though my visit was by invitation of the British Dressage Supporters Club to receive my certificate as recognition of representing Great Britain in July.

This was an absolute honour for me and something I am really really proud of.  The experience at Bishop Burton was amazing and one I hope to repeat many times, but also receiving my certificate from British Dressage CEO Jason Brautigam in front of everybody in the Supports Club Marque really confirmed that I actually had represented Great Britain.  I met Anne Dunham for the first time (she was lovely) and while I was there I also got to see Charlotte DuJardin and Sophie Wells compete in the same class which was pretty special.

That was amazing, but the really special news of the month was that I received confirmation of my place on the 2017/2019 British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent Development Programme.  

After being the youngest rider on the last squad I was desperate to get back on as I learned so much in the two years of the programme.  I started those two years without my own horse and I finished it this year riding in my first CPEDI 2* International, which is a measure of the progress Aslan and I have made together. It’s also the pathway to World Class selection which opens next year, so it was hugely important to get selected.  I had submitted my application in August and received an invitation to ride in a selection trial with Aslan on the 18th September, which we didn’t have to do last time.

I was so delighted to get the letter confirming my place a week or so later.  Again I was the youngest up for selection and also there were only half as many positions available on the squad this time around, so its even more special to be selected.  I can’t wait for the induction and first squad session next month!

The next weekend was very exciting as I was invited to a sponsors event at the British Film Institute near Waterloo on the Friday night. The event organised by SportsAid and the Royal Bank of Canada  and was to kick off the countdown to the Winter Olympics.   There was a question and answer session with Olympic atheletes Lizzy Yarnold and Annabel Chaffey, followed by popcorn and a screening of the movie Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, and Eddie was the third person on the panel!  It was a great movie and we (my sister Grace and Dad came too) had an amazing evening and I had a long chat with Eddie himself afterwards.    He was really nice and very encouraging and genuinely interested in my development.  Thank you again SportsAid! And thank you Eddie!

Me and my sister Grace with Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards

So after a late night in London it was up early the next morning to compete at Windmill Farm.  I had my first Novice qualifying points already from the warm up test for the Summer Festival of Para Dressage last month, but this time we had opportunity to add in the Team Test too.  Our warm up was a bit stressed as my body was a bit stiff and tired after the late night, which I could tell Aslan could feel, but we both settled down as we entered the arena and we started ok and built some rhythm, but then I had a bit of a twitch as we transitioned to trot after our walk on a long rein which Aslan read as canter, not good!  We took a bit of a moment to get back into a decent trot which messed up our next transition to canter.  By this time Aslan was truly confused and I don’t blame him!  We corrected ourselves and got through the rest of the test without incident, but the Novice scoring is pretty unforgiving out of just 290 points so one big glitch like that and its pretty much damage limitation afterwards.  We did still manage 62.7% and gained a couple of qualifying points but I was frustrated and had really wanted much more out of the test, so off we went back to prepare for the Team Test.

Me and Aslan during our Winter Qualifier tests at Windmill Farm

We only had a few minutes before heading back into the arena, but that was enough to reconnect and refocus.  Solihull last month had taught me that if the first test is not great the second can be much better, and it was.  We hit a much better rhythm and maintained it.  I was still a bit tight but Aslan was working that out and while it wasn’t our best it was an improvement which gave us a score of 65.37% and 4 points towards qualification for the Team, and included our first 8 for Rein Back which was at least something to be satisfied with!

It might not have been our finest scores, but this did turn out to be a pretty special occasion, as it was the very first time that I competed in the same event as Sophie Christiansen.  Sophie was my inspiration to get started in para dressage when I was ten and having lessons alongside her as she trained for the London 2012 Paralympics.  It was amazing at the time to see her prepare to represent Equestrian Team GBR in London and come home with three gold medals to add to her collection.  It was equally lovely and as inspirational as ever to catch up with her, I just wish I could have recorded some better scores for the occasion.

Me and Sophie Christiansen MBE

To finish off the month I spent a week collecting my training miles for one week to count towards the SportsAid #MyMiles Challenge.  SportsAid is a fantastic charity which supports me financially and through numerous opportunities through the year. During the  week of 21st September they were asking athletes and supporters to submit their exercise miles and make a donation.  I was a bit surprised to find out that Aslan and I cover about 6 miles in each training session, which is pretty impressive given Aslan is doing the whole distance in dressage paces and school movements.  Even though I only had two ridden training sessions during the week we still clocked up 22 miles in total, add in at least one other session normally and a competition too and we’d be up around at least 30 in a pretty normal week.  SportsAid CEO Tim Lawler put us to shame though clocking up over a hundred training miles in the week.  Well done Tim!  Here’s some of me and Aslan training during SportsAid Week with Sacha.

Finally I just wanted to share a picture of me supporting my other passion and ambition,  which is to become a vet.  For the last six months or so I have been volunteering at Wendover Heights Veterinary Centre on Fridays, which I really enjoy though its a bit of a rush to get there after my personal training sessions at Fitness4Less which are the same afternoon after school in Chesham.  It’s a bit of a run around but worth it as I get to see all sorts of animals and get loads of experience. Like I said at the start it’s GCSE year this year as well so I’m going to be working hard to and finding the right balance between everything!

Volunteering at Wendover Heights Veterinary Centre

Thats it for this month, I hope enjoyed my blog and you’ll come back next month and catch up with what we’ve been up to in October, and in the meantime please do Like @IlseDressage on Facebook to keep in touch with updates during the month.

Thanks for reading.

Ilse x

August and the end of the Summer Season

August started with a break and a family holiday in France and a reminder for me to thank Mum and Dad and my sister Grace and brother Dylan for supporting my development and training. Mum takes care of all the organisation and administration, Dad helps me at most training sessions and competitions and my brother and sister both make sacrifices in terms of time and priorities.   I don’t thank them all enough for supporting my passion and development but without them I simply would not be able to to what I do, so here we all are on holidays together this summer.  I missed Aslan and I missed training but I did get some exercise in the pool and the girls on the yard sent me photos of Aslan while I was away which I was very grateful of.  I think I missed him more than he missed me! We had a great holiday and made some great new friends too.

Once we were back home we were straight back into it, in preparation for the Para Festival of Dressage at Solihull.  Both Aslan and I were used to Solihull as along with Vale View it is one of the preferred venues for the BEF Excel Programme squad camps.  It has the benefit of being quite a bit closer to home for us than Vale View and the added advantage (according to my Dad) is that it has the best cooked breakfasts!

We had a good plan in place for preparation with my coach Sacha Hamilton but had the the added challenge that the event coincided with her summer holiday, so this was the first time we were to compete a major competition without Sacha to guide us through – it was going to be just Aslan, me, Mum and Dad travelling.  Mum and Dad don’t have equestrian backgrounds so its a measure of our collective development that we could even contemplate doing it on our own given that we have only had Aslan for a little over a year.

If that wasn’t enough, disaster struck on the Friday as we got ready to go to the yard.  Mum tripped taking out the recycling and cut her hand badly.  After a bit first aid from me and a trip to hospital for Mum, it was obvious we had to reassess plans and priorities.

Within twenty four hours, it was just Dad and I heading to Solihull with Aslan for the Summer Nationals. Meanwhile Mum was admitted to Stoke Mandeville for what turned out to be five hours of micro surgery to repair tendons, nerves and arteries in her damaged fingers.  Mum being Mum insisted that this was no big deal and over hell and high water I was going to compete at Solihull.  So while both Dad and I wanted to stay with her, we were packed off and on our way with Aslan.

It was a bit odd trying to concentrate on our preparation while Mum was admitted to hospital and under a general anaesthetic, but she didn’t really give us a choice in the matter, so we just got on with it.  So we got Aslan and our kit ready as planned, travelled to Solihull, settled in and got ready for a light schooling session to settle Aslan in as planned.  He was a star, and did a great job of relaxing me too under the circumstances which was made all the better when I got to speak to Mum who was still a bit groggy but out of surgery and back on her ward. She was ok, and we were on track.

The Summer Festival of Para Dressage is a Bronze / Silver event, so I was only able to ride the Novice Test.  Sunday started with amazing sunshine and blue skies. We had opportunity for a  warm up test in the morning in preparation for the main competition in he afternoon. The warm up doubled as a Winter Qualifier for the the National Winters at Vale View and a remainder that the summer was all but over and that autumn and then winter was upon us.  Our preparation and the warm up went well, even with just Dad to help me get ready and get us ready in a busy warm up arena.

I probably heaped a lot of pressure on myself as more than anything I wanted to do well for Mum to cheer her up.  She was still in hospital, but getting over the surgery and I was able to talk to her before the test.  The test itself was in the outside school, and while we had trained at Solihull before with Excel we had never competed there, either indoor or out so yet another first just us.  We were all set and after checks with the steward we were set to go. Aslan calmly trotted past the judges parked in their cars, the bell went and we were off.

We had a good start, with Aslan finding his rhythm, but approaching the half 10M circle back to the track Aslan saw something scary off to the right and spooked left in a fairly major way.  He immediately got on with it but it I could tell he was still a bit nervous which showed on our canter circle in the same part of the school, I could feel him tightening and getting on his toes even in the walk.  By the right right rein canter down the same spookey side he was very tense showed it by breaking into canter on our final medium and by the time we were down the centre line I think we were both ready to finish.  After a salute and a pat for him to calming down I had a “well ridden and staying on” from the judge as I passed her to head out, but a 63.79% was not what we really wanted in the circumstances.

So as sometimes happens it can feel like a warm up test puts you backwards rather than forwards, but at least we’d been in there and Aslan knew what to expect.  In the afternoon it was the real deal and we were back into the warm up arena in preparation for the Summer Nationals test. Aslan was brave and much more settled this time around which resulted in a far smoother and far netter test when it mattered which resulted in a championship competition personal best score of 66.03% and third place at in the Silver Championship.  If we hadn’t been quite so enthusiastic into our second canter transition it might have been a bit better and while it wasn’t a first place and red rosette it was pretty good in the circumstances with just me and Dad there.

And that pretty much rounded off the 2017 season.  Right at the end of the month we submitted our application for the next new British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent Development Programme cohort 2017/19 which I will have to ride a selection trial for this time around if I get asked next month, so we’re not quite done for the year, then hopefully selection, squad training and Winter Qualifiers and the beginning of our Individual Test development over the winter.

Thanks for reading and I hope you come back next month to find out how we did!

Ilse x

International July

July was the biggest month of the year so far for us, perhaps it will be all year, and so my biggest blog post too!  It started with the excitement that I had qualified to ride in my first International Competition representing Great Britain!  I knew we had achieved the qualifying scores, but it was still amazing to receive confirmation at last, particularly as I had originally been left off the email list by British Dressage and so got it a few days after everyone else knew!  It was a very big deal for me as it was the first time I got to ride an FEI CPEDI 2* competition and the very first time representing Great Britain in an International competition!  Just receiving the Union Flag badges to sew onto my riding jacket and saddlecloths was exciting enough!

Competing at 2* means I ride the FEI Novice A and Team Tests and a Freestyle test too (if we qualify), so practicing my Novice and Team tests and preparing my Freestyle was the focus of training this month.

I hadn’t ridden Freestyle before in a British Dressage competition so it was pretty exciting to have the chance and I was lucky to have some great help from Sarah and Angie on the yard who have plenty of experience preparing and riding freestyle tests all the way to National level.  I borrowed some awesome music from Sarah, who also adjusted one of her floor patterns for me to try out and even rode Aslan through it for me.  After just a few sessions Aslan and I were getting the knack of it and the timing right with Sacha helping us iron out some of the wrinkles in our compulsory movements.  We got to include changes in a test for the first time and also added in leg yield for the first time, which is a bit tricky on my right side but we got there!  Not perfect perhaps, and plenty to work on over the winter for next season, but a good start to riding to music and really really great fun.  I think Aslan likes it too! Here is one of our first practices ever of a freestyle test.

To be able to ride at Bishop Burton at all, I first had to attend the Festival of Dressage at Hartpury College, not to ride this time but to get formally classified as a para-dressage athlete under FEI rules.  The classification system changed this year and went from having grades 1a, 1b, 2, 3 and 4 to a simpler system of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.  Well it seems simpler, but it still has seemed to cause some confusion, but I’m sure everyone will be used to it

Watching Charlotte Dujardin at Hartpury Festival of Dressage

by next year.  I was originally classified for the Riding for the Disabled National Championships as a grade 3 rider, which is now grade 4, but had to be classified under the FEI system to ride in International competitions.  I am glad to say that the FEI classifiers agreed with my original classification and there was no change and I stay as a grade 4.  This means that the I will continue to ride the same tests I have been riding this year, though some of my competitors have been down graded so there will be new riders in my classes going forward. Although I was at Hartpury for classification I also managed to to a bit of spectating and the absolute highlight was watching Carl Hester coach Charlotte Dujardin during her warm up and see her trot right by me.

Classification was only the half of it as I also have to apply for compensation aids to be approved.  I ride with velcro slippers which attach to my stirrups and I also use Equilibrium Products Symmetry Straps between girth and stirrup.  My hemiplegia means I have limited control and not much feeling on my right side and these compensation aids are essential to prevent my foot coming out of the stirrup without me realising it, which would not be safe, or from going to far back and really confusing Aslan.  We didn’t realise it until afterwards, but the compensation aids get approved by a different committee to classification and so we had to send the application off via British Dressage. It was pretty stressful waiting to hear if my aids were to be approved as the compensation panel stated they needed 2 weeks to decide on the aids.  I have to thank Rachel Smith from BD who chased the FEI panel on our behalf every day leading up to the start of the competition and we literally received confirmation a couple of hours ahead of my first test at Bishop Burton which was a huge relief, as I wasn’t sure that I would be able to ride without them.  Getting ready for Bishop Burton was a lesson in itself as there we lots of new things to consider including getting our music registered to ride the Freestyle which I hadn’t had to do before.

Me with Olivia Carnegie-Brown and her Silver Medal from Rio

A week after Hartpury I was invited to a reception organised by SportsAid at the Royal Bank of Canada in the City of London.  I am one of fifty athletes sponsored by RBC in 2017 and they were raising sponsorship funds by entering a team into the RideLondon cycling challenge.  I was there to explain how important their sponsorship and support is to me and their other athletes.  As usual with SportsAid events, it was a bit daunting as I new I would be participating in a live question and answer session in front of everyone along with para-cyclist Drew Walker and cyclist Louis Billyard.  As daunting as it is, it’s really great experience for me and one of the definite benefits of being a SportsAid and RBC Athlete.   Tim Lawler was asking the questions and he is really good at putting you at ease and so I think I did ok.  As well as meeting the RBC riders I also got to meet Olivia Carnagie-Brown which was very very cool.  Olivia was sponsored by SportsAid and was part of the Women’s 8 rowing team at the Rio Olympics where she won a silver medal, which she had with her and I got to hold!  RideLondon is on the 31st of July I will be on holidays, but I wish all the RBC and SportsAid riders well and I hope they won’t be too sore after 100 miles in the saddle!

I was also fortunate to go to the World Para Athletics Championships this month at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in London with my Dad and Grace my sister.  I hadn’t been inside the stadium before but did go to the park to see some of the sports during the London 2012 Paralympic games five years ago, and I couldn’t resist recreating a

Grace and me at the World Para Athletic Championships in London

picture of me back then with my union flag which I still have.  I’m a fan of most sports, and it was inspiring to see world class para-athletes from around the world competing at this level.  It was an amazing night as Jonnie Peacock was running in the finals of the T44 100M so the stadium was packed and the atmosphere was amazing.  We were sat at the front behind the start line, and when Jonnie won gold he came all the way around the track to us on a victory lap, high fived Grace and I got to shake his hand which was so cool.  It was an inspiring and brilliant night, we spotted ourselves on TV later and when we posted a picture of it on Facebook the Channel 4 Paralympic team even commented on it!

And then of course there was my first ever International representing Great Britain at the CPEDI 2* Competition in Bishop Burton!

It was my first experience of being away for a whole five days at competition.  Mum helped me get Aslan ready and we set off with Sacha and Emma helping and supporting us too.   Bishop Burton is about four and a half hours away by lorry but the traffic was terrible and it tool us over seven hours to get there.  Aslan travelled well as usual and we had time for a short session and a bit of a stretch for both of us after the journey before settling in on the Monday evening.  The facilities at Bishop Burton are really good and there is plenty of warm up space with two outdoor schools and two indoor as well as the competition arena itself.  We rode again on Tuesday before the trot up which Aslan passed with flying colours.

Me and Aslan riding our first International Test – the CPEDI 2* Novice A at Bishop Burton 26th August 2017

Wednesday was our Novice A test and our first test representing Great Britain.  Mum and Dad arrived with Grace and my little brother Dylan too, and Aslan’s previous owner Rebecca and her daughters even made the journey to see us compete in an International together for the first time which was really nice.  After a good warm up with Sacha we entered the arena for the first time, the bell went and we headed down the centre line to our first halt and salute in an International and it was square! Aslan nailed his first ever mark at International.  It was our first experience of riding in front of 5 international judges (yes five!) and the way the Novice tests are scored there is nowhere to hide.  Aslan was a star and we rode a good test but one slip and a trip into canter on my left reign (the stronger one grrrrr) lost us crucial points and so we ended up with 62.586% and a fifth place, with a 3* rider taking first place with 65.138% so pretty close stuff.  The Novice test is the easiest one we ride, but one slip and it’s pretty much over!  Not a personal best but I was glad to get my first test completed with one of the judges giving me 65.517%.

Thursday was our Team Test and a bit of a reality check on just how tough the judging is at CPEDI 2*!  The five International Judges for this test were from Sweden  Nederland  South Africa  and two from GBR , and no one from USA  who gave us our best score yesterday!  We went pretty well but had a slight stumble on our second 10m volte and again on the left shoulder in that follows it (again what should be our better one grrr) so 60.270% overall with one judge giving me 63.5% and another fifth place,  only 0.4% being the fourth placed rider and less than 2% behind the third, but quite a bit off the 67% first place, again with the more experienced 3* riders taking the first, second and third.  I must admit I was hoping for a better score today but everything went to plan other than the couple of slips, and another test under our belt with feedback to work on and we had qualified for the Freestyle!

Friday was the end of a long week of competition, but I was feeling fine and Aslan certainly had plenty of energy.  He was stabled under FEI conditions which are tightly controlled but I’m pretty sure he got hold of an extra Weetabix from somewhere!  He was raring to go and definitely on a mission, maybe he was inspired by our rousing music or maybe we cantered a bit too much before the bell but either way if Mum had been there she’d have been holding on to her seat in the gallery!  It was a bit too energetic for the judges, but we still managed a 61.8% which was an improvement on our Team Test and we had made it through our first FEI International competition representing GBR.  It was another fifth place giving me a matching set of rosettes for week and while it was not quire the result I wanted (I prefer winning) I’m not really complaining as it was the most incredible learning experience.

Receiving my Jane Goldsmith Training Bursary

We finished with a nice surprise as right at the end of the prize ceremony I received a training bursary from the Jane Goldsmith Foundation for being one of only two riders under 16 competing at Bishop Burton, and the only under 16 riding in the CPEDI 2* classes.  I am very grateful of the award which will allow me and Aslan to have some additional training clinics.  This was a timely reminder that I was the youngest here, so fifth in class at my first International was perhaps not too bad after all!  I really must say thank you to everyone who supported us and got us to our first International.  It was so amazing to ride in the arena to music and a great way to finish the week, so a big thanks to Sarah Morris for providing the music and helping plan the routine (which was awesome if I say so myself).  You can see my tests back to back in this video.

Finally, while I was away at Bishop Burton I received confirmation that I was had qualified to ride in the Para Summer Festival of Dressage at Solihull Riding Club next month, which is the main Summer National competition at Silver and Bronze levels.  It’ll be my first time riding at the competition but I’ll be riding in the Silver category, another new experience as last year I missed out as I had not been riding Aslan long enough to get out to the qualifying competitions, so I am really looking forward to it.  My coach Sacha will be away on vacation, so it will be mum and dad as my support team for the first time at a major competition!  That will also be the end of the summer season for me, and before the end of August I will already be riding Winter Qualifiers!

And that was the end of a very exciting month for me.  I’m now off on holidays to France for a couple of weeks, and I will be using some of the time to prepare my application for the 2017-19 British Equestrian Federation Excel Talent Development Squad.  When I applied for the last programme I did not have my own horse, and I had not even competed in a British Dressage competition, but here we are two years later having just competed a 2* International.

When I get back we’ll be straight into the build up for the Summer Festival of Para Dressage and our first winter qualifier!

Ilse x

Jittery June

June kicked off with another Summer Qualifier competition and our first time to Mount Ballan and my first time competing in Wales.  It was also my first time of competing away on my own with Sacha but without Mum or Dad being around.  Aslan travelled well, and given it was a bit of a longer journey than he is used to on the day of competition he was great – he is a pretty good traveller and good loading onto the lorry too.  He is pretty chilled out about the whole traveling experience, apart from not being a big fan of hanging around in car parks after unloading if he dosen’t know there he is!

We managed to ride two solid tests in some pretty spooky conditions with flowers in the arena, the cars going by and banners flapping away.  We got two respectable scores of 66.03% in the Novice and 65.25% in the Team, which I was really happy with as it was our first time at this venue and considering the wet weather conditions and the setting, I could not have asked much more from Aslan.

Then it was back to school for my mock exams, which I spent May preparing for.  A pretty full on experience with multiple exams each day for a week or so, not an easy time, so fantastic to be back out and about…

I was also really pleased to add Equilibrium Products to my supporters and Sponsors page this month.  I have used their symmetry straps for the last few years since I have been riding horses like Aslan with bigger paces.  The straps attach between girth and stirrup or leathers and are intended to improve rider symmetry.  I use them as a para compensation aid, as they really help me stabilise my my weaker right side.  My old straps were pretty much worn out and Equilibrium were kind enough to provide some replacements and spares.  I also found out that they are very local to where we are based in Buckinghamshire so that was pretty handy as I was able to drop in to pick them up and say thank you in person.  If you look carefully you can seen the straps in action in the image below.

Mid month we were off back to Windmill Farm for another Summer Qualifier.  It’s a very handy competition venue for us as it’s only ten minutes or so from where we are based with Sacha Hamilton Equestrian.  It was a very very hot at 30 degrees plus, so jackets off for the riders.   We had a very a decent warm up in the scorching heat and gained 66.03% in the Novice.  There was a break between tests, but after getting warmed up again for the second test I think we we were both flagging a bit by the time we rode the Team which we gained 64.87% for.  Not quite the scores I was aiming for, but our first experience of riding in pretty extreme temperatures together and definitely lessons learned by me regarding hydration which will be beneficial next time around.

I was also really happy to be able to send a message of support to members of my SportsAid sponsors cycling team from the Royal Bank of Canada who are taking on the RideLondon challenge in support of the SportsAid charity who support athletes like me.  This year, I am one of fifty athletes supported by SportsAid sponsorship provided by the Royal Bank of Canada across 31 olympic and paralympic disciplines.  I won’t be able to cheer on the riders in August as I will be on holiday, but I am going to join them next month at a reception at the bank to wish them well ahead of the bank, and I’ll share more on that in next months blog.

That’s it for June and I am now looking forward to July which I hope will be a big month, I am waiting for confirmation in the next few days that I have been selected to ride my first proper International competition Bishop Burton and if so will be preparing for my first freestyle to music.  I have the qualifying scores so everything should be fine, but it still makes for a jittery end to the month until I know for sure.

More on that next month, I hope you have enjoyed reading this month’s blog.

Ilse x

Mock May

May was a bit of a quieter month for Aslan and myself.

I have been very busy studying and getting ready for my mock exams at the start of next month.  I am in year 11 at school this year, so am having to concentrate for a while on revision for my mock GCSE’s as I am planning to go to veterinary school after A levels and that will not be easy to achieve, but I am determined to succeed.

It is also an important anniversary this month because it’s now a whole year since Aslan joined the team and I can’t believe how fast the time has flown!  As a para-equestrian finding the right horse is not easy.  There are a lot of factors to consider and we were fortunate to find Aslan after a winter of looking and travelling around the country trying different options.

Aslan’s first turn out after joining our team in May 2016

Canter training on Aslan working on my posture

It hasn’t all been school work this month though as I have kept up my training programme with Aslan, just scaled back a little bit to allow time to focus on my revision too.  My ambition to be a vet as well as a competitive international para equestrian means I don’t have much spare time.   For most teenagers, Friday means a time relax and a time to hang out with friends.  For me it means heading to the gym straight from school for a personal conditioning session with my trainer Iain, and then on to volunteer for a couple of hours at Wendover Heights Veterinary Centre to gain valuable experience and knowledge.  I really love it, everyone there is really kind and supportive and I’m really lucky to be able to have the opportunity.  I take my conditioning sessions seriously and I am fortunate to have the support of Fitness4Less in Chesham, who sponsor me by providing personal training sessions every week.

We did get out to compete a Summer Qualifier at Windmill Farm Dressage & Livery this month to add to my qualifying scores.  It was a really hot and humid day, we got really wet in warm up and it was a bit of a steamy day.  I rode the Novice A as a warm up to the Team Test which we have been focussed on in training this month.  This is the Silver combination of tests that I hope to be selected to ride at my first International at Bishop Burton in July, and again at the Solihull Para Festival in August.

Competing a Summer Qualifier at Windmill Farm

The sun was out at Windmill after some pretty horrible showers in warm up, which went really well regardless, but we weren’t quite as forward and connected as we needed to be in the tests, so an ok 67.75% in the Novice A but a disappointing 63.25% in the Team and room for improvement next time around out.  As ever the judge loved Aslan and was very complimentary of his paces, and as I said on Facebook at the time… just need to sort out the rider!!!

Just after Windmill I was so exited to hit the milestone of 1000 Likes on my Facebook page @IlseDressage.  I could not have imagined when we launched the page ten months ago at the end of July last year that we would get get so much support which I am so so grateful for.  I post photos, videos and updates of me and Aslan more regularly there, it’s a great way to stay in touch and I love to share what we are up to together and I love all the Likes and Comments we get back.  If you are on Facebook and haven’t found there yet us you can do so at https://www.facebook.com/IlseDressage/ or just search Ilse Dressage. We are also on Twitter and YouTube too, but all of our updates are usually always on Facebook first.

As the month wound down there was chance to catch my breath over half term, spend a bit more time on the yard with Aslan and also take a trip to South Wales to catch up with my family over the bank holiday, including a surprise BBQ party to celebrate my sisters thirteenth birthday… she’s not that horsey but I even had her help out on the yard this month which was great!

Me with Grace (still 12!) and Aslan

That’s it for May, please subscribe to my blog if you’ve enjoyed reading this and like catching up every month and please do come back next month anyway to find out what happened in June when I will be competing again, please please #joinmyjourney in any way you can, every bit of support counts!

Ilse x

Awesome April

We were straight into April with a visit to Vale View competing for the first time for the Central Region in the Para Home International.  We travelled up on the Friday afternoon to settle Aslan into his temporary accommodation for the weekend and had a good warm up session in beautiful conditions.  It was nice to catch up with old friends and competitors and to meet my Central team mates Julie Payne and Sara Bates.  Then it was the opening ceremony and the emotion of hearing the National Anthem at a competition for the first time, followed by opportunity to relax over a fish and chip supper with all the teams to round the day off.

Warming up with Aslan in the brilliant sunshine before the SQ at Vale View

After an early arena walk on the Saturday Morning was an opportunity to ride a Summer Qualifier in the Home Arena before the Home International kicked off.  Aslan warmed up beautifully in the beautiful sunshine and took everything into the arena for me.  We held our focus and rhythm, kept going forward and gained a personal best with a score for the 2017 Grade IV Novice of 71.03%. Great start to the weekend, and six points of the 12 needed towards the Summers from one ride!

Saturday afternoon was the first round of the Para Home International which meant I got to wear the National Flag for the very first time.  I am half Dutch, half Scottish and part Welsh but riding under the cross of St George of England was no less of a thrill.  This time we were riding in the International Arena riding in front of two judges, and Aslan was on form again in the warm up.

Riding for England for the the first time

The International Arena is not Aslan’s favourite and with a bit of a spook at the judges before the bell he was clearly on edge.  He settled a bit and while he was still a bit edgy he went better and better as the test progressed, with only the odd trip or so  giving us away.   The judge at C gave us 70.34% but H was not so convinced giving us a pretty ordinary 60.0%, so a big split in opinions which resulted in us getting 65.17% over all, and an OK if not spectacular contribution to the team score.

The odds were against us with only three members to our team rather than the usual four, and not being able to drop a score like all the other teams.  Never mind, we all like a challenge and Sara and Julie put in great rides putting us in third position overnight, out of the nine regional teams competing. Saturday night was time relax with the whole family and Sacha all part of the Central team on with everyone sleeping on the lorry for the first time and even Molly and Pucker behaving and getting on together. The fantastic warm sunny weather held through to the Sunday for the final day of competition.

We started better with Aslan more comfortable in front of the judges and gallery than on day one. But something unsettled him into our first medium at F which clearly played on his mind, as once we were back at that end of the school we had another spooky transition to canter too.  There is not much room for error in the Novice tests as they are scored out of just 220 so, with a couple of bad transitions, it was never going to be a great score and we ended up with a disappointing 62.84%.  It was a reminder to me that it’s my job to settle Aslan and be one step ahead of him and reassure him by reacting to distractions before he does to keep him settled.

Two more brilliant rides from Sara and Julie kept us in it right to the end, but inevitably we dropped a place to fourth and just missed out on a podium position.  Incredibly only 1% separated the top four teams and a tough reminder of what might have been.  We didn’t win but I did gain two fantastic team mates in Sarah and Julie and I survived my first Para Home International.

With Central team mates Sara and Julie at the 2017 Para Home International

After the excitement of Vale View, it was back to business at home, a local competition at Windmill Farm and an opportunity to ride the 2017 Team Test for the first time.  It’s a big step up form Novice with the addition of lots of new and more complicated school movements such as rein back, 10m canter loops, 20m circles in medium canter, shoulder in, turn on the haunches and canter-trot-canter transitions to change the rein so it’s pretty challenging and exiting to ride.

At Windmill warming up for my first ever Team Test

First though the Novice test, and with a solid 67.76% another six points and confirmation of the 12 I needed for qualification for the Summer Para Festival at Solihull.  With the pressure off, we could relax and enjoy our very first Team Test and as I came down the centre line for the first time it felt quite special that this was my very first gold test, and the same one I will ride at International competitions at the highest level.  The relaxation clearly helped, Aslan went brilliantly and helped me through the emotion of it and I surprised myself with an amazing 68.38% and a qualifying score for the 2* competition at Bishop Burton.  Aslan I owe you one!

We had one more competition lined up at Hartpury in what was a very busy month, but before heading there we took the opportunity of a training day organised by the Central Region at Fairoak Grange Equestrian Centre with International Para Judge Jayne Peberdy.  Jayne was really fantastic and very very easy to work with.  First of all we worked on our general way of going to improve our straightness and impulsion and over all quality before concentrating on shoulder in, which is one of the more tricky bits of the 2017 Grade IV Team Test.  It was an excellent session and a reminder to focus on improving the basics before worrying about the fancy bits.  I am very gratefully to Jayne as it really was a lovely session and great preparation for Hartpury the very next day.

At the Central Region Clinic with Jayne Perbery

Another good warm up in the barns at Hartpury, followed by a 67.24% riding the Novice in the International Arena, and we were well prepared for our second team test and first at a major venue.  The International Arena at Hartpury College is a fantastic place to compete, and one Aslan seems to like a lot.  Aslan took it all in his stride and again I was really pleased with our score of 65.38% resulting in another couple of red rosettes to return home with and the second qualifying school we needed for Bishop Burton.  So a great day out and a long one too as this was our first late start time too competing well after four o’clock, so after a proper warm down and a quick de-biref with Sacha (and Aslan) we were loaded and back on the road for the long drive home from Gloucestershire to Buckinghamshire.

I finished with the month with a very special opportunity to visit the Old Vic thanks to SportsAid and my sponsors the Royal Bank of Canada who organised a communciations workshop at  at the Old Vic.  It was a great opportunity to work on our communications skills on the Old Vic stage and where Daniel Radcliffe was performing that evening.  If the venue wasn’t inspiring enough, I also got to meet three time Olympian and World Champion open water swimmer Keri-Anne Payne.  Keri is an amazing athlete who swims 10K in open water in her event.  It’s a tough sport and Keri really inspired us and gave us really good practical advice on managing our development and sporting careers too.  The whole event was such a great opportunity and one I am very grateful to everyone at SportsAid and the Royal Bank of Canada for arranging.

On stage at the Old Vic during the RBC SportsAid communications workshop

All this and training as normal, gym conditioning on Fridays as well as volunteering at Wendover Heights Vets once a week too.  So a very very busy month, and before you know it its well into May which means mock GCSEs for me which is why I’m sending this out later than usual.  More of May to come next time, in the meantime thank you to everyone who has supported me through April and I hope you enjoy my blog.

Ilse x


March Madness

March was a pretty big month which started with a bang as we were straight into it with my final squad training session of the BEF Excel 2015 cohort at Vale View Equestrian Centre.  I had the opportunity of both a test ride and training sessions with Maria Eilberg and Angela Weiss in Vale View, under the watchful eye of the programme director David Hamer.  This was my first opportunity to get some feedback on the the 2017 Novice A test and at 69% I was pretty happy with how it went, we then spent the training sessions focusing on improving bits of the test, particularly exercises to improve our medium trot.

I also had final debriefs with my sports psychologist, physiotherapist and programme director David Hamer.  I had some really positive feedback from David which I was really pleased about.  I can’t believe I have completed the programme already.  Its gone really quickly and been such fantastic experience, and so much has happened.  I started the programme in 2015 without a ride and finished it on my own horse and having qualified for the Winter Nationals, so its been a bit of a journey.  I’ve still got plenty to learn but I have gained so much knowledge and experience from the programme, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.  I have learned alongside some fantastic riders, including Amanda Shirtcliff, Anna Mae Cole, Suzanna Hext and Charlotte Cundall who all moved up to the World Class Programme from Excel last year, and I am determined to follow their path.   I will be reapplying for the 2017 programme this year, so watch out for this later in the autumn.

Aslan settled in and chilled out at Swallowfields

Once back from squad training we were off the very next day to a British Dressage training day organised by the Central Region Swallowfields Equestrian Centre in Warwickshire.  The staff at Swallowfields made us feel very welcome.  Aslan had a very nice stable for the day and settled in quickly.  I had a great training session with Jo Swaine who helped me work on getting Aslan straighter, more responsive to my aids  and more connected, before test riding in front of judge John Robertson.  Aslan was brilliant throughout, with plenty of energy left in the tank after two days of squad training before this session, but a bit of a spook during our test brought the mark down to 62%.   From experience, John is a tough but fair judge, having last judged me in Hartpury in January.  On days like this its really useful to understand what a judge is looking for outside of competitions.  The whole day was valuable experience with great tips and feedback from Jo and John who both have great experience.  I hadn’t worked with Jo before but she was fabulous and

Training under the watchful eye of Jo Swaine

it was a really fun session as well as being beneficial.  If you are in the Central Region and haven’t attended one of these training days I’d recommend it whether you are an able bodied rider or para. Thank you Emma Douglas for the loan of your lorry to get us to both Vale View and Swallowfields this month.  The day out to Swallowfields had an extra bonus as it allowed me to qualify to ride for Central Region at this years Home International at Vale View in April.  I haven’t ridden at this event before so it will be another new thing to look forward to next month, and I am looking forward to seeing some of my friends and competitors from the Excel and World Class Programmes there.

Then it was the big one, my first Winter Championships, a very new and very exciting experience for me and Aslan.  Back to Vale View which is becoming a familiar road trip for us but this time travelling in style in Sacha Hamilton’s new lorry and my very first experience of sleeping on a lorry overnight.  I was riding in the Silver Class this year and it was my first experience of riding in front of two judges.  Aslan settled in nicely and went well in the short session we had on Friday night.   We rode a warm up test in the National Arena on Saturday morning in front of Sarah Rodger scoring 63.25%.  Timing of my Novice Class in the afternoon was not great as the heavens opened during our warm up and we were called ten minutes late which didn’t help, and then there was no writer for one of the judges so a further delay.  All in all not ideal.  Aslan went ok for me but I think we were both getting tired by this point.  Our test which you can just about see (sorry its a bit blurry as we did live on Facebook Live and my Dad was a bit shaky!) went pretty well up to a trip on the final medium which had a big impact on our score of 63.52% which put us in third place over all.  Boo…

I was pretty unhappy, as I had my sight on a personal best score and winning the class, but more experience and some valuable lessons learned for next time…

As well as all this I have been training hard, prepping for the Home Internationals next month when I’ll be riding for the Central Region, and also learning the 2017 Team Test which I will be competing soon too. I’ve also been keeping up my gym work with Ian at Fitness4Less, including learning the valuable lesson that if I keep on banging my right leg during spinning classes (even if I have no feeling in it), I will bruise really badly later!   I was also scheduled to ride a competition this month locally at Windmill Farm but it was canceled due to a lack of registered competitors.  This was a shame as it was to be my the first Summer Qualifier competition, but it was also Mother’s Day and it meant that after a good training session in the morning we had a nice family dinner out instead of a competition.  Happy Mother’ Day Mum!

My month ended with a visit to my new SportAid sponsor The Royal Bank of Canada in the City of London, and break from riding for a few days and a geography field trip Dorset – a little reminder of the balance of being a year 10 para dressage rider!  The trip into London for the SportsAid event was a bit weird as I had to go in my sport’s kit.  For most of the other athletes it meant tracksuits, but for me the only option was competition dress, an interesting choice on the tube.  But it was worth it as is was a great event, which included a photoshoot, interview to camera (which I wasn’t quite expecting) and inspiring talks from some of the other athletes and their RBC ‘buddies’.  I am really privileged to be one of 50 athletes representing 31 sports that Royal Bank of Canada are sponsoring this year.  I was awarded with my sponsorship cheque and a nice RBC sponsors hoodie, my picture is on their Athlete Wall and I’m in their SportsAid booklet, all pretty  cool!  SportsAid is also organising a workshop in London next month at the Old Vic to help sponsored athletes develop personal and media skills which I am really looking forward to.

And that’s it for this month, I hope you enjoyed my mad March,  April is already well underway as its been another crazy start of the month, but I’ll update you on that next time!  Thank you for reading my blog and for continuing to support my journey.

Ilse x

Fabulous February

Hello everyone and welcome to my February Blog.  We might be in the middle of the winter but its been a busy month with lots going on, in and out of the saddle.

In training this month I have been really focusing on my position and looking up rather than down, as like most riders I have a bit tendency to so, which results my shoulders to come forward which leads to me losing my  balance. To improve this, I have been working on bring my chest and hands up and shoulders back a bit and using letters markers in the school to focus forward in the direction I am riding.  We have also added a new training aid.  My dad gave me a Bluetooth earpiece which when taped into position means I can hear instructions clearer through the wind and weather conditions without a lot of shouting back and forth.  It’s a a lot easier to react and take  advice on board when someone is speaking in your ear rather than shouting across the school at you !

This month I took the new 2017 Novice Test B out with Aslan for the first time, not in a competition but at a British Dressage Central Region Clinic, with judge and coach Sue McMahon at Brookes Farm in Berkshire.  They have a really great indoor barn at Brookes Farm for warm ups, which Aslan really enjoyed and it was probably the best and easiest warm up we have have done yet.  We pretty much went straight into the test ride when we went outside to Sue, as we would do in a competition, and despite a good warm up I struggled to keep his attention a bit, so it wasn’t the best example of what we can do. It was valuable experience for us both and taught me that you’ve got to be on it the whole time, even after a really good warm up.

BD Central Region Clinic with Sue McMahon at Brookes Farm

Sue gave us some valuable feedback and put us through our paces for the next hour or so after which things were very much improved.  She was really patient and and I found her really easy to work with, so if you get the chance to train with her I’d definitely recommend it.  Sue reinforced some of my learning at home with Sacha and it really made me concentrate and refocus on the things we are working on to improve.  It also demonstrated that if you really concentrate and work on nailing the basics, the harder things get a lot easier.  It was Mum’s birthday that day too, so Happy Birthday Mum and thanks for letting me borrow Dad for the day to be my groom and driver (it was his birthday this month too, and we trained together that day so Happy Birthday Dad too!).  The Grade IV 2017 Novice B is a big step up from the old tests but great fun to ride.  It uses a 60m school which is better for me and Aslan as he is quite a big boy to move around with his big paces.  Next week I’ll be working on the new Novice A in squad training.  This test uses a 60m school too but the school moves are much closer to the old Novice test that I will be competing at the Winter Nationals for the last time.  I really do prefer the 60m tests so I’ll be glad to move on when its done.  I’m doing a similar BD Clinic with the Central Region next month so I’ll let you know how that goes too.

It was also half term this month and I had a bit of a break from training as I went on a school trip to Berlin.  It was a really great trip but a challenging experience too as we visited the camp which was mentally and emotionally draining.   Berlin is a very cool place.  I saw the Bandenburg Gate which was awesome and I also visited the 1936 Olympic Stadium.  There happened to be dressage training going on in the equestrian centre there, and I toughed it out there as long as I could until one of the teachers eventually coaxed me away. You’ve just got to seize every opportunity you can haven’t you!

Meanwhile, back at the yard Aslan was busy living it up and enjoying the good life.  A massage from Equine Physiotherapist Brigit Firth from Anna Johnson & Associates, check up, clean and polish from Equine Dentist David Saw and a pedicure and new dancing shoes from our farrier Oliver Fitkin.   My mum was really quite jealous as it sounded like a pretty good day at the spa!

I was pretty tired when I got back from Berlin but didn’t have much time to worry about it, as the next day I was back in the gym at Fitness4Less Chesham for my weekly session with my personal trainer Iain Duncan…. before starting my first  job! Well sort of anyway and no, not at the gym!  I  have been lucky to get a volunteer position at Wendover Heights Veterinary Centre.  I met two of their nurses at a careers fair at my school and as a result I applied for a volunteer position which I got.  It’s the start of another long journey for me, as when I leave school I really want to study Veterinary Medicine.  It’s super hard to get selected so I am going to have to build a portfolio of experience as well as do very well in my GCSEs and A Levels.  The experience at Wendover Heights is such a great opportunity for me which I am very grateful for, and all the nurses and vets have made me feel very very welcome and I am loving it.  On my very first shift I helped with small animal treatments for a goose, iguana and parrot.  On my second time, there was a chicken – so it’s not all puppies, bunnies and kittens!  As well as being a small animal centre, they are also a full on equine veterinary centre, which I am hoping to experience soon.  It’s an amazing opportunity and I am really proud to be part of the team.

I was also really happy  to receive confirmation this month that I am to receive a SportsAid Award this year thanks to sponsorship by the Royal Bank of Canada.  I knew I had been nominated by my sports governing body, the British Equestrian Federation, but didn’t know what would happen next.  It’s amazing to receive the award which will really help with the costs of my training, kit and competitions this year.  The funding is brilliant  but its also really inspiring to think of all the amazing Olympics and Paralympic athletes who have received SportsAid Awards in the past, including Sir Chris Hoy, Ellie Simmonds OBE, Jessica Ennis-Hill CBE, Tom Daley and Dame Sarah Storey.  How motivating is that!  There is a launch event I get to go to next month at the Royal Bank of Canada offices in London which I am very excited about, without really knowing much about yet!  So a big thank you the British Equestrian Federation, SportsAid and Royal Bank of Canada, I am truly grateful.

If that was not enough, the month was rounded off perfectly with a surprise post featuring me and Aslan on the Charles Owen Facebook page.  They have supported me and provided a fantastic Ayr8 helmet which I use to compete in and we shared the photos a while back.  It was a real treat to see them promote me and Aslan, or Ashe as he goes by in competitions.

So all together it really was a Fabulous February.

Next month it’s the last squad training session for the 2015 cohort, which I am looking forward to as usual, but it will be a bit different without those athletes who have progressed to the World Class Programme and whose footsteps I intend to follow in next time around.  There is also the small matter of the Winter Nationals to look forward to…

That’s it.  Thanks for reading my February blog, and to those doing so for the first time, thank you for Joining My Journey.  I hope you enjoy the ride.

Ilse x

January’s over already and this is my first monthly blog!

Welcome everyone, this is my first attempt at a blog so hope you enjoy reading it.

The new year started with launching this website and blog and before you know it January is over in a flash.  Another month of winter behind us, and one less month to work in the dark through the cold, the wet, the frost and the mist.  But it was a good month with frequent and regular schooling and coaching sessions with Sacha, some lovely hacks with the girls from the yard and increasingly hard gym sessions with Iain every week as he pushes me further every time …. but best of all, the opportunity to get out and compete with Aslan for the first time this year.

It has been a surprisingly busy for Aslan and me (in between me trying to study for my mock exams).  We focussed our training on balancing priorities of developing core skills, getting ready for competitions under the old test and learning the new 2017 FEI tests, which add in collected trot, rein back, turn on the haunches, 10m canter circles and counter and medium canter too, so its going to be a busy year with some exciting changes – I can’t wait !!

At the start of the month I received formal confirmation of my invitation to compete at the Winter Nationals at which I will ride for the first time in March. It was a bit frustrating not to have my invite at the same time as everyone else when I saw them on Facebook and I was beginning to think I had added up my scores incorrectly, so I was very happy and proud to get it though at last! I am really looking forward to it and it will be biggest and most important event I will have competed in to date.

Mounting Aslan with Sacha at Hartpury for our first competition outing of 2017.

I have also been fortunate to get my new saddle settled in this month.  It is a 1/2 inch bigger in the seat and has longer flaps to better fit my legs, that are quite long from hip to knee which you can see in the picture of me mounting.  The new saddle gives me more security in the seat and has helped me improve my posture.  The saddle was measured up, designed and fitted by Kay Humphries from Norton and Newby in Oxfordshire who has been helping me and visiting the yard through last year as Aslan has been developing.  Kay has such amazing knowledge and experience and puts such emphasis on getting it just right for me and always putting Aslan first.  I can’t thank her enough and I’m very happy with the result, as is Aslan.

I competed for the first time this year too on the 28th at Hartpury College.  This was a Winter Qualifier but as I’m already qualified I was able to use it as a practice run for the Winters without any pressure.  Well, not quite, not to make it too easy we decided to show the test live on Facebook Live to add a bit of pressure and help me focus!  We competed the old test 31 first as a warm up,  Aslan was a little tense and we were not as relaxed as have liked and this showed in our score with 65.5%.   After going back to the warm up arena and

Hartpury learning included finding out that Aslan does not like ribbons flapping in the breeze.

having time to reflect on my test, I was able to refocus and get Aslan where I wanted too before going back into the area for the novice test more relaxed and ready to go.  This paid off and as a result we got a personal best of 70.68% and our first red rosette of the year.  I was fortunate to have the support on the day from my dad, coach Sacha Hamilton and my mentor Emma Douglas who came along to cheer me on.  Mum watches me compete live on Facebook as she gets too nervous actually being there….  Thank you to everyone who took the time to watch me and for the kind comments you sent me. If you missed it I have embedded the video here…

It was a busy weekend as on the 29th  I went to the BD Para Coaching Symposium held at Moulton College in Northampton, this time with mum and Sacha and Emma.  This was a very informative day and very useful heading into the new competition season.  We had an informed view on how the new tests look and some judges’ input on what they are looking for, which will help me in the new competition season. I was able to watch Izzy Palmer ride with her coach Angela Wise, who is also one of the coaches on the Excel Programme, and her mentor Paralympian Sophie Wells MBE who Angela also coaches.  It was great to see Izzy ride as she is the same grade as me (old III and new IV for 2017).  We also had a real treat from Sophie who demonstrated her silver winning freestyle in the Rio Paralympics games on Reece.

And finally, back to the beginning, launching this new website and blog at the start of the month was exciting for me as I have never had a website before.  Thank you everyone for all the positive messages you have sent me and thank you to those who voted on which photos I should use, it made it a lot easier!

One last thank you is due to all those who have joined my journey by following @ilsedressage on Facebook this month, and have also started following me on Twitter and Instagram too.  When I’m training on dark damp and cold winter evening it really helps to know that people care enough to stay in touch with my development, and it genuinely inspires me to work hard.  So thank you.  I hope you all enjoy the journey as much as me, and keep on letting me know what you think!

Coming up, I am off on a school trip to Berlin (in preparation for my upcoming mock exams) and I am riding also in a Central Region test event for the first time in February, so another new experience for me – I really am loving every minute of this journey with Aslan.

Thank you for reading this and thanks for your support it really helps and means the world to me.

If you see us out and about do come over to say hello.

Ilse x