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

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