Thursday, 28 July 2016

RDA Nat Champs - Vaulting

On the Saturday of Hartpury I didn't have any classes, so instead I watched Jodie and Anne compete in the Countryside Challenge phase of their Combined Training (which also includes dressage). Both were riding Boysie, and I was pleased to see that he was relaxed and co-operating! By the end of the day they had both performed fantastically. Jodie came fifth in her class and Anne came fourth. We are very proud of them both!
Anne and Boysie looking stunning in the Countryside Challenge.
Whilst we were waiting for results, I took the opportunity to find out what was going on with vaulting. This had been a little complicated - initially they hadn't put a time up for the vaulting class, and when I checked it turned out that it would almost certainly clash with my dressage. I'd raised this as an issue but hadn't really heard what was going to be done about it. I hate not being in control of a situation and not knowing what I'm doing (especially when I've put a lot of work into making everything just right!) so it was good to meet the people organising the vaulting competition and get it all sorted out.
After putting my mind at rest on that count I ran through my routine on the barrel which was out for demonstrations, and which would be the one in use for the competition. One bonus of it was that it was a decent length, which makes a forward roll much easier! On the other hand, compared to the one we have in Cambridge, it was covered in quite a slippy material and the handles were really small, which meant that my assisted stand in the handles (where they basically prop me up) would be tricky - but not impossible. I wasn't happy that I'd managed to attract a small audience to watch me running through the routine, but then it was out in the middle of everything. Anyway, I was gratified to feel that - despite the small handles and the worryingly slippy material - things would probably be fine. I wasn't sure that I would be as confident standing - which I never do on a horse, but which I'd hoped to manage on the barrel - but that would be something to think about overnight and decide the next morning.
This particular episode has made me realise the value of having back-up plans - something I've since discussed with other vaulters. When you go into a competition, you obviously need to know what you plan to do. However, if for whatever reason you need to change an element, you need to have a plan for that. This means, of course, that you need to know how you're going to get into and out of that element too, which makes the whole thing quite complex. However, it's much better to have worked this out in advance than to be improvising halfway through your routine. At the level I'm currently at, there isn't even an advantage to performing more difficult moves - there is no mark for difficulty of routine, only for execution, so really it makes sense to keep things simple and do them well. The only advantages of introducing more difficult moves are if they add more variety to your routine and/or they bring out elements of your music. My routine was definitely dreamed up with variety and applicability to music in mind, meaning that I needed to have a back-up plan if any of the more difficult elements didn't work.
Trying and failing to get my right foot into the left stirrup...
There were various elements which I thought might have to change depending on the nature of the barrel and my nerves! I was pleased to be able to keep in the roll and the arabesque/needle and Y-stand. Hanging off the side was made harder by the fact that there wasn't a proper roller on the barrel, and so the cossack stirrups were just loose stirrup leathers buckled through the handles. I kept the move in (it fitted with 'fly upside down with their legs in the air') but pushing myself up with my hands was a bit less dignified than using my stomach muscles to pull me up, which I can do with a proper roller. The only other main change I made was to the section before the last few moves. In training, I'd attempted to stand and then march on the spot whilst turning 180°. This hadn't always gone to plan even at home - standing is not my strong suit and once you start to wobble up there it's difficult to get your balance! I added in a quick splits instead and then aimed to stand very briefly, with just a few steps of marching on the spot but facing forwards throughout before stepping into the handles for more support. 
This is a move I always have to think about carefully before including, because it always makes me black out! :)
So much thought that has to go in for one minute of performance! 
Like this, except there's nowhere near enough underwater...
Anyway, on the Sunday morning I got togged up in my costume for the first time. We made our way up to the stables and John dropped off my dressage kit (for a quick change afterwards) whilst I made my way to the indoor arena where the vaulting would take place. I met Helen - my super helper for the morning - then handed in my music and started warming up. We were there by just before 10am which gave plenty of time for me to stretch and have a quick run-through on the barrel. Not long after 10.30 it was time to start! 
The video shows me marking some of the start of the routine on the barrel.
Helen and I marched in together. I'd lent her my show jacket so that we both looked smart and broadly as if we might be something to do with the RAF! I even had my spare crutches with me which are blue so they match (even if they are blue with penguin print). Our marching in music was the Battle of Britain March, which is a good stirring tune. We marched in, bowed and saluted to the judges, then marched over to the barrel. At this point there was a long pause whilst the lady found my music for the routine, which then started in the middle of the piece, leading to another pause whilst it was put back to the beginning. I felt a bit of a wally standing there grinning inanely whilst waiting for the rumble of aircraft engines which heralds the beginning of 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines' so I was relieved when it actually started properly! Helen bunked me up very smoothly and we were away.
I mounted to knees, then went straight into prince seat. The 'waving my arms around part' here was one which I used a few times - look strong and manly and muscley for 'magnificent men' then pretend to be an aeroplane for 'their flying machines'. Unimaginative but effective! I hopped up to a needle ('impress all the ladies')...
 ...and then into a Y-stand ('and steal all the scenes'). 
Turning backwards on the 'neck', I went into a forward roll towards the 'bum' end ('looping the loop'). Not really knowing what else to do during the words, 'they're all frightfully keen', I had opted to wave my legs around in time with the music! 

After this there was a brief instrumental which gave me time to get my right foot in a loop and hook my right leg over the left handle so that I could lie back for 'fly upside down', then lift my left leg for 'with their feet in the air'. Next I came up to a sideways prince seat then down into the splits, before feigning astonishment and concern at the antics of 'those young men and the chances they take'!
Finally I stood with feet in handles (easiest way to balance!), did a bit more magnificent arm-waving and aeroplane arm-waving then, after pointing 'up-tiddly-up up' I jumped 'down-tiddly-down down'!
It all seemed to go down quite well and I was relieved that, apart from a brief moment of panic where I got my head stuck following the forward roll (meaning that my planned demonstration 'defying the ground' was a bit less planned but no less vivid) it had pretty much gone to plan. The Battle of Britain March started up again; Helen and I bowed and saluted to the judges; and then we marched out (well, I say marched, but it's hard to march properly with a limp, a crutch, and a justified fear of stacking it!). Then, it was straight to Boysie's stable to get changed! There were, of course, more appropriate changing facilities on site but we were very much under time pressure and they weren't easy to get to quickly. Helen took Boysie off for a quick warm-up whilst I made a rapid transformation from Magnificent Man to Dressage Diva.
Getting changed in a stable - like Jesus. Kind of...
More on the dressage test and results later - now you have to imagine skipping forward until after my test and to me awaiting results!
I didn't even have this little madam to cuddle this year either :(
The vaulting results took a long time to come up. We knew that all the competitors had gone, but because we'd all been in a rush to get me ready for dressage we didn't really know what their routines had been like. I was trying to avoid watching the dressage because I didn't really want to watch the people competing in my class, but nor did I want to go all the way down to the Countryside Challenge field - it was too far away from the results tent! I'd already done the Horse Care quiz the day before so didn't even have that to distract me. Nightmare!
Horse care for beginners.
I was sitting on the grass near the dressage doing my best to watch other people's classes when Helen came up and informed me that I'd won my age group (which was good news, but not amazing as there had only been one other person) and that I had also won overall, beating all the competitors in the other age groups too (which was better news!). To be honest at the time I think I was bit too pent up about the dressage scores to enjoy the moment. I was happy, obviously, but I was still very strained!
I am happy, just...worried as well...
I went to have a look at the results for myself. In all honesty they don't mean much to me as I don't know what they're marked out of... However, it was nice to see a clear lead ahead of the lad in my age group and a fairly decent margin of victory over the others too. When I got my score sheet it was rather bare compared to jumping/dressage/the other vaulting competition I've done. The one comment was positive though - 'worked really well with your music' - and did reflect extensive thought on the matter!
Deep in thought on my makeshift vaulting horse...
Olivia's dressage result had also come in by this time. She had come fourth, which was a bit disappointing for her because she had the same score as the rider who came third. Where there is a tie they look at a particular subset of scores ('Collectives' - posture, control, and so on) and award the higher placing to the rider with the higher score in that particular area. She was a bit disappointed that she had come so close to top three but this time last year she would have been thrilled (and indeed was thrilled with 6th place). It's a sign of how dedicated she has become over the last year; of how determined she is to succeed, and how high her standards are. I still think that fourth place in the country (and only by a whisker) is a pretty tremendous achievement, especially in a competitive class like Grade III dressage. To achieve this with a horse who is lovely but not as natural a dressage horse as many of his competitors is even more remarkable, especially when Olivia doesn't have someone else to train him for her.
Olivia collecting her rosette from Sam Orde, Chairman of RDA
Anyway, vaulting had gone well. I was even awarded a rosette for being the 'Best Turned Out Individual Vaulter'. I hadn't even known that there was a prize for that! Still, it made the hours of work put in by me and my mum (who sewed badges, 'medals' and 'buttons' onto my leotard - NOT an easy job) even more worthwhile. The costume had been months in the planning - the leotard was made to order from China (which was cheap, but took some time), I had two pairs of leggings in case of disasters, the hat had been carefully and painstakingly painted which took several hours, and even finding the buttons, ribbons and badges to sew on the leotard took ages. The badges were made by finding images online, doctoring them on a laptop, reversing them, printing them out onto t-shirt transfer paper, transferring them onto a cheap white kid's t-shirt I bought in Tesco, and then finally being sewn on by my mummy! All in all quite a lengthy process so it was nice for there to be recognition and for me to be able to show my mum that something she had done had been so helpful in creating the right impression.
The 'I wasn't expecting THAT!' face on being given two pretty rosettes.
I was also given a sweet little trophy with a horse's head on it which I get to keep until next year. Maybe then I can win it back!

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