British Equestrian Vaulting Championships 2018
Defending the title this year was HARD. It felt as if the fates were conspiring against me and I just had the feeling that I was drowning in everything. I was struggling so much with health and injuries and it was so hard to train. I wasn't getting any horse time because the way the vaulting club organised booking sessions trained so, because I wasn't sure if I could commit to a whole block of sessions (I was waiting for my shoulder op - and still am!), I could only book occasional sessions. I was still training really hard at home on my barrel and doing lots of conditioning. Basically, I was as fit and ready as I could be without actually practising on the horse.
|Riding on holiday in France, when the shingles started...|
|Beam was about the only apparatus I could use - but even lifting my arms up like this was painful!|
At the same time......the RDA Group was struggling desperately. Of our five horses, two had had to be retired; two were ill (one very seriously); and one had been put down over the summer. We weren't doing any riding, therefore, although we still met up for sessions on the barrel and the mechanical horse. Without the real thing, though, the RDA felt really strange and we were all desperately worried about what would happen next. It really felt tragic.
|Me with Beethoven at the 2016 Regionals. RIP Beets 😢|
An unwelcome headache!Then, the day before the entry deadline, I received an email from the vaulting club telling me that there was no horse available for me to use with the club (for the horse's welfare, they can only accrue a certain number of 'points', which are allotted depending on which classes they are entered into). Spaces were instead going to people who had been going to training. I could see that that was fair but the implication that I hadn't been training just because I hadn't been on a horse was so unfair - I had been training so incredibly hard.
I was utterly devastated that my own stated intention to compete, which had been made months before, was made impossible. I was also pretty cross that I had been given so little notice - surely they would have been able to put the numbers together a little sooner? As the only defending British Champion in the club, it seemed a shame that they weren't interested in helping me to defend the title. Unusually for me, I responded and stood up for myself a bit, but I never received any response.
|Ceci n'est pas un paillasson...|
I don't want to say any more because although there is much more that could be said I simply don't have the strength for that, nor the appetite. All I'll say is that I felt betrayed, patronised and, to be honest, discriminated against. I was powerless and entirely dependent on someone else coming through for me.
Feeling 💩My mood can be fragile even though physically I can keep going with a lot thrown at me. I have bipolar disorder and I expect to be on medication for life. With the bipolar came a few other diagnoses (such as BPD and OCD). My self-esteem isn't great and, although it's not something I talk about often, my bipolar affects me more than I'm comfortable to admit. With everything that was going on - quite apart from the aspects of my life which aren't horse-related (yes, there are some!) - I felt horrendous.
It wasn't a nice time.
Hurrah!Fortunately, salvation came in the form of a rather successful vaulting horse, Pitucelli, and his rather successful former vaulter, Lucy Phillips - all thanks to Gill Taylor, who made the arrangement on my behalf with Becca Hewit. Between them, Gill, Becca and Lucy came together and helped me out - ENORMOUS thank you to them. I had never met Pitu before, much less vaulted on him, so that would have to be something new to discover on the day of competition, but there was A Plan and I would be able to have a stab at defending the title!
Well, it should have been plain sailing from there. OK, I didn't know the horse. OK, I was still falling apart. OK, I still couldn't really get on a horse to train - but surely nothing else could go wrong?!
Trying to trainI managed to book a few private sessions at Contessa, which is the club where I coach. Without these sessions I am utterly convinced that I wouldn't have been competitive at the British. It gave me a chance to experience vaulting on a horse that was fairly new to me (even though I'd popped up a couple of times before, and had coached plenty of vaulters on him with me on the ground) which was good practice for Pitu. It also helped me to finetune the routine a little more. I'd also competed on a borrowed horse for the RDA Championships earlier in the year, and had therefore learned the main things I needed to discover about a new horse before going in to compete (what is the roller like - especially the handles? How pronounced is the horse's spine? How does it feel to do a shoulder stand on this horse? and so on).
|Not a private session, but same lovely horse and lovely lunger. In this picture I'm discovering how tricky it is to talk and explain something coherently whilst also trying not to make an ass of myself by falling off...|
REALLY?! 🤢My body wasn't going to make it easy. To add insult to injury, the day that we left for Wales for the competition I woke up and was very sick. It was officially the worst-timed stomach bug in the history of mankind and I almost wanted to laugh at how ridiculous it all was. I spent the Friday trying to work out if I could eat yet (answer: no). On the Saturday, I went to watch the vaulting for a bit but felt utterly dreadful. I was really grateful that, this year, the para class was only competing on the Sunday and not both days! After bringing up my breakfast I realised that my best chance to get on a horse without throwing up would be to stop eating. All of Saturday and Sunday, therefore, I stuck to lucozade. (It's magic stuff.)
One of the biggest problems with this was that it meant I couldn't take all my normal medication - even if I have a slightly smaller tea than average I wake up in the night and throw up all the pills if there wasn't enough in my tum. The medication is there for a reason and is designed to body and soul together, so not having it all is a gamble but one I had to take. I felt very empty, very weak and very tired, but on the Sunday morning I arrived at the venue bright and early (well, early anyway) and met Pitu for the first time. We had a quick warm-up together and then we were in the ring for round 1.
The competition...I remember basically nothing about it except that when I came out I wasn't very happy. When the scores came up, I was in first place, but only just - by 0.02 of a point. I knew that, under normal circumstances, I could do better - but these weren't normal circumstances; they were anything but. The problem is, of course, that you don't get to have a chat with the judges beforehand and tell them your sob story. They take you as you are, no matter how you're feeling. I don't like to make excuses for me performing badly, and on this occasion I hadn't performed well.
ResultLong story short: it was enough. I finished on a much better score after round 2 and I had won.
|British Para Vaulting Champion 2018|
What now?I have a mantra which is this: if you're not dead or in hospital, you go to your goddamn training session. These days it's harder - I now usually have to drive to get to training but I hope I'm a responsible driver and if I'm not well enough to drive then I don't get behind the wheel. However, if I can't get to training I'll make sure I do something at home instead. The theory behind this is that if I can train when the chips are down and I feel like 💩 then I can compete like that. It's useful psychologically to know that you can do it and that you won't make excuses, because you don't make excuses. It comes down to this: how you compete is how you train, and how you train is how you compete. If you make excuses in training, you'll make them in competition.
I'm not proud of the event or the result because of everything that made it so difficult. To me, those things are excuses and I should be able to overcome any and all of them better than I did. Perhaps the thing that I am most proud of is that, as a result of everything that happened, I learnt other things. I started to learn about standing up for myself more. I learnt about how to cope with vaulting on a new, unfamiliar horse. Mostly, I learned patience - and that's what I want to write about next time.