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Rider fitness – We don’t just sit there!

If you’ve spoken to non-horsey people about riding, or Dressage in particular, the you’ve probably heard that ‘horse riding is not a sport or exercise, you just sit there’.

I used to be one of these people that believed this and that horse riding was not a form of exercise. Boy was I wrong! A 45min lesson (even 20mins) has me and my horse sweating and puffing from working our bodies correctly in new ways mentally and physically.

Keeping fit out of the saddle is extremely important for longevity of rider and horse. You cannot expect a horse to carry a dead weight around the arena! Improving fitness and strength in the gym (or at home) will also carry over to riding. So I regularly hit up the gym and track my macros with my PT’s support to reduce my overall weight and increase muscle strength. I’m even in the process of preparing to compete in the bikini division of bodybuilding for 2020!

There’s many exercises directly related to riding. These include core exercises, seated rows, hip thrusts, deadlifts and squats. Each strengthen a different or multiple aspects of the body. We need strong legs and adductors to maintain stability and balance; and strength in the abdominals, shoulders and lower backs for upper position and rein control.

I have never been as fit in the saddle as I am today, but there’s always room for improvement. Stretching for flexibility is another topic…however just as essential to being a good rider.

Leave me a comment about your own fitness journey in and out of the saddle! I’d love to find out how you cross train to improve your own riding.

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Neue Schule Bit Review

I’ve been looking at ways to make my horse more comfortable and less likely to open her mouth during riding. My sister tagged me in a post from Bit Bank Australia regarding the Neue Schule bit range and how they differ from regular double link snaffle bits.

After chatting with Bit Bank Au about my mare I decided to go with the Turtle Top for its restricted movement forward and backwards in the mouth. We’ve had contact issues which are slowly getting better, but I thought it was worth a try as we’ve had the same bit for about 10months now.

I also went with the eggbutt shape to stop the bit sliding out of her mouth when she opened it. This design seemed to stop this happening when I rode and she also seemed a lot more comfortable. Time will tell if it is worth the money I paid haha (wasn’t the cheap bits I’m used to buying).

Also, I was excited to see that she was chewing on it and there was saliva, something that she rarely did for the whole time I’ve had her.

Overall it fit perfectly and we had a first great ride! Thanks to Bit Bank Australia for suggesting this bit and I’ll keep you all updated on how she goes on my Instagram.

If you’ve have experience with the Neue Schule range leave a comment below or on my Instagram post! I’d love to hear about your experience.

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What motivation means to me

You see so many people competing, training and actively pursuing their dreams, but what motivates them to strive for their goal’s day in day out for years? What motivates me to get out of bed before the sun and jump on my horse before a nine-hour day at work followed by an hour of weights at the gym? I can’t say I’m always motivated…It’s hard! And I’m sure my horse does not care one bit if I ride her or not. 

Motivation is defined as… ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way,’ (lexico.com). My motivation comes from my goals and what I would like to achieve with Bjorn and as a rider. These motivations make me feel good and I am learning to enjoy the journey not just the end goal being achieved. That is why it’s so important to set short-term, weekly and individual training session goals.  

What keeps you motivated to train yourself or your horse? Do you step back and reassess your motivation for riding or competing or even your ever-evolving goals? 

I have a few things I do to stay motivated to train… 

Being prepared for the next day before I go to bed helps tremendously for the struggle of getting out of bed. By being realistic with how many times I actually plan on riding that week pushes me to stick to a schedule. Each ride I try and stick with a small training goal so that I achieve even baby steps. I always visualise certain aspects of my training session as well. This allows me to recognise when the training goal has been achieved or Bjorn has understood the aid.  

Things that motivate me to train: 

  1. My goals of competing at a high level of dressage (Advanced & above) 
  1. Seeing small improvements in Bjorn’s (my horse’s) training 
  1. Knowing that every ride is one step closer to my next competition 
  1. Feeling inspired by equestrian videos or tips  

I so easily forget how lucky I am to be able to do what I do, that I have the support of my family and boyfriend to train (almost) every day and have access to fantastic coaches! Appreciating the little things and enjoying the process is also a part of my motivation. 

Happy 2020 – Kick start those goals

Happy New Year! Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way and you’ve probably made a list of NY’s resolutions that you want to achieve for the year, have you also thought about what you’d like to achieve in your dressage and riding with your equine partner?

I’ve had a look (read) around the web of some of the best goal setting processes for horse riding and here is my compilation of my top 5 tips!

1. Make them achievable and realistic (SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely)

2. Set out a plan of attack and list the smaller steps that contribute towards your goal.

3. Celebrate the little wins!

4. Be consistent.

5. Make change. If you’re doing the same thing and expecting different results, it’s time to reassess what you’re doing.

How to track your progress

Videoing your training is a great way to visually analyse what you’re doing in the saddle as well as how your horse is responding and moving. You could also keep a training diary and competition records to keep track of how everything is progressing towards your goals.

My Top Goals for 2020

1. Achieve a clean, consistent and resistance free transition into canter on both reins by 30th June.

2. Compete in Prelim with 65%+ score and progress into Novice once goal 1 is achieved.

3. Medium trot

4. Leg yield with light aids and correct bend by September.

5. Lengthening in canter once the canter is balanced.

The great Hendra debate

An article in theland.com.au about the Hendra vaccine brought up some interesting points regarding the issue of vaccinating against the deadly disease or choosing not to. There is a current class action against Zoetis Australia, the producer of HeV vaccine, in that they misled the public to believe that all areas of Australia were high risk for horses to contract Hendra where flying foxes were present (Ellicott, J., 2019). The claimant also alleges that the risk was low in the vicinity of identified incidents as well as outside of those particular areas.

Conflicting information has been presented by Zoetis in contrast to cases of severe reaction to the vaccine which have ended up costing thousands of dollars in veterinarian bills. The vaccine company also stated that their initial research presented, “no serious or life threatening reactions,” (Zoetis, as cited by Ellicott, J. 2019). There have been quite a few different issues that have arisen out the Hendra debate including theses reactions, delays in treating horses who are not affected by Hendra, and consequences in choosing not to vaccinate. One claimant in the class action lost her job when she didn’t continue vaccinating after her horse had an adverse reaction to the vaccine and needed over $30,000 in medical treatment.

Many organisations, studs, and equestrian centres require that visiting horses are vaccinated in order to compete or breed. But does the vaccine actually work? According to the Australian Veterinary Association (2019), no vaccinated horses have ever contracted Hendra virus, and the vaccination also provides protection for the horse and humans in contact. Despite this information, vaccinations around the Queensland racing industry of thoroughbreds are on the decline (Bate, P., 2019).

Whilst this may be the case, unwell horses are being refused adequate treatment for other issues when they are not up to date with Hendra vaccinations, even though it is not mandatory. One family lost their horse to plant poisoning whilst waiting for a Hendra confirmation to come back (Calver, O., 2019). They are now raising funds to develop rapid testing to rule out the deadly disease and be able to safely treat horses quicker.

I chose to vaccinate to protect myself and my horse but do believe that there needs to be a solution to ensure horses don’t also suffer reactions to the vaccine. With more testing and the potential for a rapid test, we can continue to protect the ones we love.

Do you vaccinate? If not, why?

©  Shae Rudd 2019

Making it look easy

Explaining to non-riders what I do can be quite a task and sometimes I just say I horse ride instead. It can be a lengthy explanation that goes through explaining that we don’t jump over poles or fences, or race around to be the fastest competitor.

To me it is training, training and a whole lot more training of horses to move in a certain way that creates more relaxation, more push and more power to improve the overall picture when riding. The amount of time actually spent in the competitive arena is minuscule compared to the hours, early mornings and late nights training (or just feeding and mucking up manure).

Ever watched an athlete and think, ‘hey, I could do that!’ Well, welcome to dressage; the art of looking like you just sit there whilst the horse dances away.

The trick is with this sport, the more you know the more you appreciate and enjoy watching it and sometimes, even play along and score the top riders to see how your judging skills rack up.

What is dressage though? Dressage consists of predetermined movements performed with or without music between 12 set markers in a 20mx60m sand arena that is scored by one or more judges on the quality and ease that the horse and rider completes the routine (test).

When performed correctly, the horse and rider almost float and bounce along as ‘one’. It can be quite beautiful to watch.

Often compared to ballet, the intense connection between both human and equine athletes is a thing of beauty to behold ~ FEI.org

Dressage is often used as a tool for other equestrian sports including show jumping and eventing for its high quality of training techniques and communication or obedience between rider and horse. We often aim to bring out the best of each horse’s natural ability as an athlete in their own right.

So, whether you’re a rider or non-rider watching the best of the best in the dressage world compete in freestyle (routine with music) in the Grand Prix (highest level of dressage), anyone can come to enjoy watching dressage and appreciate that making it look easy is actually a lot of work.

©  Shae Rudd 2019

Dressage gave me purpose

It’s amazing to think that just over 6 years ago was when I first fell in love with horses and the processes behind riding such a majestic beast.

I moved from Pony Club competitions to training in dressage. The intricacies of my minute movement (aids) and how each communicate a different thing you’d like the horse to do is what makes dressage so interesting to me. Whether he or she does the ‘correct’ response is another question…

Bjorn’s transformation from a difficult horse to ride into a unified force, has only amplified my motivation to continue training her through the classical scale of training from the easy walk to more complex leg yield. I always aim to make sure I am being completely clear with my rein and leg aids. Continual learning and striving for the unattainable perfect ride in this sport is why it’s so addictive.

For a while I competed in Pony Club dressage but soon realised that I needed help. No matter how hard I tried I could never get my horse to work with me. She was constantly resisting the bit resulting in lower marks in competition. A difficult decision to make, some time out was essential to assess my future in riding and my horse Bjorn. I had no formal training and was quickly losing interest in something I had once loved. My parents saw this and gifted me with two riding lessons as a present for my 24th birthday. I cannot thank them enough because it was just the kick I needed to keep going.

A few months later I discovered my current coach Matthew Lord and after just 45mins he had my horse responding to my aids in a way that was magical.   I’ve been getting lessons from him for over a year now and the connection between my horse and I has improved out of sight. Our first official competition back had us achieve a 1st place and a huge improvement in overall marks. The time I took off to work on training with Bjorn allowed me to gain a greater understanding of what good horsemanship, patience and understanding means as well as a new purpose in life. I will never be the same because of my parent’s gift and the lessons my horse has taught me in the art of dressage.

©  Shae Rudd 2019

Brisbane CDI from the sidelines

Last week I volunteered at the Brisbane CDI and loved it! I only had to pack rider bags and collect sheets for a few hours but that let me get an insight into the event and what I should expect if I ever compete at it.

The judges were friendly as well as all the stewards. I got to watch the Novice tests and some of the Freestyle on the Saturday too. The day went extremely quick and before I knew it, my volunteering was done!

On the Sunday I watched the Masterclass run by USA rider Laura Graves. She went through the levels from 3-4yr olds up to Grand Prix.

It was great to see each horse and rider combination improve in various ways including being forward and in front of the leg, working on the pirouette canter plus more!

My main takeaway from the Masterclass was working on the aids and only correcting the horse when it makes a mistake; so staying quiet and not ‘driving’ the horse.

All in all it was a great weekend at the Brisbane CDI and I rushed home to ride my own horse!