Friday, February 28, 2014


Something I have been dreading since I first started riding -
My First Fall
I think its a fear everyone has, its a fear of; the unknown, the breakable nature of your body, the realisation of your frailty and fragility. The horror stories of horrific falls and terrible injuries added both weight and gravity to my instilled fears. As my Instructor Vincent Dempsey from Blackberry Stables Maynooth has told me on many an occasion my survival instincts are VERY STRONG!! These comments were amongst many attempts at him trying to get me to fall off. Him all the while knowing and saying that, once the first one is over its fine after that. While I thought VERY differently - Yea you can say that your not the one falling off - this fear (which is perfectly natural may I add) is what keeps me and my precious posterior firmly glued to the saddle.

Well IT happened!!
I had gotten brave with my riding Star when a few of the others at Blackberry Stables yard asked would you like to try your skills at some cross country. [for those of you readers who may be unaware of what cross country is - it is where you jump around a course of fences like showjumping. However all the jumps are across countryside and are either 'natural' or man-made. Thus meaning they are solid, unbreakable and immovable. Hence if you hit them they will not move, however you or your horse will!! Cross Country is unlike the forgiving showjumping fence where the poles will fall if you hit them]. The encouragement offered by the others was "You don't have to jump everything, you can walk around the ones you don't want to jump" So being quietly courageous I said sure lets do it, myself and Star are up for it.

So five of us headed off. Properly petrified I precariously came up against my first ditch [a ditch where I come from is very different, its a hedge. So I feel honour bound to explain what a ditch is - it is a drain used for drainage of a field or paddock. Or basically a BIG whole in the ground]. On our approach to the ditch Star picked up on my trepidation thus resulting in him stopping dead just before it. My adrenaline fueled jelly legs kicked us on and with shouting encouragement from my Blackberry Stables compadres we got over it. Only problem being we'd to go back over it.

So no Fall yet I hear you say, oh no wait for it. Star and I jumped the ditch and a few other fences and with every fence my confidence grew and thus Stars in me too!!. So the next challenge was to jump up two big steps and down a bank and over a small ditch, NOTHING like the size I had jumped earlier. Executed perfectly until we came to the ditch at the end I forgot to do one of the most IMPORTANT things you need to do in order to jump any fence - 'Give with my hands' [meaning put my arms forward and thus the reins as well, as they are in my hand. In order to give the horse enough room to plunge their neck forward to get over the jump]. I forgot due to the amount of stuff going on in my brain, keep your knee on the saddle, balance, sit forward for the steps but sit back for the bank, keep your heel down, get your bum out of the saddle and so on ............. So forgetting to give with my hands ment Star pulled me clean off. I came off right into a BIG puddle, DRENCHED down one side I jumped up smiling and delighted shouting "WEHOO!!! my first fall and i'm ok, i'm ok WEHOO!!!!" It was a real relief to get it over and done with. IT was also lovely to realise that all my bones where still in tact and that I still had all my faculties.

The Point of No Return

Upon reflection of my fall I realised that there was a sequence to falling and all of which happen within a split second:

  1. The realisation that oh oh I might be coming off, mmm maybe I can right myself 
  2. This is quickly followed by the Point of NO Return, this is the point where you know I'm Coming Off
  3. Ok I'm coming off so how can I best fall? Tuck and roll Clodagh tuck and roll out of it
  4. Then run like hell out of the way in case someones coming behind you
  5. You hit the ground and roll 
  6. Get up ASAP and run out of the jumping line
And I have to say that when I fell Star stop turned around to see if I was ok and then once he saw I was up and walking he bolted off in canter.

The After-Shot

Abstract to say the least!!! So if you are confused as to what this picture is; let me help you figure it out. The white ball in the middle of the photo is my pearl earring that is still in my ear!!!

The full photo of the close up above
This is a full photo of the damage but what I love about it is that I am still smiling :) 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cantering over a Jump

My first Canter over a jump 
This was something I had feared once I started jumping. I was afraid to jump in canter as I was only jumping in trot (which was nerve wrecking enough, thank you!). I would say to myself "there's no way I'm ever going to canter over a jump, that's way to scary". Therefore I kept to practicing what I knew.
However,I was told, the first time you jump in canter that it would just happen organically, and it did!!!

I was out practicing one day and I was jumping around a course of fences with all in intentions to do it in trot and the next thing three jumps in and three to go and it happened. Star and I jumped in canter over the third and the fourth jump then I pulled him back to trot over the last two poles in order for my brain processing to catch up with what had just happened.

My processing and analysis came up with:
It was as if Star had himself decided "Come on your ready to jump in canter now lets go" and he took off and it was AMAZING. As I don't remember asking for canter, Star just knew I was ready. It may sound a bit Karate Kid or like something Mr Miyagi would say, "when the pupil is ready the teacher will appear". In this case, that was so true and my teacher was Star. I was ready to jump in canter and he just did it and taught me that I could do it and that fear was the only thing holding me back. Though I do believe that an acceptable amount of fear is healthy when showjumping as it will keep you alert and safe.

"Horses give us the wings we lack"

Unfortunately because of its spontaneous arrival I don't have a video of me jumping in canter for the first time. However it is a memory that will stay with me a lifetime. The feeling was like as if I was really flying but with out a plane or jet pack, it was just me and Star flying through the air, as one. Thankfully though my instructor Vincent Dempsey and my Mum were there to witness it with me. Which was great to be able to get feedback from people on the ground about what had happened. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Straight Pole

I trotted over my first straight pole with much cajoling from my instructor Vincent Dempsey from Blackberry Stables Riding School, Maynooth, Co. Kildare. In hindsight I do not know what all my stressing was about as he kept the pole low and Star being the trusty steady stead that he is, was WELL able to jump it. It was just my fear that was holding me back! The straight pole just looked so much more scary than the cross pole did.

So once I recovered that I was alive and well after having jumped a straight pole, I wanted another go. I had my hit of adrenaline and I was looking for another one. The exhilaration of jumping with a horse was just amazing (even though this was all at a trotting pace). Vincent told me it was only going to get better! and how right he was. However he did tell me that in order to put the jumping poles up higher I would have to be coming into the jumps in canter. DON DON DON!!!!!!! Next scary point, there seems to be an unending array of things to be fearful of in horse riding or maybe its the fact that I came to it so late and that I know that broken bones take time to heal and its longer when your older!!!!

I hear you say why is it that you need to canter over higher poles?
This is in order to give the horse/pony better impulsion to be able to clear the jump easier. Basically it would be like us trying to do the high jump or pole vault from walk.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Riding without stirrups
Yep you heard me right!! riding without stirrups!! Why in GODS name would you attempt that?? Well that's exactly what was going through my mind the first time my instructor, Vincent Dempsey from Blackberry Stables Riding School decided that this was to be my next challenge. Supposedly Vincent swears by riding without stirrups in order to teach you balance and feel.

Well, as you can imagine taking away your stirrups gives you PLENTY of opportunities to practice your balance. Even just in walk the sensation of riding without the security of your stirrups is disconcerting enough without then kicking on to attempt trotting without stirrups!! 

For my pioneering plunge into riding without stirrups I was on Star and praying not to hit the deck as he has a really bumpy trot. I kicked Star on into trot and I had to hold him back from trotting too fast because if he started his 'lets trot at the speed of canter trick', I was a goner. However trying to get the balance between holding him back enough to keep a nice slow trot going and not pulling him back to walk, was a challenge. Not to mention the whole factor of also trying to balance to stay on-board in the first place due to having no stirrups!!!

Vincent shouts instructions from the side lines, all the while I'm trying to balance and look relaxed when that's the furthest thing from my mind and bodily reactions! Which are both obvious to Vincent my instructor, so he tells me to:
                - Stop gripping with your knees
                - Relax and breathe
                - Sit into the saddle 
                - Relax your legs down the side of the horse
                - Point your toes to the floor
                - Let the energy dissipate out through your tummy
                  (his did not make sense till after I got how to do it)

As with many other things with riding, this lesson was no different and was to take many many many attempts and practice before I could say I was in harmony and in timing with my horse. Star did not help matters by having a very bumpy stride and his fondness of taking off in trot, threw my balance off many a time (and still does - that's the mischievous Star for you) 

When riding without stirrups it is to be expected that your derriƩre will be in tatters.
The constant impact (as your more than likely doing it wrong) gives your rear a fare bashing.
So much so I genuinely think that I bruised my sitting bones
(however bruises do not actually show on your derriƩre - I've checked due to the pain caused)

Horse riding without stirrups should come with a warning.
My suggested warning would be:

Expect extended periods of standing post practice
We recommend the following product should you wish to continue your practice

This technique of riding without stirrups is one that I am told takes years to master to be fully in-tune and in harmony with your horse without gripping for dear life with your knees and hands (and anything that will help you to stay on!!)

Monday, February 3, 2014

My First Jump

Cantering on Star:
Star has this funny trait, when you ask him to canter from trot, he just gets faster in trot. My theory behind this is, that its a test! If you don't put your leg in the right place or apply the right pressure at the right time or maybe if you ask him to canter and he reads you to be a novice! I think Star says to himself "lets have a bit of fun with this one" and he starts to trot really fast (as if to try and unseat his rider so he doesn't have to canter at all). So there has been some interesting times learning and practicing my canter on Star, the little trickster.
Now that I have practiced my canter on the ever so bumpy Star!!!
Vincent suggests I try my first jump over a cross pole!!!!!
I'm not sure there is just one word to describe how I felt about this comment:
- due to the amount of adrenaline pumping around my veins

One very nervous Clodagh picked up her reins and kicked Star on for her first jump.....
Does she stay on.........
Will she have a fall........
Watch to find out

Well I stayed on!!!! WEHOO!!!! I laugh when I see this video because if you look, Star jumps and after the jump if you look closely at me you can see that I stay glued to his mane in my jumping position, as if to say I AM NOT COMING OFF, NO WAY NO HOW!!!! 
First jump down next achievement is to jump a straight pole.