Becoming a Para Rider: lessons and new saddles

Para rider Sallyanne explains what happened during her coaching session with Nina Venables on her first lesson away from home...

I’d been doing well with Flynn during our weekly dressage lessons, so I was keeping an eye out for upcoming British dressage training clinics. When I finally found a date I could do, I jumped at the opportunity to see if I could coordinate attending with my instructor Beth.  

I spoke to Beth and due to the session being para and senior we decided to take Chelsie our youngster out for the day trip as well. Beth would ride Chelsie first, warm Flynn up and then I would ride.

As I have mentioned before when I do anything it’s with an entourage. It takes six people to help me safely to get me on board and off again. 

 Beth spent the day working on Chelsie's strength and straightness

Beth spent the day working on Chelsie's strength and straightness

Thank goodness I have some very kind and helpful friends. I really appreciate their help as without it I couldn’t ride.

This means that Lynn (Beth’s Mum) was asked to drive the lorry.

The lorry, Flynn and Chelsie were loaded up in Old Sodbury and Lynn drove us to the venue at Leyland court about 30-45 mins away from the yard.

It was all actually quite a steep learning curve. Leaving the comfort of the yard was a big deal.

Beth rode Chelsie first, with our instructor Nina Venables, who is a coach to the world-class development para equestrian dressage squad.

Nina was great and once Beth had warmed Chelsie up (who is five and hasn't been out much) Nina suggested we have a larger input in the session and work out what we wanted to achieve. 

Beth knew what she wanted out of her session. She wanted to work on developing Chelsie's straightness and strength. 

But I wasn't quite sure what I wanted, and whilst I was watching Beth I was getting more and more nervous as it was soon to be my turn.

Beth looked amazing riding Chelsie and considering it was all new to the young horse, she behaved beautifully. After her session she looked absolutely exhausted - she'd tried so hard. 

Once Beth’s session had finished she quickly warmed Flynn up for me. Then, it was my turn to mount.

This was the first time I've used the hoist away from home. I had my four helpers at the ready (two leading at the front and two side walkers).

 This was the first time Sallyanne had used the hoist away from home

This was the first time Sallyanne had used the hoist away from home

Then, as I positioned myself to be hoisted up, the heavens opened and the rain came down.

Thankfully, Flynn was well behaved and I got on and headed into the indoor arena. 

The rain noise on the roof was so loud. I was tense and obviously, this was being transferred to Flynn, so he was walking very fast around the arena, to begin with.

We slowly managed to gain composure and my breathing seemed to settle, which in turn, helped Flynn settle.

Both Beth and I wanted to have some guidance to help us realise that what we're doing at home is correct. 

But instead Nina said do what works for you, try new things and see what develops. She reminded me that Flynn will learn to trust me and understand my aids, and I will learn to trust him. 

Flynn had just started to relax and I was starting to enjoy the session. Then Nina asked me if I wanted to try trotting.

 Sallyanne's instructor Nina Venables helped her regain her confidence 

Sallyanne's instructor Nina Venables helped her regain her confidence 

Flynn had just started to relax and I was starting to enjoy the session, then suddenly, Nina asked me if I wanted to try trotting.

I was just about managing to keep my balance in the walk, so the thought was a little terrifying. I'd lost confidence when I'd fallen off, so I actually hadn’t ridden Flynn for about four weeks.

But Nina ensured me that my confidence would return eventually. 

During the lesson, I took the opportunity to ask Nina about a specialised saddle with leg straps, Velcro and knee rolls on the saddle. 

She told me that it mainly depends on what you have on your classification card, so whatever you ride with at home you need to ensure it's on your classification card for when you compete. 

Next on my to-do list is to find a saddle company to sponsor me a new deep saddle.

Today was a huge step and we need to practice going away from home more often, but I'm aware that it takes a team to help and that’s a huge ask.

But all in all, I can’t wait for our next outing now I know what to expect. 

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