The para vaulter: Riding to music, coaching and gymnastic challenges

It's been a busy month for Lizzie, and even though she hasn't been able to do much vaulting. Here she explains how else she's been filling her schedule. 

   
  
   
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    Rosie, my lovely little border terrier, helping me with my physio!

Rosie, my lovely little border terrier, helping me with my physio!

Sadly, the whiplash injury I was just starting to recover from last time I wrote was swiftly followed by a concussion, which is still making me feel grim.

I did it by hitting my face on a springboard while attempting a back somersault (it’s best if you just read through that quickly without pausing to consider the sanity of it) and although I did have a bloody nose for a bit, it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t carry on with the rest of the session.

Unfortunately, after 24 hours had passed I began to feel the effects! Mostly this was just me feeling sick, tired and woozy. Fortunately it was half term, so I didn’t have to go into work.

I was at the hospital anyway the next day and they checked me out and said that as long as I was careful I wouldn’t have to go to A&E that day unless I really wanted to – not blooming likely!

Continuing with coaching 

Despite the concussion, I was able to travel to Shropshire two days later, thanks to my mum who drove me, to visit an RDA vaulting group. The exciting news is that I’ve now been signed off as an RDA barrel coach!

   
  
   
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    A ‘still’ from my RDA barrel routine

A ‘still’ from my RDA barrel routine

I’m really looking forward to getting that started up for the other members of my RDA Group, as well as hopefully more new members.

At a time when I feel that my own performance in vaulting is going backwards, it feels positive to be able to do something to help others get started.

Getting over the concussion has taken a lot longer than I expected and that has kept me off the horse for vaulting.

However, I’ve done plenty of other training. I’ve had two hour-long sessions to work on the barrel horse and film a routine for an RDA competition.

   
  
   
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    We had to take a break during filming because my laptop (which we were using to play the music) gave up in the cold!

We had to take a break during filming because my laptop (which we were using to play the music) gave up in the cold!

Doing one of those in the outdoor arena as the ‘Beast from the East’ swept in across the Fens and making my body work in the cold was all a bit of a challenge but, as my mum would say, ‘done is better than perfect’ when perfect isn’t an option!

Riding in time to music 

At RDA, we’ve been busily working on putting together a musical ride for the annual regional competition, which is also a qualifier for the national championships.

Our ride has five of us performing our own version of ‘Trooping the Colour’, which means that I got to ride side saddle as the Queen, and that I’ve spent much of the last month feeling as if there’s a military band in my head pumping out the tunes.

   
  
   
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    Sneak preview of our musical ride featuring me as the Queen and Rolo’s sassy swishy tail…

Sneak preview of our musical ride featuring me as the Queen and Rolo’s sassy swishy tail…

Before this project, I'd never realised how much of a massive task it is to put together a musical ride. 

My main job (other than riding) was editing the music. I’m used to doing this for vaulting and I’ve done a few for dressage freestyle too, but working out music for a group performance is far more complicated.

You need to be certain of where each horse will be and when – with limited rehearsal time. It makes putting some vaulting music together seem a breeze!

An RDA coach in training 

At my other RDA Group, where I'm training as a coach, we’ve been very busy preparing the children for their horse care proficiency tests as well as helping them reach their goals in riding.

We had a pony morning last week where I was on tack-cleaning duty throughout – we had some super-clean tack by the end! We’re now looking forward to some warmer weather after Easter to ease the ponies’ joints, and those of the helpers...

Away from the stables, I’ve been able to do a bit of training in my race chair again, but not as much as I’d have liked, as my bad shoulder has been really sore.

I was very lucky to have a free session with one of the Cambridge University strength and conditioning coaches, who put my bad shoulder through its paces for an hour and a half, so at least I do have some new exercises for it!

I’m also now on the ‘FANS’ scheme (Free Access for National Sportspeople), which means that my local leisure centre, Lord Butler Fitness and Leisure, has very kindly granted me free membership.

I’ve already noticed improvements in my strength, and having the pool is really useful for safely trying out acrobatics and balances.

Probably my best progress recently has been at gymnastics, where I’ve been making big strides towards achieving a tricky skill on my worst apparatus (uneven bars). Well, I say tricky – it’s easy for most people, but nigh-on impossible for me, and I’ve been spending months working on progressions towards the full skill.

You start by leaning your weight over the lower bar, then do a ‘cast’ (fold your legs underneath you then draw them back behind you so that your hips lift away from the bar).

Then, instead of coming back to the bar with your hips, you bring your feet up and squat on the bar, then jump to catch the high bar.

For me, this is difficult at every single juncture and I'm black and blue and bleeding from my hands, legs and feet! The movement itself isn’t too dissimilar to coming up from basic seat to bench when vaulting on a horse, just loads harder…

Mind you, I’m going to take advice from the American former World Champion gymnast, Maggie Nichols: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed.”

If it works for her, it works for me.

Don’t miss the latest issue of Your Horse Magazine, jam-packed with training and veterinary advice, horse-care tips and the latest equestrian products available on shop shelves, on sale now. Find out what’s in the latest issue here.