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29 April 2021

Anna’s #Hack1000Miles diary: fit horses, helicopters landing & a two-inch muscle gap

Returning to riding after having a child surgically removed from my abdomen has been something of a learning curve. My jods make me look like an over-stuffed sausage, my tummy both looks and feels like rice pudding, sneezing is a high-risk activity and, frankly, I struggle to put my socks on without wobbling over.

Pre-Freddie, I could usually get round a XC course without major incident. Now, the thought of popping a fence makes me feel a bit queasy (in a fit of madness, I tried trotting over a 60cm cross pole five weeks after I gave birth. I looked like a Weeble.)

I had been expecting to have to rebuild my fitness, but I didn’t anticipate how much of a hit my confidence was going to take. Realistic goal-setting was clearly going to be an important part of my riding rehab.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have two horses. Jordan is a geriatric nutter inherited from my dad, who is now more or less retired (more for my safety than anything else), and Owen is a sporty Connemara with a ‘let’s crack on’ attitude who throws himself into anything you ask of him with gusto.

He is fit and ready for the eventing season; I’m not, as much as I would like to be. Our short-term goal is to dabble in a bit of affiliated dressage. Longer term, I’d love to get an event in before the end of the season.

Lazy hacking habits…

So, the focus is now on rebuilding both my confidence and the two-inch gap in my abdominal muscles. Luckily, we have access to miles of fantastic hacking on Epsom Downs, so it’s easy to keep things varied and interesting. I find it very easy to get into lazy habits out hacking, so I’m trying to be a bit stricter with myself (and with Owen!) by incorporating a bit of schooling into our hacks.

Wide sandy track? Let’s do a few steps of leg yield. Scary bush? Let’s do a bit of shoulder in to give us something else to focus on. Great big grassy hill? Let’s try switching between working and medium canters (we’re good at going up a gear, less good at coming back down again — but we persevere).

Epsom Downs is fantastic for desensitisation. On any given hack, you may encounter some, or all of the following:

  • Kites
  • Kitesurfers
  • Model aircraft
  • Joggers
  • Cyclists
  • Dogs of varying degrees of size and horse friendliness
  • Loose children
  • Ice cream vans
  • Racehorses, both static and moving at speed
  • Sprinklers

The helicopter’s coming down

Last weekend we ventured out with Owen’s trusty sidekick Finn to do a bit of fitness and confidence building work.

We set out first thing in order to avoid the hordes of lockdown walkers, and bar a couple of racehorses on their way to the gallops who take a bit of a shine to Owen, it is pretty uneventful.

I’ve left my long-suffering husband on baby duty, and I am keen not to push my luck and cash in all my baby-free time tokens, so we start heading home.

As a helicopter flies overhead, I vaguely think, “I wonder what Owen would do if that landed?”. Owen is pretty good and takes a fairly laid-back approach to the majority of things that the Downs throw at him, but I wouldn’t necessarily describe him as bombproof, and his mate Finn is a bit of a drama queen.

The whirring of the rotors gets louder. Yep – it’s coming down a couple of hundred metres away. I have a sudden flashback to Apocalypse Now, and we hastily decide to divert.

Lessons learned

The horses are pretty cross at this point. Not only are we making them turn around and walk in the opposite direction, we’re also making them walk up their favourite galloping hill. We spend a few minutes going sideways before they resign themselves to the fact that we’re not going to let them have any fun today, by which time the helicopter has landed and turned off its rotors.

Painfully aware of the fact that my nipples are going to start spraying milk any minute, I think ‘sod it’, and we risk walking past it. Despite having gone into meltdown over a bit of brightly coloured fence earlier that morning, the horses don’t bat an eyelid, and we add ‘helicopters’ to the list of things that we’re unphased by.

We’ve learned the following:

  1. Always wear your high viz if you don’t want a helicopter to land on you.
  2. Even a helicopter can’t come between a Connemara and his breakfast.
  3. We’re far more capable of coping with scary situations than we realise.

by Anna Jennett

Anna spent eight years working in finance in the City, before realising that she can’t do maths and becoming a French teacher instead. She lives in Surrey with her husband, dog and baby Freddie, and is hacking her way back to fitness post c-section on super connie Owen, while inexpertly dabbling in a spot of dressage. She is hoping to complete a BE90 class by the end of the summer, although admittedly this is dependent upon her being able to do up her body protector again. Follow her on Instagram @boopablesnoot

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