Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: ‘I felt like I had just achieved my biggest goal’

  • Hello all and welcome back.

    After a whirlwind few weeks I’m finally back on my feet and found a few quiet moments to sit and down and write this blog.

    In my last blog I was getting myself ready for the summer British Dressage National Championships with Apollo in the inter II and grand prix. Following my fall and injury, I hadn’t properly ridden for eight weeks (which is definitely terrible preparation for a big competition), but nothing was going to stop me from riding down that centre line.

    By the time we got to the nationals, I had only ridden Apollo four times in two months and hadn’t been through either tests. While he was in tiptop shape and the buttons and controls were all there, I was (and still am) incredibly weak. One day I managed to ride four horses in the morning but was totally fazed out by the afternoon and had a three-hour nap before I regained some energy! It’s been frustrating as my mind is still alert but my body just cant keep up. I’m fully aware that I’m pushing it too hard, too fast. But I had a show to get to!

    As a result of this, my riding suffered. My core strength was all gone and I had lost over a kilo in muscle. A recent MRI showed that the fracture on my L5 vertebrae was healing nicely and the grade 4 slip on the vertebrae was down to just a grade 1. So better, but not back to normal.

    In Thursday’s class, I wasn’t on until 4pm. I hate waiting all day to ride, but I filled the day with napping, shopping and getting a super massage on the Cyclosassge massage beds. This was really fantastic and totally relaxed my body — I highly recommend them and could definitely do with one on the yard!

    In the warm up, it became apparent that I was really really struggling. But I soldiered on through and made it out the other end. The test was sloppy with lots of mistakes and a lack of power, but honestly I was just happy that I didn’t give up half way round!

    Apollo and I

    Next up was Saturday’s grand prix. Riding in the that class at the nationals always felt like an unobtainable dream of mine (pictured top). The euphoria I felt at just being in the class really kept me on such a high that I felt a lot more comfortable in my body and riding then I had done in the inter II. I went in with a smile on my face and just thought, you know what, I’m going to enjoy this. And I did! Apollo and I danced around the test while I was happy listening to the music that was playing, which happened to be from The Greatest Showman. I felt like I had all the time in the world to just enjoy the moment. We did have a little mistake of beginning of our one-time tempi flying-changes (where we did a two to begin with), but I carried on the do 16 lovely changes, which should count as extra marks, right?! (It’s only supposed to be 15…)

    I came out smiling and I felt like I had just achieved my biggest goal and it was such an amazing feeling. Regardless of scores or placings, I was just so happy. Competing in the grand prix at the summer national championships on a horse I’ve ridden since I was 11, I was the youngest in the class and I was only just back from injury. Definitely one of my biggest achievements! But now I’m hungry for more and I’m already dreaming of riding the youngsters there.

    From left to right: bridesmaid Ruby, me and Sam

    Back home it was another busy time for us, as my sister Samantha got married at the beginning of October. As her maid of honour, I got to organise the hen do (which demonstrated just how disorganised I truly am when there isn’t a horse involved.) Despite that, I got there in the end and managed to get all 10 ‘hens’ at the right place at the right time. We had a really lovely, chilled weekend including afternoon tea and a day at a spa. After that, the countdown was well and truly on for the big day, which came and went in a blur of smiles. For anyone who doesn’t know my sister, she is always so 100% chilled out, she’s practically horizontal. At no point did she become bridezilla, but remained so calm that in fact she went off for a nap on the morning of her wedding. Surly she should be too stressed for that?! The makeup artist and hairdresser questioned. But of course she did indeed nap, and in the past she would sleep for hours until 10 minutes before she needed to get on to ride at the Europeans — she really is a very zen person.

    The whole day was like a fairytale, with Samantha and Andrew playing the parts of Prince Charming and a Disney princess (the ivy in her hair gave her a definite ‘Brave’ look.) My church reading of the Song of Solomon went down a hit. I’m not used to public speaking and given my track record of falling over at weddings, I wasn’t looking forward to the walk-step-turn-read in front of 100 guests. I was so thrilled to have read it all correctly that I grinned at the audience afterwards, which made everyone laugh and then clap. Apparently no one ever gets clapped after a reading, so I’m breaking tradition and if anyone wants to hire me for future wedding readings, give me a call.

    All-smiles after my reading

    Continued below…

    The reception, food and dancing was all a triumph. Held at the local vineyard, the place looked like a scene from a storybook. The food, speeches, alcohol and toasted marshmallows flowed and we danced the night away.

    Red the chicken made a special wedding appearance too!

    But then it was a large thump back to reality, as now Sam and Andrew have jetted off on honeymoon to Austria for two weeks and left us with all her horses to work!

    Speaking of which, my lunch time has gone way over and I’ve got to go back outside to work some more.

    Until next time,

    Joanna x

    For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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