As of the beginning of 2019 I have been sponsoring a young rider, named Hannah Penney, based in Hampshire.
On this page there will be regular pieces written by Hannah on her riding life.
The Highlights & The Lowlights – The Full Run Down On My 2019…
Well after a crazy few months juggling university interviews, school, mocks & trying to get Bella fitter – I have finally got around to finishing my embarrassingly belated 2019 round up & I’ve got to say I feel really great about this one. This has got to be quite possibly the longest blog I’ve ever done, so fasten your seatbelts & join me as I relive the absolute rollercoaster of a journey 2019 has been. Perhaps both my worst & best year, keep reading to understand why…
I’ll tell you now – there was nothing about 2019 I ever saw coming… As you probably know, we had ended 2018 with some of our best competition results to date. We’d moved successfully up to BE Novice, gained our first top 3 placing BE & gone double clear in our first Newcomers. I had high hopes for what I felt sure 2019 would bring. After a super winter of training with numerous top placings both dressage & showjumping, I was adamant 2019 was going to be our year (though, I’m going to guess that’s more than likely what everyone says to themselves each January)!
Our first outing took place a few weeks into the new year – Moreton NSEA county championship qualifiers with both Ruby & Teddy. I came home grinning from ear to ear with a team qualification on each of them & Teddy coming individual reserve county champion for Hampshire in both the 100 & 110cm. A super start! We followed this up with yet more top placings at unaffiliated dressage, our last double clear for Discovery second rounds, qualifying for the NSEA championships again as county winners for prelim team dressage as well as a team win & individual 2nd to qualify for the Hickstead Arena Eventing championships.
By now, March was just around the corner. I’d scrambled together the money to renew my BE membership & had laid out a clear plan for the season ahead (including several back-ups just in case things inevitably went a little bit wrong). I wanted to make it to Belton Novice at the end of March. That was my first goal & the one that meant the most to me. There’s not a single event I’d ever been more desperate to get to. It meant everything to me & this was the beginning of my slippery slope... To give you a bit of background, riding round Belton International had been a dream of mine for nearly a decade at this point. I must have been about 7 years old when I watched it for the first time in person with my Dad & his family (who had seen me ride for the first time in late 2017, back when I did my first BE100 at Norton Disney). Since then, Dad had driven hundreds of miles across the country, on more than one occasion, just to watch me event. I wanted to make him proud. I remember the smile on my sister’s face when I told her I’d entered. There was something about the principle of competing at such a prestigious event – almost a sense of validation for all my efforts this far. This would be the event to leave me feeling as though I’d made it. Okay, so to anyone else it might just have been your everyday novice (albeit a tough one) but to me it meant so much more than that.
My first mistake was – in the wake of such successful Winter’s training and the worry of abandonments due to weather – changing my entry from the 100 to the Novice at Moreton, my first event. Don’t get me wrong, I’d spent an awful lot of time on Shoestring checking out the courses (which looked to be inviting) and I felt confident with my decision at the time. However, fast forward a few weeks to being sat alone in A&E for more than six hours with a suspected fractured fibula, after landing with my leg sandwiched between Teddy and the large open ditch fence – it was safe to say I was no longer feeling so confident. Despite a medical suspension, not even 5 days later I was back eventing in the Novice at Tweseldown, where we received our first ever elimination at their second ditch fence after a stop at the first. It was safe to say that whilst physically, we might have bounced back quickly from Moreton, the same could not be said for mine or Teddy’s confidence. I had allowed myself to become completely swept up in chasing that goal, doing my best to continue as if nothing had happened. Something that would ultimately shatter any hopes I had of ever making it to Belton, since 2019 was the last time the event ran. I try not to hold onto regrets, but I regret a lot of decisions I made that Spring. However, there is no denying that the experience has probably taught me more than any other & it’s made me a much better rider because of it.
I know I’m not alone in allowing myself to rush into things in a sea of pressure, trying to keep up with the whirlwind of social media successes. Even now I constantly feel a pressure to rush Bella up through the heights so I won’t feel ‘left behind’. But that whole idea is so ridiculous! She’s 4! She’s here for the long haul – I have no reason to rush. It’s not about what height you jump or the level at which you compete – and yes, I know that’s unbelievably easy to say – but your ability as a rider is defined by your treatment of your horse, the technique & skill you adopt & your perseverance in the wake of a setback. At least that’s what it should be about. There’s no doubt money will get you far in this world – probably further than anything else – but hard work is what will reap the real rearwards. Let’s face it, a win on a £100k schoolmaster, exercised for you by a groom six days a week is going to mean squat compared to a win on a home produced, diamond in the rough you’ve devoted half a decade or more of literal blood, sweat and tears to. Achievements are more than just numbers on a scoreboard and that’s probably the most important thing I’ve really come to understand over the last year. There was a time when making it round the entire showjumping – cricket score or not – was enough to leave me elated and that’s something I had lost sight of. Whatever those achievements, those wins may be for you, celebrate them! Take time to reflect and look at how far you have come! It’s so easy to keep looking to the next thing without ever taking a breath to appreciate what an amazing job you’ve already done! Trust me – seeing how much progress you’ve already made will only motivate you further! Living for that one score, that one event, those end results – it is simply not sustainable – you have got to enjoy the journey, or there really is no point!
Over the following months I stepped away from competing entirely. I had a lot of questions & I had no idea what I wanted anymore. I was struggling a fair amount behind the scenes & that on top of everything else meant when it came to the horses, my mindset left me feeling as if nothing I could do was right – something I’ve spoken about a lot in previous blogs. My confidence, my self-belief, my plan, my purpose – I’d lost sight of all of that. I was left feeling lost and really struggling to be positive. I remained convinced I’d let everyone down and it took me a long time to get away from those negative thoughts. After several months of schooling and working on our confidence, I decided I wanted to get back out. Dressage – fine. Showjumping – fine. Cross country – not so fine. We’d stepped right back down the levels, done our best to take away all unnecessary pressures and yet on every cross country course we attempted, I pulled him up. I found it really difficult at the time. I wanted it, I really genuinely wanted this. I didn’t feel nervous. I was doing everything I could to ride as positively as possible. But you can’t fake positive riding… I believe horses pick up on our every emotion, even ones we perhaps may not spot in ourselves. It took me a long time to recognise it, but somewhere along the way I’d lost the passion, the enjoyment – I wasn’t having fun cross country & neither was Teddy. I remember being so frustrated with myself. I felt like I was throwing away entry after entry after entry – money I’d spent hours working to earn myself. I lived for the adrenaline rush of galloping round a testing track & I wanted more than anything to get back to that. But this was not working, this was not the way.
It took me a long time to find the courage but eventually I began to start making a real effort to prioritise my mindset. The month after Teddy sold was incredibly tough for me. Not only had I lost my best friend – the partner in crime who’d got me through some of the toughest points in my life so far – but for the past 5 years I’d never not had horses in my life. I felt completely lost. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty going on – a job, A-levels, university applications & other interests – yet I felt as if I had no purpose, like I was just existing – I really can’t describe it.
When Bella arrived on the scene, I was determined to do things differently this time. I spent nearly a month not even able to ride while I waited for a saddler and the following two/three months doing virtually nothing but hacking – I think I set foot in a school a maximum of 3 times. I found myself spending hours with Bella on the ground, hours grooming her & hours just walking round the countryside trying to build up her fitness. Hours appreciating all the little things I’d taken for granted over the past couple of years. There was something about having bought Bella largely by myself (I owned 2/3s and Dad owned the other 1/3) that made her different to any other horse I’d had. She was my baby, my responsibility. When we finally introduced jumping & eventually competing I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to get to the yard & I really did enjoy nearly every single ride. My enjoyment was coming from the journey & because of that, for the first time, the end results meant nothing to me – I had no idea what they’d even be.
September brought the arrival of Dad’s new 3.5t box, Rosie. I cannot begin to explain what a difference having the little lorry has made & just how grateful I am. For the first time I had control. I was able to take Bella to weekly lessons around school and to actually ride despite the dark evenings. I was absolutely loving winter training & could feel Bella progressing hugely, not to mention our partnership continuing to evolve. I felt so positive – it felt amazing.
Getting back to competing after six months was great fun. Bella proved herself to be quite the dressage diva and has not been out of the high 60s/low 70s since her very first test! We have a long way to go, especially getting her stronger & more balanced (the canter is still a tad difficult to keep together – not sure I’m ready to brave a grass arena yet!) but damn, is she going to be special. Her attitude to jumping & that untapped potential in her jump is so rewarding to watch develop. I can say without a moment’s hesitation that Bella is undoubtedly the most honest, genuine horse I have ever sat on & I’m truly so lucky to have her in my life. Never have I believed the saying ‘gain a mare’s trust & she’ll do anything for you’ more than I do with her. Bella’s like nothing I’ve ever jumped before and we certainly have a lot of work to do. For a while I felt really insecure about my riding on her. I’d ridden horses a million times harder & sharper than her – yet I found getting the best out of Bella infinitely more difficult & I couldn’t for the life of me understand why! But it’s coming, we’re getting there & I know she’s going to be brilliant!
Cross country is where things get really exciting! What a 4 year old!! I have never known a baby be more bold! Okay, so we need to work on ditches – but with the exception of those, Bella has not looked at a single thing! Straight over corners, skinnies, combinations, water, 90s & even some 100s like a seasoned pro! She has also at long last learnt to gallop and oh my god – for a generally very chilled and laid-back mare – she doesn’t half move when she wants to! I don’t think I’ve ever gone that fast in my life! Now to work on stopping at the other end lol… Seriously though, I cannot tell you how keen I am to see what Bella can do eventing once we’ve got a few more miles under her belt!
In conclusion, there is no doubt 2019 has been one hell of a rollercoaster! I think I attended a maximum of 5 events (if that) all year & of those, I didn’t complete a single one. There’s no question that on paper it’s been an awful year. Yet, looking back on the last 12 months I can only smile. This rollercoaster has taught me more than I could have possibly imagined. It has shaped me hugely as a person & I’ve learnt a hell of a lot more about myself. I have a much clearer idea of who I am as a rider & who I want to be. I’m a better rider for it. Sure, I might be jumping more than a foot smaller but I believe in myself. I’m passionate, I’m committed & I’m determined. I’m building a priceless bond with a horse that’s just 4 years old and weighs nearly 1300 pounds. That is what I choose to define me. That. Not the height I jump or the level at which I compete. I’m so much more relaxed & I’m smiling so much more. I’m in no rush with Bella & I’m perfectly content with that. There are always going to be pressures out there, but I’ve gained the confidence & maturity stand by my truth. To live it & to own it. To make my own calls & stick by them. To trust in my gut that I’m doing the right thing for Bella & for me, because at the end of the day I am responsible for the decisions I make – something that has certainly served me well so far this year in the wake of the EHV outbreak & multiple horrific storms. I’m in a really good place & cannot wait to see what’s to come in 2020. I have so much to be grateful for, so many people who have done so much for me & so many opportunities I have been given.
I want to live for the moment, right here in the present. Sure, there’s no harm with having a plan but life is about flexibility. It’s up to me to find my own happiness. Sure, I’m going to be hit with road blocks, there’s no doubt about that. But life is about taking those challenges & using them to help me grow as a person, to make me stronger & provide me with the knowledge to do better next time. It’s so easy to forget how lucky we are to have these incredible animals in our lives. They’re share our greatest highs and put up with us when we’re at our lowest. They let us drag them out the stable in a blizzard of snow, roaring winds or pissing rain. Any horse that’s not wild is dependent on us & in many ways we’re dependent on them. When you gain their love & their trust, they will give you their whole heart & that is what makes this sport so unbelievably special, getting to share every moment of it with our best friends.
With that, I want to wish you all a wonderful 2020 full of journeys you treasure with partners you cherish every day.
Until next time,
Facebook: Hannah P Equestrian