Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: ‘I would be lying if I said the past few weeks had been easy’

Hello all and welcome back — and guess who’s back in action?!

Over the past week I’ve finally started properly riding again after my fall. It was like a breath of fresh air after being locked in a dark room and was the perfect remedy for me. It felt like I was relaxing back in my favourite old armchair when I got back on Apollo. All of the controls and buttons were still there where I had left them, with him, having been kept ticking over by mum. I was dubious about riding Simba again as his movement is so big it throws you out the saddle, and I was afraid of it hurting my back again. But in fact it was like floating on a cloud, he has so much power and he gives me wings — it made me truly appreciate how much I had missed it.

Back on Simba

But with that said, I would be lying if I said the past few weeks before that were easy. My back injury was worse than I had originally thought and I was off working and riding for eight weeks. I had a few sneaky sit on horses but it left me in a lot of pain, the kind of pain that makes you feel physically sick. So being forced to not do anything left me with many down days, where I would mope around the house feeling very sorry for myself. I am usually a very upbeat person and it took me a while to realise that I was suffering from depression. My whole life revolves around working and riding, so the sudden lack of both and constant pain really got me down. To perk myself up, I took the plunge into getting my first tattoo! It is something that I’ve always wanted but have never been brave enough to follow through with. But I came to the sudden realisation that you really do only live once and there was no point in me saying I wanted it and then not actually getting it! So I now have a small design above my ankle; our old stud brand, that my grandparents designed. Needless to say, it is very special to me.

While I was unable to ride, my mum Diane took over the reins of Apollo. Being our family pony, he has previously been competed by myself, Samantha and mum, who last competed him in 2015 at the nationals at advanced medium level. She hadn’t competed for 14 years and it had been over 20 years since she last rode competitively at grand prix level. Part of mine and Apollo’s competition schedule was Bury Farm high profile show in the big tour classes. So naturally, I entered mum for the inter II and grand prix without her knowing and told her afterwards! A few ‘test riding’ lessons from me later (which mainly involved me shouting at her and her shouting back), and she was ready to go.

Back on Apollo

It’s one thing to be able to do some piaffe and tempi-changes at home but a very different thing to be able to string together all the movements in a competition environment. But of course my mum, being the total boss that she is, smashed out both the inter II and grand prix tests to finish seventh and sixth respectively. Both her and Apollo loved it and came out with massive smiles. But I think I will have to steal him back as she is already talking about her next one!

Mum and Apollo after their grand prix

One dull day in my downtrodden mood, I received a magical phone call from British Dressage saying I had qualified for both the inter II and grand prix classes at the national championships. This has been my absolute dream for so long — I simply couldn’t miss it. It has motivated me to get better and to really throw myself head-first into my rehab programme to get back to being riding fit. This includes visiting a chiropractor, physiotherapy, acupuncture and Pilates. I’m not yet where I’d like to be and I’m definitely underprepared for such a big competition, but we will be giving it our best shot this week.

My tattoo and the runaway hen, Red

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And finally, some bird-related news. One of our garden hens, Red, has been going walkabouts and has ended up regularly visiting our neighbours. Walking past one day, I saw her perched on the back of their sofa no less! She now goes round for meal times and the lovely little girl there comes running round cuddling the hen singing “I’ve got your chiiicken!” Something must be in the air, as Apollo has gained a therapy pigeon. Nicknamed Perry, the homing pigeon has set up camp in the yard for the past few weeks and can be found every night and morning in Apollo’s stable, sharing his feed. It is the weirdest relationship and considering Apollo will spook at a leaf 50m away, he is incredibly vigilant when his pigeon is hopping around between his hooves!

Until next time,

Joanna x

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