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Lockdown Lessons from NSEA Bursary Winner Ella

I, as I’m sure many others did, started 2020 living life at 100 miles an hour. I was in the final year of my A levels with final exams creeping ever closer and with four horses out competing, combined with trying to come up with some vague sort of plan for what after A levels, working weekend shifts at my local pub and trying to squeeze in some resemblance of a social life meant I was living life at an absolutely flat out speed.

It was exhausting to say the least but I am very lucky to be exceptionally driven and strive to give myself the best possible chance of fulfilling my ambitions in the horsey world- eventing professionally to the highest level. The beginning of March came round and I was feeling more prepared than ever, itching to get eventing after a very long, wet winter. There was only the slight issue of a global pandemic on the horizon…

Then followed what was quite possibly the strangest week of my life. After a successful day at Swalcliffe on the Sunday, on Monday we received the gutting but understandable news of the indefinite abandonment of all British Eventing events, followed by the news on the Wednesday of the cancellation of all public examinations due to take place in the summer. This was a complete shock, especially as the following day was to be my last ever day at school. Some hastened goodbyes were definitely not how it was supposed to end but fingers crossed we’ll be able to send our school years off with a good party when safe to do so!

With the news of complete lockdown coming 4 days later, I had quite literally gone from firing all cylinders to having no set goals to aim for and no idea of when some vague sense of normality may return. I’ve never been more appreciative of having the horses stabled at home with us so I was able to keep them ticking over. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent a good deal of my A levels daydreaming about being able to devote all of my time to horses but this wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it happening!

My heart goes out to all of the people going through deep hardships in these very challenging times and hugely admire all of the key workers keeping our country upright. Life’s definitely been very different the last few weeks so I thought I’d share a couple of things I’ve learnt whilst having a lot more time on my hands to think in the hope they may come in useful to at least one other person;

1. Control the controllables

Although we are starting to get a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, there is still a huge amount of uncertainty as to when a new normal may resume. As an individual, I am very driven by goals and struggled to cope with a lack of them to begin with as suddenly everything I was working for had evaporated! I have started to turn this around after listening to a podcast of a particular interview discussing the importance of focussing on the controllables. This really helped me to let go of worrying about the big questions at the moment, like when we can get back out competing. Instead, focussing on which I can control, like how I can train my horses from home, really helped me to regain my motivation. A goal setting session where I broke down lots of day by day targets for each of them really helped me to think more positively and gave me immense satisfaction as I could tick all of these little goals of my list - a technique that can definitely be applied to all areas of life.

2. Gratitude

I have always known I am exceptionally lucky to live where I do and have four incredible horses stabled right on our doorstep but never have I appreciated it more than the last eight weeks. Lockdown has definitely highlighted all the little things for me that I had been taking for granted swept up in the business of normal life. With several of my friends stuck in small flats in central London and other not able to visit their horses stabled away on livery yards, I feel exceptionally lucky to be able to spend days out in the yard with my horses. In everyday life we are very good at getting swept up with all the ‘what ifs?’ but hopefully after lockdown, we will all take a moment to appreciate all the little things around us in this crazy world!

3. Adapt and overcome!

I had been struggling with Happy’s dressage over the winter however in early this year we were definitely starting to turn this around with the help of Duncan Gipson, who I was going to for weekly lessons which was putting us on the right track. Obviously, we weren’t going to be able to continue this (cue minor panic that all of our hard work as going to come undone)! After some discussion, we decided to have a go at a virtual Zoom dressage lesson. These sessions helped us huge amounts, and are definitely partly to thank for the massive improvement in Happy’s way of going the last few weeks- something I definitely wouldn’t have believed would happen at the beginning of lockdown. It just goes to show what can be achieved by thinking outside the box!

4. The power of downtime

As already mentioned, I was firing on all cylinders going into lockdown and suddenly found myself with a lot more time on my hands. I thrive on being busy so definitely haven’t sat about but I have loved having some time to explore some new hobbies over lockdown. My baking skills are gradually improving and I have loved being able to spend time with my family all together, from board game nights to exploring footpaths which I never knew existed! Prior to lockdown I definitely struggled to take time to slow down but taking a bit more downtime has been very refreshing and hugely improved my productivity. When we get back to normal life I’ll definitely take a bit more time to chill out every now and then as its done wonders for my general mentality.

The benefit of downtime for the horses is something I have also noticed the benefit of. With the fields finally drying up, they have enjoyed living out in the field 24/7, being worked lightly 5 or 6 times a week. I have made a conscious effort to go back to the basics and have done lots of strengthening work focussing on building up the key muscle groups. With no competitions to get in the way, all four of them have come of leaps and bounds in the last few weeks, so fingers crossed a bit of down time has done them good and we will be back out all guns blazing once it’s safe to do so!

5. Future aims

Being able to devote all my undivided time to the horses over lockdown has really cemented my decision to pursue a career as an event rider. Having time to really focus on each horse has made me realise how much I love working and training with them and the immense satisfaction from the little daily improvements. I’ve decided my ambitions are to pursue this as a career (although ideally with some competitions mixed in!) and would love to continue to work with young horses in the future.

The situation we are currently in is hopefully unlike anything anyone has or will experience in their lifetime, and I hope that this can help at least one person look at this period of time from a different angle. Whilst we must of course acknowledge and respect the hardships and sacrifices faced by ourselves and others, we must look after our mental health and that of others around us, and I believe this is firstly done by looking at this period of time as an opportunity. Even if that is to take some time to ourselves to chill out with a good Netflix series it’s amazing what a change in mindset can do.

I hope everyone stays safe and well - until next time,

Ella x

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