I’m sat here in a wee cafe local to home thinking about my year as a Quest participant, and it truly hit me hard…..I can’t believe WE did that!!!
How is that me in those photographs and how is that once scrawny and scruffy three year old horse mine?!
I genuinely look at this and struggle to believe how much Mr Hadley and I have achieved in the last 10 months. It’s quite uncanny really.
Our Dressage Journey
After a major setback in 2022, we started getting ‘into’ dressage doing some random unaffiliated dressage in Fife every three or four months.
My amazing team knew my geographical constrains. I couldn’t make every single competition – not because I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t always arrange childcare for the three days or afford the fuel over and back (£200) and the overnight stay (£75ish), never mind the food (£20) or the actual cost of the competition itself. Even with my team buddies knowing this, I was still encouraged to join in and this is where my journey truly started and in the end, made my dreams, come true.
Equiteam Diamonds is a team of four, consisting of intro and prelim with horses both young and mature! It was honestly the best team to be part of as I never felt like I was letting anyone down – in fact it was quite the opposite, we truly were a team! Our sister team, EquiTeam Stars, were with us every step of the way too and encouraged everyone across both teams to go out and just have fun!
‘Just have fun’ they say, are they freaking mental?!
Not sure what could be ‘fun’ in taking a horse five hours across the country, an overnight stay (or two) for a four minute test with the added stress of needing reliable childcare for my daughter and someone knowledgeable enough to deal with my son’s Cerebral Palsy AND cover the school runs etc?!
Then there was the added planning of needing someone to look after my other three ponies and someone who could walk the dogs for me. My fiancé is a god send and took holidays from work to cover my holidays, but his work is manic and he couldn’t always help out. So for me, it’s not just a pop along to a competition, ride and come home, it was soooo much more than that.
It was damn right exhausting, but holy wow…..it was damn right rewarding!
From the first competition back in January, I felt so welcomed, wanted and appreciated. At no point was I ever made to feel like I was letting the team down with a competition I couldn’t make.
Instead, I was being encouraged by the whole group to only do what I could manage which was such a weight off my mind – truly! At each competition I did, I also decided to make the most of it and compete in the My Quest which was always really daunting as you were essentially ‘on your own’ – i.e. only your score affected you.
I ended up being placed in every single competition I did at Prelim level and was very quickly encouraged to move up to Novice for the remainder of the My Quest qualifying period. I couldn’t believe that we were getting placed in prelim in the first place as I don’t have the opportunity to ride in arenas and 9/10 the only time we see one is when we are competing!
So I was super gob smacked but so freaking excited to be slowly achieving my goals of riding in Novice classes.
In March this year, I rode my very first ever Novice test (in my life) and we came second with a score of 65.65% which was joint 1st place! I had worked so hard for this and yet still thought it was a fluke!
This year I have ridden five Novice tests at My Quest level and BIZARRELY made it to the semi finals. I don’t know how I managed to qualify as even on the last test, my brain was not functioning and I rode it wrong…with a caller calling the correct way, I may add LOL!!
However, I was so freaking proud of myself for getting this far and was very much prepared to end the season at the semi finals as we had worked so bloody hard at riding, organising and just showing up that I couldn’t have been more proud of myself for getting that far.
A tough year….
This year has been a really tough year for me emotionally. I battle with my mental health daily and in some instances, it just gets too much….. like way too much.
The week of the semi finals, I had a major break down at an Equiteam Confidence Camp as the feeling of utter selfishness of not being there for my kids and instead putting my horsey dreams first, played a major part in how I was feeling. Not to mention the financial constraints and the impact that had on my relationship meant that it wasn’t easy to justify it being ‘just’ a hobby.
It was such a vicious circle – I so desperately wanted to ride in competitions at Novice with my amazing horse and team, but I also needed to be at home to care for our children, go to work, cook dinner, do all the shopping, have a clean house, look after my parents and still be happy. On top of this I also suffer from PTSD, depression and anxiety and have physical health issues which have caused significant stress on my mental health!
So after letting it all out on my amazing instructor’s shoulder that day, I knew then, just how freaking awesome it was to be alive, achieving unbelievable scores with Hadley and I was, for the most part, still keeping everyone else happy.
But I was also reminded that this camp was for me. This week was about me. The semi-finals were MY focus and my dreams.
And in all honesty, after believing this, I was the happiest and most relaxed I have ever been going into a competition. What made it even better was that my awesome fiancé knew how much it meant to me and came along to support me which made me smile so hard too! He knew this would be an amazing end to an amazing year.
Showing up this year paid off…
“Well done Caeleigh, you’ve qualified for the championships at Arena UK. You’re third in Scotland at Novice”
HOLY FOOK! What the fook?! How the &%#k?! Seriously?! Me?! OMG!!!!!
I’m going to the Championships!
I cried, I smiled, I picked up the phone and called my coach, Liz Daniels straight away and we were bouncing! I had never before in my life ever thought I’d have the opportunity to be riding at Highfield of Howe at the Semi-Finals in Novice, supported by my freaking epic buddies at EquiTeam, never mind coming third place in the whole of bloody Scotland in NOVICE and qualify for the Championships! Like seriously, is this me?! Is this real?!
But it was! (I have major goose bumps even writing this – it’s still so surreal and means the absolute world to me).
Six weeks or so later, a two day drive (with an overnight stay) and having not been back in an arena since the Semi-Finals, we were at Arena UK… I cried entering the gates. My dreams had come true and I felt like a winner. It was overwhelmingly special for me! The drive or prep didn’t bother me, I have been used to long drives and preparing all year so I was feeling pretty chilled about everything that side but was more just so excited to ride in an arena.
I rode that evening with a stupid grin on my face and constantly thinking to myself, ‘I’ve made it, I’ve shown up, I’ve done it!’ Honestly, it was just the best feeling ever. I won’t deny I had butterflies but it wasn’t butterflies of sickness, it was excitement!
Every single hour building up to my time, I had amazing EquiTeam members message me with goodwill gestures, tips and genuine support! I had the best support team there in spirit and I felt the best I had ever felt in my life that day! The warm up, oh the warm up, just wow, I cried (again!) as it felt like I was in heaven. It was out the park perfect and I knew in that minute, we had done it. We showed up and we did it.
The actual test didn’t go as well as we had planned as my right hearing aid kept turning on and off in my ear (annoying- it sings a song on shut down and wake up), and Hadders was a bit tired after our epic warm up BUT we still managed to bag an insane 24th place!!!!!! EEEEEEEEEEEE!!!
24th place in the UK at Novice level – HELL YEAH!
Ahhhh I’m buzzing even writing this and smiling from ear to ear!!!
I came out of the test beaming, a wee bit gutted, but still utterly buzzing. I went and got all the photos, every single one! But throughout the remainder of the day, I would look at the photos and tear up because how was that me?! How was that horse mine?! How were we there?! And then it came to me….
I did it for me and I showed up…..
All year, I battled with showing up. I battled with the preparations. I battled with my mental health. I battled with not wanting other people going out their way so that I could go have ‘pony time’. I battled with the lack of support from my own horsey community at home, I battled with the selfishness of not being there for my children and my disabled son, who needs his mum a bit more than most. I battled with physical health. I battled with finances. I battled with life. But still, I showed up and it paid off.
I am accomplished, I’ve overcome my biggest battles and I have the photos and memories to prove it!
Surround yourself with genuine people who support you, do it for you and just show up because maybe on that one day you showed up despite all the odds, you’ll be there living your best dream!!
Photo Credits – ATG Photography