Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Dressage Competition: 20.9.14

Last Saturday was our first competition since October 2013. By the middle of the week I was getting really excited - it had been a busy and somewhat stressful week with starting 2 new teaching courses, so training was therapeutic as I was thinking about something completely different!

Ernest had been going extremely well in our practices, so I knew it was just down to me. I ride very strongly with my left hand, which you can see in the videos (I tried to upload them but they're bigger than 100MB, so follow this link to watch online), which results in him 'wagging' or 'nodding' his head, especially in walk.

My legs were shaking when we were warming up, but Ernest was a true gentleman - he was unfazed by everything else happening around him, focusing only on what I was asking. Cool as a pony-shaped cucumber!

Overall, we got 70.00% for Prelim 17 - our highest score for a long time! - and came 6th. We got 66.88% for Novice 28, and came 3rd. Novice is the next level up from Prelim and basically requires you to do more stuff, including different types of trot and canter. I was delighted! It was such a positive way to start competing again, but even if we hadn't placed I would have been delighted with our tests. 
I thought I was going to cry when I read the judge's comment for Novice: "A very honest pony who tries his heart out for you. Very pleasing trot work. Needs to be more supple on left rein especially in canter. Well ridden test." That's my Biff! Judges do tend to like Ernest, obviously with good reason, but it's always lovely to read compliments about my baby boy.
We've qualified for the Championships in the Prelim class, which will be held next year. Our next dressage outing is October 11th - less than a week after the half marathon! - so in the meantime I'll be working on my contact and hand position.
Thank you to my friends and family who came and supported us!

Remember to look here if you want to see the videos! Check out the rest of Simon's website, too - he's very talented. My favourite, and best, pictures of Ernest were taken by him.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Guest Post: Basingstoke Half Marathon Training Run (4.9.14), by Maxx Le Hen

With the half marathon coming sooner and sooner, I felt really strange on Thursday. Firstly I went to badminton on Tuesday (I joined a badminton club last April) from 19.40 to 22.40, so I was really tired and my legs ached (it’s for this reason I couldn’t go with Pip on Wednesday). In the other hand I didn’t run for a week and a half, and the half marathon is coming with the speed of a Formula 1 car - it’s what I feel - and Pip had run the day before, so when we run again together I’m worried I will have lost my running stamina. So on my way back from work I found some motivation to go and run a big loop, to carry on the good training we have. When I was home I climbed the stairs and changed my clothes to go running while I had the motivation. 
I did an 8-mile loop around the house. I start running in what I felt the same rhythm that I run with Pip – to keep having the same rhythm all the time – I reached the next village (2.8 miles) in 26 minutes, which gave me the reason why I was feeling so bad. Everything was hurting me - like if it was 6/7 miles I was running - because I ran faster than I thought. I decided to walk a bit, when I say a bit it was a bit, I walked for 20/30 seconds then  I restarted running on the same rhythm that I started – I don’t like changing my rhythm. I did another 2.6 miles, I ran this 2.6 miles in 26 minutes as well. 
But from this point I started paying for the silly mistake I did: before running I always drink a big glass of water to hydrate my body during the run (and Pip often brings some water) but because I was so motivated to run this loop I forgot to drink my water.  Anyway, from this moment I started to feel my mouth and my throat becoming dry, and it was more difficult to run like this so I decided to walk another 20/30 seconds only and then carry on running. 
After another 1.5 miles (in 13 minutes) I felt really low, my mouth and throat were dryer and dryer and it became really difficult to run like this. At this point I was in the park and it left me only 1.3 miles to finish. But my body was too tired to carry on running, my legs were aching a lot, my ankle starting to hurt as well, my mouth and throat were dryer than the water in the middle of the Sahara… So I decided to walk home. 
When I was in the park after a 20-second walk, it was downhill, so it was faster to run down the hill than walk. I restarted running without forcing anything, I just let my body go down the hill. Then, when I reach the end of it I felt that I did rest my legs a bit so I carried on running until home. 
I did the 8 miles in 77 minutes in total, which is not too bad. I’m happy with myself, I know I did not too bad. But to be honest today my legs are killing me! Each step I’m taking is really hard (but I like it).

Please don’t forget to sponsor Pip and I for the half marathon, we are running for Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare. Every donation is important; every little penny will help them to carry on doing a great job for all the greyhounds. Please don’t forget, WE COUNT ON YOU!
Princess' Voice: YEAH give some money for Pickle and the Big Wuss! (that's right, we have voices for our greyhounds).

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Book Review: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Today is Leo Tolstoy’s 186th birthday, so it seems timely to post my review of Anna Karenina. My grandparents bought me the book for my 23rd birthday, but I didn’t actually read it until this year. I say read – I devoured it on holiday and on every work lunch break until I finished it.
Published in instalments between 1873 and 1877, the novel documents Anna’s ill-fated affair with Count Vronsky. Contrasted with this is the story of Levin, a pensive man who’s searching for meaning in his life.

First, let me give you a bit of history – I watched the Kiera Knightley version of the film a few years ago and, while I was quite disappointed, I became curious about the book. In the film, Levin’s story felt like a random addition rather than an important part of the story, so I wanted to know what significance he held in Tolstoy’s novel.

Anna Karenina opens with Anna’s brother, Stephan Oblonsky, in trouble with his wife, Dolly, for having an affair with the children’s nanny. Anna comes to their residence in Moscow to resolve the dispute and keep the marriage together. Levin, Oblonsky’s friend, also travels to Moscow from his farming estate in the country to propose to Dolly’s youngest sister, Kitty. 

He learns that Kitty is being courted by Alexei Vronsky – Kitty turns down Levin but, at an important ball, she realises Vronsky has fallen in love with Anna and won’t marry her. Anna and Vronsky met briefly when Anna arrived in Moscow, after travelling with Vronsky’s mother. 

Anna is shaken by her reaction to Vronsky – who declares his love for her – and realises, when she returns to St. Petersburg, that she does not love her husband. She remains devoted, however, to her son, Seryozha.

She does, eventually, leave Alexei for Vronsky, and so the drama unfolds...

AK is rich in issues of class, gender, politics, religion... but, overall, I felt the main theme was social inequality – particularly the differences between men and women, and rich and poor.

I thought I would find Anna a strong, admirable character, but as her affair progresses with Vronsky, she changes from confident and respected to jealous, volatile and manipulative. I can’t say I felt sad for her at the end. However, it is deeply unfair how Vronsky is still welcomed in society and the political arena, while Anna is wholly rejected by society and her supposed friends. Twinned with this is Alexei’s loss of respect and power because of Anna’s affair – deemed unmanly for not being able to keep his wife, he, too, suffers. The affair demonstrates the rigid social expectations of men and women in 19th century Russia, which I found fascinating and a little disturbing.

While Anna is acting out her own ruin in the cities, Levin escapes back to the country after his failed proposal to Kitty. I found him bad-tempered and a little self-absorbed, but his narrative gave the novel a more philosophical edge – he questions how to make changes to farming, and how to make his workers more effective, but their adversity to change and his inability to implement it seems to be a wider reflection on 19th century Russia as a whole.

I was fond of Stephan Oblonsky - he is a bit of a rogue, not paying his debts and being unfaithful to his wife, but his actions do provide light relief. I laughed out loud when Levin, Vronsky, Oblonsky and a few others are voting in Parliament, and the vote counters pull out a nut and a button from the ballot box. It was so unexpected that it really made me giggle!  

Anna Karenina is an intelligent read and a true classic; I can’t wait to read more of Tolstoy’s work.

Happy birthday Tolstoy!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

August Round Up

This update comes a little late, but I have got lots to tell you (some of it crosses over into this month but whatever)...


I have an announcement to make. After careful and prolonged consideration, I am leaving publishing to pursue teaching. This is not a decision I have made lightly, and I can tell you it was a genuine shock when I realised… I really miss teaching. I like my job, but it doesn’t give me that sense of joy that comes from being in the classroom – I thought, when I was teaching, that working in publishing would give me that spark, but it seems I had it all along. I’m sad because I spent so long trying to get into the industry, and of course I’ve considered if it is this role specifically, but even the idea of editing doesn’t fill me with excitement anymore. I know many people will have a strong view on my decision, and it’s the same as when I went to Uni in 2008 and dropped out – at the time it was terrifying, but it was the best thing I could have done. So, the studying begins again… 


Still no dye! It’s been 10 months now. My hair is so much healthier from lack of colouring and chopping off a large chunk of it – I’m not saying I’ll never dye it again, but I’ll certainly be more fussy about the dyes I use. I haven’t missed ‘fading anxiety’ (I made that up but serial hair-dyers will understand)


Maxx and I came back from the World Equestrian Games last week (blog post to come), which meant spending every evening with his family, so I had plenty of chances to practice my Franglais. Although my French isn’t perfect, I’m certainly more confident when speaking.

SJ competitions

I finally had an SJ lesson! Ernest was a little unfit at the time so we only did 25 minutes - instead of 45 - but it was fun! I felt all wobbly and unsure of my riding after such a long time off, but Ernest still sailed through the air like Pegasus. Since my lesson, I’ve been upping Ernest’s exercise to get him back on form, not that he minds cantering around fields. I’ve entered 3 dressage competitions, 20th September, 11th October and 29th November, but haven’t seen any unaffiliated SJ competitions advertised recently. At the Games, I may also have bought Ernest some fabulously sparkly blue ribbons for his plaits, in anticipation of the dressage competitions…


We’re 31 days away from the half marathon now, and I’m starting to feel excited and nervous. I went for a run on the course by myself last night, to conquer my fear of the big hills – it worked. The loop I did took 74 minutes, which I thought was extremely slow as my route was only 4/5 miles; I drove round it afterwards and was pleasantly surprised to find it was actually 7.2 miles. I managed half of both hills, but with another 3 weeks to go I’m sure I’ll be able to improve on this. Last night was a real battle with the voice in my head, which tells me how painful it is, how much my ankle hurts, how I won’t be able to do it, how tired I am... I did walk a few times, the longest for about 2 minutes, but I made myself get going again. I’ve developed an even stronger voice, which sounds like an army commander, who positively screams at me that I can do it, I will do it, I’m doing it for Rio, for Claus, for Jimmy, for Princess, for Lassie, for all the hounds at Hersham, and I am not going to quit! Going out alone, with only myself to rely on, was a rewarding experience and I can now say I’m looking forward to October 5th. I ain’t scared of no hill.

Body Fat

The BFF Challenge required me to lose 2%, and if I failed I have to do kettlebell swings to failure. Well, I’d been eating 100 times better and running a lot, but I’ve put on ¼%! What surprised me more was my reaction – I’m completely OK with it. Unlike the last BF update, where I’d put on 3% because of eating like a hog and felt really disappointed in myself, The Smiling Assassin and I attributed this gain to the high-carb diet I’ve been on since upping my half marathon training and the lack of weightlifting. Even though this wasn’t the result I wanted, I’m going to continue my healthy diet and see if my body fat goes down again once I’m off the carbs. If it continues to rise, I’ll look into it...

New Country

Maxx and I are going away with friends next year, and then with family, but if we can afford to we’re aiming for a long weekend in Ireland.