Sunday, 26 June 2016

Badminton Grassroots: a first-timer's experience

Jessie Vanassche was the winner of the Ian White Memorial Trophy in 2015. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength. In May, she travelled to the hallowed turf of Badminton to compete in the BE90 Grassroots Championships for the first time..and she did rather well! Here she tells of her experience.

Although course walks with professional riders were offered, Jessie followed her trainer's instruction and walked the crosscountry track first with her mum and then on her own. This helped her to 'get in the zone and fully concentrated on the job in hand'. There was also a crosscountry app available for download which Jessie found helpful for reminding her of the course throughout the preparations. On the eve of the event, everyone gathered together for welcoming drinks and this proved to be a very special moment for Jessie. 'I chatted with both Mary and Emily King about the competition ahead!'

The day of the event dawned. 'Considering I was riding at Badminton, I felt surprisingly calm', explained Jessie. While she walked the course one more time,  her mum and friend Heidi smartened up DaVinci and the rest of her support team arrived over from the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately, Jessie's trainer/cousin Sarah Holmes couldn't make it, but her aunt came instead to help Jessie and DaVinci warm up. 'Having her there definitely helped my performance on the day as I was so relaxed.'

Jessie was a little concerned about how DV would react to the dressage arenas given there were flowers, signs and flags everywhere. 'But much to my delight, he must have known it was an important day because he didn't look at anything and stayed on my side throughout the whole test. We finished with a score of 25.3!' After watching how the crosscountry course was riding for her fellow competitors, Jessie and DV focused on the showjumping phase and the pair put in a fantastic performance to jump clear. 'DV jumped brilliantly considering the course was up to height and had been built in a way which I knew could potentially catch us out. Hearing the cheer of my supporters as we went through the finish put a massive smile on my face knowing we were through to the last phase on 25.3.'

On the way to crosscountry, Jessie knew she was in the top 5, but she had to push that to the back of her mind to fully concentrate on the next task. 'As I got to the start I had goosebumps all over at the thought of riding around the famous Badminton Estate. I knew I would need to attack every fence, especially the water as it was early on in the course (fence 5) and that's where the crowds would be.' DV gave her a super ride round and as they came over the finish line, Jessie checked her watch to find they had completed dead on the optimum time. 'I jumped off to a hug from mum knowing we  had done the best we could - finally, the hard work had paid off.' After cooling DV, Jessie heard the news that they had come second. 'I don't there were many dry eyes in my little support group, I was thrilled.'

The prize giving was performed in front of Badminton House. The top 6 riders were escorted down to the house to wait for the 4* trot up to finish before being called forward. 'When I entered the prize giving, Mary King spotted me and gave me a thumbs up, how cool is that?' laughs Jessie. Straight after the prize giving, Jessie was taken over to the media centre to attend a press conference along with the winner. 'I got back to the lorry to find the celebration drinks had already started flowing and DV was tucked up in bed for the night.'

'It has all been slightly unreal and it took a good week after for it to even sink in.' Jessie and DV now hope to qualify again but this time at BE100 level. And a top tip for those who qualify next year? 'You can only do what you can do. Don't put yourself under pressure because it's Badminton; treat it as any other event and enjoy.'

Kathryn White is owner and director of Cathean Ltd Medical and Copy Writing Services. She is a published medical, copy and equestrian writer with a passion for creating compelling text in collaboration with her clients. Her customers include pharmaceutical, healthcare and equestrian businesses across the world.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Another layer of the onion is peeled: moving on after losing a life partner

As we near what would have been Ian's 50th birthday, I feel another milestone is reached and a new phase is starting.
 A good friend of mine likened the process of grief as peeling the layers of an onion. Not that the grief diminishes, it's just that with each phase, or layer, you learn something new and move on. For anyone going through the loss of a life partner, whether it be through bereavement or divorce, it is a significant and traumatic event that shatters your life, future and self-confidence into tiny, heart-wrenching fragments.  Here's my story so far and what I've learned.

When Ian died, lots of people kept telling me: 'You're so young - you will find someone else'. They meant well, but I was horrified at the thought. Ian was my soulmate; we met when I was 19, and we were going to grow old together. Why would I now want to be with anyone else? No, I was quite happy being by myself with my memories as company, thank you very much. And, to my shame, I judged other widows who had found happiness with someone else...

Then, quite unexpectedly, I too met someone and realised that being with another man was possible - that it wasn't a case of 'replacing Ian' - I could love again in a new and different way. But the guilt of moving on never left me. It always felt like there were 3 people in that relationship. Fortunately, my partner was incredibly understanding and supportive, and we had a fun-filled 6 years together. 

Looking back, I went into that relationship feeling vulnerable and in need of being loved - more than I cared to admit - and I always felt like I was 'Ian's widow'. When we parted ways earlier this year, I emerged feeling stronger from having had that experience. I feel happy to be me - not as anyone's partner, wife or widow - but plain old me. And it feels good! My wedding rings have been removed from my finger and stored carefully with love. There are no shrines to Ian in my home, but pictures of us competing our horses remain on the walls to depict the amazing experiences I had with a very special man. Experiences that form a significant part of my past. And, what really matters is what is in my heart. No-one can ever take my memories away, and no-one will take away the love Ian and I shared.

I feel hopeful about the future. I know now that I can be happy either on my own or with someone new. I am a strong, capable, independent woman either way. I am me, and I no longer feel the same guilt about moving on with my life. Ian helped me to understand the power of opening up my heart and letting someone in - however vulnerable that can make us feel at times. I haven't got here on my own either. I have had, and continue to have, the love of my friends and professional support from counselors and coaches. It's through this professional framework that I have discovered who I really am, and I no longer hold the belief that I am weaker for wanting someone to share my life in the future  - it doesn't have to mean I am any less independent (or stubborn!).  I don't think many of us can journey through life and take the knocks without professional guidance.

None of us are perfect either - and that's ok too. I have had my fair share of wobbly days when I want to scream at the unfairness of it all, and need to remain under my duvet and weep. It's all part of the process, and I am ready to peel another layer of that onion of grief.

I am ready to seize life in this new phase, single or not, and enjoy living it my way, as me.

I would love to hear your stories of rebuilding your life after a significant event. Please feel able to share.
Kathryn White is owner and director of Cathean Ltd Medical and Copy Writing Services. She is a published medical, copy and equestrian writer with a passion for creating compelling text in collaboration with her clients. Her customers include pharmaceutical, healthcare and equestrian businesses across the world.