As an event rider that has struggled with the numerous solitary lockdowns in my caravan in West Wales, I had been spending more time than ever on social media. With all but a few competitions running, and no clarity for the season ahead, I guess I felt a bit directionless.
About 12 weeks ago I happened to see a post on Facebook about a group of women who had all taken on a cold swim at our local beach. I can't explain what it was that made me want to get involved but before I knew it I'd joined the Ceredigion Bluetits and had arranged my first cold sea swim with two women I'd never met before, at 8am on a Sunday morning in misty Llangrannog.
The rest of this piece describes the whirlwind journey that the last 12 weeks have taken me on!
Wading into the sea at Llangrannog, that first cold misty morning, is something I will never forget. Little did I know then that I'd soon be planning my days around tides, wave charts and the availability of some of the most incredible friends, old and new.
The cold shock that encompasses your body can be enough to render you completely frozen in motion but as your body adjusts to the new icy temperature a feeling of euphoria takes over every cell in your being. There is something beautiful in that moment, something that only a fellow cold swimmer will understand. From that second, I was hooked. Hooked on the feeling of freedom that swamps you from the second your toe touches the icy water.
The shock is so intense that it is only possible to live in the now whilst you are in the water. This means all worries, fears and doubts from an increasingly uncertain world around us can momentarily be forgotten. Cold water swimming teaches self-control. The best way to feel comfortable in the water is to relax your muscles when your impulse is to do the exact opposite. In some ways, I can liken it to riding, and the self-control needed to pull off an impeccable test or hurtle round a cross country course on wet ground.
I began to crave the water and to be near it had become a physical need and this was something I'd never experienced. In a time when our freedom has felt so compromised, when the whole world felt dangerous and controlled, there was such freedom in the weightlessness of the water. I soon found myself swimming at every given opportunity. Setting my alarm an extra hour earlier so I could grab a quick dip between mucking out and working horses and before starting work at 9am.
In a time filled with uncertainty I can quite honestly say that swimming has saved me this winter. To give something back, I have taken on a winter swim challenge which involves 30 cold water swims before the end of January. I completed my last swim in line with the full moon last night. Luckily charitable events are permitted to continue in Wales during lockdown, which has meant we can continue to fundraise within the law. If anyone would like to donate, the link is provided below. All funds go towards supporting Crisis - the UK's leading homeless charity.
Photo credits: Sian Broderick