Dressage debut

The weather, which had been so pleasantly sunny in the morning, had proved fickle again, and by the time I got out of the door with my clean tack, white saddle pad, jacket, camera and drink, it was very rainy indeed. I had knotted my hair up and I was wearing my show gear except for my long boots, jacket and hairnet, but I had a large pair of waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket over the top so that everything would stay clean. I’d planned to wear the waterproofs just to stay clean but as it was raining they served a dual purpose.

I arrived at the yard and, after a bit of dithering about parking spaces, managed to transfer myself and my stuff from car to stable.DSCN4201 Pleasingly, Drifter seemed not to have dirtied himself much since the grooming that morning, so I could focus on plaiting and then just give him a quick swipe with a brush or two. When plaiting I am always pleased that he’s not too tall – I can plait standing on the ground, saving me from balancing on an upturned bucket. Really I should have pulled his mane a little shorter – the plaits are rather bulky, but I thought they did the job OK. I’m afraid it’s not a great picture but it’s the only picture I have of the mane before we went out. I had plenty of things to think about and pictures of plaits wasn’t high up my agenda. Here a picture of the tail that I took afterwards.
DSCN4230We have an agreement, regarding mane pulling and plaiting. He’ll stand nicely without needing to be tied up and let me do it and in return he’ll get regular bribe treat breaks. This seems to work well for us. If he looks round hopefully for a treat and I think he’s not being patient enough I push his head gently back to looking ahead of him and carry on. In general if I’m doing things with him in the stable I don’t tie him up. On occasions when he’s stressed or upset and we’re in the stable I find him easier to manage at liberty than when his head is tied but he’s swinging the back end to and fro. If he’s free to turn to face whatever’s bothering him he stays a lot calmer.

Mr Sparrowgrass arrived while I was plaiting and kept calling regular time checks to me. I finished grooming and tacked up, including the new white saddle pad and the new flash noseband, put on my hairnet, stripped off my waterproofs, changed into my long boots, added the jacket, thrust the white gloves at Mr Sparrowgrass to hold, brought Drifter out, got Mr S to hold him too, put hoof oil on him (D, not Mr S!) and put my gloves on. A member of staff came round just as I was finishing all this to check we were on our way to warm up. I led him into the warm-up arena and tried to tighten the girth. Unfortunately my new white gloves afforded no grip on the clean leather, so I had to take one off to get the job done. A spectator offered to hold him for me to mount at the block (he is often impatient at the block and with 4 other ponies in the arena warming up with us, he was about to be unhelpful if not encouraged not to walk off before I was on board), which was much appreciated. During the warm-up I was really glad of the jacket as the rain sheeted down on us. After only a few minutes the sleeves were soaked through.


As I warmed up I took stock of the competition arena adjacent. The judges “booth” was a small car which had been parked so that the judges in the front seat had a nice view down the centre line at C. The entry bell was the car horn. That sounds savage, but it’s quite a modestly voiced car, and I did not see any horses startle from it. Because the arena is ordinarily longer, the letters attached to the fences are not in the right places when the end is chopped off the arena. For this reason there were moveable signs with the letters on at the correct positions for a test. It didn’t look too scary.

We were allowed a caller to read the test as we rode it (at a small extra fee) and I’d opted to use one for the reassurance that under pressure I wouldn’t suddenly get lost and forget where to go.

It was our turn. We entered the arena and walked and trotted around a little. I made sure to take him past the car at C to give him a chance to look at it before we started.

I think it’s fair to say we were both pretty tense. He stuck his head in the air and I forgot about pretty much everything except steering. I had a moment of blind panic where I hadn’t really listened to which letter the caller said and suddenly wasn’t sure “is it at this corner I turn across the diagonal or do I wait until the next one?” I turned, and it was the correct place. Also in the 3-loop serpentine I panicked because there were no “middle” letters. Apparently in a small arena R, S, V and P aren’t supposed to be marked, although they are marked in all of our schools regardless of size. I set out on the first loop of my serpentine expecting to turn at a letter and suddenly finding that there was no letter in front of me. As I progressed through the serpentine I realised none of the letters I was looking for were there and I had to plan my own route for the first time ever. I’m not sure I breathed until we finished that figure! I felt very hot despite the freezing rain on my soaked jacket. In both an eternity and no time at all it was the end, halt, salute and leave the arena. After cooling him off I led him back round to his stable, where Mr Sparrowgrass took some more relaxed pictures of us. DSCN4214

Then I rugged him, fed him and waited for the results.
DSCN4239There was a professional photographer there and we occupied some time perusing her wares. It appears that next time I do a dressage test I need to consider doing the test without grimacing constantly. There were very few frames in which I wasn’t gurning, but we did purchase a few to commemorate our first dressage test.

There were only 4 adults doing the walk-trot test and I was pretty sure we would come last of the 4, so I decided that I would measure my score against all the other competitors regardless of age. After all I’ve only been riding for 2 years – less than some of the 6 year olds. I decided that as long as I didn’t come last out of the entire field then I’d be happy. And after all we hadn’t had any bucking or gone out of the arena and we’d completed the test, so we’d met the goals I’d set myself for the day.

Eventually the scores were available and the marks sheets and rosettes handed out. We got 61%, which I think is pretty respectable for a first dressage test. As I had expected this put us 4th of 4 in the adult competition but I was pleased to see that looking at all of the walk-trot scores for the day, we were pretty much in the middle of the field. The highest and lowest scores were 52 and 71, the 71 posted by the youngest competitor there.

I scored a mix of 6s and 7s, with a (double scored) 5 for free walk on a long rein. I was amused to see that both the serpentine and the diagonal where I thought I might be turning in the wrong place scored 7 each – I must have done OK despite the panic. I was disappointed in the free walk mark, not only because it’s not good to get your lowest mark on the thing that counts twice, but also because when we started practicing the test we couldn’t get across the diagonal on a free rein without wandering left and right. Still if we get a 5 when we’re straight, I dread to think what we would have got if we hadn’t already improved that!

I have a lot of different feelings now, some of them contradictory.

I feel like a champion because we completed the test with all the elements in place.

I feel ashamed of how far we were from going on the bit.

I think we looked awesome.

I think we looked like an overdressed gurner on a short black giraffe with funny plaits (yes we both had funny plaits, but mine were in a hairnet)

I’m delighted with 61%.

I’m disappointed with the free walk mark.

I’m delighted the free walk was straight.

I want to do next month’s test and show improvement.

I don’t have the energy to do another test any time soon.

In short, I am the old negative me and the new positive me, both at the same time. It’s quite confusing. But both of me agree that we achieved a lot, getting dressed up and achieving a dressage test and getting our first rosette.



11 thoughts on “Dressage debut

  1. thecasualrider says:

    Well done, SG. I got some chuckles (hoof oil not going on Mr. SG), and held my breath (serpentine) as I read. I can’t imagine ever doing this! I understand that 61% is not bad at all. And I would be just as you are in analyzing (this comes from watching myself on video of skating events….) — simultaneously positive and negative. The photos of you and Drifter are wonderful. And all of this done in the rain. So proud of you!

    • Sparrowgrass says:

      Thanks 🙂 It occurred to me just before we went to warm up that we were much better prepared (having schooled in the rain a lot) than those who usually scurry to ride in the indoor school or refuse to ride in the rain.

      • thecasualrider says:

        I hear you there! Our arena is not covered……and there’s only the one…

  2. onahorse says:

    Coming fourth on your first test! That’s pretty amazing, really 🙂 Congratulations, and you both looked great!

  3. mellchan says:

    Wow, thats just great! I have the opportunity to participate in my first dressage test but have been quite literally dragging my feet about it.

    Your photos are darling and you both look lovely!

  4. Liz at Libro says:

    You were SO BRAVE – that was amazing to read and you did so well. Love the plaits, too. Congratulations, I would never dare do anything like that!

    • Sparrowgrass says:

      Thanks! The thing about being brave is that it gets a bit easier every time you do something scary. We’ve done quite a lot of scary stuff now so we have our bravery ready to hand when needed!

  5. Showrider says:

    Well done! Please don’t dwell on the negatives. Sounds like you had a wonderful day. Give yourself some credit, will you! 🙂 Photos look great as well!

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