So … I did a couple of dressage tests.
Yep. That’s right. I’ve gone from barely doing more than patting a pony for ages and as soon as I decide I’m heading back towards normality I’m in the white breeches doing that centre-line thing and making circles in the sandpit again. But doing it on a very restricted budget of energy and being forced to cut corners.
Why did I do it? Because the show was at our yard. Because the show might be the last ever at our yard because we just aren’t getting enough entries to pay someone to judge. Because I got all my lovely new show clothes in the summer and haven’t worn them yet except for my readers’ viewing pleasure. Because I checked that I physically could ride for 4 min, have a rest and ride again for 5 (it takes about 4 min to do an Intro level test and about 5 for a Prelim.) Because it I’d broken up from work for Christmas so if it wiped me out for a few days afterwards I could just stay in bed. Because I didn’t want to miss out. Because dressage!
So I’d decided I was doing it a day or two before the show. So now it was time to think about washing my pony. Hmm. And then plaiting my pony. Hmm. Could I do those things? I suspect not. Sigh. Looks like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. But again keeping the para-riders in my mind I reminded myself that there is no shame in paying someone to do something you can’t do (or can’t do without spending so much energy you then can’t ride). They say it takes a village to raise a child; well it often takes a village to get a horse and competitor down the centre-line. Time to accept some help and let go of trying to do everything myself.
As D is scared of water I didn’t really want to get staff to wash D, in case they knocked back his enormous progress with this fear-so I have to admit he just got a spot wash from me the day before the show. I’d love to have had a gleaming horse, but between his limitations and mine it didn’t really happen. As he was clipped relatively recently he doesn’t take much brushing to shine, which was lucky because I didn’t have the elbow grease to spare!
But I stumped up the cash for plaiting because there was no way I could do it. Plaiting is physically hard, even for those in full health and even if I didn’t have to ride the tests afterwards I’d have struggled to do even a single plait I think.
The morning came, and my instructor came to plait. I was really pleased because to my taste he does the best plaits on the yard. There’s one other person on the yard in his league, but apart from her no one else comes close. As he plaited I watched closely to try to pick up things that would improve my plaiting when I next do my own plaiting, and chattered on about things in my head, including the two tests ahead.
Driter’s mane was not in a good state for the perfect plaits. I knew this and was interested to see how well he’d do – I’ve only seen his plaits in professionally pulled manes before, which D’s is not. The state of pulling is not great – it could be a lot more even. Also there is a thin patch where one rug rubs, a lot of broken hair on the visible side of the mane where the neck of another rug breaks it and the top of his forelock is all short because his fly mask rubbed that in summer. I was secretly pleased to see that my professional plaiter couldn’t entirely hide these flaws but he did a damn fine job. Once he’d finished it was the best and smartest D’s mane has ever looked. So at least I felt I’d got something for my money.
A lick and a promise on the rest of my grooming and it was time to tack up. My bridle I’d cleaned properly but the weighty saddle is too much so that too had only had a lick and a promise. It did occur to me that I might get on with my new white breeches and end up with a dirty butt because I hadn’t been able to clean the saddle properly, but I got away with it.
I didn’t oil his hooves. Bending to do them was energy I didn’t have. I’m sure I could have asked someone to do them for me, but I’m still not used to asking for help and time was getting on so I just skipped it.
So I climbed aboard and began the balancing act of trying to warm him up while not expending any of my energy. We did OK, heading into the competition arena far less warm than I would like but still with me feeling that I had enough in reserve to ride the test, which was British Dressage Into. A, a walk/trot test. I hadn’t cantered in warm up, which I knew was detrimental to the quality of his trot and his impulsion, but if he’s not yet cantered I have a lot more in the way of obedience and brakes, and hence accuracy. I had a caller for the test for a few reasons: I’ve not yet been brave enough to do a test without a caller, I’d managed to learn it wrong and so was extra likely to either get it wrong or blank about where I was going and with my health as it is I have been a lot more forgetful and woolly-brained of late.*
The test went OK. I was out of breath pretty much from the start, but I kept breathing, which is always a positive step I find! Drifter was obedient and listening but not working up to the bit nearly as well as he can, because he wasn’t properly warmed up. I did have one surprise though, when I looked at the judge’s table. We usually hire an external judge, but the last few shows were cancelled so I think on this occasion they decided not to because they didn’t know if it would go ahead. The judge was the very same instructor that did D’s plaits and to whom I’d been mindlessly chattering about my thoughts on the tests as he plaited. During the test I didn’t have time to dwell on this but afterwards I was embarrassed that he might have thought I was trying to influence his judging by talking about my tests. At the end of the day I was keen to tell him I’d had no idea he was judging until I got into the competition arena.
I felt that the test went respectably but not didn’t have any polish or sparkle. But that was more than enough for me to be very proud of. Considering I was riding a horse who’d had not structured schooling or even a solid exercise programme since autumn and spent most of the summer in rehab from injury; and that the rider has mostly sat in front of the television for months I am glowing with pride.
So out we went and had a bit of a rest before it was time to warm up again for our Prelim test. Around this point I decided to try the Prelim test without a caller.
Unfortunately by this point in the day they were running quite late, which meant we were in warm up for far longer than I could manage. D, who had already worked and rested, was fine with the return to the warm-up, but after a little walk trot and canter I had to rest. When I went to fire him up again he was resistant. Not that I can blame him for thinking he’d finished, but most unfortunately due to the delays we had to ride a little, rest a little, ride a little, rest a little for a long time.
When we finally got into the competition arena again Drifter was firmly against the idea of doing any more work. Which is why we got a 4 for our entering centre line! I’m pretty sure entering in working trot is not supposed to be two steps of trot followed by an attempted halt by the horse and a pair of total pony-club kicks** by the rider to get him going, none of which actually being on the centre line, but somewhere to the left. After that point he worked better – those being the only pony-club kicks he’s ever had from me they made my point. In a way at least getting a bad start I wasn’t going to be messing up perfection if I went wrong later on, so I carried on feeling like the pressure was off me a bit. My two goals were to get through to the end of the test physically and to go the right way. Anything else would be icing on the cake. By this point I was knackered, so I cannot be sure whether the bits where he tried to wander off the track were him playing up or me doing strange things with the aids, but it was all very inaccurate. We got a 5 for submission which I feel was quite generous, considering, because he was not interested in going nicely for me and I had nothing left with which to persuade him! Was it a well performed test? No. Was I proud? Hell yes. I’d just ridden my first ever test without a caller. With no real physical strength or energy I’d got a reluctant horse to produce a vaguely recognisable version of Prelim 18. I was delighted that we had downwards transitions from canter because, particularly when he’s not in the mood, he just runs away in canter and won’t come back, which would have ruined this test completely. And it was only the third time we’d ever done a Prelim anyway.
I was expecting tough but fair marking and I was not wrong in this. We got 56.52 for Intro. A and 57.08 for Prelim 18. It was the first time ever where I have looked down my comments and scores and agreed that everything I got was an accurate reflection of what I had done on each movement.
Some points and trends from the marking:
- centrelines and halts were uniformly low scoring. I’m not surprised about the halts but we can do better on centrelines so that’s something we can look at when I’m back to schooling him regularly.
- Stretching in free walk on a long rein is no longer our nemesis!! Every one of our dressage comments sheets used to say a variant on “not much stretching,” even on one occasion “no stretch shown.” This double-marked movement was in both tests and at Intro we got a 6 with the comment “good stretch, walk lacks purpose” and in the Prelim no comment but a 7 (which was the highest mark we got all day). Obviously there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but it’s no longer our weakest movement.
- Overall comment for Prelim amused me: “Rhythm was rather varied, also affecting accuracy of movements.” Such a polite way of saying that I had no idea how fast the next stride was coming up and was doing my best to steer an erratic beastie who uses rushing and dragging to express his displeasure in still being ridden. I’m lucky I don’t have a bucking pony who uses the ejector seat when he’s had enough! When in ordinary fitness I can put him into a sensible rhythm even if he’s not in the mood, but at the moment I can’t. I don’t blame him for being irritated when he’d been messed around so much and so many times though he’d finished, and when he’s not had proper regular schooling for a long, long time. I am pleased with what we achieved.
Both of the scores put us into last place, but as there were few entrants that meant a 2nd and a 4th rosette for me. It would have been nice to have beaten someone, but no one else was competing on little health and no practice so in my mind I was in a category all my own and so got a double win 😀 I am blown away by how much we achieved all things considered. Getting high scores was never on our to-do list for this one.
I am utterly drained now and can do little but rest but I don’t regret it for a moment. For the first time in months I’ve done something I’m proud of. And my second test I did without a caller, which I’d never done before even in good health.
*I meant this in a foggy brain sort of way, but I’m also woolly-brained in a more positive way with the crochet side of things 😉
** I.e. massive great hefty inelegant non-dressagey kicks.
All photography credits to my mother, who had a low light arena, no flash and an unfamiliar camera to work with.