Dressage, crochet and no jumping, thank you very much

Considering that it was only in the early hours of Friday morning that I made the decision not to jump today (Sunday) I found that I had completely failed to worry about the dressage. This had pros and cons. On the one hand I wasn’t feeling pressured about it. On the other hand I realised I couldn’t remember the walk-trot test at all. Oh. But I’d asked for a caller on my entry form, so it would all be fine. I continued not to worry.

I was rather preoccupied with getting good plaits, having asked for advice on the matter following the last dressage test in which a staff member put some stunning plaits in for someone (at a fee of course). I was also preoccupied with fly bonnets.

All I wanted was a white fly bonnet. I prefer to buy my horse supplies from local businesses where possible, so although I could have bought some on the internet, I tried to buy them from shops. Ever since I got him, every time I went to a horse shop I looked for a pair of white ears… and came back not having found any (or none in full size, anyway).

We do have a red pair with gold trim, which are gaudy but fun, and a basic black pair with tassels. In previous outdoor dressage tests we’ve worn the black ones but I really did want some white ones. One day I looked at the red ears and thought, “These are really not a complex shape. How hard can it be to crochet my own?”

Well… harder than I hoped… but manageable.

First I got the internet to teach me the basic stitches, and had a go at producing basic squares and triangles. That achieved, I trawled the internet for a pattern I wouldn’t have to pay for. I found one… but I didn’t really like it. So I tried customising it. The end result was … wearable… and Drifter seemed to find them very comfortable, but the ears came out rather too long and floppy. But not bad for a first attempt. I’m afraid I don’t seem to have a picture (although I was sure I took one) and I’ve left it at the stables.

So after that I’d been browsing the internet, as one does, and came across a pattern on Etsy (by popelkaLida) that looked beautiful. I had to buy it.

Fast-forward to last night, and I was crocheting as fast as my hands could go. How much nicer would it be to wear the pretty ears rather than the design-as-you-go-too-big-in-the-ears ones? But could I finish in time? Last night I finished all the structure, but there was a line of embellishment all round the outside that was not done. They were wearable without it – should I try to finish that too or not? I decided it was doable, and in the morning sped round it as best I could between mouthfuls of breakfast. About 2/3 of the way round I had to stuff it in my bag and go. If I got a chance to finish at the yard, so be it. If not, we’d wear the too long ones.

I arrived on the yard. I had bathed him the day before, and as it’s still only 5 days since he was clipped I knew grooming the body was not going to be time-consuming. I plaited the mane before even brushing anything else. For the first time I used a sectioning clip to keep the unwanted mane out of the way, and tried to space as evenly as possible.

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I was quite pleased with them… until I went out and saw some professionally done ones. Sigh. I need to watch someone very good to see how they fold them and get them tied in so close to the neck. Still, I think they were the best neck of plaits I’ve done so far.

Plaits done, I dived into the cool of the tack room and seized my crochet needle!

With almost an hour left before my first test, I completed the bonnet. This photo was taken with laying them on my legs as I sat on the tack room floor – the cleanest place I could find!DSCN4800

The ears are actually same size as each other, but it’s hard to quickly take a picture of something laying on your legs while at the same time sympathetically listening to someone telling you about their lame horse, so please make allowances. In real life they look much better than this picture, if I do say so myself.

So I ran a brush over the horse, plaited the tail (badly, because for the first time ever I’d got the tail really clean, so it was very slippery and the top of the plait went off centre) and started tacking up. And discovered that the ear bonnet was rather small for him. I thought it would do, so I popped everything on and went off to warm up.

We had a reasonable warmup, but even then, at about 10.10, it was hot hot hot. My jacket and tie were not my friends!

There didn’t seem to be anyone to take us round, so a few minutes before our time I went round to the school. Unfortunately, the judge had decided that C wasn’t central and was moving it. We waited outside for some time while they got C in a place everyone agreed on. I was pleased to notice that they’d covered the “wrong” dressage letters, so only the movable ones that related to the test were showing.

Eventually we were asked to go into the arena. On our first little foray down to the A end, BANG, FLAP, PANIC, SPOOK, WHOOSH.

Oh, I’m still on board. We’re on the other side of the school but I’m still on board. That’s handy. Nothing to see here, people, move along please.

We’re used to hearing shooting on Sundays, so few horses at our yard do more than flick an ear at the shots. But when there’s a gun shot about the same time as a piece of paper flaps at him… that’s scary stuff. The tape holding the paper over the incorrect letter F, visible in the far left of this photo, had partially given up, and in the wind, just as we were about to go past it, it tried to attack us.

 

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So we spent a minute or two looking at it, going past it one way then the other, and establishing that it was not going to do it again.

Then I twigged… there was no caller in the school. My turn to spook and panic! Handily there was another livery watching and I yelled for them to get my caller. Not very “dressage” of me to yell, perhaps, but not only had I asked for (and paid for) a caller on my entry, I’d double checked that morning that people knew I’d need a caller. I realised at this point that I could remember nothing of the test beyond entering at A in working trot. Luckily I’d yelled before they’d signalled me to start.

My caller arrived … without a copy of the test. The test was located, and eventually the car horn sounded for me to start. Enter at A in working trot… things were going OK despite our less than ideal beginning … circle here … well not too bad … turn right at E , 3-4 steps of walk across X, ooh that was quite nice and accurate, relax a bit … why did the car horn beep? I guess they leant on it by accident.

Nope. Caller is waving at me. Instead of tracking left when I reached B I’d tracked right. Oh. I was right about not knowing this test, wasn’t I?!

To quote my sat nav, “Make a u-turn, where possible.”

Ah well, might as well enjoy it now! We finished the test with no more incidents and gladly left the arena on a long rein. I left feeling that it might be the worst test we’d ever done, but I was proud not to have fallen off, and I could be happy with that.

Throughout the test and warmup I’d been aware his ear bonnet was too small. I wasn’t going to make him wear it for the second test. As if to confirm this, when we were walking to cool down back in the warmup arena, he managed to shake them off despite his bridle over the top of them. He has spoken. The ears do not fit.

I need to adapt the pattern to accommodate that Drifter is quite large at the base of the ear and his ears are quite long. I put them back on him long enough to make some notes about where I need extra rows and I’ll have another go. But what to do with these? Easy. While I’d been frantically finishing them in the tack room a girl had been admiring them very much. Her little horse is a bit finer boned and has smaller ears than Drifter. I would see if they’d fit her horse. She came out of her dressage test very down, so I followed her back to her stable and offered them to her. Her verge-of-tears face was transformed to smiles by the gift and I could not have been happier to present them to her. None of the work was wasted because they went to a horse they fitted and a rider who really appreciated them.

I had about an hour between my two tests. I had time for a drink and a cool down and to go and look at the scores so far. I was flabbergasted to see that despite my foray to the wrong end of the school, I was not quite in last place! Hurray!

And all too soon it was time to put the tack and jacket back on and warm up again. My second test was at 12 so it was really hot by now. I put the too-big ears on him and although they did look silly he was more comfortable and they would keep the flies out of his ears, so we went with it.

I started my warmup a few minutes later than I wished, and was told when I got there that we were running early! When the next rider came in she told me it is our right not to enter any earlier than our published time, but I knew I’d get more stressed if I tried to assert myself over that than just going in a bit earlier. The warmup had nice moments, but wasn’t awesome.

We were asked to go round and I could tell Drifter had had enough of the sun and the heat. He was sluggish and even getting him to the school took a lot of leg.

In we go. Try to get him moving. Energy energy energy. It was hot. And I haven’t needed to put that much effort into going forwards since I last rode I riding school horse. They took AGES to sound the horn for us to start. And we began.

To be honest I don’t remember much about the test except the unbearable heat and the extreme effort I needed to keep him going forwards. This might be working trot but I’m working far too hard here! We went the right way and we kept going. The canters were … well, not too bad for us. The second circle fell in, but we cantered in the right place and trotted in the right place and it was all satisfactory, although I feel that I did all the work for both of us. I really had to ride to get that test out of him so I’m proud of that. And of keeping going through the heat!

And oh, blessing of blessings we were finished! I would not be jumping! What a great pleasure it was to take jacket and tie off and know we were done!

So what did the scores say?

Walk-trot: 63.75 – 4th place (of 5)

Preliminary (i.e. w/t/c): 62.69 – 2nd place (of 3)

Notable marks and notes:

W/T: Well the going the wrong way produced my first 4, but to be honest I’ve had 5s before going the right way, so that could have been worse!

But some nice 7s for both centre lines and the halt, all of which can be problems for us. Considering how much went wrong at the start of this test (the direction problem was only the third movement of the test) I think I recovered very well and can be proud of this.

Prelim: For the canters, a 6 and a 6.5, each with the comment “active.” We seem to have turned last month’s “wayward” into “active.”  🙂 That can’t be bad. Although of course he was in a very lazy mood by that point! Again we have a 7 for the halt – we really seem to have done good things there – but my favourite comment, for a 20m circle in trot was “outline starting to show.” Hell yes. That’s what we’ve been waiting for. In the free comments section on both tests, among other comments, I got “lovely test”. Aw thanks!

Of course I took his plaits out, and here is the result. Who needs a perm, anyway!

DSCN4811All of the pictures below are from the walk trot test, as the heat, my red face, the floppy too-big ears and the massive effort I was putting in to keep him going all made the pictures from the second test somewhat less attractive than they might have been. So these are all pictures with the too small ears – I think they look pretty good in the pictures!

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Fear and admin in the Midlands : a somewhat bitty post, which could probably benefit mightily from harsh editing, which it didn’t get

Admin

My horse’s ancestors lives without ever having a bit of paper to their name. Why is it then that he seems to require constant paperwork, phone calls and time spent on human faff?

At present my (out of the saddle) horse to-do list looks like this:

  • E-mail equine dentist (3rd e-mail of this correspondence and we still don’t have a firm appointment)
  • Book leave to accommodate saddler appointment (the Bates is now due a check-up)
  • E-mail other person on yard to confirm we can see the saddle fitter on the same day and save on call-out
  • Pay livery bill
  • Pay rug wash bill
  • Leave money and fill in form for farrier
  • Leave instructions for clipping (more on this later if I remember)

In the last few days I have already ticked off:

  • Book jump lesson with busy owner of yard (1 e-mail – pretty good!)
  • Ring saddler (total of 3 times)
  • Miss calls / listen to answer phone messages from saddler (total of 3)
  • Fill in multiple forms for next competition day (see also Fear)
  • E-mail fellow livery about desirability of sharing saddling call out and coordinating date (2 e-mails – surprisingly easy!)
  • Collect rugs from laundry drop off spot
  • Make verbal enquiries about desirability of clipping

Luckily his vaccinations aren’t due for another month or two and so far he hasn’t managed to catch any of the bugs doing the rounds of the yard of late so we haven’t added vet communication to the list.

Riding

Since we saw Lee Pearson, the goal is to get Drifter onto the contact as much as I can. Sometimes this is easier than others. On Sunday morning, outdoors, him with his senses full of the wind, the strimmer across the field, and the turned out horses over there; and me with my Eurovision hang-over, this was not easy. After a few minutes I gave up. I almost gave up and got off, to be honest, but then my eye fell on the stack of cones. Time for something completely different.

Drifter was quite confused when I hopped off, took him out of the school to grab the cones and then took him into the school again. I laid out my cones down the centre line and across at right angles, ending up with a rather wonky cross, with the centre at x and in each direction a cone at about 7 meters and another at about 15. I’d picked them up thinking I’d work on circles, but now I had them laid out, they put me in mind of empty pairs of jump wings – like every gap between cones was an imaginary jump to aim at, to pick an imaginary jump and ride a line; make a course of invisible jumps and make the turns I’d need to get the lines.

So we hared around our invisible course of jumps and the pair of us had a whale of a time. Every time I got exhausted and suggested a bit of steady trotting he’d be offering canter like nobody’s business, so off we’d go again, twisting and turning and flying around the cones. When we needed to change the canter lead we came back to trot for a stride or two and were back off on the new leg before I could believe it. At one point we wove down a line of cones and I deliberately took the middle one in counter canter, just to try it! It was all fabulous. We had the excitement of jump-style rushing around in all directions, but without me worrying about the jumps. We both loved it.

Just a day or so before this I’d stated I’d be too nervous to ever try barrel racing. But what we’d been doing was belting around things on the ground, making tight turns back on ourself at times. It seems that sometimes barrel racing can sneak up on you unawares.

On a side note, having no ground crew, I was putting out cones (and later putting them away again) with him beside me. I had my eye and voice on him, but not my hands all of the time, though I kept him within range it case he should decide he wanted to do anything stupid. He invented a new game: every time he got a chance, he gently pushed the little cones over with his nose. What could possible be more helpful? Err, many things. But most of them would not have been nearly as adorable.

Fear

I have filled in the entry forms. The competition is on Sunday. There is no backing out.

I have entered:

  • Combined training
  • Prelim dressage
  • Clear round (x 2)

This means on Sunday I will be doing the following:

  1. Walk/trot dressage test (for combined training)
  2. Walt/trot/canter dressage test
  3. Course of about 10 tiny jumps (combined training. Somehow they do something with the scores from the walk/trot test and this jumping to give an overall placing)
  4. Clear round. (Jump everything with no faults to get a rosette.) Probably the same course as I’ve just done for combined training, but now I get to do it twice more.

Points that concern me:

1) Last time was the first time I’d competed 2 dressage tests instead of one and it was exhausting. So now I’m adding 3 rounds of jumping as well. Great.

2) 1st time jumping in competition

3) 1st time jumping in competition and I must get round to finding out the rules. I’m pretty sure the idea is to jump over all the things in the right order and failure to do so gets penalties, but perhaps I should have some more specific advice?

4) There will be fillers we’ve never seen before and so are complete unknown quantities

5) How the hell am I going to remember the course? I have callers for my dressage tests so I don’t get lost. I need sat nav!

6) The warm up area. Suddenly we go from max. 3 horses in that school to a free for all with a jump in it. Kids on ponies don’t always have a good concept of personal riding space… and teens on horses aren’t always much better.

7) Remembering to leave the martingale off for dressage but put it on for jumping.

Things that reassure me:

1) If I do get lost jumping, well, I’ve got 3 different tries at the course. Chances are I might get it by the third course, or, if not, the audience will probably take pity and shout where I’m supposed to go.

2) It is quite possible that I am the only adult doing the walk/trot combined training. Almost every other adult likely to enter would do the category with w/t/c and big jumps. So I suspect I’ll get a nice rosette unless I manage to disqualify myself. (N.B. Really do need to learn the rules.)

3) Who cares. Even if I jump out of the school by accident (sure D’s more than capable of jumping at least that height although I’m not sure I’d stay on) most people are going to be kind about it because I had a go for the first time.

4) If I’m lucky, being a combined competitor, judging by the way they ordered the day last time, I should be able to get in the jump warm-up area before all the terrifying swarms of the masses head in there. Also, there is a possibility it would be convenient for them to let me do all 3 goes back to back, so I still won’t have to contend with the terrifying warm up area.

5) I have a jump lesson tomorrow

6) “Cone-day” has improved my confidence in my steering

Other

I said I’d come back to the clipping, so here we are. I’ve decided to take the plunge and move to year-round clipping. My heart cries out against clipping off his beautiful summer coat, but once again he’s trying to grow a coat worthy of a persian cat and even on cool days after every workout I have a sweat-dripping sodden hair-monster to deal with, who I cannot feed until he cools and dry, which takes ages and adds hours every week onto my yard time at the point when I am desperately trying to get home for dinner. On a yard mostly populated by warmbloods and sport horses, I wasn’t really aware of the existence of year-round clipping, but a little research later I decided to sound out the staff member responsible for clipping. She thought it was worth doing.

Oh, but the terrible expense of getting him clipped year round! Time to discuss with Mr S.

I suggested that I could buy some good clippers and they’d pay for themselves in a year if I did it myself. Being the hero of the story, as he often is, he pointed out that when my time martyring myself learning to clip was factored in it was unlikely to be worth it (I suspect he tends to think of our leisure time as if it was chargeable, a side-effect of his work). Also I’d probably end up with a very funny looking horse for the first year or so and he didn’t want to console me when I came home hairy, exhausted and distraught because I’d slipped and accidentally taken half his tail off.

So we will pay for him to be clipped and I will take pleasure in not having to do it. I will leave firm instructions on what is not to be touched (whiskers, inside ears, mane (I’ll do his bridle path with scissors so I can keep it narrow)) and lie back and enjoy just turning up and finding my horse naked.

Dressage day

It transpired that our walk/trot test was the first of the day. So my hoped-for lie-in turned into getting-up-early to plait.

Being a somewhat lazy owner of a black horse I had not bathed him and had no intention to do so. Both the day before and on the morning I gave him a super thorough grooming and hot-cloth and I have to say most of him looked very clean indeed when I’d finished, although the mane was grubby if you looked closely, but my plaiting improved that by being neat enough to draw compliments. If there’s one thing I’m proud of it’s my pony-brushing skills 😉

Unfortunately he was a little dribbly in the bowels department today, so I ended up washing brown drips off his one white sock at intervals throughout the morning! Thankfully once I’d plaited his tail he managed not to dirty that again!

I was glad to find that I actually managed to stick to my time-table and get tacked up and in to warm up in lots of time. This has never happened in any of our previous dressage tests. As we had plenty of time we started walking round on the buckle, to chill us both out and get my mindset from ‘groom-and-plait-fast-until-your-arm-falls-off” to “we-are-connected-as-a-team” and “when-I-move-you-move.” Still on the buckle I rode all sorts of unexpected shapes to get his mind switched on while his body was relaxing. After a brief trot still on the buckle we shortened up and I started asking for contact, roundness and power from back to front. We had some very nice moments in the warmup where I really felt his back lift and round. And of course we had some giraffing to balance it out. I used canter to improve the trot, and lots of transitions to keep his brain switched on. Although I tried to keep him wanting more, it was actually quite a nice mini-schooling session.

At just about the right time we were asked to make our way from the warm up arena to the competition arena. On the way past we collected our caller and on we went. The judge’s booth, AKA a small blue Peugeot belonging to one of the instructors was parked at one end of the school, with white plastic drain pipes marking out the edge of the area at that end, and the fences marking the other 3 sides. As is usual for tests in that particular school, the dressage letters on the fences are not in the right places so for tests they use moveable ones. This is not confusing at all … no, wait, it’s totally confusing. In the past they have stuck paper over the wrong ones but today both correct and incorrect letters were visible and I’m pretty sure I used the wrong A for every centre line I rode today!

I was glad of the caller because there was one point in the walk trot test where I had no idea what came next! Luckily despite the wind trying to snatch her words she has a very loud voice which gave me an anchor to cling to.

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All in all I felt that our walk trot test was a solid effort. While there were things that could have gone better there were moments I was very happy with.

So what did the judge think?

Most movements we got a 6 or a 7, but we also got our first 8! Even more unexpectedly the 8 was for the halt. Seriously!? We usually do not halt well, but I guess we are both squarer at all times in the new saddle, so that’s got to do good things to the halt.

Overall mark: 64.5%

I was over the moon. I think previously 62 has been our best, so this was just what I wanted. We took 3rd with that but it felt like 1st to me 😀

For the first time I had multiple tests to do because we were also having our first bash at Preliminary – yes a test with canter in it.

I popped D back in the stable and untacked. He took the opportunity to pose for the camera while I was dropping his girth on the floor.

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I popped a little rug on him and left him with instructions not to poo on his white leg again. He did not listen.

In no time at all I was tacking him up again, washing off that leg again and warming up again. This time my warmup was not as tranquil, but still better than we’ve managed on other occasions. For some reason he was not picking up the canter nicely but we were called to go round, so round we went.

Again my caller was enlisted, although I knew this test much better, and again I was glad of her when my mind blanked. It is a much more complex test, which gave me little time to think. This has good points and bad points! It seemed to be going OK.

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The above picture shows my earlier point about the letters. The B in front of the horse is the misleading one. The one behind us is B for the purposes of the test!

It was always going to be a bit of an unknown quantity when we got to canter. We picked up the first canter OK, and then needed to circle in canter in front of the judge’s car. Canter circles are not exactly our forte yet … which is probably why it turned into complete motorbiking round the corner with me yanking on the inside rein to try to stay inside the arena. I’m pretty sure we cantered on the drain pipe marking the edge of the arena, but maybe we just kicked it out of place and kept ourselves in. Hard to tell, but I was pretty embarrassed. But I didn’t have time to be because staying on the circle and transitioning down to canter was taking all my attention. Then we had to do the same on the other rein … and pretty much did the same on the other rein, except now we’d lost the drain pipe we kicked away, so we had a few more cm to play with! Ah well, it can’t get any worse from here, sit back and enjoy the final centreline.

I was pretty disappointed. But at the same time I’d just done my first test including canter, and I was pretty sure we’d been on the right leg and pretty much done the movements. Whether we’d be disqualified for leaving the arena I couldn’t be sure. Had we stayed in or not? But who cares. I’d already done one good test and I’d managed a recognisable version of this one.

We cooled off. I put him back in his stable. After a bit he got a whole swede for a treat.

I waited for the results. Eventually someone seemed to be writing something on the board… and it looked like a score so we probably weren’t disqualified. Yay us!

I went over to look. “Seriously,” I said to the staff member who works out the percentages, “I don’t think that’s our score.” He double checked. “SIXTY-7?” I asked. “Shouldn’t it be fifty-seven?” “Nope. That’s right. You got some nice scores.”

Indeed I did.

Overall mark: 67.31% – 2nd place

Having passed through disbelief I burst into tears. Actually this is reminiscent of passing my driving test. First I couldn’t believe it, and insisted that it was impossible, and then I burst into tears.

It was ages after that before I got my hands on the comments/marks sheet. Again I got an 8 for the halt! I also got an 8 for a 20m trot circle.

I’d been dying to see the comments for the canter circles. I got a 6 for each, which seemed generous but I’m not complaining. The comments for those two movements were “wayward” and “running through the bridle.” You know, I couldn’t have put it better myself! Wayward makes me laugh though because it’s so true but quite a polite way of putting it!

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I feel a little guilty for not having made more fuss of him immediately after the prelim dressage, but at that point I didn’t feel like we’d done well. He did get a swede though. I gave him chill out time before I took his plaits out, but when I did, well just look at him rocking the curly hairdo!

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So Drifter’s day was over. But I stayed to watch the jumping. I took some photos of the jumping which you can find here if you’re interested.

I decided that we are certainly capable of the little jumps and next time I think we’ll do combined training (walk/trot dressage followed by a course of 10 teeny jumps), the prelim dressage test again, and maybe the mini-clear round jumping. Although clear round is supposed to be less pressure than combined, it feels like more pressure to me because it’s all or nothing. If we do the combined course and knock everything down I could feel better about that somehow than about knocking one jump down in clear round. And we’d still get a rosette, albeit not a very impressive one! So I’d better book a jump lesson or two.

All the drama of the day, as usual, was during the jumping. One girl, who has a very energetic little horse of pleasant character, got bucked off in the warmup. I didn’t see it but apparently she somersaulted over his head, which suggests it was one of his handstand bucks. Her air jacket went off and she was fine, but one of the teens got on her horse to “take it to school.” I’m not entirely sure this was a good idea as she worked it up no end. The owner got back on and rode a clear round and went back to the warm up/cool down area, whereupon the horse decided it needed to roll. With her still on top. She got clear, and although the saddle will never be the same the tree did not break, so it should not be a write-off but she was really shaken. It also broke the reins getting up again. Every inch of the horse was absolutely dripping with sweat, which was probably why it tried to roll. They’re hoping to get the physio to check it over tomorrow, but I don’t imagine they’ll find anything wrong – I think the first buck was exuberance, albeit not channelled acceptably, and that the teen who got on after that got it so hot and bothered that after it jumped the clear round for its owner and she gave it a long rein it felt it just had to get comfy and de-stress. It learned pretty quickly though that if you roll with a saddle and rider on people come running and shouting at you and it is not relaxing! I felt so bad for the girl, who had a really bad day, through none of her own fault. She’d been due to jump again later, but obviously with broken reins and a damaged saddle that was out of the question.

Not long after this, a new mare-pony-4-year-old kicked Lady-with-a-pony’s pony, but although he limped for a few steps he seemed fine after that. Luckily the new pony is not shod behind. Lady’s daughter was riding at the time, which shook mother and daughter.

But on the positive side there was some lovely jumping and I really enjoyed taking pictures of it. Now I’m physically and emotionally exhausted, and not best prepared for a week at work, but wow what a day!

Drifter-as-Dragon – The show

After coming back from Wales on the Saturday, I had Sunday to finalise my dragon costume prep. The biggest outstanding issue was how to attach those spikes to his mane. My mother left us in the morning and at about 11.00 I set out to see do a quick final fitting, as I wasn’t sure I’d got his back length quite right and needed to look at the mane/spike interface.

It usually takes about 15 min. to get to the stables.

1 hour later I arrived, having got stuck in ridiculous Sunday-of-bank-holiday-weekend queues. I ended up abandoning my usual route and going miles around to approach the stables from the other side. It was only going to be a quick fitting anyway, because I needed to get home for lunch and then back to the stables in time to tack up for a riding lesson at 2.30.

During the fitting I decided to superglue the back spines on the ribbon there and then, rather than marking their position and attaching them later at home. This worked well. The spacing wasn’t 100% accurate but worked OK with the curves of his back and quarters. This was when I came up with cutting the hole and notches in the neck spikes to feed the mane in and through.

I managed to get home, get fed and get out in time for my lesson, during which we failed to canter on the right lead. My instructor got on and they managed it, but I was able to see very clearly from the ground how weak the muscle is in that quarter. It just didn’t look right. Also I was unable to keep pace with my lesson because I was still so lacking in stamina. I probably couldn’t get the canter lead because I couldn’t get the right trot before I asked for the transition. Very frustrating though after I’d managed it the previous week.

The next day came and it was showtime!

The yard was full of people bathing horses, brushing horses, borrowing things and losing things. It  was nice to have most people there on the same day – there are a lot of other liveries that I never meet because our daily routines never overlap.

I gave him a sponge spot-wash (as it was less than a week since he’d had a full bath that was clean enough, I thought, as we weren’t showing) and while he was drying I watched the first few classes of the showing and found a guide to who was in which classes and when. I discovered that there were 3 entries for the fancy dress: myself, Springy with his female owner, and someone from outside the yard. The someone outside the yard was easily identified as they were also the only entrant in lead-rein showing: a tiny 3-year-old on a devastatingly cute black pony that looked like it would have been at home in the Queen’s stables. Both pony and rider were beyond perfectly turned out for showing. Hmm. That cute factor could give us some problems.

As the morning went on I flitted between grooming and watching the showing. I had thought I might have a go at showing next time, but it looked quite intimidating. I saw some of the Best rider classes and didn’t think it looked much like fun. It turned out that no one had really been given any advice in the showing classes. At the end of the classes the judge called everyone together and told them that they’d all done most things wrong. I didn’t hear this personally, being back in my stable, but apparently everyone should have acknowledged the judge and only one person did, and most people’s individual display of their paces was far too long. There were other criticisms of the entire group that I can’t remember. It seems a bit tough that clearly no one was really told what to do. I guess they could have researched it on the internet first, but if you ride at a teaching establishment and then try a show there it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect to be given sufficient guidance in what to do. Needless to say I won’t be rushing to do that in future. Also if I knew someone was assessing my riding I think I’d lock up into an immovable lump of idiot atop my long-suffering horse.

I didn’t watch Best turned out, being too busy getting Drifter costumed up, but I heard tales … and we’re not going to be doing that ever. I think my horse is beautiful. But he is a horse, not a Barbie. I like his whiskers, and they are useful to him, so they stay on his face. It’s nice if he looks clean, but surely no one in their right minds would think it’s essential the intimate portion of his rear end is Vaselined for a nice finish?! I don’t mind putting a bit of hoof oil on, but really that’s where I draw the line at horse make-up. He’s a horse, people!

I don’t wear make-up so perhaps that’s a sign I wouldn’t really “get” showing. Natural beauty beats painted on for me ever time. If you can’t see that my horse is beautiful because I haven’t dyed the odd white hair, do I really care about your opinion? In conclusion, I suspect showing is not for me!

We did, however, have some quarter marks (for that dragon-scale effect) some hoof-oil, and a little show-shine, kindly offered and applied by one of the teens, who was very supportive. Actually I couldn’t see any benefit from the show shine – I wonder if that’s because his coat is too long, even in summer.DSCN4379

I started on dressing up his mane quite early, but it took a lot longer than I expected to do. My original plan to fix on the mane spikes had been to pull strands of hair through the notches. I realised that wasn’t going to fix them securely and eventually ended up doing it with plaits. Towards the end of each spike I made two tiny plaits from each side of the mane, which went through the notch, one from each side and were sewed together. Yes, I sewed in plaits (albeit tiny odd ones)! I was worried I’d accidentally stab him if I ever sewed in plaits, but it wasn’t difficult to avoid doing so. In between the spikes I did ordinary plaits with (held with bands as I usually do).

The tail I did by plaiting in the ordinary way but with the ribbon plaited in from the top and then the free ends wrapped around the free end of the plait to attach the card to. Everything else I just had to put on him.DSCN4381

I got changed too and we were ready. I didn’t want to go round too early in case the horses in the previous class were distracted by the appearance of a dragon, so I waited by my stable to be called. While we were there he was admired by so many members of staff, and that was lovely. Everyone seemed really impressed with his costume and I was touched. Then it was time to go out and meet our audience, judges and the competition.
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I wasn’t sure who was going to judge, but it turned out not to be the showing judge (probably just as well in terms of our attitude to showing and also I think he might be related to the 3 yr old competitor) but the photographer and his wife.

The tiny tot on the pristine black pony was dressed in a pretty dress with a bow and arrow. Her mother said she was someone from a film but I didn’t recognise the name. The pony had just a ribbon in its mane, which to me was not proper equine fancy dress. DSCN4423

Springy and his female owner came as Bo Peep and her overgrown sheep, using a fly sheet and mask covered in cotton wool for him, and an elaborate costume for her, with a cardboard bonnet and a homemade ribbon wrapped crook. Drifter wasn’t bothered but the little pony wasn’t keen on the giant cotton-wool beast at all!

I was hopeful that we had a chance of winning, because Springy was shedding cotton wool all around the school and lacked finesse, although I was concerned that the judges might think the 3 yr old should win despite the lack of costume on the pony.DSCN4385

We paraded around, keeping the pony well away from Springy, and it was time for photos and the results. Bo Peep and the sheep were called as the winners, I think mostly because the total costume of horse + human showed the most effort. I have to say I was impressed with the human costume more than the horse costume. I think with us the horse costume was much better than the human costume. The photographer did say he’d have expected George and the Dragon so perhaps that would have won it for us.

At this point I was really hoping we wouldn’t come last because I’d have been upset to be beaten by a ribbon in a mane, however attractive the pony, but we were given second place and I was relieved. I have to say I didn’t envy the judges. How on earth can you measure them against each other?! I was pleased to have my 2nd place rosette and didn’t mind missing the prize. Yes it would have been really nice to win, but the comments of the staff on the yard beforehand had meant more. Also, afterwards quite a lot of people said they thought we should have won, which again was so nice to hear that I thought that was better than winning in a way.DSCN4389

Looking at what I might have done differently, I would have liked bigger wings, but that would have been a feat of engineering I wasn’t up for, and possibly something on the legs and feet. If I had red boots on him that would have been good, or maybe I could have made something like bell boots but with angles to suggest claws. Also, if I had a plain black roller that would have been better. And ideally my princess outfit would not have made me look so plump. I have to say though, that I’m pleased with what I did, the budget I did it on and that there was very little waste. I think we’ll probably do fancy dress again in the future, although I’m not sure what we’ll go as. Any suggestions?
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Dressage again

I have mentioned that I had a virus. I had it for about 3 weeks and for most if that time wasn’t well enough to work, ride, or do much more than lie down. I had time off work which ran into my holiday. It was not good timing, but it could have been worse – I was still able to do everything I planned on my holiday, even if I did it with less energy than I would have liked.

I started feeling maybe-better-enough-for-a-little-walk/trot at the weekend which opened my holiday. I wasn’t really well enough for much but was keen to get riding as on the Tuesday we had our last dressage test of the summer. And I’d barely ridden for weeks, one way or another. And this was the dressage test I’d said my mother and my in-laws could come to (previously only Mr S had been allowed to come and watch us). I wanted to get back in the saddle ASAP and do some preparation!

DSCN4359 By the Monday I was relieved to find I could practice the whole test once through without needing to stop to get my breath back in the middle. This was a major achievement. Most of the elements were a bit dodgy but at least I’d be able to get through the test. It would be nice if, one day, we can go into a dressage test feeling prepared and like it’s well within our capabilities. Maybe next year…

The competition had been advertised as the trophy winners’ competition, the idea being that people would have competed in every one of the summer dressage competitions, accumulating points over the 5 competitions so that they could award a champion at this one. Unfortunately I think people thought that this meant they couldn’t enter unless they’d been in all of the previous competitions. It was not very clear from the literature that you could do it as a one-off event or participate in the championship or both. For this reason attendance was very low. I had only been to two of the preceding dates, but had checked it was OK for me to participate in this one. We were doing the same walk-trot test as our other attempts. The main comment from the judge on the previous one was that we lacked impulsion, so I was hopeful that we might improve there even if everything else was scrappy. I had a little ride on the morning of the test and things were not encouraging. Centre lines were missed, halts were wonky, and we just weren’t working well. I reminded myself I must be grateful I was well enough to do the test at all and that I couldn’t ask for too much from either of us, and went home to clean my tack.

It was a shame that the competition for which I had more guests watching me was the smallest and least impressive. Because the field was smaller my time was later which I initially thought was a good thing. For once I had time for a breather between the stress of plaiting up and when I needed to start tacking up. I kept Drifter tied outside his stable because I didn’t want him getting dirty or rubbing the plaits out. It became apparent that he was getting bored, so I took him for a little in-hand walk, trot and graze to try to keep him entertained, but it didn’t really do the job. In hindsight I should have just put him back in his stable. In keeping his body clean I let his mind get frustrated. And frustrated horses don’t do their best dressage.

After the usual mad scramble where I don’t start tacking up quite early enough, we got out to warm up. He was uncooperative, which made me tense, which made him worse. At least we had time for a decent warm up, and perhaps he’d settle, I thought. But after a short time one of the teens, also warming up, decided to come over and coach me. Although I very much appreciate her kind attempts to help me, I did not want any riding advice at that point – I just wanted to try to get in the zone. Yes, I am tense. I am aware of that. Your pointing it out is perhaps not as helpful as you think it is.

It’s the thought that counts though and I am genuinely pleased that she cared enough to try.

So we did our test. For the first time I remembered to look at the correct temporary letters rather than the everyday ones in the wrong places. I felt like we had more impulsion, but little accuracy. Turns onto the center-line were uniformly rubbish; trot to walk transitions mostly late; walk to trot, early. He was anticipating and rushing – both signs that he’d had enough. He’d been good for ages getting ready and now he just wanted to be left alone. I was exhausted and getting through the patterns was sorely testing my stamina. I tried to keep a smile for the photographer despite it all and was grateful when it was over and we could untack and stop.

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I later discovered that there was no photographer this time, presumably because not enough people had booked in to make it worth his while. So all that smiling was for nothing!

The scores were posted and I found myself in second place with my usual score of 61%. I hadn’t really hoped for any better and at least it wasn’t worse than previous attempts. Time to wait for the score sheets.

My score sheet was mostly 5s and 7s, with the majority of the 5s involving a centre-line. Previously my sheets have mostly been 6s, so the absence of 6s struck me, but I think we did do a very up-and-down test, so I think it was probably accurate marking. I did manage a double scored 6 on the free walk on a long rein, which I’m very pleased with as we only got 5s for this before and the double marked score for impulsion (which I was particularly keen to improve) had gone up from a 5 in our last test to a 7 in this, so I had achieved that goal.

Had I been well and he been in a more cooperative mood I think we could have turned most of those 5s into 6s or 7s, so I’m hopeful we’re on the right tracks, even if the overall score seems stuck at 61%. It’s a shame this was the last of the dressage series. I don’t know when the next chance will be to improve on this. I am hopeful that there will be dressage at the Christmas show if not before, but that seems like a long way from now, although I know it will be on us in no time.

As none of the adult walk-trot-ers had attended every one of the dressage competitions I had a chance of ranking in the championship. Despite only doing 3 out of the 5 competitions I came in 3rd place in the championship. I was close to coming 2nd but not quite close enough. Sadly there were only rosettes for champion and runner-up, but I got my blue rosette for 2nd in that day, which I liked particularly because I hadn’t been sure if they’d have non-championship rosettes and also because it’s a beautiful blue.

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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.

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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.

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