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A momentous occasion

Riley's first dressage test
All smiles immediately afterwards.

This week, Riley and I enjoyed what was for us, a momentous occasion; our first dressage competition.  Neither of us had been out competing before so it really was uncharted waters.

Clueless

Riley being patient during preparation for his first proper dressage competition. It took lots of help to get his plaits done
  During the preparatory weeks leading up to the competition, I thought that the trickiest part would be riding the test. Little did I know that the riding would turn out to be one of the easiest elements. Particularly since I was clueless at how to prepare a pony for competition and had no prior experience of everything that goes into ensuring a smooth operation on the day including all of the kit required. When I had originally booked our Intro A Test at Foxes Competition Centre some weeks before the competition day itself, it felt exciting and yet far away. Then suddenly here we were, the day before the big event feeling anxious and asking myself if I really wanted to compete, or should I instead be a happy hacker?   I knew the answer, however those nerves can make you want to stay inside of  your comfort zone.

the morning of the competition

The morning of the competition arrived and I drove to the stables with the car full of competition gear. I had only been at the yard for about thirty minutes before realising that I had forgotten a number of items, so found myself dashing back home to collect them. If only I had prepared a through checklist. Riley and I were competing alongside my friend Sophie and her horse Onyx. The two horses were going to be driven to the venue in the horsebox we had hired, whilst Sophie, myself and the long-suffering Kevin would be following in our car.
Riley and I arrived in the warm up arena with a few minutes to spare
Kevin and I set about preening Riley. Since I was clueless when it came to plaiting, I had hoped that Sophie would be able to assist us, however as she wasn’t experienced either, it was taking her longer to prepare her own horse than she had expected.  Luckily, Jorie, one of the young girls that works on the yard, stepped in and gave us a demonstration. She helped us plait and unravelled a couple of my attempts at plaits and made them more presentable.

The morning of preparation went far too quickly. Sophie and I had bought snacks and imagined that we would have had an hour to spare. We’d planned to have a cup of tea and eat.  How naive we were. There was so much to do and no spare time at all. We sent every moment that morning, dashing around right up until the horsebox arrived. As Sophie and Onyx were competing before Riley and I, the plan was to load Riley first so that Onyx could be offloaded first at the other end.  We walked Riley to the horsebox, and I confidently marched up the ramp. However, Riley had other ideas and the moment his feet were next to the ramp, he said declined the invitation to walk on and backed away.  We then made numerous unsuccessful attempts to get Riley into the horsebox We even tried waving a tasty carrot close enough that he could almost eat it. He sniffed it and tried to grab it, but the ruse didn’t work.  Sophie suggested that she put Onyx in the horsebox to see if Riley would follow, as she always loaded without any problems.  Onyx duly obliged, however this didn’t have the encouraging effect that we had hoped for. Not only would Riley still not load, but Onyx was becoming unsettled having to wait.

The icing on the cake
Eventually both horses were finally onboard and ready to travel the ten minutes to the venue.  Unfortunately, by this time we were running very late. By the time we arrived at the competition venue, Sophie had minutes to spare before she was to do her test. Kevin unloaded Riley quickly and took him for a settling in walk around the competition venue, whilst I helped Sophie quickly get ready for her test and then we tacked Riley. This became a race against time and was a difficult process as he didn’t want to stand still. As soon as the saddle was on his back, he moved, and it fell on the floor along with our beautiful new white saddle pad.  Excelling himself, Riley proceeded to walk over the stricken, pristine saddle pad whilst I looked on in horror at the muddy hoof prints it now adorned. This only heightened the already high level of panic I was feeling.  Val, the amazingly cool-headed driver of the horsebox, stepped in to help and more importantly added calm to the fraught situation. There was only  just enough time for a trot on each rein in the warm-up arena before heading to the indoor school to do our test.  There hadn’t been time to think about nerves, although I was alarmed when I entered the school and noticed that the A and C end were completely the opposite way around to the manege back at our yard. I immediately felt confused and alarmed.
I felt so happy and immensley proud of Riley after the test
I had previously made the decision not to have a caller, as I had learnt the test thoroughly and believed that this would be a required skill when I move up the levels in the future. This did backfire when I added an extra trot to walk transition as I momentarily couldn’t remember my test, however  I was still pleased that I had gone down that route of memorizing my test.  Immediately after adding the extra element into the test, I realised what I had done and waited for the bell to ring, to advise me that I had gone wrong. It never came so I carried on regardless. After the test, having received my papers, the judge very kindly made a note that I had included an extra step.  It didn’t also help that Riley took a toilet break halt, part way through our test and despite me trying to make him continue he was determined to completely stop.  Riley always takes a toilet break when warming up and is much more forward afterwards, so this would have been avoided had we arrived at the venue earlier with plenty of time to settle and warm up properly. An extremely valuable lesson learned! We made our way back to our horsebox and as Sophie and Onyx were having a cool down ride around the other indoor school. Riley and I had a walk around the horsebox area, and I felt an immense pride in how far we had come.  Not only pride in that we had just done our first competition test together, but also that I was on board Riley, riding around other horses, people and passing cars at a strange venue. I thought back to a time in the very early days when we were riding into the indoor school at our yard, and I had jumped off him simply because another horse had come in and I was scared that Riley might be startled and do something silly. To be fair to Riley, he hadn’t reacted at all.  It really highlighted to me, how my confidence had grown.
Sophie and I were full of smiles

As we were having some photographs taken prior to loading up our horses, a lady spoke to Sophie and told her that she had come first, and we established that Riley and I had come third.  So, Sophie and I went to collect our score sheets and rosettes. We headed back towards our rented horsebox grinning like Cheshire cats. I must admit, I hadn’t initially seen the value in competing at Intro, as I already knew my 20 metre circles needed to be rounder and my trot more forward. I felt that a judge telling just that, didn’t seem essential.  Once at the show however, I realised how important it was. I had learnt so many valuable lessons that day, and not all of them about riding. I can’t tell you how proud I was of Riley that day. Well done boy!      
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Sharon Howe

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