What a weekend!
To put this weekend into context Abbey is my first “proper” horse/pony. Abbey hadn’t done much before I got her – she’s probably done dressage about 20 times. Somehow during those outings we qualified for the Trailblazer Championships and as they are not far from home we thought we’d give it a go.
(Warm up) Day 1 was a little overwhelming – see the report. I probably didn’t help – despite my best efforts there’s no doubt I was tense.
It’s the first time I’ve competed at this level and the organisers certainly set the scene, marking the occasion with plenty of flowers, flags, banners and music. It was the first time I’d heard my name announced on a tanoy – that certainly got the blood pumping!
Abbey took a little persuading to get to the warm up – the horse walk was lined with plenty of new and scary things. The warm up was busy and the 30ft flag poles with 6ft flags proved a bit much for Abbey. We also had to get through a rather intimidating archway to enter the test arenas.
It’s a shame that our arena was also on the edge and had horse-eating flags in the corner.
Needless to say our test was not our best and our score sheet was littered with comments such as ‘tense’, ‘cautious’ and ‘needs to relax’. I completely screwed up the center line, failed to get inside bend and didn’t let Abbey go forward.
Day 2- The Finals. This was the first of the ‘proper’competition days. Having not got Abbey to relax in the warm up the day before, I allowed another 10 minutes. Total time – 50 minutes – I was exhausted but Abbey was just running on adrenaline.
We did get a smidgen of relaxation, eventually, in the warm up but that went out the window as soon as we got through the dreaded archway. I thought the test was a little better – it was a shame that I got a good curve around the ‘A’ cone only for Abbey to try out a new move (shoulder in?!) down the center line.
This is not something she’s done before and I was rather slow to correct her. We went on to do the rest of the test with outside bend. And despite her obvious adrenaline, Abbey must have been tired as she fell into trot on each of the canters. It’s a shame that lack of energy didn’t translate to the walks…..which she jogged, completely unable to contain herself (judges comment: none shown 4/10). I did at least allow her to go forward, unlike the day before.
I won’t lie, I was disappointed with our score of 58%.
At the end of day 2, I was tired and Abbey was crabby. She was in a bad mood even after I got her home. She wouldn’t settle in her stable and when I turned her out she hurtled up the field bucking and kicking.
I returned to the show to pick up our score sheet. I’d pretty much decided to withdraw from day 3; Abbey was obviously cross and fed up with the whole thing, I was tired and we were more or less last.
But then I stopped to talk to a friend working on the Elevator Bridle stand. The owner of the company was asking how we’d gone and I explained. To cut a long conversation short I received a much needed pep talk/kick up the you-know-what.
Day 2’s test:
Day 3 -The Championship (The Consolation class).
I’m not good in the mornings and I was drawn to ride at 8.26am; this was not playing to my strengths. Still with the words of Lorraine from Elevator Bridles ringing in my ears the alarms were set for 5am. (It’s important to note that my SO and Dad both made the point but being non-horsey….)
Abbey was obviously not keen to do it all again but she did load and we did manage to get ready with plenty of time to warm up. Thinking that we’d be fighting another adrenaline rush I allowed just as much time. However after just 20 minutes Abbey was going beautifully (all things considered).
That’s when the steward announced that the judge had a problem and they were going to be 20 minutes late starting. That meant I’d another 35 minutes before we were in the ring. It left me with a bit of a problem; yes Abbey was warming up nicely but she still wouldn’t stand or walk as the flies were annoying her and there was too much to look at all around.
I tried to keep her moving but without so much pressure. I was surprised to find that even after another 35 minutes she still felt like she’d lots of juice in the tank. That was until we went through the archway. On the way around the outside of our test arena she completely backed off my leg.
Where she’d been lovely and forward, nicely and consistently between hand & leg in the warm up only moments before, she felt tired and lethargic.
I felt like I booted her around the arena, although you can’t see that so much in the video. On the plus side I’d enough relaxation to get inside bend throughout most of the test (she did swing her quarters out on some of the transitions), we got the curve to the center line and we maintained all the canters.
The judge obviously thought that this was a better test too and gave us over 65%. We missed a placing by less than 0.5%.
It’s been a steep learning curve. With hindsight I got my hopes up and didn’t appreciate just how much of a step up this would be for us both.
But Abbey did cope with 1000s of new sights and sounds – from a family tent ‘popping’ up behind her and enormous flags that made clunking and flapping noises to a warm up with over 40 horses, a tanoy system and the dreaded archway.
I learnt and recalled three tests under quite a lot of pressure, stayed calm throughout the disagreements (mainly about flags!) and persevered when I didn’t really want to.
If anything the experience has made me more determined. Fingers crossed we’ll do better next year with more practice, outings and experience.
I must thank my Dad and my SO for all the practical and moral support, the friends who turned up to cheer me on, the competitor that took pity on me and gave me a lead passed the flags in the warm up on day 1, the security and car parking team that welcomed me every morning with a smile and a ‘best of luck’, Lorraine from Elevator Bridles who gave me a strong nudge when I needed it, the event organisers (Trailblazers) who put on a great show that inspires amateurs like me and gives us a taste of ‘the dream’ and the team at the venue (Stoneleigh Park) that puts up with us (slightly crazy) horse people that get up at dawn to prance about in circle leaving poop all over the place!