Penbritte Training Dressage

With memberships being cripplingly expensive, Thunder and I are limited to ride n go tests or those few shows that offer higher levels than novice to non-members. Shout-out to those venues, by the way – they make dressage so much more accessible! Especially to young riders trying to make it to the top on a shoestring.

Grateful for the opportunity, Thunder, Tilly, the parents and I headed to the most magical venue of them all – Penbritte. It’s one of the best in the country, and right on our doorstep. Thunder was a little bewildered to disembark after only 45 minutes instead of the usual two hours to J’s.

We had the luxury of time, too. So I finally busted out these cute lil beaded plaiting elastics that Arwen and I won five years ago in our mutual first ever dressage test (Prelim 1, with 63% – I’ll never forget it). I have never had the courage to actually use them, but they are fabulous and ain’t no one gonna tell me not to put colourful beads in my longsuffering horse’s hair.

He warmed up GREAT – the best he ever has, despite the fact that the arena next door was being watered and making him look a bit. He’s become such a lovely, mature, grown-up horsie at last. He was a bit heavy in my left hand, normal for him, so we did some shoulder-in and then just ran through all the movements once. I was extremely chill, which was great. We suffered one small disaster right before we went in when my hair decided to rebel and came tumbling down my back, requiring a frantic last-minute mounted fix with the reins pinned down between my thigh and the saddle in the knowledge that if he did take off I would be dead. He didn’t take off, I didn’t die, and we were actually early when we headed round to the judge.

A huge part of being more relaxed in the ring for me is being more relaxed right before entering. You have 45 seconds after the bell, which is a surprisingly large amount of time – enough to ride a transition or two before embarking down centerline. I do a quick trot-walk-trot with Thunder to remind us both to breathe. So we came down centerline for Elementary 1 and halted, straight and steady but not square, for 6.5.

I was riding from memory and a bit tense about it but actually the new elementary tests flow great. The turn E-X and serpentine X-A felt fabulous for a 7.0. The judge commented “light in neck” – not sure if that was good or bad, but he was very soft in the inside rein on both loops and bending well. The first lengthening was a 6.5 with the usual comments “needs more forward” (always and forever) but I’m totally happy with that for his weakest movement. The halt immobility 5 seconds at C, once a huge struggle for Thunder, was PERFECT. He felt just slightly unbalanced into the halt but the judge said it was square and he was attentive and calm for a 7.

Then came the leg-yields. In the old Elementary, there was shoulder-in in four out of the six tests. Elementary 1 had no lateral work and Elementary 3 had a leg-yield zigzag, H-X-K. So Thunder and I practiced almost exclusively shoulder-in until the new tests came out and Elementary 1 now has a steep little leg-yield: B-X half 10m circle, X-H leg-yield. I was worried about it because leg-yield into a corner doesn’t leave much margin for error, and thus curled up my daft outside leg too much, but he was perfect and floated exactly to H for a 7. The highest mark either of us have achieved on lateral work.

A door slammed behind him in our next lengthening, which gave him a bit of oomph even though he was feeling more tired now, but the judge didn’t like it and said 6.5 for being slightly hurried. The next leg-yield was K-D half circle, D-B leg-yield and to his harder side. I panicked a bit and didn’t finish the half circle properly, and he’s a little stiffer to the right so lost a bit of activity, but it was still a respectable 6.5. That was the end of the trot work, and when we transitioned to walk at R, I could feel he was getting a little flat. Not enough that I was going to pull him up, but he was starting to feel it. I patted him to give him some encouragement and didn’t chase the walk too much so his usually wonderful walk was a boring 6.5.

The transition up to canter was fairly good, and his canter was much more forward, but we still had to crank around the 10m circle at E for our worst mark – 6.0, with comment “circle too large, more uphill”. He was trying to buck but didn’t have the energy so that didn’t help lol. We redeemed ourselves with a 7 on the counter canter loop and then came the canter-walk at H. I did my best to stay out of his face and ride it from my seat, and he was so good, but put in a couple of trot steps before stepping nice and round into walk. I cringed a bit, but it was a 6.5, not bad at all for a movement that gets in my head so much. Honestly I have no idea what the judge commented. The scribe got a little bit distracted and made squiggles.

The free walk, normally a great mark, lacked energy and I just let him take a bit of a break because he needed it so it was tracking up and stretchy but lacklustre for a 6.5. The transition back to canter was another 6.5, as was the lengthening, which was nice and straight but – in the judge’s words “not enough”. We were both tired by now and got 6.0 for the next 10m circle and counter canter loop, but ended on a high note with 7.0 for the final halt.

The collectives gave us a 6.5 for paces (with comment “tempo in canter”), a 6.0 for impulsion, a 6.5 for submission and a 6.5 for rider position. The final mark was 65% with comment “Obedient horse, now needs more impulsion and self-carriage for better expression. Well done”. It was nice to have “well done” at the bottom instead of “well tried”, which characterized my old elementary tests on Arwen.

I was soooooo happy with the big boy. He was so mature and easy to ride, and even though we’re both still getting fit and definitely started flagging in the canter work, we got a solid mark at a level that I used to find practically impossible. In fact it didn’t feel impossible at all; it felt kind of easy. There weren’t any movements that I really worried about and he was familiar and relaxed with everything. I think we could easily have gotten half a mark more on everything if we were both fitter, which is something we’re working hard at.

Tilly was next in Prelim 1 and 3, and she was just exemplary. What a lovely little horse she’s turning out to be! I got lost at the start of Prelim 1, but then scraped it back together for mostly 7s that ended with a mark of 67.8 and a 2nd place.

Prelim 3 was even better; she still needs work on her squiggly wiggly baby centrelines and on the fact that she’s still a bit young and uses my hands as a fifth leg, which I allow because J said so even though my biceps and abs are dyyyyyying, but she is extremely solid for the level and got a 69 and a first place.

We also got the second ever 9 of my career for her walk, so at least I can still do that even though Thunder ran out of juice in his walk on the day.

It was a great day and so nice to have both my parents with me even though darling was away again. Tilly is going from strength to strength considering she’s only four, and my Thunder was amazing and will be far more amazing when we add some more fitness. He already felt a hundred times better than our lesson.

Glory to the King.

Boot Camp

The guys and I made good on our resolution to spend more time outside of the arena two weeks ago.

Lancey is already a lot less spooky for taking little walkies before and after his sessions, and Thunder went out to a hillside to work there – revealing how DEEPLY unfit he still is. We only managed to canter (light seat, very forward) about 5 circles in each direction before the poor guy was visibly flagging. It did help him to carry himself a bit more in his next schooling session, but as we found out in our lesson on Friday, this was nowhere near enough.

Darling is home (yaaaaaay!!!) so at 4:30am on Friday morning he was blearily helping me to push two recalcitrant geldings into the box. Neither of them was amused with being dragged out of their nice warm stables to stand in a horsebox for two hours, but they eventually got in and off we went.

Both of them were pretty relaxed when we got there and put them in the paddocks that J super kindly provided so that darling could watch, take videos and freeze rather than hang onto a horse and freeze. (Poor old darling knew what he was signing up for).

J was much happier with Thunder’s shoulder-in and leg-yield, albeit reminding me (repeatedly) that more inside leg is not the answer to everything in the leg-yield – if it starts to lose straightness, I probably need more outside rein. (Always, more outside rein!) The moment we began to canter, however, J was instantly dismayed. Thunder had only been working for about 20 minutes and he was already over it, so I flapped and kicked like a kid on a pony and so he bucked and kicked at my leg. It wasn’t pretty. J ordered me off and sent us to the lungeing ring, where, embarrassingly, he proceeded to teach me everything that I thought I already knew about lungeing. I kind of pride myself on my good lungeing technique, but apparently I have a Thunder-sized blind spot. We were sent home with a scolding and the other to do at least three days a week of lungeing to get his back and bum fitter without me flapping around up there.

We obediently got to work once we were home, and after only two or three sessions, I was already seeing a HUGE difference in the way Thunder could carry himself. It felt a lot better once I got back on board, too. He was carrying himself instead of needing to be pushed, and the result was that everything – particularly his canter – was much better and much more pleasant for the both of us.

I’ve tailored his schedule now to do 3 days of lungeing, broken up by two days of schooling with a little hack before or after for a change of scenery. It seems to be working, but the proof is in the pudding, ie our ride n go (at Elementary, for fear of being crucified by a wrathful J) this Sunday.

Lancelot was a model citizen for his lesson. Thunder squealed and bucked in his paddock while Lancey and I headed to the arena (literally 15m away) but the crazy wild Arabian himself couldn’t be less bothered. He did spook massively at a very threatening pile of rocks, and he was frankly perplexed by the mirrors, but after taking one walk around he was ready to work.

I was a little worried that J was going to take one look at my new horse and hate him forever. He is, after all, all of 15 hands and not the most conventional dressage breed. Maybe J would see something that I’d missed. My fears, however, were utterly unfounded; J proclaimed him “not too shabby” (high praise) and said that his inherent hotness will turn into expression later on. That was exciting, because Thunder is many wonderful things – forgiving, kind, strong, balanced, supple – but hot and expressive are not on that list.

J had us start with little “shoulder-outs”, or leg-yields along the wall. Lancey has never done these before but he tried very hard. J reminded me that considering Lancey has no topline at all, everything we do needs to happen slowly. He doesn’t have the bodily strength to go forward and in balance just yet. So our leg-yields could happen at an absolute crawl. So long as his four footfalls were correct and he was straight, he could take small, slow steps. This helped a lot, as I was trying too hard as usual, and soon Lancey cottoned right on.

We moved on to trot and canter work on a 20m circle and J told us more of the same, similar to what M was saying: slower and more rhythmic until he can balance. J also encouraged me to allow Lancey to hang on the reins if he wanted to, using me as a fifth leg when he lost balance. This helped Lancey a lot as he began to lean on me with his back still up instead of hollowing and running forward. We only did about 20 minutes before J had us stop there and sent us home to do slow, rhythmic work allowing Lancey to find his balance.

I have a tendency to get ahead of myself with Lancey because I want to ride him the way he was when I had him in full training two years ago. Back then he was more than strong enough to pull out a high 60s Prelim test without any effort, and jump a couple of small tracks the same day. But he’d been in consistent work then for more than a year. He’s actually got quite a lot of miles on him, but I need to start treating him as if he is a complete greenie and rebuild him from the bottom up.

Grace is everlasting. Glory to the King.