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.