The first dance

We have officially entered at A! I am still buzzing from Dominica’s first ever show, not only did she behave like a total pro, she also WON! with a score just over 74% What a start to her competitive career, and with some green wobbles and plenty to work on, I feel even more excited about her future. Things don’t usually go to plan with young horses, especially when entering into the unknown, but on Saturday, it actually did and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect educational experience for her.

On Thursday I went for a lesson, as they where preparing the indoor arena for the show, I was unable to have my lesson inside, which is where I knew my test would be. She’s never been spooky in there, so whilst it did nothing to calm my nerves, it wasn’t the end of the world. Instead we worked her outside in the arena which was going to be used as the warm up for the show. We had never worked her out here, so it was another first and a useful exercise before the show. In comparison to our previous lesson, from start to finish it was like the difference between night and day. I had Dominica with me, not the weirdo who turned up last time! She was really relaxed from the moment I got on, she also travelled really well and it was the first journey she’d been really tucking into her haylage. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the plan was to have a confidence building session, with limited pressure, so as not to rock the boat and cause a drama before the weekend. We worked on her straightness and relaxation through her back, especially in the transitions and the main focus became making sure she was bending through her whole body on the left rein. I think she is maybe marginally stiffer this way, but mainly I think its my weaker side, on the right it comes naturally to both of us and on the left I need to remember to ask for it. The canter and transitions where the best she had done away from home, although for probably the first time ever, she felt very slightly behind my leg. Given that the overall picture and the balance and rhythm where good, we tried not to make a big deal out of it in the lesson, but moving forward I know I will need to address it, in order for her to improve. All in all it was a very successful outing and I came away feeling really positive and excited for the show.

On Friday I ran through my test once after a short hack around the farm and prepared our stuff. I felt pretty calm about the whole thing. In the previous blog I know I had been whining on, but I think it had just thrown me having a difficult training session the previous week and I had started to doubt that I was training Dominica any where close to ‘correctly’. On the eve of the show, I felt like I had prepared her as well as was physically possible for me, we where heading to a familiar venue for both of us and we where first to go, so if it did go tits up, not many people would be there to see and I would just scribble the score off the score sheet!!!!

I finally got to use my Christmas present shampoo from my sister. Whilst it’s impossible to make her look any more beautiful, I did make her unbelievably soft and she smelled delicious!

I was working on Friday night (to pay for my show entry and diesel!) and so at 6.30 am, running on 4hrs sleep, we set of on Saturday morning for our first dance. I only felt excitement at this point. Everything had run smoothly before we left and she travelled really well, again tucking into her haylage as we went. I was the first person to arrive which was brilliant, it felt very similar to our lesson outings and as it was still really early, It was still almost silent. My amazing friend and show day lucky charm arrived soon after, armed unprompted with two cups of coffee and a diet coke for me! She also pointed out that I had mascara smeared all over my face from the night before and so she cleaned that up for me too, what a friend! When I got on, still no one else have arrived yet and so I was able to have a peaceful 10 minutes to ourselves in the warm up, which couldn’t have been more perfect. I had allowed about 25 minutes to warm up as I usually only school her at home for a max of about 30 minutes at the moment. I hoped this would leave her mentally settled enough to cope with the test, but not so tired that I needed to get off and give her a piggy back round!

Five minutes before the test, we moved into a smaller indoor arena adjacent to where the test arena was. Again this worked really well as it meant I could have a bit of time before the test to get her used to the different dynamics of being inside. As we headed across there, another competitor followed us inside and I held my breath for a minute waiting to see how Dominica would react. She did go a bit nervous on me and was keen to keep an eye on the other horse at all times, a bit like an owl, only horses heads aren’t designed to swivel backwards! I knew this was a critical moment in that if I didn’t find a way to get her focus back on me, I was going to really struggle to get her to leave the other horse and go into the test arena next door. I used lots and lots of transitions to try and get her listening back to me and also reassured her both by patting her and also using my voice. Amazingly this did the trick and she was back holding my hand.

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The time came to go in and I can’t lie, my heart did start to beat a lot faster. I wanted to give her a really confident positive experience in the ring, but in that moment my maniac competitive streak did start to take control…… I walked in to give her time to take it all in, thankfully she left the warm up without so much of a backwards ear twitch, didn’t glance once at the judge or the car and only hesitated for a nano second as she assessed whether she could fit between the white boards and the wall. Again I patted and reassured her lots with my voice and we picked up a quiet trot. I did a lap each way so that she’d seen everything from all angles and then the bell went and it was time to enter at A……

I was absolutely thrilled with the test, which literally never happens! I made a mistake in that I forgot to do the give and retake, which was a massive annoyance and cost us a couple of marks. But she was an absolute pro, there was no dolphin dance moves, or spooking, just a calm, confident wee ginger, going about her day job. As I did our final salute I was literally bursting with pride. A hugely significant moment, which she made feel like an absolute stroll in the park.

After the test I walked around both the indoor and outdoor warm up’s on a loose rein, so she could check out the competition. For sure she was saying to the other horses, ‘Hi, I’m Dominica, do you want to be my friend’. We stood and chatted to some people and probably my favourite moment of the day was when she was grazing in the car park and a non horsey family came over to us and the two children each fed her one of her Pure Feed treats. She is such a kind horse and in that moment, no one would ever have known it was her first ever show, she was so content and relaxed.

Grazing after her test with super friend and lucky charm Maili

Maili went to get my sheet, as while Dominica is happy to travel, she still doesn’t love standing still in the trailer. Whilst I waited for her return, I watched back the video of the test and thought it looked better than it felt. whilst I felt she had maintained a consistently good tempo and rhythm throughout, I had felt a bit like she was slightly switched off and stuck in first gear. She was the same in my lesson on Thursday and as I’ve said before, my trainer said it looked good and so we decided not to rock the boat so close to the show. I know moving forward I need to make sure she’s more truly in front of my leg and have her a bit more forward so that her balance comes more on to her hind leg and she’s able to be lighter in her forehand. For now though I know her balance is not yet able to cope in a test situation with more power and so that’s why I rode it the way I did. When Maili returned with my sheet I was chuffed. Not only had she got a good score that I thought she deserved, she had also won and the judges comments where amazing.

I am a lucky, lucky girl to have the opportunity to ride such an incredible mare and I can’t wait to get back to work and help her be even better.

Aimee x

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