I was determined to be super organized the night before Saturday’s dressage competition. I figured the more organized I was, the more Zen I’d feel when the alarm went off, rousing me from a long, restorative, competition-priming sleep. So, in an élan of efficiency (okay, so it was more of an élan of anxiety, but let’s pretend…), I gathered all my show paraphernalia. I lay my brand new hairclip with the pearl embellished, navy blue chignon basketty-net thing next to my “tubette” (French for dressage hat; what’s it called in English?). I repositioned the pin in my stock, put my pale blue, sleeveless competition shirt on a hanger under my navy blue jacket. I rummaged through my underwear drawer and found my favorite (albeit somewhat frayed) Calida granny knickers, and my new, wobble-defying, extreme hold sports bra (do you have ZeBra sports bras in America? They are brilliant! ), and put them on the old white rocking chair beside my bed. I folded my brand new bright white “sticky bum” jodhpurs and placed them at the bottom of a basket, along with a pair of pale-blue and white socks. I added a towel, and a sponge bag filled with miscellaneous indispensables, such as sunscreen, deodorant, lipgloss, a brush and comb, and a gallon of Rescue Remedy.
Then, satisfied with my preparations, I took a long, cool bath (Switzerland continues to bake in insane heat), pulled on my PJs, popped something herbal, and went to bed early, ready for my aforementioned long, restorative, competition-priming sleep.
My zzzzzs got off to a good start; I didn’t even notice Mr. Prescott slip into bed beside me a couple of hours later. I did, however, pick up on his nasal obstruction issues when at two am, snuffling and sniffling, he pottered into the bathroom, unraveled a length of toilet paper and trumpeted away his discomfort at a level of decibels powerful enough to wake up the entire neighborhood. Then, satisfied with the state of his nasal passages, he pottered back to bed.
And started snoring.
I poked. I kicked. I poked again. The nocturnal concert continued. I tossed. I turned. I grumbled. I fretted. I checked the time. Two-thirty. Three. Three-thirty. At three-thirty-five I grabbed my favourite pillow and my mobile phone (set as an alarm clock) and stormed down the corridor to the guest-room. Where I tossed and turned, and fretted and sweated, but the Sandman had no mercy.
Imagine my bleary state at seven-thirty a.m. See me at the kitchen-table, round shouldered and grumpy as heck, sipping my tea and contemplating toast. Witness the ocular ice-picks I hurled at my poor husband as he spread Cenovis across his toast (Cenovis is the Swiss equivalent of Marmite) and proffered apologies for disturbing my peace, before kissing me, wishing me luck, and sneaking off for an early morning waterskiing session with his friend. I showered and dressed, hoping Kwintus had had a less eventful night.
Kwintus had obviously had plenty of beauty sleep. He looked like a superstar when I arrived at the stables, having already been groomed, plaited (tail too!), oiled and doused in insect repellant. While Steph added the finishing touches, I hauled the day’s necessities into her lorry, my stomach increasingly preoccupied. But my spirits lifted when Kwint - proud as an Olympian athlete - astronaut-strutted into the lorry in his protective boots, clearly looking forward to the task at hand.
The trip went smoothly, we arrived at the show an hour before I was scheduled to tack up, and even found a parking place in the shade. My trainer, Marie-Valentine, met us with her usual bubbly enthusiasm. We opened up the lorry to give Kwintus as much air as possible (it was 34° and mega muggy), and went to take a look around. My daughter and her boyfriend arrived, armed with multiple cameras, as did my lovely friend Sibile, the owner of a stunning, seriously talented, young black stallion. With such a show of support, I definitely felt the love!
But time flies when your stomach’s in a state; before I knew it we were back at the lorry, unloading Kwintus and tacking up. It was great to have so many people around; they took care of my horse, leaving me free to take care of myself. Applying a touch of sunscreen, I watched Kwint stand like the old pro he is as his devotion of ladies fussed around him, telling him how fabulous he looked. I could tell he thought he looked rather fabulous, too!
I mounted, and we headed towards the warm-up arena. I was lucky to be one of the last few competitors riding this test, so there weren’t a gazillion other riders buzzing about, something I always find intimidating. I’ve always had a problem with left and right; it takes my brain a fraction of a second to figure out which is which, so even the simple matter of passing other riders on the right requires concentration. We walked on a loose rein for ten minutes, Kwint stepping out proudly, definitely in “look at me” mode, me trying to breathe deep into my diaphragm, mentally revising my program. Gradually, I picked up the contact, shortened his stride, and pushed him into trot.
Could this horse be more of a show-off? Marie-Valentine gasped. “Magnifique!” she exclaimed. My daughter Olivia giggled. I grinned, enjoying the swing of his back beneath me, the soft contact in my hands. It was magical; I’ll never forget that moment.
Because of the furnace-like atmosphere, we’d planned keeping the warm-up to a minimum. Kwintus isn’t the type of horse to goof around; pick up your reins and he goes straight to work, all he needs is a little time to warm-up his muscles. We’d aimed for fifteen minutes but it still proved to be too much. The heat sapped his energy, and reduced me to a perspiring, nervous, jelly-like blob.
Showtime came. With shaky legs and flagging impulsion we trotted into the arena.
“Breathe,” I told myself, smiling as we passed the judges, urging my horse to step under a little more. “Come on, Kwintus; it’s only five minutes. We can do this.”
The bell rang. We trotted down the centre line. Except it wasn’t quite the centre line. Oops. Oh well, nothing we can do now, I told myself, closing my legs and seat to halt at X. Our halt wasn’t quite square, nor was it entirely straight, but at least Kwintus didn’t look around to see if everyone was admiring him, which is what he usually tends to do. Maybe even he knew we’d fluffed it! We moved into a decent working trot. For some reason, I was somewhat caught off guard as we turned right and extended up the long side; we definitely lacked amplitude and brilliance. I then had a hard-drive meltdown and rode the ten-metre circle one letter late. Luckily, I didn’t hear the judges ring the bell to tell me I’d made a program error (there was another arena right next to ours with another test in progress, so the bells were a little confusing. And had I heard the bell and realized my mistake, I’d probably have become irretrievably flustered), and carried on to turn right at E and halt at X for four seconds. Ha! That halt was brilliant! So pleased was I with our halt that I almost forgot the ten-metre circle at R, remembering with barely two half-halts to spare, and then lost his haunches a little as we returned to the track. Bummer. We transitioned to walk at C, turned on the haunches before the corner, moving into an extended walk that lacked ground coverage (Funny how Kwintus can cover ground fabulously when we’re out hacking, yet when we’re working he can’t be fussed). I collected him before K and pushed him into canter, leaving the track at P to turn into the centre line, transitioning to walk for three strides in the middle, then moving into the opposite canter lead. I probably should have breathed more deeply into the transition as his walk was a little precipitated. We repeated this exercise at S (more smoothly this time), and then cantered past the judges, extending down the long side (H to K), collecting at K to turn into the half-diagonal (F to E) where we transitioned to trot at L. We did this really well! We resumed canter at S, but ran into trouble just after C when I got my collection technique in a twist before the extended canter down the long side. Oops! Kwint fell into a big, bumpy, trot, and it took me a couple of strides to rebalance him and resume the extended canter. Major bummer, and major loss of points. At A we transitioned to trot again, and I collected him in the corner, determined to ace the extended trot right down the diagonal. Ta-dah!
Then came our bête noire: the twenty-metre circle while progressively giving the reins. As I mentioned in my previous entry, “The Final Countdown”, Kwintus thinks this part of the test is a complete waste of time. I’m not too fond of it either, mainly because Kwint has always had a tendency to stumble when you drop the contact; it’s one of his few weak points. Consequently, I did what I dared, he did something half-way decent, we didn’t fall over, and I collected him at C, rode towards S where we turned into a semi-circle and rode down the centre line towards G, where we executed a pretty good halt. I saluted, dropped the reins and hugged my horse.
We’d finished. We’d done it! I’d overcome my nerves, pushed my boundaries, ridden my first test in an unfamiliar environment (the only other tests I’d done with Kwintus had been at my previous stables, on my “own terrain”). Kwintus had done his best for me in temperatures he’s never been comfortable with. We hadn’t made total idiots of ourselves. In fact, some parts of the program had felt pretty darn good!
We didn’t place; didn’t even come close to placing. Precision-wise, we have considerable work to do, and I need to work on controlling my nerves in order to avoid the sort of hard-drive meltdowns that lead to program errors. But in the past six weeks, from the moment I signed up for the competition, my riding has definitely improved. Competitive riding will never be my thing, but I’ve realized that the challenge of riding a test gives me something to work towards. And if only for that reason, I’m sure I’ll be signing up for competitions again.
Besides, I think we look pretty good in the photographs!
Thanks for your support, and for reading this very long, very detailed account of my latest adventure with Kwintus!
I’d love to hear about your experiences with competition. What drives you (or not) to compete?