It’s been an eventful month – we’ve had our sights firmly set on our Riding Club dressage areas at the end of the month. Two days before our first “prep” competition, I received the phone call every horse owner dreads: “Hi, Heather – I’ve just got Socks in; she’s slipped over in the field and she doesn’t seem herself…”
Cue possibly the most terse and tight-lipped car journey to the yard ever, only to find Socks perfectly sound and whickering for her dinner. I don’t think we’ll ever get used to her being such a drama queen.
“Progress checks”: 1st February Unaffiliated Dressage, Keysoe & 11th February: Dengie Winter Championship Qualifier, CWA Milton
Two totally sound and very promising schooling sessions later and we find ourselves at Keysoe for a “progress-check” unaffiliated competition.
I’ve always loved going to the midweek competitions because they’re so much quieter. It does sometimes mean, however, that you come up against professionals. In this case, we were up against Sarah Bullimore, who I’d only ever seen before bopping around Burghley.
Luckily, she became the second ever four-star eventer I’ve ridden around and not fallen off in front of, so that was good!
That wasn’t to say that the day was without its problems, though. Our first test, Novice 24, was going beautifully. We were just passing C in medium walk when: BAM. Two ladies stood by the edge of the arena. I saw them first.
“Please, don’t move!” I mouthed frantically. But it was too late. Socks saw them, stopped dead, and proceeded to back up and leap around, right in front of the judge. Excellent.
The judge was wonderfully kind and seemed to feign temporary blindness for this movement, only making a brief mention of getting Socks to engage brain in the comments, which, happily, we managed to do for the second test, Novice 27, and we won!
Ten days later, after a long snowy hack with our friends Mia and Ice, we returned to Milton to see if we could improve on our Open score from last time.
We warmed up with Novice 34 and, for the first time in a long time, we finished the test, I saluted and immediately thought, “We nailed that!” And we did, for our first 70% Novice away from home and second place!
So I went into the Open test confident, and ready to nail it again. In fact, I enjoyed the first centre line so much I forgot to halt and salute. Good one, Heather.
And then I made another mistake in the free walk. Fabulous. Somehow, we still managed to get 61% - I did the maths and it would have been 63% if Socks had done it without me! That’s a 5% improvement from last time. We can totally improve another 5% before March, right?
The following week was training week: a Pony Club rally, a polework session and a flatwork lesson.
What’s the best thing an instructor can say to you? “She’s so much more through!”
What’s the worst? “She’s looking a bit on the light side…”
It’s one week to areas, and we’re stuffing her full of all the food she can muster.
26th February: BRC Area 7 Winter Dressage Qualifier
Our first test, Novice 27, was branded “not bad for her for a first test”. No spooks, a little tense, but we managed to keep a lid on ourselves very well for a nice, accurate test.
My yard owner, Debbie, was teasing me about my unsettled hands (my absolute worst habit) and I was convinced that I’d ruined it all and got a rubbish mark. Imagine my delight, then, when I saw that we’d got 68% for a very close sixth place!
And then, as the day went on, I was fifth, then I was fourth… to be honest, anything better than 20th is an improvement from when I was at university, so I was over the moon. Unfortunately, our team didn’t place, but there was so much positive to take home I didn’t care! And we don’t have to talk about Novice 34.
I’ll state first that the arena we had our second test in was very spooky. Very. And it was a windy day. So I deliberately gave Socks a nice break between the tests with some untacked time in the lorry with some hay before a nice, calm, slow warm up.
Everything was going well. We went into the arena and she was slightly tense, but still listening and not spooking. Thank goodness, I thought. Maybe she’s matured a bit.
The bell rang, and down the centre line we turned. We turned again at the end, only for Socks to get a faceful of a gust of wind and leap sideways. We turned a quick circle and got on with it.
And the rest of the test was really quite lovely – certainly not much worse than the one before, and it felt like we managed some fairly not bad medium canter strides. The scores go up: 61%. Oh. Ouch. You win some, you lose some, I suppose.
We’re focusing on the good, here: we just placed at an area competition! We’ve not done that since at least 2013!
Not for the first time, I find myself wondering just where we’d be now if I’d been able to keep up her schooling and learning over the last three years; we’ve improved so much in a matter of months.
All I can do now is grasp the time we have and continue to move upward – I’ve given up unsettled hands for Lent. Spring might even be on the way! Everything is coming up Dujardin (or thereabouts).