Nat's blog: A dressage test to rival Valegro's (or so the Diva would say)

Like almost every horse owner in the country, the words lie-in have been long eradicated from my dictionary, particularly during the winter. 

I relished one such event, the day after Boxing Day, although the addition of an almighty festive hangover made the occasion slightly less enjoyable. 

The weather and fields have been dry enough this month for us to start leaving out overnight since last weekend, so I've enjoyed a week’s worth of rolling over in bed at 7am without the mental image of an extremely irate Diva banging her door for her breakfast or 16hh of hooligan weaving away next door like Michael Flatley on speed.

My competition diary for the season ahead is filling nicely, with most weekends taken up from April through to October. 

Any free weekends will be spent out at farm rides with the Diva, who finds jumping solid fences fantastic fun, but is, annoyingly, less enthusiastic when jumping in a manège. 

Her attitude to show jumps, if they're not set up in an open field, is one of complete disdain.  She sees absolutely no reason to bother lifting her legs up and sends poles scattering in all directions like the equine version of Kerplunk. 

As a former show jumper, who spent her junior years on a mount that approached fences at lightning speed and barely ever touched a pole, I've found this incredibly difficult to get my head around.  But no amount of persuasion so far has convinced Florence that this show jumping lark is worth the effort.

With the first competition fast approaching, I managed to enlist the help of a friend to record a short run-through of the test. 

Although it felt nice to ride, and the Diva gave me her all, I was absolutely horrified to watch it back and witness myself flinging the contact at her every few strides, like I were trying to dust some hairy fat bride with invisible confetti. 

The Diva managed to mostly ignore the useless arm-flailing idiot on her back, but a couple of times, wondering where on earth I had disappeared to, she came up above the contact like a bemused llama. 

Anyway, it’s safe to say that the next day we had a hack that consisted of the most-steady contact I’ve ever ridden with and I became absolutely determined that my overly generous hands were not going to prove to be our downfall!

Our first competition of the season

So we headed out on Good Friday to our first dressage competition of the season. 

Florence was diagnosed with a muscle disorder towards the end of last year, which explained a lot of performance related issues that we had been experiencing since upping her workload. 

The initial relief of having an explanation was soon outweighed by the crushing realisation that she may be forever restricted in what she can do. 

Even as recently as six weeks ago, I was struggling to sustain her during a 10-minute walk and trot warm-up and, despite being someone who tries to approach everything positively when training horses, there was a horrible nagging doubt in the back of my mind that we may have to accept a lifetime of hacking and not much else. 

Fortunately, with some changes in diet and the way I approach her exercise, I now have a pony that can manage a 45-minute schooling session, albeit with plenty of breaks (which works for me, given that even a small slither of exercise turns me puce these days!)

I did my best to emulate my home warm-up routine at the venue, much, I imagine, to the bewilderment of the other competitors, who I’m pretty sure thought I’d taken the wrong turn out hacking. 

It consisted of a ten-minute walk, then a lap of a long and loose trot on each rein, followed by more walk. That was it. 

I did my best to stay out of the way of people trotting and cantering around us while the Diva gawped at some horses being hand-grazed in the field alongside us. 

I'll admit to not feeling particularly confident about our chances as we headed to the arena. 

There’s something that feels largely inelegant about being a 30-something sat on a short and stout 14hh cob. Still, we are what we are, as they say. 

The parental unit had also arrived to watch the proceedings, along with my friends Clare and Steve, so we had plenty of supporters as we waddled into the arena.  

There were mirrors at the ‘A’ end, and the Diva isn’t short on vanity, so it took a lot of subtle rein and leg persuasion to get her eyes back on the job but she did a very sweet little test and smiled in all the right places (mostly at herself, in the mirror). 

Even better was that by the end of it, there was not so much as a puff or a pant and she still felt loose and pliable, a good sign that her muscles hadn’t tightened up. 

So I was even more delighted to see that we had earned a 4th place, out of a class of 13, on 68.69%. 

The judges overall comment was lovely and I'll admit that I beamed from ear to ear the whole way home and then completely bored my friends on Facebook by sharing endless pictures and gushing over how amazing she was. 

Of course, if the Diva didn’t think she was the most important thing on the earth before this, she certainly does now. 

If she ever met Valegro, I’m pretty sure she’d expect him to bow down and kiss her hairy feet..

‘Til next time,

Nat x