Rider confidence: The dreaded D-word

They tackled a lesson last month, but this time Rachel and Ruby are heading to a dressage competition...

I’m currently writing this blog post chilling on the sofa, catching up on The X Factor feeling absolutely worn out due to the fact that I had to get up at stupid o’clock this morning to do the dreaded ‘D’ word - dressage!

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine informed me that I was going to dressage with her to do Intro A.

It seemed so far away so my reaction was ‘yeah, that’s fine, no problem’.

Cue the blind panic that began to set in a couple of days later because:

a) we haven’t left the yard since January

b) I struggle to remember to breathe, go forward and maintain a contact, never mind throwing a test into the mix 

c) I was going to have to get my mainly white (ie. dirty yellow) coblet clean!

In preparation 

Earlier this week, we had a lesson to prepare us for the big event. All day, I was praying for rain as I just wanted to concentrate on the test and not Ruby getting distracted by the pneumatic drill that was working on the road at the A end of the outdoor arena.

I got lucky, it poured with rain all day. Whoop! I think I was the only person on the yard that day who was soaking wet and grinning!

The lesson didn't start well as my delightful little pony decided that the mounting block was going to eat her and she therefore couldn't go within a 5m radius of it.

This is the same mounting block we use every time we ride but clearly overnight it has morphed into a dragon. Bloomin’ horses.

Once I was on, we actually had a very good, but very exhausting lesson.

As regular readers will know, Ruby goes into a contact easily enough but then forgets that she has to move forward as well.

By the end of the lesson, she was slightly more forward than I would've liked (but which was apparently what was needed) and had also almost mastered the dreaded half 10m circles which had previously been screeching hand brake turns.

The day of the competition 

So this morning, I arrived at the yard feeling prepared and confident and thinking that we would be happy as long we did good job and did ourselves justice.

I was perfectly calm and for once, not terrified that I was going to die in a horrific fall at any given moment. Feeling this chilled didn’t last long.

As my friend’s test was earlier in the class than mine, I went to watch. Bad idea. Her test looked fantastic.

I knew that I wanted to perform as well as she did and it was at this point that a new type of nerves kicked in - competition nerves.

This was a whole new experience for me as my nerves normally consist of the OMG-I’m-going-to-fall-off type. 

I had no idea how to deal with this so I tried taking a few deep breaths and concentrating on riding an effective warm up, which seemed to help.

All too soon, it was my turn to go in and, for once, Ruby felt fabulous!

While riding through the test, I actually felt that we were doing our best and I could tell from the mirrors that we were in a good outline. I began to relax as we started what's normally the best part of any of our tests, the free walk on a long rein.

I lengthened my reins, let Ruby stretch, kept a good pace across the arena, picked up my reins just as we approached H and…. Ruby’s eyes popped out of her head, as she spooked and ran backwards at the invisible scary object in the corner.

For a split second, I froze.

I pulled myself together, gave her a kick and a flick with my stick and she went forward, before legging it backwards again.

I tried again, this time turning her around to approach the corner again. Nope. This carried on a few more times before I realised that I was getting as close as I possibly could and should give up on that one move and carry on with the test.

The next part of the test involved a circle past that scary letter H so I decided that instead of flapping, I was actually going to ride this circle.

I bent her to the inside, kicked her with the inside leg and managed to get her through that stage of the test. The rest of the test went well and we finished with a beautiful (almost) square halt.

Luckily I was last in the class so the judge told me to take her back to H and keep going until she went into the corner properly.


With a little ‘encouragement’ from the ground (involving a lot of arm waving to get her in the flipping corner) we managed it!

We think the spooking may have been caused by someone opening the door to the spectator area, then closing it again after seeing her reaction.

This is why you should move around between tests, not during them! Grrrr!


As we left, the judge told me that we'd been doing so well and would’ve received an 8 for the free walk and it was a shame that she’d been a little silly.

It was with some trepidation that I went to collect our test sheet. I was very pleased and extremely surprised to find a yellow rosette clipped to the top! 

We’d actually come third out of eight competitors, even with the 2 we eventually got for that free walk!

That free walk had been extremely costly though as if we'd scored 8, we would've won the class by two marks. I’m still happy though as there were some brilliant comments.

I hadn’t panicked at the first sign of trouble and for once, it wasn’t complete rider error that had caused us to lose marks.

Most importantly though, we both really enjoyed our little outing and at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?