Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Chicken and the Superstar

It might have been the moon. Or maybe it was something I ate. Or could it have had something to do with the Cosmo I knocked back a little too quickly on my terrace with a friend? All I know is that at some point last week, in an élan of exuberance coupled with a temporary lapse of judgment, I signed up for a dressage competition.


You see, I’m not the competitive type. The mere thought of riding a program in public generates sleepless nights, unpleasant digestive issues, nausea, palpitations, zit attacks and ludicrous amounts of sweating. And then there’s the fact that I absolutely loathe those adrenaline rushes you get prior to entering the arena. So why the heck did I fill out the online application and press “enter”?

I guess it had something to do with feeling mega comfortable at my new stables, with Kwintus going so well, with feeling encouraged by my friend Stephanie, the owner of the stables, with knowing that my fabulous trainer, Marie-Valentine Gygax (who used to teach in America!), will be there to coach me. There’s also the niggling sentiment that Kwint isn’t getting any younger. He’s eighteen now, and although I know he’s not Methuselah, he’s no spring chicken, either. If I’m going to try to
make a little hay, now’s the time.

The thing is, I’m proud of my horse. I’m proud of how great he looks for his age, of how well he uses his back, of how he swings in trot, of how he brings his hind legs so far underneath him in canter. I love how he almost always corrects himself when halting at X if not completely square. I love how he’s always eager to please, how he always does his best to understand what I’m after. I love his laid back, positive attitude towards life and his sense of humour. Sure, he needs a little motivation to do more than the bare necessities once in a while, but who doesn’t? Call me nuts, but despite my fear of public performance, I want to show the world what a wonderful horse I have.

As for Kwintus, he loves going to shows. All you have to do is plait his mane for him to start preening like a Grand Prix superstar. Last year, at the annual show at my old stables, a friend of mine rode him in one of the more advanced classes (I have yet to sign up to pass what, here in Switzerland, is called a “licence”. I guess I should…but it’s…, well, you know, a test. It has the same effect on my inner-life as a competition). She’d only ridden him a couple of times beforehand, and had no idea he was going to go into show-off mode the moment the bell rang. Imagine her surprise when he decided he knew exactly what he was doing, and that of course the three tempi changes on the diagonal were followed by the two tempi changes on the next diagonal (there were no two tempis at all in that program, but he just loves doing them!)!

No, they didn’t do very well… But the overall effect was ever so cute! And you should have seen the enthusiasm he put into his pirouettes!

Kwintus and I won’t have to do tempi changes for the test on July 10th, which is a pity, really, as they’re definitely his party trick. There’ll be no fancy footwork, no pirouettes, no appuyés, nor even any backing up, come to think of it. The main difficulty will be the series of canter-walk-canter movements performed on a serpentine on the middle line, so we’re practicing those, trying to keep the fluidity in the walk after the transition. I’ve noticed that if I make a conscious effort to breathe into the downward transitions, Kwint executes them far more smoothly. Problem is, as I’m already forgetting to breathe during our practices, chances are I’ll be apoplectic on the day!

But then again, maybe I’ll be fine. Maybe, this time, I’ll be as laid back as my horse. Maybe I’ll sleep like a baby the night before, and wake up to face the day with a head filled with resolve instead of a stomach filled with dread. Maybe I’ll be preening like a Grand Prix diva. Maybe.

I’m hoping that, having given myself plenty of time to prepare the test, I’ll feel far more confident than I’ve felt in the past. I’m hoping I’ll enjoy the moment as much as I know Kwintus will. More than anything, I’m hoping I’ll do him proud, maybe even come home with a ribbon and some decent scores and nice comments on my test sheet.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress, as well as on further developments relating to the state of my nerves. And I’ll definitely let you know how the competition goes...

Meanwhile, I’d love to know how you feel about competing in shows. Do you get nervous? And if you do, why do you still sign up? Any words of wisdom you’d like to share?

Lots of love,



Linda Benson said...

Francesca - I love your honesty in this post, as well as the title - LOL. I haven't shown horses in a long time, except for competing in team penning, but that is more of a team sport, so not so nerve wracking. But as a teenager, I remember not being able to sleep the night before, or eat any breakfast on the day of the show, I was so nervous.

But I think you are showing your horse for just the right reason - because you are proud of him. Not for personal gain, but to show off the horse. That should be what it's all about.

Good luck fighting your nerves. Hope it all goes well for you and Kwintus!!

Unknown said...

Funny, I was just thinking about my old horse showing days. I was always super nervous. No sleeping, terrified my alarm wouldn't go off (which actually did happen once), not being able to eat, super nervous and nauseous, until my horse would step into the ring, then everything would flow and I'd get in the zone. I've been revisiting it because I've been thinking about entering my old horse in her first event. She was trained for eventing but then retired for navicular, now she's sound and I feel the urge to get her there. She's so talented cross-country and with jumping, dressage not her strong suit.

Jami Davenport said...

I never really felt I was nervous, yet I would get tense, and my brain didn't function like it did when I rode on my own. So I guess I had a form of nerves. I didn't have any problem sleeping the night before, but I never ate the day of a show until my classes were done.

Topaz said...

This past weekend I went to my first show in seven years and did my first competitive dressage test ever. It was my pony's first show ever. We had three goals: calm, happy, and try not to forget the tests.

My brain was good at keeping calm. My stomach was another story. I sat there wondering why I was doing this to myself. Why, why, why? What could possibly be gained from this?

I did it for Penny pony. She's so green she needs all the experience she can get. And because I have this crazy competitive streak I don't allow to surface much.

Penny was an absolute superstar. So quiet and steady. People that didn't know her thought she was a "been there done that" pony. We finished out our two day show with six blue ribbons. Out of our three dressage tests we did the best on Intro A, 73.5% (with three 9's!) All this on a pony that six months ago didn't steer. The blue ribbons don't matter to me (never thought I'd say that.) I'm just so incredibly pleased with how awesome she was. And that's really what it should be about: having good rides but not stressing the bad ones, enjoying yourself and having pride in your mount.

Francesca Prescott said...

Linda: glad you liked the silly title! I'd think riding for a team would be even worse for my nerves as I'd be terrified of letting everyone else down. I'm about to head over to the stables in a little while, hopefully the thunderstorms will hold off for a few more hours so Kwint and I can get nice and sweaty. It's SO muggy...

Angelia: Your nerves sound like mine! Now that you mention it, I do remember getting somewhat "into the zone" once entering the arena and going up that centre line. Wow, eventing! The owner of my stables does that; I went with her to a show a while back and couldn't believe what a great atmosphere there was - so different from the hush-whisper-sshhhh style at dressage competitions. I'm terrified of jumping, so the idea of those natural fences makes my hair stand on end. But I love the idea of it and really enjoyed watching everyone flying around! But dressage, jumping and a cross country course in one day?! I'm nervously knackered after a dressage test! Good luck with your mare.

Jami: I know that mushy brain feeling, like everything's in a kind of fog. Hmm, I don't only have that before shows though...!!

Topaz: Congratulations! Sounds like you're going to go places with your pony. It's great when they respond so beautifully, especially on a first outing. And 75.3% is a seriously impressive score.

Thank you, everyone, for the feedback :)

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I never competed in dressage, but spent twenty years competing at first cowhorse, then cutting and then team roping. Cutting and cowhorse were much more intense for me in terms of nerves--team roping, like team penning is more laid back. I remember the sleepless nights and the not eating and the general nerves. By the time I was roping I was pretty relaxed about competing, I think because I detached from it. I always held the goal of doing my best, trying to keep my horse and myself safe (especially when I was roping, which, like eventing, has a lot of potential for injury) and just enjoying the day. I did give up competing--for a variety of reasons--one, among many, was I didn't care for the intensity that many people bring to it.

I hope you enjoy your "show day"--I guess my words of wisdom would be not to focus on winning and even relax a little about "doing well". And, if possible, don't think about it too much. That always helped me. If you get your mind out of the way, your body will be able to do what it knows how to do. Good luck!

LK Hunsaker said...

I'm out of my league here, as I've never so much as ridden a horse, but I had to stop by since I always love your blog entries. :-)

Good for you for plunging into competition! Have a lot of fun with it!

Jami Davenport said...


I can't wait to hear about your show. I'm sure he'll take great care of you, and you'll have a good time!!!

Anne Coyle said...

Not being a competitive person, the very thought of raising the bar on myself (and in public, no less!) used to leave a huge pit in my stomach and I'd wonder what in the heck I had been thinking. What I discovered, however, is that it caused me to look at my training and schooling in a whole new light. I discovered that my horse and I could accomplish more that I realized. Of course, it also gave me an excellent excuse to spoil myself with some shiny new horse riding apparel! What you will probably find, as well, is that you are capable of far more than you realize….so enjoy the process!