Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Kwintus Chronicles: Showtime!

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 to find 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, as well as a sponge bag filled with miscellaneous indispensables: sunscreen, deodorant, lipgloss, a brush and comb, a gallon of Rescue Remedy.

Then, satisfied with my preparations, I took a long, cool bath (it's still mad hot over here in Switzerland), pulled on my PJs and went to bed early, ready for my aforementioned long, restorative, competition-priming sleep.

Yeah right.

Actually, my zzzzzs got off to a good start, and 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, imploring the Sandman to come back. He didn't. Maybe he'd run out of sand.

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 setting 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 showing increasing signs of preoccupation. 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, and 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 Sybile, 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. I was lucky to have so many people around because they took care of my horse, leaving me free to take care of myself. Applying a touch of sunscreen, I watched Kwint enjoying the devotion of ladies fussing 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. Thankfully, I was 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 tend to have 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, a moment I'll never forget.

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 decided, 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. Yay! Good one! We resumed canter at S,
but ran into trouble just after C when I got my collection technique in a twist just 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?


Sib said...

Bravo Bravo, :-) Vous êtes magnifiques tout les deux
:-) .... And i hope that we will share a lot of happy days like that very soon...

Bisous Bisous

Linda Benson said...

Francesca - I am so proud of you. It takes a lot of nerve to do something you are so obviously scared of, and you did it! Wonderful.

Plus - you are a hilarious writer, and I'll read every one of your posts (and books, where can I find your books?)

Good job all around (and hugs to Kwintus) and how hot is 34 degrees in farenheit?

Francesca Prescott said...

Merci, Sib! Maybe we can go to competitions together. I hear you've got quite the "killer instinct!".

Linda: Thanks for reading my long post - I got a little carried away while writing it. Actually, writing about the competition was much more fun than doing the competition! As for my book, "Mucho Caliente!" (it's a romantic comedy set in Ibiza), you can find it on :), or on Barnes and It's also available as an ebook or on Kindle if you like electronic. I can't seem to get into ebooks, despite having bought a reader about a year ago.

34° celsius must be way up in the mid-90s, I'll have to find a converter on Google and let you know :).

Jami Davenport said...

Cesca, what a wonderful account of your show. I loved reading it. I felt like I was there. I'm glad you posted all the pictures, too.

So when is your next one?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Somehow my ramble through the hay field on my chubby stead while swatting flies doesn't sound too interesting to post about. :)

GREAT PHOTOS. They added a lot and I was glad you figured out how to add them.

Alison said...

Wow! Somehow my ramble through the hay field on my chubby stead while swatting flies doesn't sound too interesting to post about. :)

GREAT PHOTOS. They added a lot and I was glad you figured out how to add them.

Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Jami! It would have been fun if you'd been there! We must find a way to ride together someday.

Hello Anonymous: I had a lovely ramble through the low foothills of the Jura mountains on Mr Kwintus this morning. We swatted lots of flies! I'd love to hear about your hay fields because I'm sure they don't look anything like mine. That's the beauty of Equestrianink: we're all from different places, sharing different experiences. Show me your hay fields and I'll show you mine!!!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your successful outing! Great account, it felt like I was there.

I suffer from similar show nerves. Sometimes you just have to face them down and go showing anyhow, even if it's more fun afterwards.


Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks, stillearning :) I'm sure you're right about having to just go out and do it. I've been looking to see what other shows I could do over the next few months, but there's not much left around here. The next two I could do I won't be able to (make sense!?) because I'll be settling my daughter into University in the UK. And then the only ones after those are in the German part of Switzerland, so if I'm nervous for the ones in the French part of Switzerland, Lord help me facing the competition down there!!! The standard is WAY higher! And I don't know whether I'd even get into them as there are kilometre restrictions for tests at my level. We'll have to see what comes up.

Anonymous said...

You're still being braver than I am! I've been taking my youngster to visit friends instead of trying to show this summer. I much prefer "getting the bugs out" in a friendly atmosphere, and at less cost :)


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Francesca!! You did it and you survived to tell about it. I'm so proud of you and Kwintus!!

I used to show at schooling dressage shows in Arizona. I did it more to evaluate where my horse and I were in our training compared to the last show/test we did. It was also nice to take her someplace new and see how she would react to all the different sights!

My favorite show was not our best but by far the most fun! I was 7 1/2 months pregnant with my daughter and it was my last show before her due date. The announcer was a wonderful older English gentleman who asked me about the baby. When I told him that I was having a girl and her name would be Kyra he remembered this when it was my turn to ride and announced that Lynn was riding her horse Miss Kitty and accompanying her was her baby girl Kyra!! It was so sweet and Kyra, now 5, loves to hear how she "rode" a dressage test with mommy before she was even born!!

After the show my riding friends surprised me with a baby shower. It was a wonderful day and now a warm memory. And I have absolutely no idea how well I did!!!

Francesca Prescott said...

Stilllearning: taking a youngster anywhere requires a lot of courage! I don't know if I'll ever take on a youngster again. But who knows...

Mommyrides: what a lovely story! Is your daughter horse-crazy? I wonder if she'll be into dressage later... It seems rare for young girls (even rarer for young boys) to be interested in dressage, show-jumping is usually what they gravitate towards. My daughter, Olivia, was definitely the odd one out when she fell for dressage, all the other kids in her riding lesson found flat work really boring. Thanks for telling the story about riding the test with your baby, and the announcer's loudspeaker comment! It made me smile :)

Shanster said...

Congrats! Sounds like you had fun and you were pleased with your performance and THAT is what is important!! Pix are awesome!

I'm getting ready for my first ride at 2nd level in 3 weeks... gulp. I worry so much about memorizing those darn tests!

I think I show more to see where I'm at and how I'm doing from an objective source. I don't think I'm very competitive, tho' I enjoy taking my mare out and seeing how we do. I don't LOVE showing cuz it's expensive and usually so hot out... I only go to a couple shows a year.

I'm hoping to get my scores for the USDF bronze medal award in a couple shows this summer. If it doesn't happen, we'll try again next year!

Cheers and looking forward to your next event -

Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Shanster: your comment has given me the perfect opportunity to ask about how American dressage showing works. How many "levels" are there, and what movements are required in each level? I'm guessing you probably have three levels, each level having loads of different tests, before moving on to the international tests (Saint George, the "Intermédiaires" and then Grand Prix), but I'd love to know more about each level. What will you have to do in 2nd level?

Is showing expensive over there? Here the inscription fee isn't too bad, but then of course getting there can involve hefty transport costs.

Oh, and what is the USDF bronze medal award????? I'm curious about all these things.

Shanster said...

Hi Francesca! So many questions and I am no expert! We have an Intro level (2 tests) - walk trot only. Training level (4 tests) - walk, trot, canter, large figures, straight lines.

Then there is First Level through Fourth Level all with 4 tests in each level. They start with the easiest and progress so the 4th test is the hardest... then of course there are the high levels you mention! PSG, Grand Prix etc.

At Second level the judges are looking for more of everything, more collection, impulsion, straightness ... I've been told I will get marked off greatly for not being straight in 2nd level!

My tests have shoulder-in, travers, renvers, 10m circles at trot and canter, medium and collected trot and canter, rein back 3-4 steps, simple changes, counter canter and turn on the haunches at the walk, free walk...

I think that is it...

The fee per class is $35. There are a lot of office fees etc. Two classes each day for a 2 day show is running me about $225 total. That is a show with not very many extra fees. Another one I'm interested in would be probably $350... ow ow ow.

The USDF bronze medal is a rider award. You can get the award if you ride one horse or many. When the rider recieves two scores of 60% or better in First, Second and Third levels. The scores have to be in two different tests and by two different judges. Then you are recognized with a bronze medal.

They have a silver medal award too but *ahem* that is so far ahead I have not contemplated it! Grin.

Shanster said...

whoops - looks like there are 3 tests in each level at third and fourth level... I'm working on third level movements but have not looked at tests because... well that is a year away and I don't want to freak myself out! grin.