|Qrac and me? No!!! Carl Hester and Uthopia!|
Showtime is whooshing towards me. On Sunday, sometime after 12.30, Qrac and I will be making our grand début in Swiss dressage, entering at A, shooting straight down the centreline before halting squarely at X. While Qrac stands still and proud, I will smile at the judges, bow my head and offer them a regal salute.
That’s how I’m visualising it, anyway, because all the self-help books insist that visualising is the key to achieving your goals. Maybe I should write myself a special affirmation card: “Qrac and I are turning elegantly at A with impeccable flexion, remaining in a constant rhythm and trotting with suspension and grace towards wide-eyed judges transfixed by our entrance”. Maybe I should hang a copy above Qrac’s stable, letting him absorb the energy of this affirmation. Do you reckon it’s worth a shot? Because, so far, during our practise sessions, when we enter, we can never quite seem to find A, and elegance probably isn’t the first adjectives that comes to mind as we swerve around my inside leg, haunches in perdition, then launch ourselves drunkenly down the centre line, desperately seeking X.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating, and chances are we don’t look half as bad as I feel we do. There are random moments of exhilaration when at least part of my affirmation card materializes, and we do turn at X, and Qrac doesn’t fall onto his inside shoulder, and we get to X in quite good form. It’s just that we’re not exactly consistent. But who knows; maybe we’ll get lucky on Sunday and nail our entrance.
Frankly, if the sun shines, chances are our entrance won’t matter that much because the judges won’t be able to see us anyway, being blinded by all our bling. And we’re talking bling, here! Qrac will be wearing a Swarovski crystal encrusted white saddle blanket (leant to me by a very kind, very blingy friend), and I’ve invested in a new fabulously sparkly Swarovski crystal encrusted stock pin. Qrac’s forelock will be plaited, revealing his sparkly brow-band (someone suggested I scatter a few Swarovski crystals into his Spanish braid, too, and glitter oil on his feet, but that would be serious overkill, don’t you think?). Otherwise, I’ll be looking spiffy in my new navy blue Kingsland competition jacket, worn over a lovely stretchy Equiline shirt with a…wait for it…Swarowski button at the neck and their blingy logo on the neckline. Heck, if we don’t bring in the marks at least we’ll look nice!
Of course, it isn’t just nailing the entrance that might be problematic. There are plenty of other pitfalls awaiting us as we power away from X, heading towards the eagle-eyed judges sitting in their little geranium-draped chalets. First of all, will Qrac enjoy the geranium-draped chalets? Will he not take one look at them and spin around, hot-footing it right back to A and beyond? No, of course he won’t. I’ve visualized that part, too. In fact, I’ve visualised the entire program so many times that I’ll be seriously surprised if we don’t get around it relatively smoothly. The half-turn on the haunches right under the judges’ noses might be a bit dodgy; we’ll be coming in for it at a trot, transitioning into walk and immediately tackling the turn. Qrac has a very big, loose walk, so I need to really slow him down in front while making him quicker behind so he doesn’t turn with his hind legs sprawled out à la John Wayne, which I’ve been finding difficult in such a short space. The extended trots down the diagonal clearly don’t impress my trainer, but they feel great to me, simply because I know my horse is really trying, has improved immensely in the past three months, yet doesn’t quite have his balance yet in what isn’t his strongest gait. Another iffy part is the walk to canter transition, where he tends to go croupe high, or strike off on the wrong leg, or not strike off at all, or a combination of all three. Once we’re in canter, we’re pretty much ok, and the extended canter is wonderfully exhilarating as he loves to stretch out and go go go, and (most times at least) doesn’t put up much of an argument when it’s time to come back to working canter. Mind you, throw in a couple of randomly placed geranium pots and we might be extending straight back to the trailer, scattering Swarowskis in out wake the way Hansel and Gretel scattered breadcrumbs. At least Marie-Valentine, my trainer, will be able to find us!
Speaking of my trainer, during my last session with her on Monday morning, we spent about five minutes working on my salute and laughing ourselves silly. Marie-Valentine deemed my first salute half-assed and wishy-washy, telling me to give it a little more oomph. I obliged, or at least I thought I did, but she doubled over clutching her sides; apparently the judges wouldn’t really appreciate the hint of a shoulder roll coupled with the eyebrow raise, and the theatrical, slow and posy, wrist-flicking salute (now where did that come from?! It’s so not me!). “It looks like you’re saying, `hi guys, get a load of this”!” she giggled. I got it right the third time.
Have Qrac and I been practising hard for the competition? I guess so, although I was out of action for a few days two weeks ago after Mr. Macho took out his irritation with a rival stallion by having a good crunch on my hand. I managed to ride again four days later, but then took another two days off to spend time with a girlfriend visiting from Ibiza. So far this week I’ve only ridden Monday, as when I arrived at the stables on Tuesday Qrac had taken an intensive mud bath in the field, was plastered from nose to tail and sporting mud-encrusted dreadlocks instead of a long silky mane. All I could do was bring out the shampoo. I popped him in the solarium hoping he’d dry off quickly enough for me to get in a quick ride, but I ran out of time. On Wednesdays Qrac is ridden by a pro dressage rider, which means I’ve only got Thursday, Friday and Saturday to work on our program.
Am I nervous? Strangely enough, so far I’m not. Not massively nervous, anyway. In fact, it’s kind of weird because I’m almost looking forward to it. Since this will be our first show, I’ve no idea how Qrac will react; but am hoping that he’ll behave as wonderfully as he did a couple of months ago when I trailered him to the German part of Switzerland for a lesson with one of our top riders/trainers. My horse backed calmly out of the van, stood quietly while I tacked him up with the help of a friend, and went straight to work in a totally foreign environment making no fuss at all. Ok, so there weren’t hundreds of horses prancing around, nor was it raining adrenaline. Still, I was impressed. The only thing that worries me is Marie-Valentine not being able to stand by me from the moment I arrive at the showground to the moment I enter at A. This venue has two arenas, and bad luck has it that not only is one of her other students riding the same program as me about fifteen minutes before I’m due in the arena, but that yet another will be riding two horses one hour apart in the Prix Saint Georges taking place in the adjacent arena at the same time as my baby program. We’re hoping to there will be a couple of last minute scratches, enabling me to ride two hours earlier and benefit from her full attention. Please, everyone, cross your fingers! I can’t do it without her, especially not the first time around! Well, maybe I can, but I’d rather not.
How about you. Are you going to be competing this weekend? Or do you have any stories about going out showing for the first time? I’d love to hear them!
PS: I tried to post photos of my new competition jacket, my shirt and my stockpin, but my computer is being silly and is pretending it can't find them. I'll try again later in the day!