Thursday, July 12, 2012

Le Show!

We didn't do so well...but at least we looked nice!
We did it! Last Sunday afternoon, Qrac and I got all blinged out and competed in our very first dressage competition.

As I mentioned in my post last week, I had no idea as to how Qracy would behave on a showground, how he would react to all the adrenaline gushing through the air, whether he’d get himself into a total tizzy at the sight of all the other horses. As it turns out, he was a total prince, backing calmly out of the trailer, standing quietly for a friend of mine while my daughter and I tacked him up. He didn’t prance, he didn’t dance, and he didn’t shout his head off, despite the crazy antics of a horse seemingly destroying the trailer parked next to us. That in itself was a victory for me!

I climbed onto his back and rode him towards the warm-up arena where my trainer, Marie-Valentine, was waiting for us. He felt a tad tense, but for reasons I can’t even begin to explain (could it have had something to do with the herbal chill-pill I took?!), I felt utterly blissed out, as though my horse and I were wrapped in a cocoon of cotton wool. Marie-Valentine greeted us, her sunny, generous presence reinforcing my calm state of mind. After she’d wired me up to her walkie-talkie machine, I patted Qrac, took a deep breath, and guided him into the warm-up arena.

Within minutes my husband and my son arrived. My husband had only seen Qrac once, last summer, and my son had never seen him at all. With neither of them being horse aficionados, the fact that they’d made the effort to drive all the way out there to watch me meant a lot, especially with our country’s beloved Rodger Federer competing in the Wimbledon final an hour after I was scheduled to ride, giving them little time to get back in the car, race home and turn on the television! Soon afterwards my friend Heike and her husband arrived, having driven all the way from Cologne, Germany (where they’d dropped off their children with Heike’s parents forty-eight hours earlier for the summer holidays)just to make it on time to see my first competition! Seriously! I was totally feeling the love!

Wired up!
Goodness me, the warm-up arena was such a zoo! With two tests taking place simultaneously, there must have been about thirty riders in there, some seemingly clueless as to the basic rules of riding in company. Nevertheless, initially at least, my cotton wool cocoon remained intact. “Have you two been competing in secret?” joked Marie-Valentine in my earpiece, and I turned to smile at her. Seriously, whoever invented those walkie-talkie earpiece thingies deserves an Oscar or something! They are so reassuring.

The warm-up process went smoothly, although little by little I must admit to becoming slightly unnerved by other riders cutting us off right and left. Being far too polite (and far too worried about being ploughed into!) to cut anyone off myself, I remained on full alert, weaving in and out of crazy drivers, slamming on the breaks a number of times to avoid the inconsiderate oafs ignoring our right of way. Qrac, bless his blingy saddle blanket, remained impassive, only spooking once when someone with a big dog slipped and fell onto his bum while running down the embankment on the far side of the arena. Generally speaking, he felt pretty fabulous considering the circumstances, moving nicely forwards and rounded. Granted, I didn’t have as much expression as I can sometimes get at home, and Qrac was definitely sticking to my inside leg on the right rein, but all things considered, I was thrilled.

The test Qrac and I were performing was ridden on a 20 x40 metre arena (tiny! I couldn’t believe how small it was!), which meant that we could enter the cordoned off extra 20 metres of the arena when the rider competing right before us went in to do her test. There again, Qrac was great, trotting around calmly while we waited for our turn. I tried to tune out everything else, mentally going over my test one last time, taking deep breaths. I felt so privileged, so lucky, so intensely happy to be here, riding in a dressage competition on a sunny afternoon on my beautiful horse under the loving, encouraging eyes of friends and family.

The rider before us finished her test, and Qrac and I entered the arena. I trotted him around, ready for him as he spooked at the geraniums and the begonias, feeling him tense as he eyed the judges in their little chalets. Still, he felt good, and I was confident we’d be able to ride the test without too many problems.


It was supposed to be an extended trot!
The bell jingled. I trotted a circle, changed to the left rein and headed towards A. From what I can see from the video, our turn was pretty precise, and it felt as though we rode relatively straight down the centre line, halting more or less squarely at X, although he dropped his right hip at the very last second. I saluted, patted him, and then proceeded towards C at a decent enough working trot with a smile on my face. I turned left and prepared for the extended trot on the diagonal. Within three strides Qrac exploded, shooting forwards and upwards like a rocket, taking me completely by surprise! I have no idea what happened, whether he saw something that spooked him, or whether he just had one of those unexplainable horsey moments. Still smiling (I think I actually laughed!) I closed my legs, rode forwards and more or less got him back before we reached the corner, but after that initial meltdown he was a little rushed, and no longer totally with me. Our turn on the haunches was more of an “okay, screw this, let’s just turn around and go the other way”, our ten metre circle in the left lead canter was a bit of an 18 metre hippety-hoppety head throwing muck-up. As for our walk to canter transition, it was a Qrac super special: he struck off on the wrong leg, switched leads in the air while swinging his haunches to the other side before even landing the wrong lead. Which in my enthusiastic opinion was super skilful, but definitely didn’t impress the judges!

Basically, we didn’t impress the judges at all, and finished with a pretty lowly score. Nevertheless, I rode out of the arena with a massive grin on my face, congratulating Qrac profusely, psyched by the whole experience, proud of not having been paralysed by nerves, proud of having remembered the test, proud of having remained so calm during the program despite Qrac’s numerous mini-meltdowns, proud of having continued to ride forward. We’d done it! We’d ridden our first dressage competition! Yippedy skippedy woohoo!

I was still on a high when I got home, and astonished myself further by having enough energy to actually go straight back out for pizza with my family at the local tennis club, where I drove everyone spare, yapping on and on about how happy I was, and how well Qracy had done, and sending out long, detailed text messages complete with photographs to all my horsey friends.

A couple of days later I signed us up for a show at the end of August, although I’m not a hundred percent certain of being able to take part as my poor son will be having knee surgery the previous day. Nevertheless, simply having signed up gives me something to work towards, and forces me to be a little more organized in my training.  It’s funny, but until now, when people used to tell me that they liked competing because it gave them an idea of where they were at and what they had to work on, I never really got it. As far as I was concerned, going to a show was just one giant, scary stress-out. On Sunday night, when it was all over, I finally understood.

And, guess what, I really enjoyed getting all dressed up and blingy for the occasion!

What do you/did you get out of showing?

 (My amazing daughter took all the photos! Check out her website: She recently had one of her photographs on a massive billboard on Times Square in New York! Yep, I'm proud of her!)


Dreaming said...

Congratulations! I love the picture (and comment) about the extended trot. It looks like you are having great fun, despite the unorthodox gait!
Dressage tests are too short to get bent out of shape if things don't go as planned - one might as well have fun! If it ceases to be fun, why do it?
What did I get out of showing? I liked rising to the challenge and showing what my horse and I could do.

Francesca Prescott said...

Thank you Dreaming, having fun is definitely the attitude, shame the whole ambiance is so hush-hush peas above sticks! It's always so quiet...except for the silly music they seem to always play.Now if i organised a dressage competiton it would be totally different, and far more fun. I'd proably have different rules, too!!

Thank you for reading and commenting :)

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--I think its absolutely wonderful that you were able to compete and have a good time, including through Qrac's "airs above the ground". And I, too, loved the times I was able to get my horse "shown", as Dreaming says--it didn't matter so much about winning. Just that we were able to execute what I knew we could do. Winning was just icing on the cake.

Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks, Laura :) Yes, he's definitely good at "airs above the ground", you should see what he can do when he's out in the field! Thank goodness he doesn't do stuff like that with me on his back.

Apparently we got good marks for our extended walk and extended canter (I've not actually seen the sheet yet as I left before the prize giving which was hours later; my trainer has it), and they had some nice things to say about my horse. Maybe it will be a bit better next time:)

Susan said...

I'm happy it was a good experience for the two of you.

Gayle Carline said...

Francesca - Congrats, you did it! Doesn't it feel great to do some things really well, and laugh about the things that don't go as planned? When Snoopy and I show, I come off the course feeling euphoric about the bend I got in him over the serpentine, or the relaxed lopeovers. Then I laugh my butt off at him trying to eat the plants in front of the gate, or the time I made him knock over a box because I backed him too far.

I'm beginning to think that being writers keeps our competitiveness from becoming too outrageous. We may want that perfect ride, but having a story to tell is good, too!

Linda Benson said...

Cesca - I am so proud of you for keeping your cool through this entire day. Good for you! This was a learning experience for both of you, and like you say, Qrac did some things very well! Maybe if they played loud rock 'n roll music over the speakers at dressage shows, people and horses would grin and chill out a bit more, do ya think? LOL

Christine said...

LOVE the photos! Especially the one of your dear Qrac resisting the extended trot - good on you for keeping at it!

You both looked great - wonderful turnout.

Francesca Prescott said...

Thank you, Susan :)

Gayle: at this point, I'm just happy to be able to feel confident enough to take him to a show! Whatever happens, happens:) And we didn't eat the geraniums (not that I thought he might try!)!!

Linda: thank you, you're a sweetie! About the music, at one of the previous yards I stabled horses in, I made loads of CDs for their annual show and we had really cool music (if I may say so myself!). I got to ride my program to one of my favourite tunes :) Actually, it was a little distracting as I wanted to sing along... Soooo not dressageally acceptable!

Francesca Prescott said...

Christine: awww....thank you! Yes, he looked pretty and got a lot of attention in the warmup arena! "Who is he, what is he, where is he from?"