Enter at… Aye? Our Wild Atlantic Dressage Experience.

Dressage was coming. The Wild Atlantic Dressage Festival, that is – and seeing as I was helping with the promotion of the event, I set myself a the goal of rejoining Dressage Ireland, competing at the festival and riding a novice test for the first time. For many, this isn’t a big deal, but for me, it really was. Straightness has always felt like our arch enemy and counter canter our nemesis.

I’m the type of person who likes having something to aim for and to work towards. As I explained in our last blog post I felt that after spending the majority of 2018 in a showjumping arena, Giselle and I could do with concentrating on our flat work again.

As part of our preparation we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to train with Irish Olympic dressage rider, Judy Reynolds. Judy, who is based in Germany, returns to Ireland regularly and gives lessons from her home base in Co. Kildare. This was not only very exciting, but also the perfect opportunity to rope one of my best friends, Bevin, into a long over due horsey road trip.

A lesson with Judy Reynolds

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So on a cold April Sunday, Bevin, Giselle and I hit the road for Kildare. Once our lesson began Judy very quickly noted that Giselle was not moving off my leg, at all, and that my right leg was not in a good position. Her main point was, if you asked three times and she still does nothing, it’s not good enough. So there was a lot of pony club kicking going on but the idea was to get a reaction, any reaction at all. Maybe it was the travelling, but with Giselle, I just never know what horse is going to turn up when schooling!

Judy’s main points for us were:

  1. To relax my right leg and get it into a more neutral position
  2. When Giselle is asked, she must react
  3. I must allow her the time to understand what I’m asking her – and then ask again
  4. It must feel like Giselle is pulling me forward (working from behind)

After working for a solid 45 minutes I felt there was a definite improvement. After introducing some attempts of medium trot across the diagonals all of a sudden the penny dropped and Giselle began to pull me forward! Anyone who works hard on their flat work knows, that once you get that feeling that it’s clicked – there’s nothing like it!

I have to thank Bevin for coming along to keep me company – as she said she couldn’t hear a thing that was going on as we were working with an ear piece and spent the whole lesson wrapped in Giselle’s rug taking videos and pictures for me. I plan to put a video montage together of her video commentary and Instagram take over one of these days – you’re a ticket, Bevwando!

April was a busy month work wise for me, with a course on site for secondary school students followed by a teacher training course. Unfortunately, this made sure we couldn’t make it for a lesson with the WADF organiser and our regular coach, Simone Hession. All we could do was continue to practice what we had learned over the months, and with Judy, as best we could while hacking.

However, the week before the show could not have been any worse. Giselle was overly fresh and had zero interest in any form of schooling. All she wanted to do was gallop off over the sand dunes and beaches – a big difference from the horse I had to pony club kick infront of a FEI Dressage world cup finalist – Geeeze Giselle!

The Wild Atlantic Dressage Festival

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On the day, Giselle never lets me down. She always seems to know when it’s business time and rises to the occasion. Based on the way she had rode during the week I wasn’t brimming with confidence. We rode our first test and I made a couple of mistakes which I knew would cost a few marks. Overall I felt it went well enough but knew our walk needed a improvement and was a bit annoyed at myself for making those silly mistakes.

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Wake up G, you’re dressaging today!

Twenty minutes later we were back in to ride the dreaded novice test. As novice tests go, this was a nice one, and I felt it was a nice introduction to this level. With no expectations, we trotted up the centre line. As I tracked right at C I knew myself that it was one of our better entries! Our first 3 loop serpentine was a bit all over the place so I made a point of kicking myself up the backside for the second, which I rode much better.

To avoid Giselle throwing in her flying changes in the counter canter I purposely made a point of returning to trot a little earlier than asked, and when it came to the medium trot Giselle actually moved off my leg! When we halted at X, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved, but I was smiling because I was genuinely happy with how it went – and very proud of Miss G considering the lack of preparation in the final weeks before the show.

When we got our sheets back I was more than surprised to see that we had gotten just over 69% in the preliminary test and a respectable +67% in the novice, both accompanied by first place rosettes! Both scores are qualifying scores for the National Championships – we just need three more to qualify. The judge had some lovely comments and some good points on what to work on – and I, as always, was extremely proud of my little mare. Oh, and our centre line in the novice had scored an 8!

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I love dressage as it gives me a challenge. I like to strive for improvement and I like to do right by my horse – dressage gives me that focus and reassures me that my now “veteran” mare still has it! We’ll keep working on improvements as now that summer is upon us, I would love to qualify for the AIRC Eventing National Championships. To do so, we have to finish in 1st or 2nd place at an AIRC affiliated event – dressage scores will play a big role in this, as well as a clear cross country round!

Next week I’ll tell you about our next adventure – making it onto a RDS qualifier showjumping team.. It’s all go!

Cat x

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