Tuesday, 1 August 2017

RDA Nationals - Dressage

This year I sort of had two opportunities for dressage at the National Championships, because even though you are only allowed to compete in one Championship class (I had opted for the walk/trot test ridden side saddle on Rolo rather than the canter test that Boysie and I had also qualified in, on the basis that Rolo and I are going well at the moment and Boysie is VERY popular for everything and everyone else in the group) you can also do Dressage Anywhere. This was the first year that I'd had a go at Dressage Anywhere and it's something I'm going to be trying to get more riders doing in the East Region - and further afield, although I have even less jurisdiction outside the east of England!
Qualifying with Rolo at the regional competition
I've written about Dressage Anywhere here and here. If you're not aware of it, it's basically an opportunity to film yourself doing a dressage test at home, then to have that film judged and compared to other people in your class. If you're lucky, you get a rosette and even some prize money! Dressage Anywhere runs an RDA Online Championship each year. You qualify for this in the preceding rounds, which run from August to March, with the Championship taking place in April/May.
Results are here.
This year I had entered the Walk/Trot test on Rolo and for the Championship we went side saddle. This was only my second time riding side saddle so it was a bit of a gamble but it paid off when we won! The prizes for this were awarded on the Friday of Hartpury, and consisted of a lovely RDA rosette and, even snazzier, a Dressage Anywhere medal! Having a red rosette and a gold medal was a great way to start the weekend and it was a good omen as I dashed off to my first event (jumping) after the presentation ceremony. Clearly Ruth (who runs DA) is a good omen!
With our medal and rosette after the jumping - and Gillian (L) and Helen (R)

Anyway, my 'real' dressage test (performed live!) ended up being closer to the bottom of my list of priorities this year. This was a bit of a shame but I did put a lot of effort into the other disciplines and, having decided to ride side saddle, I also knew that there wasn't much I could do to practise as there was only the opportunity for one half-hour lesson, and it's so different to riding astride that normal riding wasn't really much help.
One of our RDA sessions before the Champs
Other than scrutinising my test sheets from the qualifier, 2016 Championships and my Dressage Anywhere side saddle test, the main practice I could do would be getting used to the saddle. In my lessons, I'd felt fine whilst on board (limited sensation helping me out!) but then dismounting and attempting to function afterwards was nigh-on impossible as my legs had just seized up so much that I couldn't move them or weight bear. I knew that I'd have to aim to be as comfortable as possible during the showing so that I was ready to go again the next day in the dressage. I also knew that I needed to recover from the dressage very quickly in order to be ready for vaulting!
Wobbly!
To this end, I tried to get used to the saddle as much as possible by setting it up on a makeshift saddle rack at home and then sitting in the position whilst watching television. Sounds silly and I didn't think it would help much but although I was very tired after the showing (which was about 4 times as long as any other time I've ever spent riding side saddle), I wasn't as bad as I expected. After the dressage, I was in a lot of pain but nowhere near as stiff and unsteady as I'd feared.
Looked a bit silly too!
So anyway, the test! I knew the test fairly well, but practising on a sofa really isn't the same... For a start, sofas don't leap around with excitement at being out and about on such a glorious summer morning. I really did wish I was astride when I first got on Rolo - he was full of the joys of spring and then some. This is classic for him and frankly I'd been astonished when he'd behaved so well the day before. We were quite early down to the tack check so weren't allowed into the collecting ring straight away. Rolo was absolutely not in a mood to stand still or even just to walk. He was jogging on the spot and from side to side and every time I released the rein a bit he'd just start mega fast trotting...

It took a superhuman effort for me to relax enough all over and trust that he'd calm down if I led the way. I consciously tried to loosen as many muscles as are under control and to keep the contact really light. I looked up more and just kept him moving until he was ready to do some transitions and start settling down. To be honest, the fact that we were fairly calm by the time we went in is one of my biggest achievements of the weekend: it'd been quite a while since I'd felt that unsettled on a horse and, combined with my annoyance at myself for feeling wobbly, it was a mental challenge to get a grip and get on with it.
The other thing that sofas don't tend to do is poo. I was all too aware that Rolo had gone the entirety of our 'warm up' (which was mostly cooling down!) without having had a poo. The fact that he chose to do it as we came down the centre line for the first time and before we even hit X was really rather infuriating. I nudged him enough to keep him going in walk (in fact, I didn't know my left heel moved that much!) but unfortunately this meant that once he'd finished pooing he broke into an exuberant little trot, so we lost a mark there.
This photo features the offending poo on the right!
The rest of the test passed without major incident but to be honest I didn't ride it as well as I could have. I think a lot of it is my inexperience riding side saddle, because my steering and seat/position definitely had space to improve. On the other hand, the one thing that we'd hoped would be better side saddle - the halts - were some of the best he's done with me. This isn't exactly saying much, but it was gratifying nonetheless that the halt did actually include 'immobility'!
Anyway, the dressage test was over and I had managed to ride it side saddle in front of an audience without falling off! We didn't get a great score (62%) which was a bit disappointing but in a large class we still came in 7th (just out of the rosettes - even more annoying!). It was a bit of a drop after winning the class last year but managing it side saddle was a proud achievement and managing my anxiety before going in was even more of one: it's nice that I don't really get too nervous about competing, but it does mean that when things go a bit pear-shaped and I have a confidence wobble it's that much harder to manage. Whatever the result on Saturday, Rolo had done me proud on the Friday and I'd had very limited practice time so I couldn't be too upset about the dressage result. There's just plenty to keep working on!
Dressage Anywhere goodies!