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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

British Dressage Winter Regionals 2019

OK, so for all of you that follow us & keep up to date with us across our social media will probably be more than aware we've been pretty excited about heading up to Morris Equestrian Centre to compete in the Winter Regionals after qualifying back in November.

Well the weekend finally came around...honestly, it seems absolutely years ago that we entered, let alone since we qualified! I'd had a competition & training schedule for the start of the year to help get us nicely prepared and feeling confident. Unfortunately, and as always, it didn't all fall into place, it didn't work out how we had quite hoped, but we made the Regionals, did our test, didn't disgrace ourselves and had a fantastic weekend too!

So, sit back and enjoy our journey to the Winter Regionals!

Gaining Winter Regional Qualification

I hadn't put this on my radar until I came back from the Pet Plan Finals having had a blast... I was straight onto how we can go to more pony parties overnight and enjoy the experience and atmosphere in a bigger competition environment. 

I studied the British Dressage handbook and soon realised that I could attempt to gain enough qualifying points for the Winter Regionals at Prelim based on the scores I was achieving and the number of tests I was able to put in.

It would be tight. I had just six tests to achieve the remaining eleven points that we needed in test scores of 66%+. We were on a brilliant run, and within our first outing at Alnwick Ford Equestrian we did it with a 70.17% & 69.79% in long arena tests.

Ever since starting out affiliating in 2011 with a previous horse, Buddy, I'd wanted to be able to put in tests that were of a strong enough quality to gain this qualification. I never quite made it with him so I was over the moon to finally be able to achieve it with Louie.

Preparing for the Winter Regionals

Anyone who knows me, knows I can be super strictly organised and almost a little too structured when I put my mind to it, so of course I'd sat not doing very much in December creating our plans for the new year.

I was perfectly planned, until real life took a hold...
  • Winter bugs, flu and cold had other ideas & I missed our January training session
  • Lack of practice over the festivities gave us a VERY rusty competition result mid-January
  • Louie turned into a super duper grumpy sod for a few days & later diagnosed with ulcers
  • Our preparation in the week leading up to the Regionals was absolutely dog turd...
Sounds like I'm making excuses? Well, I'm not. It's life and the very nature of working with horses.

We bounced back from missing a training session in exchange for having our dressage coach, Cathy, supporting us in the warm up when we travelled down to Richmond at the end of January. I actually learnt a lot that day as to how to get the most from our warm up without it becoming anywhere near as intense as a training session. The results were good and we felt more confident after a poorer performance earlier in the month.

Louie's ulcers were diagnosed early February, and thankfully they don't seem to display any symptoms under saddle. He's been on a special supplement since that day, but only today (26.02) started his official injection treatment, so fingers crossed that in a month or so, we'll have those behind us too.

What about this really crappy week leading up to the Regionals? Well, yes, actually it was RUBBISH.

We'd signed up to a British Dressage training session to be a guinea pig rider for coaches taking their UKCC assessments. It went wrong from the second I left the office... twenty minutes late! I only had 30 minutes at the yard to get Louie ready, loaded and away. Brilliant. & thanks to that driver who enjoyed a drive along the sea front for my whole journey where I am absolutely convinced I could run quicker (& I am a really bad runner!!)

So, there I arrived at the yard at the exact time I was due to leave. Perfect... not.

I raced around and was gone within 10 minutes. I have to say, it's amazing what you can actually do in 10 minutes when you've no other choice! One thing you can't rush is transporting a horse. I arrived at the venue five minutes before the session started, and was very surprisingly just 5 minutes last into the session.

However...this was actually a nightmare for us. Firstly, it was only a 35 minute session, so I knew I needed 15-20 minutes for a good warm up to get Louie thinking forward and taking my contact. Secondly because we went straight into the session and were asked to do a fiddly little leg yielding exercise on a circle. Not the ideal exercise for forwardness. 

About 15 minutes in, the coaching instructor came up and asked if Louie felt normal. He did, but I was honest about our lack of warm up and the annoying way of his going when he isn't forward; he comes back up at me and skips around behind the contact. Yes, he bobs about a bit... 

OK, let's see how he goes... So I carried on. And five minutes later I was asked the same again but with expression of concern over his evenness in front. As he summed up - for being a guinea pig, it's not worth breaking anything. Very true. 

I hope if he, or any of the coaches in that session are reading, I am absolutely not complaining. It was the right thing to do, and after asking someone to video us, I could see what they saw. I knew what caused it, but it was a fair statement and fair concern.

I quickly spoke to Cathy, and I was due the farrier that evening. There was definitely no lameness on a trot up, but when watching the video, the farrier agreed he was 'off' but it could be something simple like an abscess. To be honest, I wasn't worried remotely about the leg, the cause (if it was anything) or how to fix it... I knew my trusted vets would sort that out if need.

But the disappointment hit me like a truck at full speed on the A1... And it really hurt! 

After a teary drive home & taking some time to sit on my own (all night!), I resigned to that I was no longer going to the Regionals. I was devastated after being excited for what had felt like months!

While I took my quiet time, Andrew reached out to Louie's vet with the video and asked his advice. I mean, how many of you have a vet that at 9pm at night you can send a message to, he asks for the video and gives you all that support... He is a fantastic vet and truly a part of our team! He agreed though that Louie looked off, but said he was in the area the next day. Obviously in my heavy mood about the whole situation, I didn't see the point in booking a vet's appointment, but did it. Might as well start investigation now...

Dashing out of work, I arrived at the yard after the vet. Andrew had brought Louie in and the nurse was running Louie back and forth for the vet. I dragged myself to the tack room to get changed, before heading into the yard. When I did, they were coming back from the arena where Louie had been lunged.

The vet simply said 'Well...he's not lame today!'

This should be a dream to hear, but after such a rollercoaster the night before, all I could manage was a 'FFS...' But it was good news. We chatted briefly about my plans between then and the weekend, and he was happy for me to crack on and if it presents again, let's look at it.

I got on after he had left and I was absolutely determined not to let this horse drop behind the contact. I did just that. Sent the video to Cathy... who pointed out I'd clearly gone far too OTT and now had Louie coiled up like a tense spring that was about 3ft long. 

The next night I sarcastically climbed back on and felt like I was riding a barrel racing horse on almost the buckle end, pulling me down, completely on the forehand. When I cooled off, I watched the video and was amazed at how much looser, relaxed and easy things looked for Louie!

I sent it to Cathy. Good news & that was it now until Sunday's test!

On Thursday and Friday, our livery Facebook group put several messages on about various geldings losing shoes...so I was convinced Louie would be missing at least one by the time we left at lunchtime on Saturday. Thankfully this was one part of the week that didn't stray off plan!!

What a rollercoaster of a few days...& it did leave me slightly dented for what would occur on Sunday.

Travelling to Morris Equestrian Centre

After a few hours turnout in the morning, I dragged Louie in to give his tail and socks a good wash, as well as a good stain remover here and there. For a grey, he actually isn't too dirty! Typically when I didn't want to take ages to wash him, he shuffled about and suddenly found random things exceptionally spooky...you know, like the bricks on the wall he was tied to, or the leadrope... I know...

I did start to let my emotions get the better of me in that situation, but while bandaging in the stable and using my stain remover, I calmed back down, and just before 1pm, we were ready to leave.

The drive up is fairly straight forward - get to the A1, down to the A69 all the way to the M74 and follow it all the way to Kilmarnock. It takes about 3-3hrs 20mins for us to get there. I wanted to arrive in the light, and to get Louie settled before we headed for some tea, to then check on him for the night and give him his own tea.

He settled straight away, munching at his haynet, spooking at his water bucket, but seemingly content. I was happy to see he had overcome his fears and drunk half a bucket by the time we came back from having our own dinner. I popped his lycra hood on and pulled his stable rug neck up, but was quite sad to leave him for the night. 

You can sleep in our horsebox, but it's not ideal with needing to clear all the shavings out, lifting the partition to one side, and using an big blow up air bed. Plus we've no hook up, and although the weather has been mild, it's February and it was the beast from the east at this time last year! So I'd booked us into the same hotel as when we came up in October. It's a 5 minute drive away, and gives a great night's sleep, and even if we don't get to enjoy their smart facilities, it does mean I can have a lovely hot shower before bed!

Winter Regional Competition Day

The arena walk/familiarisation was at 9am - quite sociable really! I gave Louie his breakfast at 8am, where he was actually waiting patiently and was super cute to whinney as he saw us enter the stables! I head into the arena with all its flower pots, judges huts, hanging flags, drapes around the edge, seating, windows to the cafe, music playing, and literally didn't know what would happen... Baring in mind, he spooked at a wall that he had been stood in front of for ten minutes and a bucket of water next to his haynet the day before.

He took to it like a pro, marching out past everything, ears pricked and taking it all in his stride. We used the full 30 minutes, for if nothing else than giving him a good leg stretch after travelling and being in a fairly small stable overnight. It filled me with confidence for his attitude for later on in the day.

We had a long wait - we weren't on until 16:38. So we grabbed some breakfast and enjoyed watching some other tests. Andrew was on tack & boot cleaning duties, while I used more stain remover to get rid of the mud splatters and poop marks on the back of Louie. 

With Louie's ulcers, I'd packed LOADS of chaff, which he was clearly thrilled about being fed every 3-4 hours! I gave him a bucket full at 12, and then at 3.30pm before we warmed up.

I'd got everything on a timer, so at 2.30pm we started plaiting. It was really great as the stables back onto the main arena which means the freestyle novice class music was as clear as day for us to enjoy bopping around to. There sounded to be some really great music to enjoy dressage to, including Whistle While You Work & Jolly Holiday from Mary Poppins! Not sure if all the bopping about is the reason my plaits weren't quite as straight as normal...

I wanted to be in the warm up at 4pm to give Louie a good ten minutes to walk around on a long rein and be relaxed. I wanted to achieve the feeling I had at home on Thursday...just without my sarcastic attitude about it! He felt good, but I knew it was very safe and I was riding fairly basically in contrast to what we'd been working on over the last few months.

Before I knew it, it was our turn. We headed in... I was so excited, nervous, concentrating, determined, all in one!

Louie trotted around the edge just like he had walked around earlier in the day. We were dinged in and we headed down the centre line...

Louie likes a surprise as for the first time in four years, he pooped in his test...cue my pony club style kicking to keep going!! After that, he was a star. We played it WAY to safe and cautious. Put in a neat, tidy and accurate test, but nothing exciting. Lacking power and energy... 

We scored 63.22% which when being judged by List 1 judges, competing at the Regionals, and for a very safe test, I was pleased with. We didn't qualify, only the winner did. But it was an amazing experience from start to finish! Would I do it all again? Absolutely! 

After prize giving, Louie had a little bit of chill time in the stable & a bucket of chaff before we headed home. Packing up takes a surprisingly long time - sorting all the horsebox out, making sure everything is put away, loading the horse and mucking out your stable. But by about 6.30-6.45pm, we were on the road, needing to make a stop for fuel and to grab some tea for us. 

I fell asleep just before we got back onto the A69, but we made it back to the yard for around 10.15pm, so not too bad in terms of timing considering our stops. Louie had a lovely plump bed waiting for him, and after giving him his tea, we headed home ourselves. It was a great feeling when my head hit that pillow!!

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