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Friday, 16 August 2019

PetPlan Area Festivals at Northallerton Equestrian Centre

With the PetPlan Area Festivals in full swing, it was a great feeling to have another go at qualifying for the Final, this time at Northallerton Equestrian Centre in North Yorkshire. It's a really great venue, as they put a lot of effort into their competition - regular shows as well as championship dates. The warm ups are correct stewarded, their arenas are well maintained throughout the day, and they accommodate competitors to help them have the best possible day. It really is a lovely place to enjoy giving dressage a go.

Anyway, we seem to have hit the curse of the "midnight" spots when it comes to competing in the Area Festivals - last year I was on at 8.15pm, this year at Alnwick Ford at 8pm, and this time at 7.15pm. So at least I guess they are getting steadily earlier... I actually don't mind the later time as it gives me plenty of time to get Louie all bathed & plaited, especially is we have a longer drive time to a venue. However, one thing I'm learning I really don't like is a relaxing morning at home on a competition day...

I don't get nervous, I don't get stressed, and thankfully I've moved on from checking my times 1,000 times per hour, just to be sure I had it right... But I just can't settle into anything and become a bit restless.

As soon as we pack the car to leave for the yard, I'm into the swing of it, and completely fine again. Odd.

So back to the Festival at Northallerton... I'd wanted to leave about 3.15pm, which gave me a couple of hours to give Louie a quick bath and stand to dry while I plaited. It was raining and he came in looking dirty and like a drowned rat... But we soon had him looking ship shape and gleaming white!

We left just after 3.15pm, calling for fuel and hitting some heavier traffic around the Metro Centre most probably due to the horrible weather. I'd allowed 90 minutes to get there in good time to allow Louie an hour or so to stand after a longer journey.

The arena walk was at 6.07pm so we got tacked up and ready to head in. It was due to finish just before 6.30pm, when the next competitor went in, so I'd only planed to have 15 minutes after it and before I needed to be back in the warm up. However, the arena walk finished a little earlier than planned so Louie got to enjoy a munch on his haynet for 15 minutes while I relaxed with Andrew at the wagon.

This time I was very lucky to have Cathy, our flatwork coach, come along to help us warm up. She's had several of her clients there throughout the weekend, and it was so great that she came back for my much later time; I was super appreciative. I've had Cathy warm us up a couple of times over the winter, and find it very useful for associating the feeling of a correct way of going with her instant feedback and corrections.

First up, she asked me my plan. Get Louie off the leg, responsive, supple and don't become fixated on all the fine details that prevent a better overall presentation. Cathy was BRILLIANT! Usually, I don't learn during a warm up as such, but both Louie and I learnt so much during this warm up. He wasn't off the leg and forward enough, but with her words of encourgement to be braver, we were soon getting an amazing feel from him!!

It helped hugely working on this as when we went into the arena, without a whip, Louie was so sensitive to my leg, and I barely had to use any pressure to ask for a change within the pace. Our medium trots were a little quick and not enough epxression, but are very much work in progress, plus he was still a little tense from changing arenas from the warm up. But by the time we needed to show some strides of medium canter, he was in front of the leg, and went for it! For the first time ever, I really felt the difference in coming back to a working canter.

There was still plenty of "tidying up" to do - our cadence could be better, and we should be more balanced around our turns, and just overall polishing of the finished test product. But now we've felt the feeling of being so much off the leg, we can make all of those small polishing steps at home.

I felt like I rode the test well, and I definitely poured 110% effort in and felt Louie did the same. I came out of the test beaming, so happy and almost made the mistake as I jumped off of undoing my noseband before a tack check. That wouldn't have been a great way to get an elimination after such a great feeling test...

I needed to wait for all three scores to come in, but could see we'd been given 155 from the judge at 'C' from a possible 240. The leader was around 68-69% and the top 10 was sat around 65-66%, but there was still a good portion of the class to go. With a consistent 155 across all three judges, I would have landed 64.58% so I knew it wasn't likely that I'd reach the top 10 for qualification through to the Finals.

An hour later, our score was in...65.49%. I was thrilled to bits with it even though I could see we hadn't made the top 10. We'd held our own, ridden a great standard of test and got a score to reflect that. There were just over 30 entries and we came about mid-way by the time all of the scores were in when the class finished around 9.20pm.

Louie had been amazing all day, and we all drove home with a big smile on our faces. I expected Louie to be quite tired when he got home - he'd been out 24/7 in the pouring rain for two days, had a long(ish) travel journey and worked his socks off in the warm up and test. How wrong was I?!

Pulling in at home, and no sooner did the enine stop, and he was stamping to be off. He marched through the yard, gobbled his dinner and practically pulled me to the field, where there he'll have been disappoitned to find only 2 or 3 horses out as everything else had been brought in! He'd have been even more disappointed if he'd have had to stop in!

So while we didn't qualify, there were heaps of positives to take away with us - a much better way of going and I'd got the feeling of it, another major competition under our belts and a day out at a different venue to our usual local ones!

We can't wait to get planning with where we'll be going and what we'll be doing September until the end of the year, and here's hoping that our scores and successes will go from strength to strength!

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