Back in January, my partner Steve announced that he wouldn’t be taking holiday’s this year. Naturally, my first thought was, ‘Damn, I guess we won’t be sunning ourselves on a beach in Thailand, cocktail in hand this year’, then of course I realised that my horse makes this a financial impossibility. My initial disappointed gave way to excitement as I realised the potential this held for my pony and I to take a ‘working holiday’ on the Sunshine Coast.
With my annual leave allowance rapidly accruing, a plan took shape to take the entire month of August to do a few competitions and pack in as many lessons as Nonie and I could handle. As the year rolled on and I realised that I had qualifying scores to ride novice and elementary at the State Championships, my enthusiasm only grew.
At the beginning of August, I set off from Mackay feeling excited at the prospect of being able to travel to four competitions over as many weekends and to be able to sleep in my own bed each night. After a long and uneventful trip down, we arrived at the beautiful ‘Riverlyn’. Riverlyn is an agistment centre with paddocks so clean and well maintained that you could practically play golf on them. Nonie made herself quite at home in a paddock with mum’s mare, Brooke, on one side and on the other side a small dam which is home to all manner of birds (from ducks, to swamp hens and grebes), most of whom were intent on stealing Nonie’s feed. In a strange twist of fate, after a matter of days Nonie, my staunchly independent mare, had befriended mum’s mare.
As the days ticked by in a blur of horsey bliss, my first competition drew nearer, the Adult Amateur Owner Rider Championships. I don’t do early mornings well, so the Wilson’s Skinny Hood always comes in handy for keeping her plaits looking great overnight. After a relaxed start on Sunday morning, we arrived at the Caboolture Dressage Club grounds, and it must be said that these grounds are rather lovely, plenty of big tree’s in the car park, a large warm up area and four beautiful sand arena’s. I had no expectations coming into this competition in South East Queensland ‘Dressage Country’, and as I warmed up I was a bit blown away by the quality of the horses. They say fake it ‘til you make it and my Wilson Equestrian competition outfit (super stick breeches, long sleeved show shirt and show jacket) certainly helped me to feel the part.
It was one of those days where we seemed to have saved the best for last, although the first two tests felt soft and easy, they didn’t feel ground breaking. In the last test the work felt like it was on another level, Nonie and I were really in sync as the test flowed from one movement to the next. Although the results would have been out early, I wouldn’t let mum check the results until I had ridden my last test, a superstition that goes back so far that I no longer remember where it came from. Needless to say, I was pretty chuffed when I finally let mum check the score board and she reported that I had managed a 1st, 2nd and a 3rd. Even more exciting than that was having a new PB score of 67% in the elementary!
In between competitions, I made the most of the time on the Coast to progress my riding, through a number of lessons with Danielle. One of the things that I love the most about dressage is that feeling you get when something clicks, and you feel the quality of the work move up a notch. We worked on improving the overall quality of the paces, cleaning up the transitions, increasing the suppleness through Nonie’s body, building her carrying power and of course strengthening my position. On one particular day, the arrival of a goanna next to the arena helped me to really understand the amount of energy required in order to make the lateral work easier. This was a huge turning point for me as previously Nonie and I have not been at one with travers
As the month drew to a close, I began to get a little homesick, a feeling probably not helped by the fact that my partner Steve had picked up our 8 week old toy poodle puppy Sailor. I also began to feel rather nervous about the impending State Championships. In previous years my nerves have been a major problem preventing me from enjoying competitions and seriously affecting my riding. Over the past 18months, I have been working with a Performance Coach (Danielle Pooles – Dressage Plus) to help gain control over my nerves. I looked back over the notes from past sessions with Danielle and made a plan, I set goals that reflected how I wanted my tests at state to feel. The day prior to state I had a great ride, we were on the ball and Nonie had given me some great work, I felt excited and ready.
In the end I enjoyed riding at this massive competition, I soaked up the atmosphere and loved watching some seriously talented horse and rider combinations. It was particularly thrilling to watch some of the combinations in the FEI tests, it helped to remind me what I aspire to in my own riding. My decidedly un-horsey father, who used to joke that everything he knew about horses could be written on the back of a postage stamp, made it down to watch one of my tests and deemed Nonie to be a keeper. There were a few highlights from my time at state, one of them was definitely receiving a 64.7% in one of my elementary tests (including several 7s) from two very tough judges. The other was probably my last test, the Novice 2.3, were I finally fully relaxed and we clicked up into that next zone. It didn’t score as well as I might have hoped, but I left the arena with a huge grin on my face and my mum was happy – she will always be my toughest critic and greatest supporter.
One thing I can conclude after my month down in dressage country is that bling is certainly still in. However, like many of the good things in life (eg. wine, chocolate) bling is best enjoyed in moderation. This is just one of the many reasons that I love my Wilson’s Equestrian Show Jacket, the touch of black diamantes around the collar gives that bit of sparkle without overdoing it. My super stick breeches and long sleeved show shirt were as always supremely comfortable and handled the extra usage well.
While State was the last competition our calendar for 2016, Nonie and I will continue training hard with our sights set on having a medium start in 2017!