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Senior Horse, Senior Rider: First Indoor Schooling Dressage Show Experience

We stayed in the ring!

Event: First ever indoor dressage schooling show at very nice facility.

Rider: This side of 60-year old rider, riding since the beginning of time. (Those early days catch riding really came in handy today!)

Horse: 25-year old Thoroughbred/Oldenburg gelding, former show jumper (and would prefer to keep it that way).

Training: Yes, can jump (!), knows basic dressage. In real dressage training for 2 years with fantastic (and very patient) FEI level trainer. Took 18 months to be on-the-bit at the walk and trot consistently. Canter to the left – working on it. Canter to the right – well, let’s just say this is a work-in-progress. Nothing physically wrong – more anxiety-related (horse, not rider). (We are getting there.)

Pre-show: Get ride times – training 3 – 8:19am; training 2 – 4:49pm (panic). Fairly sure that both horse and rider will not last all day…..may need to take a nap. Success! Someone scratched – training 2 moved up to 11:49am.

Day before show: Horse has been here many times to jump indoors and outside. Warm-up in warm-up ring. Three large black banners hanging on rails around the ring. (AGH!!!). Finally stops noticing on show day. Ride in dressage arena. Very large, nice footing, very bright – lots of lights!! Horse – what the h*** is this?! Where are the jumps? Rider: breathe, relax, breathe, relax.

Day of show: Up at 5am. Feed at 6:30am. Get on and warm-up at 7:45am. Rider: trying to practice portions of test – way too stiff, trying to be too perfect. You are not trying to play a classical flute piece. Horse: geez, those black things are still there!

Training Test 3: Reader (trainer): Enter ring working trot. Halt at X. Salute. Proceed working trot, left at ‘C’.

Reality: Entered working trot. Half halt right, half halt right, half halt right, halt. (Not bad. Straight. Got a 7.5…..all down hill from there). Proceed working trot. At C turn left – didn’t get to C. Freaked out at judge’s table with black cloth (the same one he saw yesterday that also had people acting as judges). Should bend left, bending super right.

Change rein. At A, start 3 loop serpentine. Horse: Oh, A – back to barn!! Wheeee…. Rider: Uh, no. This is where we track right. Remember those serpentines you love to do at home? Horse: Uh, nope. What’s a serpentine? I forgot how to turn. Where are the other horses? Rider: Yikes, I have no stearing!

Reader (Instructor is now gritting her teeth.): Between C and M, start right lead canter. Circle 20 meters at B. Canter to A.

Picked up right lead canter and proceeded to canter a haunches in…grabbed bit at B, ran the circle all the way to A. (Rider: now I know what riding a race horse feels like). At A, HALF HALT (multiple times)…..trot please!

The rest of the test is a blur.

Down center line, X halt salute. (Did that good – another 7.5).

Rider: You can breathe now. (Didn’t know I wasn’t.)

ASSESSMENT OF FIRST TEST: What happened is very common. First time doing dressage in an indoor arena with no other horses in sight and a big, black box at the end of the ring. Horse actually was predictable in his behavior when anxiety kicks in.


Before mounting horse, horse puts head in rider’s hands and sighs. (Me, too.) Walk and bend around the warm-up arena. Rider can actually feel horse's anxiety in his stomach. Recalls yoga. ("Soft eyes.")

Practiced a few enter/halt transitions. Ready to do test just to find out show is 20 minutes behind….back to walking.

Reader (Instructor): Enter working trot. X halt salute, proceed working trot, right at C.

Rider: Breathe! We are at home. Relax. Horse: Good halt salute. (Another 7.5). Entire test needed more consistency, rhythm, and suppleness. Much better test! Getting good at halt salutes – final halt another 7.5.

Post-show: Gave horse big pats, and good jobs (!), nice liniment bath, grazing outside, apple treats.

Home: Into clean stall with fresh shavings, clean water, and hay. Horse: turns around in stall a few times, lays down and rolls…..gets up, turns butt to stall door and completely ignores me.

Rider: “It’s ok Frankie. We will be better next time.”

Frankie, “Wait, what? What do you mean next time???”

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