Traveling south on the Florida Turnpike there is a large sign that says:” Take the Florida Turnpike. The less stress way.” We drove past that sign for the four days of the White Fences dressage show. Stress. In my preparation for the horse show I had purposely taken the less stress approach and it had worked very well.
We arrived on the Thursday afternoon and set up. I gave Biasini a short lunge and then got on to hack him around the rings to familiarize him with everything. Then I had a schooling session ,with my coach Lou Denizard,in the ring I would be showing in. Biasini was calm , focused and right with me. Perfect!
White Fences has three competition rings and two warm up rings. The footing has all been re done in the last year,it is wonderful and the rings are beautifully level. I was showing in Ring 2 all three days of the show. My time on Friday was early and I was in the ring at 8:10 the first rider in for the Prix St. George class with both professional and amateur riders competing. Biasini had been very good in the warm up so I was not expecting any difficulty. But in the first medium trot across the diagonal I should have known something was up. It was very good but he was not 100% with me. By the time we got to the canter tour of the test he declared his intention to just take his own approach to the test. Oh dear! I got so focused on dealing with that I went off course. I managed to re group and carry on but it was a struggle and I felt that several of the movements suffered.
At the end of the test I felt disappointed. We have been working hard on improving the movements and also improving Biasini’s basic gaits. Months of hard work has gone into this and he has been going so well at home. But once you get into the show ring anything can happen. And it did. Mr.Biasini the Bully decided to appear and take over.
Saturday the warm up was again good and I decided to include some “reminders” about not inviting Mr.Bully Biasini to the party. The test went well and he was much more obedient and as one friend put it “humble”. Overall the test was somewhat conservative but good enough.
Sunday we warmed up well but I knew better than to take anything for granted. I could tell that despite the warm weather and the fact that this was day four at the show Biasini was far from tired and had a big energy bundle just below the surface. But this time I was going to be ready for him! Lou gave me some good tips on how to get him back if he needed a strong correction. He also reminded me that I was riding the horse not the test. I know that sounds obvious but there is a tendency when you get into the ring to focus on what the next movement is rather than focusing on how the horse is going, what is he telling you and what do you need to do right now to get him organized. I also knew that I had to go for it and not fear making a mistake.
The best riders in the dressage world make it look seamless and calm as if the horse and rider are just gliding through the dance patterns with ease. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All of those riders are working very hard to achieve the beautiful picture. For many years I have fallen into the trap of thinking I had to look like that too. But as I went into the ring on Sunday I knew that I had to ride the horse and not think about looking pretty.
Well, it was quite a ride. This time the medium trot was excellent, he was with me and we flew in bounding strides across the ring. Then the shoulder-in and half pass work, the extended trot and then to the walk and walk pirouettes. All was going well so far. One pirouette was sticky but on we went. Then the canter. One of our most difficult movements is the canter half pass zig zag. No problems. Then the canter pirouettes. He was strong and not listening as we started across the diagonal. “No!” I said in my head and half halted him seriously. Into the pirouette and then….he did a one tempi( a flying change where he changed leads and in one stride changed back) What? It happened so fast I couldn’t believe he had done it. Never mind. On to the next half pirouette. Good one! Now came the four tempis ( changes of lead every four strides.)
He said he was going to run! “NO!” I said ,in my head, and gave a couple of halt halts. On through the four tempi changes. Across the short side I had to give a couple of serious half halts again to prepare for the three tempis. They were good. Short side and on to the diagonal for the extended canter. And I heard:”I’m going to race now.” “NO! and NO!” I said and in the video I watched later I could actually see my half halts setting him up for the extended canter. So much for looking pretty! Extended canter across the diagonal. Collect before the rail . Flying change and down the centerline. Collect. Collect. Halt. YES!
Once out of the ring I took off my jacket and had the “de-brief” with Lou. He told me that what I needed now was to be able to sense when Biasini was going to take over and say “No” before he actually started doing anything. I had to be those few seconds faster. Biasini had shown us the “sparkle” that we all work towards and want our horses to have in the show ring. There is no turning back now. This had been a breakthrough.
We got the highest score I have ever had in the Prix St. George at National (recognized ) show: 66.57% And, get this…..we got four scores of 8 for movements in the test. (movements are scored from 1-10)I have never had more than one 8 before and in the collective marks Biasini got an 8 for his paces. Fabulous!
Later I spoke to my daughter on the phone and told her all about it. She was a very accomplished rider in her teens. She heard about the 8 for paces and she said :” When you get an 8 for paces you have to ride the rest of the stuff that goes with that.”
She is 100% correct. So on we go. My learning curve continues. In my next post I am going to officially thank my Team. Without a Team there can be no breakthroughs and no sparkle just a lot of stress and Stressage!
All photos (c) Queca Franko
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