It can honestly be said there is never a dull moment in Wellington’s winter show season. This week was the CDI 5* (Concours Dressage International) at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. I started at the warm up ring.
THE WARM UP RING
The warm up ring is like being backstage at a big musical production. You can see dancers stretching, singers humming warm up vocals, the stage manager with a headset speaking to those not yet in the wings to give them their standby calls, costume people standing by ready to assist in a quick change of costume . The warm up ring for dressage is very similar.
Here I could see the horses, who are elite athletes, being prepared for a high level of competition. The riders and their coaches will know just what needs to be done on any given day. All these horses are in peak fitness and the warm up will be geared to the weather, the mood of the horse and what particular elements of the test (in this case it was the Grand Prix Special) the horse will need to go through before going in the ring.
All of the coaches now have mic system so the rider will have an earpiece and the coach can give directions quietly. Gone are the days when coaches were shouting back and forth to the riders and generally contributing to the hubbub.
It was a hot day 28-30 Celsius A few minutes before the horse is called into the ring the grooms come out and give the rider a drink of water and give the horse a wipe with a wet cloth or sponge. At the same time the coach may give the rider a few last minute words of guidance.
The warm up ring is adjacent to the stadium ,so at the end of the ride, it is easy to tell how it has gone If there is a burst of enthusiastic applause, or a subdued bit of polite clapping, you will know if the rider will come out smiling or looking serious. As soon as they leave the stadium the Tack Check takes place and the steward checks that the bit, bridle, girth, are all permitted. If the horse is wearing a fly bonnet it must be carefully removed to check that the horse does not have any sound cancelling plugs in its’ ears.
The Grand Prix Special is an exacting test with an endless series of difficult movements that follow one another at a relentless speed. At least that is what it looks like to me. I do not ride at the Grand Prix level, but now that I am riding just below that level, I have a good idea of what it would be like to do it. Whew! It was so impressive to see these very talented horses and riders go through the test.
Sometimes a test ride will go better than expected. Horse and rider will hit their stride in the arena and it will all come together for a very good score. When Canadian rider Diane Creech came back to the warm up she was elated with how her horse had worked for her in the arena and the good score they had been awarded.
American rider ,Adrienne Lyle, also came back to the warm up smiling and her coach Debbie Macdonald was clearly very happy. I was happy too as I have watched Adrienne Lyle competing for several years and she strikes me as a hard working rider. I am happy to see her have a wonderful horse to ride and clearly they are a successful combination as they were the winners of the class.
At the Awards ceremony all the riders looked happy. Here is a slideshow of Diane Creech, still smiling, and smiles from Juan Matute Jr and Megan Lane.
You never know what might happen once you go into the ring. The warm up may have been brilliant but in the ring something happens; a tray of glasses gets dropped in the VIP Pavilion and your horse is startled, a fly bites your horse’s belly, just before you ask him to piaffe, right in front of the judge . You may have just the one bad moment, and it is not a disaster, but it is just ….not so good. Not as good as you had hoped it would be. In these cases the riders come out ,not looking too upset, but rather a bit disappointed. There will be a quick confab with the coach after the tack check to discuss what may have gone wrong and how it could be improved next time.
I did not see any of the riders have a “down” ride. For me the “down” moment came away from the rings. I met up with my friend Paralympic rider Dale Dedrick. I posted about her last year. If you have not read the post I encourage you to do so as she is such a remarkable woman. I will leave a link below. We had a nice chat and I asked her if her horse Suede was down in Florida. Dale told me he was at home, up north, babysitting a youngster. Then she told me she was no longer able to ride. Her medical advisors had told her it was, quite literally, a matter of life or death for her. She told me she made the decision to stop riding because she did not want those who are there to support her to see her collapse off her horse. She did not want them to have to deal with that. “It was very hard at first.” she told me. “But now I’m getting used to it.”
Dale still likes to come to the shows as an observer and she told me she will come to see me compete at White Fences Equestrian in two weeks. As I walked back to the pavilion and sat down at the media table I thought about how lucky I am. I am not young, I have had body parts altered and replaced. But I can still ride. So I should not complain about riding in the heat, or difficulties in training, or having an ‘off’ day or an ‘in-between’ ride.
The bottom line is this…..for me they are all “up” rides and I am grateful to be riding and to have a wonderful horse.
Here is the link to the post about Dale Dedrick. Do take a look if you have not seen it.
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