The spring crop of dressage shows has gotten underway for those of us living on the East Coast. I thought I would explore some questions/scenarios you might ask/imagine about yourself and your horse before you fill out that entry form and seal your fate (or destiny).
Yup, it’s that time of year when the mailman fills your mailbox with shiny new encyclopedias of opportunity. Pages flip madly, maps are spread across tables, and the air is thick with the big Ws of showing: When, Who, Where, What…and Why!?!
Of course finding the answers to those questions is all part of an easy (or, delicate) process dictated by the fire-breathing dragon (or, mild mannered dance partner) you have chosen for your pas de deux in the big sand box.
Now that the barn doors have been thrown open on the indoor (or equine funhouse, as I sometimes call it), the white picket fences (in this case, containing dressage rings) have emerged like a 20 x 60-meter oasis of sand beckoning winter weary travelers. Horses and humans are streaming from the dark recesses of the barns and finding themselves 100 percent polished and prepped for the show ring! (Said no equestrian ever…)
This winter was rough and sub-arctic temperatures often kept even the hardiest (or craziest) of us out of the saddle way more than we wanted. The reality now is that no one is going to argue and/or judge you when two laps around the ring have your equine buddy looking like he just finished first at the Kentucky Derby. No one at your barn, that is…but in that show ring, well that’s a whole different story!
Inside the show grounds, the sand box rules change drastically. Here the judges assume you and your well-muscled (or winter weight-packing) partner are ready to dance with the stars, and furthermore they plan to evaluate and score you accordingly. So now be may be the perfect time to back away slowly from your entry form and ask the When question to yourself and your trainer.
When should your first show be? What calendar date is the fair for you and your partner to rack up those 10s rather then 4s or 5s!?! It is honestly nearly impossible to find harmony when your dance partner is already huffing and puffing on the walk up to the schooling ring. In all fairness, while you were able to find warm exercise rooms over the winter to fill the endless days of sub zero temps, your equine buddy was enjoying a little hay and R&R—celebrating a little time off. My history teachers are always telling me that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so for the love of all good things don’t expect miracles from your horse (or the judges) your first time out this year.
So speaking of the schooling ring, which is usually a madhouse—here is a great opportunity to ask the Who question.
Who are you and your partner going to be meeting in this first practice sand box of the season? This sounds silly, but trust me, it’s important to think about in your success (eh, survival) equation. Remember we have already determined that your mount is slightly winded (or exhausted) from the walk from the barn, but are you prepared for he or she to find enough hidden energy to become a piaffing dressage master (or bucking bronco) in under a minute flat?!?
Or maybe you are the lucky rider whose mount remains unflappable but are YOU prepared for the 18 other riders who aren’t quite as lucky? Warm-up rings are always exciting, and a long winter season only ups the possible antics you and your partner might face. Be fair to your horse and have realistic expectations about how challenging (or frustrating) the first show of the season may be for you both.
OK, so now that you have When and Who under your belt, Where becomes the next CRITICAL question.
Where are the best sand boxes to test out all your newly acquired winter skills? Unless you are lucky enough to have a home barn that hosts an early spring show, you and your equine co-pilot are about to go on a road trip! Some equine partners view the trailer as their personal “home on wheels,” while others, well…not so much. Some walk on like big goofy dogs ready for adventures, a few like super models off to the red carpet, and others prepare for Armageddon and begin to sweat like they’ve won the Kentucky Derby for a second time. So armed with the intimate knowledge of your partner’s inner psyche and factoring in reasonable adjustments for “winter brain,” maybe a closer, smaller show—perhaps not as personally prestigious or competitive, is better than a three-hour haul.
Three Ws down and the question of What now jumps off the entry form like a bully on the playground.
What level are is your prancing pony ready to debut at in the 2015 spring sand box kick-off party. Last year, the judges deemed you a training level graduate with consistent high scores. First level seemed like a cakewalk when old man winter blessed you and your dance partner ring time. Still the white box sits silently begging for your pen to fill it, then whispering at you, while dressage pyramids dance in front of your eyes. You make your choice, and remember there is actually another W to remember.
The final W is delightfully simple. Why do we do this?
Well because as Winston Churchill once said, and it still remains true, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” Go out there and have an AMAZING AND SUCCESSFUL show season, and don’t forget when times get tough the tough get giggling!
Sydney Collier was a member of the U.S. Para-Dressage Team at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France, and the recipient of the 2014 Junior Equestrian of the Year Award from the U.S. Equestrian Federation. She and her service dog, Journey, hit the spotlight at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Get to know Sydney by reading her blogs, and follow her journey on the road to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.