Dressage, Cross-Country and Showjumping – an eventing story

Who said horses can't fly?

Who said horses can’t fly?

In commemoration of the upcoming WEG eventing competition, over here at The Horse Habit we have written a story about what we imagine competing is like. Is it at all close to the real thing? You can decide. Enjoy!


 

We had been competing at Preliminary for almost one season. Ellie had sooo much potential, that when we had the opportunity to travel to Albury with my coach, Ben, I jumped at the chance. I was planning to enter Prelim at the Albury Horse Trials, although when I looked at the competition site, I thought it looked very nice so I decided to complete the season with a CCI*. In the months leading up to Albury, I was busy preparing Ellie for the harder dressage test, longer cross-country course and higher jumps. Leading up to the event, Ellie was feeling well prepared and I was secretly hoping that we might get into the top 20, even though I knew anything could go wrong at this level.

As the event drew closer, I polished my tack and washed my show clothes, meanwhile also preparing the trailer for the weekend away. The day before we left, I washed Ellie and paid careful attention to her mane and tail. She was looking very snazzy so I carefully rugged her and left her for the night. The next morning, I arrived at the barn early and was delighted to see she was still nice and clean. Relieved, I got her out of her stall and led her into the trailer. Fortunately, she loaded easily and I shut the back door then watched the sun rise above the horizon. I thought it was going to be a nice day.

Ben towed the horse trailer behind his car, out of the driveway with me following behind. Soon we were cruising along a highway on our way to Albury. Woohoo! While driving, I was busy thinking about the coming competition and trying to memerise the dressage test, so between that and driving, I had not looked up at the sky. Nearing the end of the journey, I gave my neck a stretch and looked around. It was very nice country, although I was dismayed to see heavy clouds covering the sky, I remember thinking “I hope it doesn’t rain over the weekend.”.

Luckily, the rain held off as I unloaded Ellie and settled her into a stable. At the campsite nearby, I cooked my dinner, gave my tack a final polish and got ready for bed. Luckily, there wasn’t any rain in the evening.

The next morning I woke up early to feed and braid Ellie. I was dismayed to see there was a slight drizzle of rain about. Having mixed her feed the previous evening, I just had to grab her feed bucket and grooming kit then I made my way to the stables. Ellie was still nice and clean so I gave her the feed, filled up her hay net and started unrugging her. Dressage was early in the morning so I brushed out her mane and tail and started braiding. Then I groomed her coat to a polish and tacked her up. I was pleased that we were running on time as I gently tightened her girth, until something happened.

I quickly got changed into my dressage clothes and just slipped on my tall boots. I zipped up the left boot, then the right boot when suddenly, SNAP, the zip had broken. There was no time to get my spare boots from the trailer, but I really needed them so I raced back to the trailer to get them. Before I could get out of the barn, Ben stopped me and asked where I was going. Desperately, I told him the issue then asked if he could bridle Ellie for me. I tried to continue to the trailer but Ben stopped me again. I started fidgeting when he dropped his bag then started rummaging through it. Then he pulled out a roll of black duct tape and told me to fix my boot with it. I was wary of the idea, but it was worth a try. When done, I was kind of happy with the result. Disaster averted. Despite the rain and the boot incident, I wasn’t too much behind schedule but it was stressing me out.

I quickly raced back to Ellie and slipped her bridle on then led her out to the warm-up arena. At the mounting block, I took the reins over Ellie’s head and carefully lifted myself into the saddle. Immediately, Ellie jigged sideways. I managed to stay on so I started moving her off my leg to get her warmed up and responsive. She normally warmed up out of her fresh phase and I hoped she would do the same that day. Unfortunately, she didn’t and after she threw in a couple of pig roots on a 20m canter circle, Ben called me over to him. He told me that I had to relax because I was stressing Ellie out. In my mind, I was really stressing out because of Ellie’s behavior but for the sake of our dressage, I took a deep breath then tried another canter circle. Ellie accepted the bit and went forward into a slightly tense but otherwise good working canter. A few more circles and a bit of leg yielding then it was time to complete our test in the arena.

Despite the rain and the short warm up, it was a good test and I was happy as I cooled Ellie down. When ready, I dismounted and led Ellie back to her stable then untacked and took out the braids in Ellie’s mane. After placing a light tug over Ellie, I fed her then went of to find my own lunch.

After eating a less then average quality horse show burger, I returned to the show stables. I had to get Ellie ready for the afternoon’s cross-country. Thankfully the rain was clearing up by then, although when I walked the course just before lunch, the course was a bit soggy and we were starting late in the field. I hoped the take off points would remain firm enough until they had completed the course.

Then I had to get Ellie ready for warm-up. I put on her green jumping boots, a green saddle-pad with black piping, her saddle then finally her bridle with its green and black browband. With me in my green shirt and body protector we definitely looked ready for cross country so I led Ellie to the warm-up area. After I mounted, we started walking around. Ellie was feeling a bit fresh, but after going through her paces she calmed down a bit and was ready to start jumping. Ten minutes later, the marshal called us over to the start box. I slowed Ellie to a walk, when suddenly a riderless Shetland pony bolted straight towards Ellie. Ellie bolted then started jigging around. With Ellie jigging nervously, we continued over to the marshal and them them mine and Ellie’s names then waited near the start box. The start clock started beeping for the previous and, already nervous, Ellie spooked at the sound almost unspooking me in the process. Then, with some difficulty I maneuvered Ellie into the start box to wait out the final moments. Five, four, three, two, one! On cue, Ellie leapt forward and we were galloping across the field to the first jump.

The course rode pretty well, except the take-off points were a bit soggy affecting Ellie’s footing thus also our time. Most of the jumps went well although Ellie almost refused the large brush jump leading into the water complex. We had gotten over the large fence although it hadn’t been pretty. The combination, #16, had also proven to be a bit tricky. At the top of the hill, #16a was a drop then three strides to a log, another stride to a ditch then two more strides to a bank. Ellie had jumped down well, then gotten surprised by the log and over jumped which caused us to have a tight distance to the ditch which she unfortunately refused. On second attempt, we cleared the ditch then jumped the bank. Despite the mistakes on course, we only had eight penalty points all up. I untacked Ellie, walked her out, fed her, rugged her then left her for the night.

On Sunday, we had showjumping, the final phase of the competition. Luckily the jumping was held indoors as the rain had intensified overnight. Ellie had to jump 1.15m with me on board and we were towards the end of the order so I had a while to wait. At about 10:30, I was at the stables unrugging Ellie and grooming her. Then I tacked her up ready for jumping, I dressed myself then finally bridled Ellie, all the while thinking of the course I had walked earlier and would soon have to jump. In the soggy, outdoor warmup arena I quickly mounted then signaled Ellie into walk to prevent her getting cold from the rain. Ellie behaved well although rather mellow, probably due to the rain and her being tired. We started trotting on a circle when suddenly the rain intensified and Ellie quickly stopped and spun around. Although I knew no horse, or rider, liked the rain much, Ellie had never behaved like this before so I turned her around and continued trotting. We only got 15m further when Ellie neared two other horses, all at once, all three horses stopped and turned together. I was a bit annoyed however one of the other riders was laughing, then they said, “Aren’t they clever? They’re just trying to avoid the worst of the rain. Basic herd instinct.”.

Fortunately, the rain then eased and I was able to get Ellie trotting again. We cantered on both reins then jumped the vertical a few times and were ready to enter the arena as we got some lovely rays of sunshine.

Over the 12 large, brightly coloured jumps we managed to complete the course with eight penalty points. We had finished!!! I cooled Ellie down, then untacked and rugged her while waiting for the results to be released. Later on, we packed the vehicles, loaded Ellie and began the drive back home. I was thrilled with the results of the weekend, we had finished our first CCI* with a score of 59% and 16 penalty points which I considered a very good effort despite the conditions.

See you later, The Horse Habit

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