Sharon Edwards has ridden up to Grand Prix dressage and represented GB at Small Tour. She combines training with teaching and has started her own breeding programme with the aim of riding homebreds at top level.
4 October 2016
Proud is not the word!
This month has been one of unexpected bonuses and much excitement. Rivaal was awarded a wild card to the Nationals for his fabulous efforts at the Regionals. Anyone with me at the regionals will know that this was definitely not what I was hoping for; in fact for the brief period of time that I was in the lead, the most worrying thing was the possibility of going to the Nationals! That may seem strange, as although I am totally thrilled to have him back competing only a year after I thought his riding days were over, he is a high maintenance horse to take to bigger shows without disgracing himself in the warm-up and we are still left with some evasive behaviour learnt from before I recognised he had some physical problems that precipitated his lay-off.
Of course, once I received my wild card, being the stubborn person that I am, we were going!! I have learnt that you never know what is around the next corner with horses. Events can blindside you and throw you off your best laid plans within seconds, so my motto is 'make sure you enjoy the good times'! What followed was a fairly gruelling three weeks for me, finding the time to give Rivaal exposure to as many different venues and situations as possible, to prepare him mentally for the atmosphere at Stoneleigh and the local show jumping venue (for one) was surprised to see a beautiful dressage horse training between their show jumps!
He has been to Stoneleigh twice before, the first time I ended up riding him for three hours in an attempt to calm him down before the test. We nearly wiped out a number of innocent spectators and my husband, would sing the line "crazy horses" at the mention of Rivaal's name for months after! The next time he was decidedly better, but it is not an easy competition for him; he loves his job but we have yet to learn how to help him control his adrenaline surges in the warm-up.
I knew I had to prepare him as much as possible. We travelled up two days before our test, with the plan of showing him the arena on the first day. The M25 had other ideas though and a journey that should have taken a maximum 3 hours took 6, so we weren't allowed in the arenas on the first day. The next day was a well-planned regime of hand-walking and short rides in the warm-up next to the main arena. In the past I have discovered that you will never wear this horse out, in fact the longer you stay on him the more hyper he becomes. So it is a case of holding your nerve and not warming up for to long, even though he feels like an unexploded bomb. My plan B, if he was unable to cope with the main arena warm up, was to stick to the more distant warm-up, and just hope he coped going into the ring. Obviously that runs the risk of the atmosphere freaking him out, but at least I would be able to warm-up.
Proud is not the word! Even though he was barely back to competing, he coped the best yet with all of it. We warmed-up in the main area, with only the briefest of misdemeanours. I made an error though as we waited to go through the arch into the ring, I lost my nerve that he was about to boil over and got the girls to feed him polos. I think that, combined with tension caused me a problem, as I trotted around the ring he got his tongue over the bit, and it stayed there until I dropped the contact in the walk. He was moving beautifully, but we had some issues with the frame and contact throughout the trot - all credit to him though he carried on trying hard. As soon as he could correct the tongue, we had some stunning canter work, and he was 100% with me and on his job. That is quite an achievement!
We scored over 66% despite the tongue issue with some very positive, sympathetic comments from the judges, so I couldn't have asked for more from a horse that wasn't even supposed to be there. I loved every moment, and maybe that is the wisdom of getting older. I am still ambitious but I make sure that I enjoy the journey wherever that takes me.
Another comeback moment less than a week later was with the gorgeous gentle giant Brina. I purchased her as a three year old in foal, and ironically I was later offered the competitive ride on her sire Benvenuto. So we have three generations on our yard, which is a lovely situation to be in. After breeding two gorgeous foals from her I decided to put her into ridden work as she was still young, a lovely mover and a divine character. Less than a year into her training, however, she somehow fractured her pedal bone and the vets said it would either heal and cause her no problem or she wouldn't come sound..... Thankfully, she has returned to full work successfully and we made our debut competing with two Novice test over 71%. I can't wait to compete this mare more, she is talented and uncomplicated, I could do with more like her!
The following week I took her out again, once more I was thrilled with her test, only one minor spook but she felt lovely. Just in case I was getting big headed though, I was brought back to earth with a disappointing 64% which sums up the mystery of dressage, it is so much the opinion of the individual watching.
Also, the week after the Nationals we took Carenzo out to try to qualify for the Winter Small Tour Championship. I hadn't been to the venue for well over a decade, and what a great job they have done at bringing it right up to scratch. Super surfaces and a well run show. This qualifier was the combined results of the straight Prix St Georges and the PSG freestyle, with the top three qualifying for the Championships in December. Carenzo was still not fully fit thanks to the low grade virus he carried for the second half of the summer, so I was unsure if we would have enough 'petrol' for two tests.
We prepped for the Freestyle using some music I used previously, but went with the attitude we would only do two tests if he was up to it. He was feeling bright, even a little spooky in the first test and scored a very pleasing 68% leaving him in third place after the first leg of the qualifying round. So we had everything to go for in the Freestyle. I had designed the choreography to show off his stunning half-passes and balance in trot, but had to keep the canter a little more simple as he is not yet established enough for complicated lines in the tempis. Instead, I concentrated on the symmetry and flow in the canter work, playing to his strengths.
Knowing I would have limited energy, I warmed up for just ten minutes, and had only had only had the opportunity of practicing the Freestyle test once before the show, so it was a decent 'ask'. He didn't let me down, but there was a distinct hesitation half way through the test when I felt his energy ebb. One judge loved him and had him to win with a super 72%, the other was not so keen but the amalgamated scores left us third. I was so pleased and utterly exhausted, to earn a place at the Winter Freestyle Regionals as well as the Small Tour Championships. On the way home I worked out that in the previous ten days I had been away competing five of them, so no wonder I was weary!
Unsurprisingly there has been little time for anything else in life, just keeping the yard running as normal around the hectic show schedule. But as I finish this blog I am literally on a plane heading for Santiago, Chile for a short break. So another adventure starts.....