Chloe Vell’s dressage blog: Mind games, podiums and polish

  • The run up to my first international of the year at Addington CDI did not go quite according to plan. I’d been wearing my new Konig riding boots around the house to make them more comfortable and just as I was going to ride in them, the zip broke! Thanks to Classic Dressage for speedily getting them repaired and returned just in time.

    Then while I was competing in my school’s netball team in the regional tournament, I sprained my ankle quite badly leaving me limping around the yard. I wasn’t quite sure what would be hurting most at Addington — the Konigs or my ankle!

    Addington CDI

    British pony, junior and young riders all competed at Addington with hopes of achieving scores that would make them eligible for international competitions abroad and ultimately put them in the mix for European championship selection. Riding for 3 days in front of selectors, while battling against friends and team mates, add extra layers of psychological challenge. This is over and above aiming to ride your best test, as you hope to demonstrate your winter’s training while not having regular turnout and not wanting to peak too early.

    Picture courtesy of Paul Ruffle Photography

    Picture courtesy of Paul Ruffle Photography

    I had goals set for myself and set by the Excel talent pathway coaches so I was eager to have my first chance to achieve them. Score well and the pressure eases, underperform and you feel you still have everything to prove. Fortunately for me, day one was more the former than the latter achieving my highest overall international score yet, over 70%. That’s several percent more than we earnt at the same stage last season and brought us to within 1% of some amazing horses. I need another new goal already!

    Kaja is feeling fitter and stronger and more confident in her work after we spent a full season together last year. Our partnership has developed and she has become more rideable. By that I mean I can put my legs on her more strongly without getting an undesirable reaction as she is a hot mare. When we bought her she was rising 8 and had never been abroad since she was imported at the age of 3 so it was all new to her, but now she is trusting me much more.

    Coping with tension

    Our 2nd day was not as straight forward. Kaja is acutely aware of other horses in the collecting ring and can get unsettled when horses consistently come too close. This can result in her being tense in the arena. You cannot change the environment so we are working hard to improve this, but nature’s instincts are what we all have to learn and love about our horses.

    I am sure some of you have horses that are just the same. They tighten and react to particular horses for no good reason really and this can make the warm up  a challenging place. Those who have ridden a horse like this are careful to limit opportunities for stress. We have to stop often and walk to avoid coming too close to others. Other horses may require totally different warm up regimes and all of us are together in the same space.

    Unfortunately she carried over some tension in to the test which affected our marks. I didn’t mind too much as last year we worked hard on trying to get the best mark on day 1, which is the team test, rather than always peaking day 2 for the individual day. With this in mind we had worked solely on the team test, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

    A new floor plan

    The 3rd day was a different challenge as it was my first outing with a new floor plan for my music freestyle. Last year’s international judges had suggested I should take more risks. As I had scored a consistent high 71% at international shows and 76% locally, another task for the winter had been to increase the difficulty of my test without making it impossible.

    I am learning that dressage, when ridden well, always has some element of risk taking and requires bold riding where and when possible. I was pleased with how the test went and the judges seemed positive about the new content and placed me 3rd. I now need to go away and ‘polish up’ a bit. I might remove the part that affected our technical mark;  extended canter into a simple change with an immediate walk pirouette. It seemed good on paper, but I think the difficulty tipped the scales.

    So 2 podium places from 3 tests has to go down as a pleasing start to the season. As someone once told me ‘enjoy the good times because with horses there’s far less of them’. If we don’t enjoy what we do, then why do it? Kaja enjoyed the prize givings rather too much mind you and they were more rodeo than dressage. It makes me wonder whether prize giving cause some horses too much upset or whether it’s a good learning opportunity… what do you think?

    Good news

    As I was finishing this blog I received an email from the GB junior selectors informing me that I have been included on the long-list for this year’s European championships! This is a great confidence boost as I am about to I travel to Holland for my first abroad international of the year. Congratulations to all junior/young riders who have been selected.

    I will let you know how it goes in Holland when I get back to my Easter holidays and some serious revision. GCSEs start in 6 weeks!


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