After He and I had completed our series of group flat lessons, I plucked up the courage to enter the stable’s Friday night dressage league. Once a month, under the floodlights, there was the chance to do two tests (and, supposedly, see some improvements over the months).
The dressage league was incredibly fun — supportive and surprisingly popular! The competition was fierce, often with dozens in a class. Dressage has never been my forte and I was lucky if I got to ride once a fortnight at the time, so being placed was a huge deal in itself. Three months in, I got my first rosette (eighth place), and from my grin you’d have thought I’d won an Olympic gold medal.
A further few months in, at the final night of the league, He suddenly decided he’d quite like a go. Having never competed in a formal dressage competition, I encouraged Him but explained it was a high standard and He should be proud of himself for completing a test and not expect to come home with any rosettes. He was game, so we booked in and learnt our tests for the Friday night.
Arriving at the stables, we were allocated our borrowed horses for the evening. He was on a lovely horse He’d ridden in lessons before, and I was on a fun but feisty pony I had also ridden once in a previous lesson.
Warming up, I was feeling good but starting to worry for Him, especially when He asked, ‘How do I know what the correct trot diagonal is again?’, and ‘does it matter which leg they lead on in the canter?’ Uh-oh!
My test was first, so I went into the arena, trying to channel my inner Charlotte Dujardin… It was sadly short lived. As I was trotting around the boards, the starting bell went off, giving my mount a huge fright. As agile as a Lipizzaner, she charged forward and leapt into the air, putting in a buck on landing for completeness sake. Thankfully I managed to cling on, but the rest of a test was a blur as I concentrated on not falling off…
I passed Him going into His test as I was leaving the arena. As ever, He looked as cool as a cucumber, while I was hot and flustered (and not fully in control of my 14hh steed!). He came out looking just as chilled, stating He ‘might’ve got lost a couple of times but couldn’t really tell’.
After the class had finished, we went into the arena for the prize-giving, neither of us expecting much. To my surprise, I managed seventh place (I think my ‘wonky egg at C’ had only two corners this time, a personal best). However, I was even more stunned when there was lots of clapping as He was handed the second place rosette and prize, beating stiff competition (including people on their own horses). I’m not sure whose face was more shocked — His or mine!
As we rode back to the warm-up area to prep for the second test, I could hear various whispers from the crowd and other competitors — who was this mystery rider who had come and stolen the show? I shook my head in disbelief — if only they knew it was His first ever competition.
I thought I'd found Him the perfect present...I should have known better
The second test proved that He was actually a mere mortal, getting a (still very respectable) fifth to my eighth place.
On the way home, I read through His score sheets — my favourite comment was for His three-loop serpentine: ‘You don’t need to change the schooling whip every time you change rein’ commented the judge. When I pointed this out to Him, He laughed and said that He’d be keen to do a competition again as changing the whip so much had been the hardest bit!