Joanna Thurman-Baker’s dressage blog: ‘I had not travelled all the way and spent all this money to be bullied in the warm-up’

  • Hi all and welcome back!

    Let’s start with where I left you last time — in Holland with Apollo (pictured), competing in the under-25 grand prix classes at Joosland CDI. We arrived at the small and cute venue with enough time to graze Apollo on the lush grass, settle down the stable, unpack the lorry and have a quick ride before the trot-up. It’s always different when going abroad — every show is different and it takes a while to familiarise yourself with where everything is. Unlike some venues (such as Saumur and Compiegne in France), everything was super-close and easy to get to. On the down side this meant you always felt a bit enclosed and packed in. Like I had planned, thanks to my precise travelling schedule, Apollo came off the lorry feeling fit, fresh and strutting his stuff. He worked really well in the main arena and sailed through the trot-up.

    The next day I was on in the evening in the under-25 inter II. This doesn’t suit me as much as being on in the morning does, as I feel I have all day to dwell on it and try to occupy myself. Apollo is going so well in training, so I was confident in his work. However, I let too many things get to me in the warm up. Warm up arenas in the UK are so polite and civilised compared to what I’ve found Dutch shows to be like, where you get your room via pushing and shoving. Being a polite and quiet English girl on a scaredy cat horse, we do more spinning and shying than owning the space we deserve. It rattled me, causing Apollo and I to lose our flow and consequently we had lots of mistakes. The saving grace was we still scored 64%, which was nice as I thought I’d be on 60%!

    The next day, I sat myself down and gave myself a talking to. I had not come all this way, travelled to Europe when Brexit was supposed to be happening and spend a shed load of money on competing, just to be bullied in the warm up. That, plus the lovely supportive comments on Facebook, made me see sense. I channelled my inner diva and subsequently Apollo got braver too. We were in the main indoor arena, which had a weird atmosphere. It was entirely silent in there with no spectators, except for down the far end, which was an entirely glass wall with a fully packed bar/restaurant lurking behind. The atmosphere in there was fantastic, but it was weird riding in there as you didn’t realise people were there until you rode past A and saw you were just meters from people having dinner.

    In the under-25 grand prix, we smashed out a confident, mistake-free test. I came out buzzing, mainly so proud of myself and Apollo for bouncing back to prove what we’ve got. Unfortunately not all the judges were on my wave length and one had me on 62%, but hey ho, another judge had me on 68%, which was really encouraging.

    Next was a day off, during which I just wondered and cantered around out the saddle with Apollo putting his head wherever he wanted. I like doing this as it’s relaxing for him, but damn I get some funny looks from other riders!

    Giving Apollo a kiss

    Finally, it was time for the music. Now, I like to be different with my music (cue 15-year-old me riding to Flo Rida’s Blow My Whistle, haha) so I decided to go with some golden oldies, classics that will never get boring. At the soundcheck (where you have to stand in the middle of the arena in front the riders and tell the audio man what volume you want), everyone else’s music was cool, calm and poetic. When mine came on.. well I definitely got some looks, and I cranked the volume right up for full effect too! I created a very demanding request for Tony at Equidance and luckily he put up with me and made me such cool music! Apollo is a fun and happy horse, so I wanted to reflect that. So of course I went for some banging Ghostbusters for piaffe/passage (to scare the judges into giving us higher marks), Madonna for trot (because I actually am a material girl, in a material world), Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing for walk (because, duh, Apollo loves to strut to that) and The Bee Gees’ Staying Alive for canter, with lyrics to compliment the pirouettes and tempi-changes. I made the floor plan really intricate, and to quote British judge Clive Halsall: “she really threw everything at that except the kitchen sink!” Apollo spooked and skipped his way round, ears pricked and loving showing off.

    We had so much fun and finished ninth, so every day our scores and placings climbed.

    But more important than that, I was really pleased with how I overcame my negativity on the first day to come back fighting. In the words of Winston Churchill: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

    We whizzed home early Sunday and were back home in time to finish up the evening stables. This followed a week of flat out working for me and easy time for Apollo, before a Keysoe premier league competition.

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    At Keysoe, we had three good but frustrating tests. We came sixth in the grand prix, second in the grand prix music and fourth in the inter II. This was amazing, but frustrating as we were so tantalisingly close to the top scores as every test was riddled with mistakes and tension from spooking. Before the inter II, Apollo actually spun so violently that we took out several white boards and letters and stood there among the debris. Luckily Alice Oppenheimer was standing near the railings watching and made me laugh by saying: “Honestly Apollo, you’re 17, you have seen white boards before!” So I took off in the opposite direction to trot round the outside and had to wait for the arena to be reconstructed before I could start my test! Not the best start, but we still pulled out a 68%, with mistakes and tension. But he’s still my little star and we laughed it off!

    Next competition-wise for me is Addington premier league with Apollo and Habil. We’ve also got something extremely exciting happening on the yard… so stay tuned to find out!

    Until next time,

    Joanna x

    For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday.

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