Confessions of a sand princess

Girl on Fire! Our fun weekend at the Riverina Dressage Festival

Girl on Fire! Our fun weekend at the Riverina Dressage Festival

The recent Riverina Dressage Festival was a winter weekend of sunshine and warmth (metaphorically speaking – it was rather chilly really). I may be a tad biased as I am a committee member, albeit a rather useless one, but this event is an absolute highlight of the dressage calendar. This year was bigger and better than ever, with the feeling of a major show and the attitude of a friendly, local club. The Wagga Wagga dressage club really went above and beyond to produce, in my opinion, the best one yet. We featured a fantastic rider’s retreat next to the main arena with nibbles and refreshments, a state of the art sound system which projected the happenings around the grounds and to car radios, and the icing on the cake was a fabulous bunch of competitors – some of whom traveled great distances to attend.

For a small, regional club it was quite an impressive collection of top quality horses and riders. There were some fantastic tests ridden and I don’t say this lightly; we saw a huge amount of tests well in excess of 70%. The novice championship class in particular was incredibly strong, with a total of 8 tests ranging from 70.2 – 73.97%. I’m not going to directly compare, but looking at the results of big events in Victoria and NSW recently, we have some serious horsepower that could easily rival any of those. I believe this was called the ‘mini Olympics’ as there was a large contention of horses using this as their pre-NSW championships warm-up.

The main reason for this is, I believe, the facilities. The Festival is held at the Equine Centre at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, the uni has poured a huge amount of money into this complex. There 4 arenas of various sizes and an indoor, the surfaces have been carefully selected to stand up to our testing climates and for use by various disciplines. The horse boarding facilities are great and there is plenty of space for trucks and floats. That sounds like an advertisement for CSU, doesn’t it! I’m in no way endorsed however, I just love the centre!

From a committee member’s point of view, I think it was a very successful weekend. We had great sponsors on board with Wagga Motors as the major sponsor – we got to check out the speccy new Isuzu utes they brought as feature cars. Avis car rentals also donated a heap of cars to place at the arenas for judges, we have used this system in the past and it always streamlines the day. The general vibe was super happy and relaxed, and the riders got to enjoy their horses whilst getting some feedback from top-notch judges.

I also competed at this event. It was a little hectic as I had to run back to work in between my tests – it’s the equivalent of retail Christmas time in the labs but fortunately, my workplace is 2 minutes up the road.

Fleur made me so incredibly proud once again. We had the novice championship on the Saturday, and I had only entered these last minute as I wasn’t sure if she’d be ready. She well and truly was – we scored 67% and 68% placing us in the top 10 in both, in a very strong class. Reflecting on this is a little strange as I left my first test incredibly frustrated at myself (super proud of Fleur though). I felt like I really let her down with my preparations for transitions and certain movements like the canter loops, which are still a little hard for a young horse. I also felt like she wasn’t overly connected, she appeared to be in the video but I felt it was little bit nefarious

Reflecting on this is a little strange as I left my first test incredibly frustrated at myself (super proud of Fleur though). I felt like I really let her down with my preparations for transitions and certain movements like the canter loops, which are still quite hard for a young horse. I also felt like she wasn’t overly connected, she appeared to be in the video but I felt it was a little bit nefarious. One of my bad habits is that I am so concerned with not disrupting the flow of the test that I stop actively riding. I don’t put out little spot fires and before I know it I have an issue that isn’t normally there in my everyday training. This passive riding also leads to issues like not having enough resolution to properly ride a transition as I don’t want to interfere too much – it’s so illogical as the transition then has a high chance of being average which impacts the following movement and so on. So, after I got over a little self-deprecation, I decided that the next tests would be ridden with meaning and effectiveness.

And it bloody well worked! We had the preliminary championship on the Sunday and I did not hold back… well not initially – Fleur is very intuitive so my initiative was quickly sensed by her and she found extra levels of energy and sensitivity. I did tone it down in light of this and we did a very nice, bold, mistake-free test to kick off the day, which to my delight, was awarded over 71% and first place!

I don’t usually get nervous, perhaps slightly, but it’s generally quite mild. I’m a very competitive, stubborn person however, usually this is only with myself, but on this day the nerves were electric – I don’t know why but after a good day yesterday I wanted to place well. I was jittery and scattered, and I knew this frame of mind was not going to help me achieve what I wanted. I had to regroup so I told myself that the placings were out of my control and that the only thing I could do was ride my best. I suppose as Fleur is still young and therefore not always 100% predictable in the ring as Rascus was, I was feeling that I might ride as well as I could and there was still a chance that Fleur could have a baby moment. Whatever it was, I put these thoughts out of my head by (you’re going to think this is cheesy) imagining myself as an icon such as Charlotte Dujardin or Isabel Werth, or even better, Beyonce! If you know me you will know that I am the whitest girl around, I bear no resemblance to Beyonce in the slightest. But the mind is a wonderful thing, you can put yourself in the shoes of someone who is strong and confident, and who seems to be able to conquer anything thrown their way. This is a fairly new technique for me but it worked incredibly – the morning nerves I had were heightened when I found out I had won the first test as the scores were close. But I was chill, Fleur was relaxed and working her socks off and I was back in the moment where placings or scores didn’t matter. I was riding my beautiful horse, she was working happily and correctly and that’s really all I ever want.

So, after a great, although a little bit zoomy (controlled zoom) test I finished my weekend on an absolute high. My lanky 4yo had just conquered some pretty big achievements. We got our scores and I was thrilled with another +71% and a blue ribbon. We walked away with a rug, some generous cash prizes and, better than that, a HUGE sense of accomplishment!

Fleur is very interested in the treats I’m pulling from my pocket!


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