Thank you to Austin Eventer Lisa H. for her recap of this weekend!
For a month or so Lisa Bauman has been planning to co-host a Ride-A-Test with a local facility in Manor, called Rolling Ridge Stable, judged by Bobbie Paulk. Up until last Monday, I hadn’t planned on participating, just watching, but that all changed when I got asked “Do you want to take my spot in the Ride-A-Test?” In my brain I was thinking “crap…dressage…supposed to have rain all week…crap… new test to learn…crap” but all that came out was “Sure! What test were you riding?”…“Beginner Novice A”…“Great!” as I frantically googled USEA Beginner Novice A to see what I had just agreed to. For most eventers, I would assume that the Beginner Novice A test could be ridden in their sleep. For me though, it would be the second dressage test I had ever ridden. I was relieved see that it was just 4 circles and a cross-the-diagonal and done.
Due to the rain, Jennifer, the owner of Rolling Ridge allowed our group to come over on Friday afternoon. This gave all of us a chance to unwind the horses after being stuck in stall for four days and get them used to the indoor arena and covered dressage arena. This was the 5th time Ellis and I had been off property since I got him a year and a half ago but each time he has relaxed more quickly. I have learned however that I never go anywhere with him without a tube of ulcerguard. I’d rather play it safe than sorry. By the time I was ready to tack up, he had already rolled and was quite proud of the mess he had become. Quick groom turned long, we tacked up and walked into the indoor arena. It was dark with a lot of new horses and a lot of strange sounds. Mounting he was calm(ish) but I decided to take my time and walk him around the indoor for a bit. After jumping out of his skin as a person stood from a chair, as another came out from a door, as a cat wandered across the middle, and a four-wheeler parked near the entrance, he started to calm down. We were able to get a good long ride in both arenas which he seemed to accept pretty well. Once done, I untacked, gave him a bath, and fed him dinner which he promptly started eating. Yup, he really didn’t care where he was as long is there is food (a boy after my own heart).
The next morning when I got there, Ellis was just hanging out watching everything that was going on. I was lucky enough to get the first ride-a-test time in the morning, after a couple people had some lessons with Bobby. This was my first ride-a-test and when I asked someone if we were supposed to warm up before starting, I got a quick laugh and “I thought I knew, but now I’m not sure… You should go ask.” That right there was more nerve racking than actually riding the test I think. For some reason, when I take clinics, it feels like the instructors are so much higher than I am, and to ask a silly question like “should I be warmed up?” feels like a question far beneath them. But I had no idea so off I went asking. Bobby was quite nice and answered and off I went to go tack up. My warm up consisted of lots of circles, remembering to sit back, head up, hands up (I felt like I could have had a serving tray on my arms), keep the tempo, slow down, what test was I riding again… Oh yeah Beginner Novice- A… where was I supposed to transition between canter and trot? B- all i remember is B…Crap… sit back. Breath. Time to go. I still couldn’t remember where I was supposed to transition… So i just hoped that we could make it right at B.
The first test wasn’t nerve rattling at all (note heavy sarcasm). I think at a normal show it’s a little easier to ignore the audience because I have no idea who they are, but this time I knew every pair of eyeballs staring at me. My trainers, my teammates, my husband. Nope- not nerve racking at all. Bell Rings- Enter at A- Remember to turn left- not right. Trot a circle- sit up- hands… they do something… I forgot… keep turning. Ok now canter, I have to be cantering at A and do a circle… Oh yay! I got the correct lead…. I still can’t remember where I was supposed to transition to trot…B… Just do it at b…. Trot… don’t run…no, it’s not time to canter again…now we walk…no,not canter, walk. And repeat. Trot. Canter.Trot. Centerline. Halt. Salute. Get judged.
To be honest, by this time my brain was a bit fried. I tried my hardest to hear every word Bobby said. We mainly talked about getting him more in balance; Getting him more round- which I have been really working hard at, and getting his hind end more engaged. She also wanted to get his tongue to stick out less (I don’t think this will ever really go away… and honestly I don’t know if I want it to totally. Its part of his personality). All of this would be helped by working on my half-halts and working on him accepting the bit rather than hanging on it. The one tip she gave me that was like a light bulb for me was a way for accept the bit by, as she put it, “getting it out of his way”. Simply give one rein, than the other. So simple. Something that made sense to me. And something that he really responded to. I also needed to work on slowing my post to show him down while keeping the same power (a concept I am still trying to grasp). After working on all this for about 10 minutes, off I went again to ride the test again. This time, while my geometry was off due to concentrating on hand and body stuff, our tempo and roundness were much improved. When we finished, she noted that the Ellis was much improved and the test was much nicer. It reflected in my score too. Mostly all 6’s, 6.5, and a 7! I’ll take that all day long for our second/third dressage test ever.
As I untacked, my husband came over and of course I asked what he thought. He was honest, which I really appreciated. He said that many of her comments were quite accurate and that there was a vast improvement between the first ride and the second. There were a couple subjective things like circle size that he didn’t know about but he said it looked good. I love the honesty and the support.
After putting pony away, I got to watch most of the other riders ride their tests. Sometimes it feels like Ellis and I am the only one’s struggling with issues, but it was nice to see that I’m not, that we are all in this together, just at different points. And to see how quickly we all made such a great improvement with just a couple minor tweaks to our riding was great. Every ride-a-test I watched I came out with another nugget of information, or food-for-thought that will help me when I ride. It was a fantastic experience for myself and a great team building opportunity for everyone.