Mother marched Shocker back to the trailer after her dressage test. “How’d it go?” I asked as I snapped on my helmet and tightened it.
“Good,” she replied. “The free walk was probably the best part. She just stretched right down and it felt wonderful. She got a little rushed on the trot circles though.”
I nodded. “Sounds good.” My voice was distant. To be honest, what I was really concerned about was Challenger.
“Don’t worry honey. You and Challenger will do fine,” mother said, sensing my concern. She slid Shocker’s bridle off.
I rolled my lips. “I just want it to be a good experience for him, you know?” I fingered Challenger’s bridle. “I’m worried that he won’t trust me enough, that he’ll buck in the canter circles and get the wrong lead jumping and-”
“Whoa there,” she interrupted me. “Quit focusing all all that could go wrong, and instead focus on all that could go right.”
I sighed. She was right. It was just so hard to do sometimes. “You’ll be taking pictures right?”
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
So far the warm up had gone well. I’d stuffed my worry in a corner and forced it to stay there. He was stretching well and fairly relaxed despite all the horses zooming by. Better than I’d expected.
After the walk work I gathered up my reins a bit and squeezed him gently to ask for trot, making sure to allow with my hands. If there’s one thing he hated it was when I confused aids. He was very sensitive about that.
His trot was faster and his head higher than what I wanted, but I let him work it out. That was always the best way to do it when he was like this.
The canter circles were what I was most worried about. They were our number one enemy. But they hadn’t been a problem for awhile now.
Sure enough, he calmed down as I let him work it out. I stroked his neck real quick in praise and brought him down to walk. I changed rein and then sent him into trot again.
With a deep breath I sat and moved me left leg back to ask for canter, advancing my inside hip to compliment. Eagerly he launched into it. “Good,” I murmured to him.
Another rider whizzed by us. He cocked his ear but didn’t panic or break. We cantered a lap, then I started to circle him.
I refused to hold my breath and made sure my outside leg was slightly back to encourage him to stretch out. Before I knew it we’d made it around the circle. I patted him and let him come down to a walk.
Maybe this dressage test wouldn’t be so bad after all.
The bell dinged and I took a deep breath as I gathered up the reins.
“Next up, Number 42, Tessa Wellen riding Challenger,” the announcer boomed out as best he could with that scratchy sound system. Something was off with it today.
I pushed that out of my mind as I asked Challenger to walk. He barely needed a squeeze of my legs to spring into trot. I trotted up along the white boards that marked the arena and turned to enter.
This was it. It was really happening. All those months of hard work had led up to this. I suddenly felt a burst of pride in Challenger.
Our working trot was strong as we went up the centerline. I looked at the judge’s chair instead of her face. X was fast approaching.
I sat and resisted with my seat. Challenger, being hyper alert, instantly switched to walk, almost halting. At the last second I let go and he walked on.
After a few steps of walk I dropped my weight and asked for halt. He stopped abruptly, and one of his hind legs sidestepped. I took a deep breath and lectured myself. I needed to stop using such loud aids. He really didn’t need them right now.
I asked for trot, which he instantly sprung into. We trotted up the centerline and tracked right. I remembered to check my diagonal, and thankfully I was on the right one.
We reached B and circled right. I asked a bit too much with my inside rein so he popped his shoulder out. I let up and moved my outside leg slightly back to ask him to curve around it.
We finished the circle nicely and went on to A. This was the tricky bit. The test called for circle starting and ending in trot, with canter in between.
We began to circle and I sat down, asking for canter with the right lead. He rocketed into it a little, I’d asked a bit harshly. I checked him and made sure my inside leg was leading him around the circle.
It was bit messy but we made it and I asked for trot, which he gave me quite nicely. We crossed the diagonal through X. Now to do the same thing going the other way.
Our circle in trot at E was better this time, as I didn’t ask so much with inside rein. However, his eye caught sight of a imaginary shadow and he squirted ahead. Having experienced this many times before I brought him back and squeezed my legs in a nut-cracker action to ask him to come back up under me.
We began to circle left at A again. I sat and moved my right leg back, asking less harshly than before. He didn’t rush into it and I made sure to hold my inside shoulder up. I had a tendency to drop it down on that side.
We came back to trot. I felt I could breath a little easier. The hardest parts that I was worried about were over.
At P I asked for medium walk too abruptly. He nearly halted, so I squeezed him firmly for him to go on. He kicked out, making it clear that he hated the confusing aids.
I sighed, gave him a moment, then asked him to walk again. “Sorry buddy, that was my fault. I let my guard down,” I murmured to him.
We free-walked from B to H. He stretched out good and swung through his back, though not as good as he could have because of that little incident earlier.
I brought him back to a medium walk and asked for trot at C. We trotted down the side, turned at A, and trotted down the center line till I. This time I didn’t ask as hard with my seat for walk and he was good about it.
Our halt was square and better than before. I saluted. We had done it. We’d completed our first dressage test together!
I smiled and patted Challenger as I let the reins out a bit. “Good lad. Good lad! We did it, big boy, we did it,” I praised him.
As I walked out of the arena mother gave me a thumbs-up and mouthed, “You did great!” I smiled back at her and gave Challenger more pats.
I hopped off of him at the trailer and hugged his neck. “You were such a good boy. I’m so proud of you.”