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Saturday, 6 July 2019

PetPlan Equine Area Festivals at Alnwick Ford

It's that time of year again... the PetPlan Area Festivals are running, and everyone who's qualified is excited to take part and see what this year's competition holds for them.

We've been fortunate again this year in that our hard work over the winter gave us three qualification codes. I started off by thinking I wouldn't use the three, instead just head to Northallerton in August, but a small part of me thought that perhaps we can use the other two for something a little bit different.

With a very spooky Louie, we love that the tests throughout the PetPlan competitions give opportunity for arena walks ahead of each class, but maybe they are becoming our security blankets a little. So, I chose to enter Alnwick Ford, which also has the added privilege of being able to enter 'Warm Up' classes - a class that you do your test in the same environment as your Festival test. It's a good way to have a go and let you & your horse see the arena. Alnwick Ford is a venue which runs just one arena, so the prospect of the 5-hour waits between warm up class and the Festival test just wasn't something I fancied. Shame, as this year, some combinations wait times were reduced to around 3 hours. Anyway, I'd entered this to get away from that security. I would like for Louie to head into an arena and work comfortably, regardless of what's going on. Fair enough in bigger championships, I'll always need that familiarisation, but not in a standard class with simply a more dressed arena...

So, that is exactly what my aim was. Keep him forward, in front of the leg and in tune with me and the test... When Louie is spooky, he sits tucked up in a little ball behind your leg, and not really listening suffering from shocks when he suddenly realises that you would like to do something. That's just him...

The day came, just under two weeks after having my saddle back from it being refit for just shy of a month... My standard default would be practice, practice, practice, but I knew this would pile on the pressure at home to be perfect every stride, never achieve that, and leaving us in a totally rubbish place heading into our test. So, I did something I've never done before, don't worry about schooling, just get Louie in front of the leg, listening and supple around my legs. Nothing is going to transform in the 10 days or so we had in between...

It worked well. Neither of us were stale of schooling, Louie had been 'worked' on his hacking, moving in and out of pace within the each pace, and generally felt a very comfortable horse to ride.

We got our times, and maybe I realised, deep down, I did want that arena walk, as I was disappointed to discover that the arena walk was a huge 14 hours before my test, and my test as 19:58... Late times don't bother me, and it must be something about arena festivals and 8pm, as last year's at Northallerton was also at 8pm!! Wasn't so great knowing I'd to be up at 3.30am the next day to catch a flight to Copenhagen for a work trip...

Louie enjoyed a bath that afternoon, before being plaited and made to look very smart. We headed off in good time to the venue as one thing I really didn't want to feel was a rush once we got there. After 30 minutes of munching his hay, Louie was brushed and oiled, before being tacked up and heading for the warm up. He went beautifully... It was a bit breezy which I really don't like riding in as I find figuring my tempo really difficult, but he seemed great. With 5 minutes to go, we headed to the indoor just for a quick familiarisation before going into our test.

The test was Novice 37a so a long arena test, and with that makes the indoor warm up quite short and tight, and I never find it productive for keeping a horse forward thinking, so I just had a quick trot around before we went in.

I scoped out the sides of the arena. It was narrow in places, with square boxes of flowers and judges hut, but I was thrilled to find the big bright green PetPlan banner sitting far back off the arena at the end of the centre line. Well, I was wrong - there was one down the side, about a horse's width away from the arena. Louie ground to a walk, paused, and tentatively walked past. Great, he'd gone past of his own accord without a glance back to the entrance. He was a little suspicious of the judge at H, but listened and went past. Hooray, just what I'd been aiming.

We weren't given the chance to go around again, so in we went straight away. That judge at H, I'd almost forgotten about, but Louie hadn't as he walked (not trotted!) around that corner off the centre line. This I was frustrated at as I like to make my centre lines strong as it's the first view the judge has of you both. Anyway, forget it and move on...

He was spookier that he'd been in the indoor warm up, looking and taking notice of everything around him, but obedient and importantly forward.

Our first canter was up the long side and a circle just after the banner. This was disappointing, and I lost Louie and he broke as we went past the banner... but regained his canter and on passing again, was much less spooky, albeit still checking it out!

Unfortunately, Louie's suspicion remained over the judge at H, and I knew the canter transition was in that corner. I really focused on keeping him in front of the leg and keeping our impulsion. So much so, I forgot the 15m circle at C right before.

If there was ever a test I didn't want to make a mistake like that, PetPlan Festivals were it!

The rest of the test was a little inconsistent in our contact and impulsion, but it was obedient. It was nowhere near our best test, and I didn't hold any expectation of coming remotely near the top 10 placing for progressive qualification.

I was still pleased to see we came 19th and on 63.13% and that throughout the test sheet, the comments really echoed what I had felt throughout but pleasingly we had some lovely end of test comments.

Although a little later than we'd have preferred, we enjoyed our afternoon and evening dressage session. I hadn't gone with any high expectations and came away not feeling disheartened by where things really did need polishing up.

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