Well, true to the plan, Nadia and I ventured out for our first Working Equitation Competition and much giggle snorting ensued! For those of you unfamiliar with Working Equitation, one of its objectives is to combine classical training principles with traditional horsemanship; it emphasizes harmony between horse and rider, and you are rewarded for the care and attention you pay to your horse’s mental and physical wellbeing as much as anything else. These values are part of what I love about it, as well as promoting really functional work for and with the horse.
There are three phases in a Working Equitation competition. The first is the dressage phase. The second is a course with obstacles, which are similar to what you might come across in a working situation with your horse (gates, bridges, etc) that are marked for ease of handling. And the third is a speed round of the same course.
For me, it ticks all the boxes, not only because I love that the horsemanship and partnership are part of the intrinsic values, but the purpose that the obstacles provide is an amazing way to fine-tune your training in a way that’s focused and purposeful. Plus, it’s super fun to boot.
So, the story begins with my initial enthusiasm at the entry form stage where I confused levels and inadvertently entered myself in a higher level than was originally intended. I only actually realized this when I received the course plan and noticed that we were required to canter between obstacles, side pass over the pole, and spear the ring at speed- the latter two we have never done together meaning that our first shot at it would be in the competition itself.
I admitted my error to Nadia, and we decided to just move into full frolic mode, enjoy ourselves, and pretend that Eye Of The Tiger was our theme song. Fist bump to that. Moving on.
The course itself was in the indoor arena about an hour away from me, and it was so beautifully set up. I am so grateful to the incredible humans that work to get these events off the ground (Verona and Pam I’m looking at you!) and the equally lovely people that were the judges and other riders. To be in an environment where everyone is so supportive and cheering each other on might be the 250th thing I love about this sport.
When I turn came, Nadia and I pressed the frolic button. Honestly, the fact that we were even here together is a massive achievement in and of itself (there was a time when her anxiety levels were such that I hadn’t ruled out the possibility that taking her out to comps and the likes wouldn’t be in her best interest) so being here, feeling like I could really just enjoy myself- that we could enjoy ourselves- made me (literally) grin from ear to ear. It didn’t matter how things went from that point because that in and of itself means so much to me.
Our softness and ease were nowhere near what we are capable of producing at home, but this in and of itself is part of the purpose of the outing. Nadia has a big engine and she loves to motor; our round required cantering for short bursts and then stopping and doing something measured and technical, and there were some things that we could do better than others. This type of precision has made me more aware of how I’m practicing at home and how I tend to go for long sweeping forward stretches, so I’ll start to mix this up.
One thing that really stood out to me was how important it was to pick your lines. I didn’t do a good job of this; the obstacles got most of my attention and then I wasn’t purposeful enough in deciding the track, which meant I had to turn her too sharply or limited her scope in someone, so that’s something I’m going to practice.
Trot is Nadia’s favourite “let’s leave them in our dust” pace, and I found that the combination of being out and about, being able to ride a precise line one-handed with the pole probably wasn’t going to happen, so I opted to walk this one. I gave it a shot in the speed round but I ended up looking like a window cleaner hanging off their harness trying to reach the tall bit in the corner, so I’m not sure I was a model for finesse right then!
Overall, we had a blast. I’m going to be squirreling away in my arena the next month until we go again and see if we can improve on where we left things.
And I do so love my girl. Her big hearted-ness floors me every time.
Red mares for the win.