Enter at A, let mind wander. Eventer Lila Gendal outlines the five thoughts she has as she enters the dressage ring. Any of them sound familiar?
In my sport, event riders either loathe or thoroughly enjoy dressage. Seriously, you go to an event, see a friend or a fellow competitor after phase one and they are either beaming with joy, as they know they just nailed the dressage, or they are borderline sobbing and the only remark they have usually seems to be, “Well, thank GOD that’s done with, now for the fun part … XC!”
I must admit that when I was younger, I thought dressage was painful — painful for me, usually for my horses, and most likely for others to watch. I was ignorant and didn’t have the skill sets or the experience to get through dressage. However, times have changed and I’m almost thirty years old, and even though I live for cross country, I now really do enjoy dressage!
1. Ho hum, another day in the dressage ring! Seriously, I rarely feel nervous before going into dressage. I am not one to skimp on my lessons or homework. I usually know what to expect from myself and my horse, and that’s a lot and nothing less. I am a pretty low key and non-confrontational person, so even when I’m riding a horse who seems hot to trot, I try to roll with the punches and take deep breaths. I mean seriously, how terrifying is dressage? Not very!
2. I’m hungry … Even though I have trouble eating a normal amount of food at a competition, I am usually hungry before, during or after dressage. Maybe this is why I usually score well when it comes to how forward my horses are … so I can get through the test and go eat a breakfast sandwich!
3. Just smile and stay relaxed. This might sound odd, but I usually have a pleasant expression on my face throughout my test. I never want to look like I am straining to get anything done. Dressage is about harmony, fluidity, ease, graceful movements, accurate geometry and smooth transitions … the list goes on. Even if I have a bobble or two, I like to keep my composure and look comfortable and happy.
4. CONFIDENCE! I am not the world’s most confident or risk taking individual. (Well, to a certain degree I guess I am, as I voluntarily go gallop and jump big jumps, though I am not innately the gutsiest person.) I am confident in my riding because of the time and repetition I have put into my riding career. I gain confidence from successful rides over years and years. However, whether I am trembling inside, or completely nervous, I put on my game face at competitions. In dressage, I am acting more confident than I am, but my system seems to work. The judge notices it, my horse feels it, and I need it!
5. Ride the movements, not the horse. I’ve been told this a million times by my dressage coach. Ride the test and the movements, not the horse. If you are trying to ride the horse, you are not focused on the test. Your horse should be so in tune with you that the two of you should be one — the horse should be waiting and listening and following your lead. The partnership should be confirmed so you can worry about your test. If you are trying to deal with both your horse and the test, usually this is much harder. I love going into the test where I feel like all I am thinking about are the movements and where to go next. The horse is so with me that I am not concerned about whether my horse will pick up his lead, or stay connected — it’s just there! Those are the tests that are worth remembering!
My name is Lila Gendal and I am 29 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 9 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I’m currently leasing an awesome ISH gelding named Theatre Royal (owned by Gayle Davis), and we are going Prelim. When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.