My First Dressage Competition: Blue Ribbon Wisdom

“My first snippet of advice to you is to remember that the event is about you and your horse. That’s it. She’s your team. Lean on her.” Candace Wade survived her first-ever horse show as a late-in-life-beginner adult rider!

Photos courtesy of Candace Wade

Last week, Candace Wade wrote about her pre-show excitement and trepidation, and the overwhelmingly positive response she received from other late-in-life beginner adult riders. Today, she discusses the show itself.

Let’s be clear, we’re talking dressage, as in Introductory Level “A” Test – Senior Novice Class. Equestrian lessons learned and life wisdom? Grand Prix level.

I, a late-in-life-lesson-rider, participated in my first equestrian competition this last weekend. The weather goddess brought chilling rain. My competition barn-buddy was struck with the flu. I would be ALONE in a sea of experienced, savvy “just-another-show” riders. I had asked a bunch of questions on what to expect, but the hairy “fear of the unknown” monster haunted me. My stalwart husband was my “team” and pledged not to leave my side. The farm was a hive of glamorous riders, elegant horses, serious horse trailers, the crackling energy of a competitive horse event. “Oh, crud.”

My patient schooling horse and I were going to wade into the maw of competing. I was apprehensive. Every corpuscle wanted to find her and bury my head into her neck – to smell her warm calm. My first snippet of advice to you is to remember that the event is about you and your horse. That’s it. She’s your team. Lean on her.

Show Day Lessons

  • People will be there to help you. They’ll tell you where to go and when. Wow!
  • Ask for help. The perky, little “barn bunnies” love to be asked. One offered to clean hooves for me.
  • Arrive early, but not too early. Waiting made me more nervous than the test.
  • A two dollar pocket rain poncho will keep you dry, warm and clean. It can be whisked off after your warm-up. Sure as shootin’, somebody’s horse will sneeze alfalfa all over your show blouse.
  • Bring little heel lifts if your show boot hurt your Achilles tendon. Truth, I was so hyped that I didn’t even feel my bear-trap boots. My real worry was getting my socks caught in the zipper and then what?!
  • Your gloves go on your hands. They fasten on top. I swear I stared at my gloves wondering how to put them on.
  • The arena volunteers’ smiles and enthusiasm will wash away your nerves.
  • Envision your ride as fun – perfect, but fun.
  • Ride in with energy, but not too much. I was so lit up I was “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” manic. My horse rolled her eyes saying, “Chill, girl, I got this.”
  • The judges are right. I was sure they had mis-rated my circles until I looked at the video. Darn, they were on the button on every comment they made. What’s great about that is I can see my errors and will fix them.

Life Lessons

I learned a lot about who I am.

  • Show up. I can accept a blue ribbon for training, trying and showing up.
  • Control issues?  I like to have as much control over the unknown as I can because life can always throw a pie in your face. I had to let go. I will now bring the faith that my horse will be where I can find her and that people will look out for me. I can’t change the weather, but I will have the tools to function around it. The rest will work out. How? It’s a mystery.
  • Ask for help. I am allergic to needing help. I get hives if I feel I may be a nuisance. Bong! People like to help others. People feel good when they are needed. Asking and accepting help is part of friendship. I was clueless. I needed help. Asking was part of learning.
  • Actor or audience?  Being part of the performance was thrilling. I wasn’t a spectator; I was a “spectatee”!  This belonging, being part of the action was a heady experience.

Try a riding completion. Really, you will earn a life changing experience. I arrived at the barn saying, “I agreed to do this, but never again. I just want to ride.” I left saying, “Just wait until next time.”

By the way, my wise, little mare and I won a blue ribbon. (Big smile.)

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