Today is going to be great! The sun is shining, I have stroopwafel for breakfast and Tineke is riding the my favourite chestnut. Everyone is riding early this morning, because there is a show this afternoon! Imke will be schooling Kazuki and her stallion Don Presidente in their Intermediare II test. I cannot wait to go! I love horse shows!
Ms B was a little frisky this morning. I was riding in the snaffle and lets just say that she was feeling good this morning! Imke had me warm her up using varying neck positions this morning. We began in a medium length neck focusing on maintaining a good connection over her back. It took her a bit of time to relax over her back and fill out the longer rein length, but each time she did, I lengthened and lowered her neck a bit more. Once she was following my contact as long and as low as I wanted, I asked for more roundness in a low, medium and higher frame. Although her neck is naturally flexible, transitioning between different neck positions requires a fair amount of balance and submission. Testing and improving these reactions is the purpose of “training” the neck. A dressage horse is an athlete and their neck is the bridge that connects the energy produced in their hind legs to the control center up front. If there is crookedness, stiffness or resistance in the neck, the bridge is compromised. A soft, flexible neck enables a resistance free connection from the hind leg to the bridle and this is an essential element needed to bring your training to the next level.
As we moved into the canter, she felt super! All of the transitions we did the night before, plus the improvement in her neck from todays warm-up really combined to make for a very soft, uphill feeling in the canter. After only a few times around, I could feel exactly what I needed for the changes. Imke agreed and we moved into some half-pass and shoulder-fore to put her body in the best balance for a good change. Imke had me ride her down a line off of the rail and focus on absolute straightness. Within that straightness, I activated her outside hind leg in preparation for the change and the very first one I asked for was big and clean and beautiful!! It was a real thrill to have our first change be so successful. I gave her a big pat and we began preparing for the other direction.
She was just as happy about the change as I was or maybe it was the fact that she could feel my heart thumping about 150 beat per minute… either way, she was up. We brought her back into half-pass and shoulder-fore in this direction and waited until she relaxed into these exercises. It was very important that I waited for her to wait for me before I returned to the changes or our next result would not have been as successful. Soon, I had her back with me and we had another beautiful clean change in this direction. I gave her a big hug and we spent the rest of the ride doing something that she enjoyed… moving out! It was a fun ride…
After my ride, I added another layer of clothing and we headed to the horse show! On the way, we stopped to have some lunch at Den Bockenreyder. It was one of those days where the temps began dropping around late morning, so when I rode, it was around 40 degrees, but by the time we got to lunch, it was closer to 30 and getting very windy. I wanted something warm and was advised that Erwtensoep or “snert” (Dutch green pea soup) would hit the spot. Not only were these ladies lovely companions, but they were also a good judge of soup! This soup was delicious and was served with the biggest bread I have ever seen! I wish I had taken a photo of it… the slices were literally two feet across! It was hysterical, but I am no quitter… I finished every bit of it.
After lunch, we continued on to the show. Somewhere between the snert and the show it started snowing… hard. Big huge flakes that within about 5 minutes had completely covered the roads. Luckily, my car was all wheel drive and handled the roads nicely. Even though I was not showing, I still felt that excitement in my stomach as we pulled into the show grounds (or maybe it was the three pounds of bread I just ate?). I am so glad that I had someone local with me, because this place did not look like show grounds. We walked into the show office which was a really cool little bar that ran the length of the short side with a large viewing area. Everything was indoors, but the bar was heated and had a line of tall tables and bar stools that you could watch the competition ring from. If you walked out of the bar, there was a very large viewing area with beautiful tables, plants and couch style seating. This place could accommodate a very large crowd and in nicer weather is probably a very fun spot to hang out...
Once it was time for Kazuki to warm-up, I headed to the schooling ring to watch him prepare. It was even colder now and getting dark. The schooling ring was quite small and full of FEI horses all preparing for their tests. There was a lot going on! Kazuki and Don Presidente looked calm and cool. Kazuki is a beautiful rider. He is so quiet in the saddle and doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything. He is a pleasure to watch. It was interesting watching Imke coach someone at a show. She expected a little bit more, but was very positive and motivating about it. I would love to have her with me before a test!
As soon as Kazuki was on deck, she brought him over and gave him some last minute directions while taking Don’s wraps off. The competition arena is directly beside the schooling ring, so all we had to do was walk to the other side of the wall and you were literally standing behind the judge. I wasn’t sure where we were allowed to stand, but when Imke posted right next to the wall, I figured I was in a good spot. It felt crazy to be right there… I could hear the judges talking in their boxes and could hear Don breathe as he cantered down the centerline.
They had a great test! Everything looked very accurate and neat. It was very well ridden. His pirouettes were small and clean and his changes were quite nice. After his test, we followed him out showering him with congratulations and then all headed back into the heated bar. It felt so good in there! We got a table and watched the rest of the rides. Some were great and some looked tight from the cold evening. After the last ride, the judges walked in to the bar to check out the results and say their good byes. As they walked past us, I noticed that one of them was Sven Rothenberger! He has been one of my favourite dressage riders for a long time and here I am standing right next to him! He has represented both Germany and the Netherlands in World Championships and Olympic Games over the years and is truly one of the greats. It was a such a cool moment to be in Holland at a horse show with Kazuki Sado, Imke Schellekens-Bartels, Sven Rothenberger and some of my new riding friends. I had to pinch myself…