Thursday, 2 June 2016

RDA Regional Qualifiers

Last weekend, Cambs College RDA travelled to Oaklands College near St Albans, Hertfordshire, to compete in the regional RDA qualifers - the event you have to go to if you want to compete at the RDA National Championships at Hartpury College in July (what a lot of equine colleges there are in that sentence!). Hartpury has a huge range of events, including dressage, showjumping, countryside challenge, vaulting, carriage driving, tack and turnout, combined training, stable management, arts and crafts and photography. The system for getting to Nationals is complicated, so here's a chart to explain it...
In order to qualify in the 'ridden' events (showjumping, dressage, countryside challenge, carriage driving, and by extension combined training) you have to fulfil two criteria: 1) you must score 60% or more in your class, and 2) you must come first or second. If for any reason one or both of the riders coming first and/or second is unable to compete at Hartpury, qualifying places may be offered to those riders who came third and/or fourth, providing that they scored above 60% in the qualifier too. Clear as mud? Good!
The coveted qualifier rosette from last year!
This year, Olivia and I decided to enter the showjumping regionals in an attempt to qualify for Hartpury. The event was due to be held at Oaklands College on the Thursday before the dressage and countryside challenge qualifiers. This was a bit of a pain, because Thursdays are RDA nights and taking two horses and some instructors away from the rest of the group wasn't ideal. Also, it's quite a long way to go (over an hour) to complete a jumping round which would only last a minute or two! Fortunately, we were able to video our rounds instead, as long as they reached Oaklands before Thursday evening. After a slightly frantic series of phone calls and texts, we arranged to meet up on the Tuesday, and Olivia and I would both film our rounds. 
As we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and this was no different! We were late into the arena which meant that we were also late out. My round went quite nicely really, but after filming it we realised that there was a jump cup which had been left up on one of the wings - not something that I could be marked down on, but certainly something which was a bit dodgy in terms of health and safety. There wasn't time to film it again after Olivia had also jumped her round (with higher fences) and although Gillian was desperately trying to contact the lady in charge, said lady wasn't picking up so we just had to hope for the best. 
These white things are the jump cups - they hold the poles up. The bottom one is upside down.
I was pleased that Beethoven warmed up well, then jumped clear and very neatly. In RDA jumping (at least at my level!) you get marked on how well you ride as well as whether or not you leave the poles up - a bit like a dressage test. I was competing at Level 2, meaning that my jumps weren't huge but they did have to be tackled in trot. Theoretically trot is easier than canter, but since horses tend to prefer to canter at a jump (especially if they're required to leave it up!) it can be tricky to keep them nice and controlled. Beets was in quite a slow mood though, so although I was working hard to keep the rhythm even and bouncy enough, at least I didn't have to worry about him bursting into canter! We were certainly the epitome of control and rhythm even if I did end up exhausted from the near-constant heel nudges. It wasn't a baking hot evening but it didn't help that we'd had to get all togged up in competition kit, which can be really hot too. I was ready for a shower when we finished!
Jump number 4
Olivia and I were hoping to get the results on Thursday, when everybody else would be competing at Oaklands in person. Infuriatingly, they decided on Thursday night that they would announce the results at Oaklands on Sunday! Having resigned myself to a tense wait to see if I had qualified, I was really glad to discover on the Friday that Olivia's mum had discovered her result merely by sending them a message and asking. She told me to do the same, and although initially I only found out that I had qualified that was all I really cared about at that stage! Anyway, soon enough some more detailed results came through and although they showed that I wasn't exactly swamped with opposition I was astonished to see my score (like dressage, this works as 'the higher the better' - you get a score for execution and then deductions are made for refusals, knock downs, etc.).
Anyway, that made me feel quite a bit better about the Sunday. I wanted to qualify in dressage too, of course, but knowing that I'd already qualified in one event was enough to take some pressure off. In preparation for travelling down to Oaklands, I went to stay at my mum's the night before. I spent a lot of time packing all of my kit and making sure I had everything I needed to look immaculate - white jodphurs (whose idea was that?!), white gloves (well, nearly white), a white shirt, my jacket, a matching red tie, hairnet (yuck), clean boots... I also felt it was time my tack had a clean. Most of the tack (saddle and bridle) is kept by the college, but I look after my own stirrups and a set of reins I have on long-term loan from the RDA. The stirrups are quite easy to look after - they and the toe caps attached to them are made of plastic, and the stirrup 'leathers' are also a nice low-maintenance plastic, so they can all just be washed in a big bowl of soapy water. The reins are primarily leather, so I got some nice saddle soap out for them to give the leather a good clean and a bit of conditioning. It made my kit bag smell of the glorious mix of leather, beeswax and horse!
Smells of happiness :) Other brands of saddle soap are available!
The journey down on Sunday morning was pretty straightforward. We didn't encounter much traffic, despite getting perilously close to London, and we arrived at Oaklands in good time for the first of my two classes, which was at 9.24 with me riding at 9.48. I was riding Beethoven again and was pleased to see that, as hoped, he had perked up a bit! He's quite an old chap now so he can be a bit slow in lessons sometimes (not that this stops him from spooking at invisible monsters) and we'd hoped that he would be a bit more energised with a change of scene. He was ab-so-lute-ly LOVING it! He wouldn't stop whinnying, which was adorable if a bit noisy. I was pleased he was feeling a bit more lively, as our first test was the canter test, which had a fair bit of cantering around the arena on each rein. In previous sessions we'd struggled to maintain the canter for the full length of time, but there were no problems with that this time. 
Warming up with an unusually sprightly Beets!
I knew my test fairly well but wanted to have a caller (Gillian) just in case. After a decent warm-up in the outdoor school, we walked around the indoor arena to get Beets used to seeing the judges (very interesting!), the mirrors along the K-H long side (slightly worrying) and the big open doors at the A end (fascinating!). We were complimented on how smart we looked, which I'm sure they say to everyone but I appreciated it nonetheless! Beets made me laugh as we walked alongside the mirrors - he caught sight of himself in there and I decided to let him have a look, with the result that he pulled a face at the naughty other horse in the mirror, then proceeded to pull ever more elaborate grimaces, not realising that this cheeky other horse was in fact himself... He then was thoroughly confused by the way the horse suddenly vanished when the mirror ran out. They aren't all blessed with the greatest brains.
Noble, silly steed.
The test went OK. I struggle a lot with getting Beets to move in the right way - he requires quite a lot of leg, which is tough for me, and he isn't as responsive to seat and weight aids as, say, Boysie and Danny. This means that he relies a lot on rein aids for steering, but unfortunately he really doesn't like bar reins! To get round this, I've been attempting to use two hands in my bar reins so that I can ride him more like a 'normal' person would. I'm not very good at this, though, so I've also been using a stick (whip), just to apply very gentle pressure on his inside shoulder to try and stop him from falling out in the corners. Swapping a whip round is really tricky at the best of times, but especially if you have dodgy hands like mine. I can't even hold it properly - it's attached to my hand by a loose piece of elastic - so I just have to pick one side and stick with it. I tried riding with one stick in each hand and all that happened was that he permanently had one in his peripheral vision and kept moving away from it, which didn't make for a particularly controlled set of lines around the arena! 
The first bit was alright!
Apart from struggling to get him to bend nicely, we went OK. He maintained canter all the way through where he was meant to, and he did a lovely square halt at the end. I was glad that I did know my test, as a fair bit of what Gillian was valiantly shouting was lost by him neighing at the top of his voice! There was one part where we were cantering away from the judge and he was calling the cry of his people and it was just so sweet and funny that I burst out laughing, and had to try to compose myself before turning towards the judge again!
I don't have a photo of the halt in the real test but here's a nice one from the warm up!
After this first test we had a brief break before heading back up to the indoor school together for our walk and trot test. We walked back down to the main field and Beets had fun neighing at a peacock and I prepared mentally for the second test. I felt a bit more confident about actually qualifying in this one - mostly because I knew there were only two other riders in it, and I knew one of them (also from Cambs College) couldn't go to Hartpury anyway, so as long as I scored above 60% I would be fine. Beets was still energetic by his standards but he was slightly less fresh now. I had plenty of time to warm up so did some work without stirrups, because at a riding lesson two days before this had really improved my seat when I put the stirrups back. Apart from a terrifying troll in the field alongside the arena, we didn't have many problems and we did a nice warm-up with lots of transitions and some rein back, turn on the forehand and leg yield which inadvertently turned into half pass. Apparently half pass is harder than leg yield - possibly for the horse, but not for me!
As you can see here in this 'woahhhh' moment, he still wasn't very settled in the second warm-up - scary horses and alpacas and trolls on the other side of the hedge were to blame...
The test itself went OK but felt a little bit trickier than the first one. The canter test obviously is a bit more demanding if canter is difficult for you, but the trot test required more precise riding as there were smaller movements to make (e.g. 10m circles as opposed to 20m circles) and I find that keeping Beets going in a straight line when he is in walk is a lot harder than when he is trotting or cantering! I tried hard to keep my position good as this is what I've been working on a lot recently. I have a tendency to hollow my back (where the muscles are in spasm) and shoot my legs forward, then tip my upper body back. I've been working on trying to keep my feet underneath me and thinking about letting my shoulders feel as if they're slightly tipping over my hips. My proprioception is so bad that if I take what I think is a light (jumping) seat I'm actually pretty close to dressage! Keeping this lighter seat does make Beets move a lot more freely though, which is great for all the walk sections.
I look really bored this time - I wasn't!
After a prolonged wee which he saved until entering the arena, we started with walking down the centre line, which is tricky for me. I was struggling to keep him straight even though I was sending him forwards as much as I dared without sending him into trot. The movements were OK - I think I judged the 10m circles at A and C correctly - and the transitions were mostly OK. I was struggling a bit to get him into the corners and to get him to bend on the bendy bits and stay straight on the straight bits! We finished off with a nice final halt.
Me with Beets, Eleanor with Boysie and Gillian being very busy looking after us all!
On the way back down to the fields where most of the day's activities were taking place we had a chance to check the scores from the canter test. I came 3rd in that class with a score that was good enough to qualify but not the right placing. I didn't really mind too much, because I knew it was quite a tough class and I knew that although I rode OK there were definitely others that were better than me - and who had the home advantage of not having their horse baffled by ugly-face horses in the mirrors and distracted by the view out of the arena at A! I was happy with 3rd - it is the first time ever, in my entire life, that I have come third in a riding competition, so I have finally now completed the set of rosettes from 1st to 5th. Olivia came fourth in the same class and, like me, wasn't too upset since she also had another qualifying class to come, and she also felt that although she hadn't made any mistakes she didn't quite have Jacko going as well as he could (apparently he was being a bit lazy - which is unusual!). Another reason I was happy with third was that it meant I could probably take a different horse to Hartpury, if I qualified in the second test. 
Dressage with Boysie back in January
I'd like to ride Boysie as I get on with him much better in dressage, and although I have now cantered on him and had a lovely time, at the time of Oaklands I had never cantered him and we weren't really sure how easy his canter would be for me to contain. 
Same again.
After a bit of time spent watching everybody else from Cambs College the scores from my second test went up. I had come second, with a score above 60%, so had qualified - hooray! Eleanor, also from Cambs College, had come first, which she really deserved as she rides beautifully. Since she is unable to go to Hartpury I am hoping that I will pinch her horse (Boysie) and leave Beets at home! We just have to check that Boysie can be controlled over jumps for the showjumping competition...
We could even take Rolo! Maybe...but probably not. He is very strong and I do love Boysie.
With my tests done, I was able to relax and enjoy the competition a bit more. Unfortunately the fact that we were down in a field and the unled dressage was taking place in the arena up the hill meant that I couldn't go and see many more dressage tests that my friends were in - when I'd done my tests I'd hitched a ride on Beets but he was now busy doing other things! I got to watch the Countryside Challenge, though, and the led dressage tests which took place just alongside. Cambs College riders seemed to be going very well in both, and everyone was having a nice time relaxing in the sun in between their classes. 
And, of course, there was time to tell Beets what a clever boy he'd been.
By the end of the day, we had quite a few people who had qualified for Hartpury:
Me - jumping Level 2 and Grade I-V walk and trot dressage
Olivia - jumping Level 3 and Grade III dressage
Jodie - Countryside Challenge 
Anne - Countryside Challenge
Eleanor - Grade II dressage and Grade I-V walk and trot dressage (although you can only do one dressage test, and as it happens she will be in Canada for the competition anyway, which is a shame - next year!)
Anne riding Danny, with super helper Helen.
As well as the qualifying classes, we had some more success in the non-qualifying dressage tests:
Anne - first place in ID unled walk and trot
Emily - first place in ID led walk and trot
Rebecca - first place in ID led walk only
The brilliant Miss Emily, casually walking away with silverware at her first *ever* riding competition!
I can't remember all of the placings for everyone else, but there were rosettes for everyone, including Carly, Lucy, and Claire. So, all in all, a good day! I now have to decide if I want to enter a Kur class (freestyle dressage to music). I probably won't this year, as I would only be able to do walk and trot and I'd rather do a vaulting class instead, if possible. For now, I need to practise dressage and jumping on Boysie - and I'm looking forward to it!
I love this gorgeous, clever horse!

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