Right. Once again I am left to apologise for the wait for posts. I’m not quite sure what happens to my time, all I know is that it disappears into some great void never to be seen again. So now I’m forced to plumb the recesses of my memory and write about our National Champs that happened way back on the 5th – 7th of March in Taupo.
I often say to my students that a successful competition is less about the scores and more about achieving the goals you have set for yourself and for me, National Champs was an excellent example of exactly this. On paper the results from Nationals aren’t that impressive however I still came away from the show with a smile on my face.
For Da Vinci, the show was about just one thing - giving him a happy experience in that atmosphere - and he didn't put a foot wrong all weekend. From the outside we’d had an interesting season with him but every show and every class were chosen for a reason. We have the end goal in mind for this horse – to produce an internationally competitive Grand Prix ride. I’ve withdrawn him from classes when the conditions aren’t great and I’ve laughed and taken the pressure off instead of riding for a score when he has shown he’s not happy in the ring. I knew coming into the YDH class that he was unlikely to do well. Despite being of obvious presence and with incredible movement I have chosen to allow him to develop naturally and maintain his natural expression rather than force a frame or demand absolute submission at his age and stage. My trainer Bill Noble often talks about the stability required to score well at the lower grades and the difficulty that this produces when a trainer has to rattle the cage for the upper level movements and energy and I wholeheartedly concur with this theory. Therefore it was no surprise to me when Da Vinci was placed well down the field in both sections. Da Vinci was still in that ‘teenage’ challenging stage to ride plus his incredibly active hind leg in the canter was not at that point matched by his balance – as a result he was finding it difficult getting his forehand out of the way and was sometimes four beating the canter. In saying that we weren’t surprised, it is still not pleasant having the horse you rate so highly slammed, but I am heartened by the fact that Ahlerich didn’t have a great reception in his young horse classes and he nevertheless went on to be a fair competitor in the international arena! As it is, and with no disrespect to the very nice horses in that class (I’ve been trying to pinch the ride on Glamour Star all season!) Da Vinci is still my pick for future international competitor. I guess time will tell if I’m right!!
Definitely the most exciting part of the show for me was my rides on Gosh. The Inter II was a bit of a 'meh' test - he went well enough but not completely consistently through and made some mistakes. However the next day was a revelation when I rode my best Grand Prix to date. Gosh stayed connected and through, over the back and into an elastic contact for the entire test. We still made far too made mistakes in the movements to really score well but overall I was very happy both with how he went and how I rode the test. Of course it was a great help both days to have Bill there to warm me up – a luxury I don’t often have. Despite our mistakes we easily qualified to ride the main class the next day.
About to go in and ride our Grand Prix - connected, engaged and in self carriage.
The piaffe that impresses!
For the final day we rode our musical. At our last competition the music was played so softly I could hardly hear it (and started late – the music appears to be our nemesis!!) so I asked the team at Nationals to play it loud and LOUD it was! Unfortunately the mark to start came as we were right by one of the speakers and as it began Gosh got such a fright he leapt forward and ran into the bridle. It took the first half of the test to get him to stop him from running away and even then he was tense for the remainder. This taught me a great deal about how to ride him when tense and also gave me a tonne of confidence when I saw the scores. We did end up 9th of the 9 CDI*** qualifiers but the scores were very close and if we could be nearly in the placings with such a difficult ride then in my mind we were making progress in the competition arena.
From here it was home to put Da Vinci in the paddock for a couple of weeks rest and to focus on Horse of the Year with Gosh. And what a show that would prove to be!