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Louise Curran Stepping Up

Louise Curran STEPPING UP!

Louise and Gandalf Jessica Atkins Photographics

Written by Louise Curran

Im doing something a bit different with this blog. Instead of simply reflecting on whats been happening in my world, Im writing it in two parts. Part one has been written in the lead up to a competition and part two has been written in the aftermath sort of a before and after deal.

So, in the lead up

In a few weeks time, Gandalf and I will have our first start at Medium Tour level in the Intermediate A and the Intermediate B. These are the tests that introduce all the movements that are in the Grand Prix tests and theyre hard! In my case, the achievement will not just be riding the tests but this time before, where we try to master the tricky stuff and make it look like we know what were doing.

For the first time the before is more of a challenge than the actual competition!

Gandalf has done a consistently super job at Small Tour with great scores in the Prix St Georges and the Intermediate 1. Logically its time to step up to the next level. Up to now, each step up a grade has been a simple progression with the tests gradually becoming more complicated and building on movements that have been mastered earlier. Its reasonable to expect that the Medium Tour tests will do the same thing, right?

Nope! There is seriously new stuff here. Like one tempi flying changes. Like passage and piaffe. Even the stuff thats not new is newly difficult. Like half passes so steep that they would be easier to ride on an octopus than a horse, and counter changes of hand where you need to count, accurately, the number of strides. That means that you cant do what I usually do and drift a little bit one way, then change, then drift a sort of equal amount the other way. Nope, this time someones actually counting and they expect you to get it right!

The preparation process so far has gone something like this.

Step one: read through the tests. OK, they dont look too bad weve been working on all that stuff and were actually not too bad at most of it on our arena at home. This will be fine!

Step two: ride some of the movements, accurately, exactly as they are in the test, not wherever I feel like doing them. OK, panic time this is not so easy! In fact, is some of that stuff even possible?!  Those super steep canter half passes in the Inter A must be a typo!

Step three: start working hard!! Have lessons with my super coach, David Shoobridge, who insists on accuracy and excellence and is supportive, empathetic and accepts absolutely no excuses for anything not done to the highest possible standard. Work out ways to train for accuracy and excellence at home.  Put cones on the arena at key points to show where I have to be at a certain part of the test. Pick up the cones each time I knock them over. Remember to concentrate on preparation and the transitions between the movements, not just on the movements themselves. Go through the highs and lows of being fabulous one day and a total disaster the next because I can ride / cant ride;  am fit enough / am nowhere near fit; know the test backwards / cant remember any of it; Gandalf is beautifully on the aids and in front of the leg / Gandalf thinks hes a donkey.

Step four: get to a point where I can actually put together the Inter A and the Inter B tests in a way that makes me think we wont totally disgrace ourselves at the next competition. Go through the rationalisation of telling myself that its only a dressage competition; its not the end of the world if were a total disaster; its important to remember that its just our first crack at this level; the luxury of stressing about a dressage competition is very much a first world problem. Do a pretty good job of believing all that for about ten minutes.

Then I realise that it does matter to me. Its what Im passionate about and the best thing to do is to embrace the nerves and uncertainty and go at it with all the positive energy and drive that I can muster.  I need to harness the nerves into focus and determination to be able to give it our absolute best shot.

The only problem with that is that it leaves absolutely nothing to hide behind accepting that its important and committing to give it everything means that Im throwing away the justifications and any possible excuses. Well either be good enough or we wont.

And in the back of my mind is the totally irrational fear that some well-meaning person will, at some time over the weekend, break it to me that were really not quite ready for this level.

As a friend said, when I shared this thought with her Whos going to do that?  No-one would do that!  Doesnt mean that the irrational fear of it doesnt exist.

So, in the week leading up to the competition Im a bundle of focused and committed nerves with a whole lot of irrational worries running around my head. Weirdly enough, when you put it in that context, Im still really looking forward to the weekend!

Now fast forward to the competition.

One of the best things about competing these days is that we have a group of people who train with David Shoobridge and have come together as a cohesive, encouraging, supportive and fun team. Were all competitive in our own right and have become so closely connected that each others performances are just as important to us as our own. Its an amazing privilege to be part of this group and as well as the practical support and all the laughs, it gives me an emotional safety net knowing that if everything does fall apart, theres a whole lot of people who will help me put it back together.

On the flip side, when things go well, theres a group who genuinely and enthusiastically celebrate each others successes and get excited about all sorts of different achievements.

Louise and Gandalf Jessica Atkins Photographics

For this competition the team was there in force and, in an amazing stroke of serendipity, the Medium Tour competition on both days consisted of three of us, and only the three of us, who train together and support each other as we move up the levels. It was a bit like having our own little competition staged just for us!

So, into the fray for the Inter A on day one. My first, somewhat disturbing, realisation was that none of my competition clothes really fit anymore! In fact, the first comment of the day from our super coach who was there to warm us up and cheer us on, was Looking good Lou, but you need to get those tails taken in!

Its six months since Ive competed and Ive been working on fitness pretty diligently. The fact that Im taking Rose-Hip Vital means that these days I really can get stuck into the fitness work and the body doesnt object. Im fitter than Ive been in a long while and at the same time Ive changed shape and although I realised this, I didnt even think of trying on my competition gear beforehand. Ooops!

Never mind better that problem than the opposite. At least everything was comfortable! Next stop needs to be The Dancing Horse Shop where I can get myself sorted with some stylish competition gear that fits!

David had us performing at our best as we went into the first test and it all worked. It will never be an easy test to ride it just doesnt flow but our goal for the weekend was to be able to execute every movement in a competent manner and we absolutely achieved that. We got some great scores and a final score I was really pleased with.

Even more exciting, the three of us competing together were within less than two marks of each other in the final results and all of us rode comprehensive personal bests. There was champagne to celebrate that night in the team camp!

Day two and the Inter B was another super day. Its a more demanding test although much nicer to ride, if that makes any sense. It flows more than the Inter A but at the same time demands more from horse and rider at this stage its my favourite.

The scores werent quite so stellar but they were still surprisingly good and once again the three of us competing together were within a mark or so of each other. Another great team day with huge achievements to celebrate and the excitement of knowing were on the right track.

One of the highlights of the weekend was when the friend who Id confided my fear of not being ready for the level came up to me after shed watched the Inter B test and said Lou, you absolutely do belong at this level! That was the icing on the cake.

So, our learning journey continues and were having a blast. Being back in the competition arena after six months really concentrates the mind and shows very clearly the areas that need heaps more work and the parts that are good and could be better which is pretty much most of it really!

I was thrilled that after the break from competing I was able to manage the competition nerves and didnt revert to my old habit of freezing and then riding like a marshmallow looks like weve got that one sorted. It appears, however, that my next challenge is to breathe. The comment of the weekend came from one of the Inter A judges who said to my husband (aka General Manager Equine), Your wife would be great at underwater sports its quite an achievement to hold your breath for six minutes!!!

So breathing, training, searching for excellence and having fun together as a team. Thats the plan and, as Im constantly reminded, success is usually the result of a well-executed plan!

Louise and her boys  Gone Riding Media

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