I’ve competed before, up the yard, but never with my white jodhs on. The addition of them, for the first riding club competition of the year, seemed to make a huge difference to my attitude. Previously, I had simply rocked up in my usual whatever, but the degree of planning required to ferry the white clothes up there unscathed, and to keeping them pristine… it was extreme. I had a plan and it mainly worked, and after all was said and done, my clothes did indeed had as much to do with the whole shootin’ match as did the actual dressage test and the showjumping course.
In fact, I think that the riding part is only about 20%. So here’s my breakdown
20% RIDER PREP: Not just learning the test or practicing jumping a variety of combinations of fences. I had the famous white jodhs for years and due to The Injury never even took them out of their plastic cover. I didn’t even try them on until about two hours before I left for the yard. Luckily, no unfortunate surprises there. I had a white blouse and jacket, and the blouse was fine, but I couldn’t even move my arms in the jacket (neither of those had ever been worn in practice, either.) I got a white V-neck T shirt and called it good.
My sports bra is black, though, so sure, I’ll just wear a white bra, I thought. Except that when I started riding, the support was, er, less than excellent and the bra straps kept slipping down my arms. A large part of my warm up was devoted to yanking them back into place.
20% HORSE PREP: I solved this problem by asking the pony girls to plait Connell.
I made zero effort to figure this out. I had no elastics, and didn’t take the time to find a Youtube tutorial. I wish I had a shot of his tail, it was spectacular. Anyway, I’ll have to find out how long this took and work out how to do it for myself.
Also: grooming, which had already been done, and which saved me time + pristineness of jodhs.
20% WHAT TIME IS IT: When should I mount? Should I bring him up to the arena? Do I have time to stop sweating before I even bother doing any of the above? Should I wear my body protector or just wait? How many people can I ask all these questions until I actually have to do something?
20% WARM UP: How much is too much? How much is not enough? Connell was sticky AF during this section, distracted by all the activity, which is unlike him — so it must have been me. It was hot, to be fair — and as an actor knows how to find her light, Con knew how to find his shade. I kept a good, strong contact in the last few passes I took with him, through transitions, until it was our time to go, to let him know we both needed to stay on our toes. That was maybe the only thing I did right in this per cent.
20% ACTUAL RIDING: The dressage went well, even though I realised that I had never actually ridden the whole test from start to finish. Our riding club clinic had broken it down into its constituent parts and I hadn’t the chance in either of my intervening lessons to put it all together.
I wasn’t worried, because we are both happy with enough with riding tests. He continued sticky for the first half — as reflected in the notes, we had such a good judge — but we got there in the end. I felt the things we did incorrectly, or not as well as we could, and just kept moving. Hit an excellent transition into canter and knew that as well, and had a good halt at the end. Horse and rider got equal marks! A first!
Spoiler alert: we came second because the showing jumping portion, only eight fences, was not great. I stayed on, and got round, but had 8 faults, mainly due to a) psyching myself out because the fences suddenly looked too high and b) not even bothering to take a few practice fences.
Why? Because it felt like we’d been there, up in the arena, in the heat and the dust for about a million hours and I was done. So somewhere, maybe in the rider prep, is the psychological/mental toughness required to pace one’s own thoughts and energy — or something.
Also, there is the extra 10% that is pulling out the plaits when your horse just wants to hit the fields and is therefore throwing his head all over the place with impatience, and then untacking and putting the tack away, and that’s the end of your blinding white jodhpurs.
The competition was a smashing success, not only because of the actual opportunity to do an event like this in the proper clothing, but also because of all the other stuff I learned…
Oh! The judge asked, when we were riding the test, whether Con and I were a regular pair. When told yes, she said she could tell, we really looked like we knew each other well. Or something! It was a real justification for all the work I’ve put in with him!