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Cowgirling up in the dressage competition ring

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Written by Andrea Parker

Competitions in Queensland are synonymous with camping in your horse float, wildlife in the bathrooms, good times with friends and a bit of riding thrown in for good measure. Sometimes you also have to cowgirl up and ride through some nerves. This past weekend at the Townsville Dressage Club Winter Competition was no different. It had been a year since our medium debut at this same competition, I was excited to get out and see how where we were.


Steve, Sailor and I were bundled into the car and on the road by 9.30 on Friday morning. The five hour drive from Mackay to Townsville was both hair raising and enlightening. Early in the drive we were nearly run off the road by a truck who refused to follow basic road rules. Fortunately we came out unscathed but the incident made me feel lightheaded with adrenaline for a good half hour and probably shaved a year or two off my life. We also saw countless drivers make terrible decisions for no good reasons. It was a scary reminder of just how careful you need to be when towing.

We arrived mid afternoon on Friday where I quickly settled Nonie and set up camp. We travel pretty light when it comes to the the human camp – camping beds, camp chairs and cooking gear, so the set up took no time at all. A quick ride to loosen Nonie up and ride through some of the test movements for a final time, then a bath and plaiting up. Thankfully Steve had the foresight to pack a head lamp meaning that I was not plaiting up by the light of the moon.

That evening dining on our elegant dinner of sausages in bread, we had a great time catching up with Emma, a friend from my Pony Club days and Sonya my new friend and surrogate camp mother! The highlight of the evening came when we were discussing Charlotte’s helmet trying to figure out whether or not it was off the rack and had been named after her, or the other way around, when Steve politely reminded us that sound really carried through the camp. It was Emma who first twigged that Steve who does not follow the dressage world actually thought that Charlotte (read Charlotte Dujardin) was at the competition and might have overheard us. It took me a full 10 minutes to recover from that.


In the two week lead up to this competition I had been feeling positive and excited, due in no small part to brilliant lessons with my coaches Dani and Nancy. I was a bit surprised that my nerves weren’t hightened, but sure enough come Friday there they were. By Saturday morning it was like someone had released not a few butterflies but a flock of parrots in my stomach.

Calling on every strategy I had learnt from my mindset coach Danielle Pooles, I attempted to quell my nerves and maintain my focus. And although my nerves were still very much present when I got on Nonie, they were much better managed than they could have been. However, It took me the better part of the warm up to get Nonie straight and on the aids. We managed some reasonable lateral work but she was just a bit flat and I felt awkward in the saddle and she wasn’t quite where I needed her to be.

When the gear steward called my name and Steve, who generously became my strapper for the weekend was no where in sight, I became a little flustered. Logically, there was no issue. I still had plenty of time before my test to get my jacket on and remove Nonie’s boots. But with me being a bit nervous already I wasn’t exactly thinking logically.

Adding to my apparent problems as I entered the competition area from the warm up ring the horse in the ring next to me was napping and spinning. This in addition to my nerves was making Nonie want to misbehave. But we got in there and got down to its. All in all the test had some lovely moments, even scoring an eight for our entry but I didn’t quite have enough focus to set Nonie up for the lateral work and the flying changes the way that I needed.

We also had two errors of course resulting in a score of 58.5% – it would have been my first 60% if it weren’t for those two errors (yes I did the maths).

With an hour between tests I was able to regroup. Steve to his credit also made me have some lunch and rehydrate. I got back on for my elementary test with a totally different mindset and consequently the test was soft and flowed. It was good enough for a 66%.

Why was I so nervous?? I was worried that I would make a mistake and that people would think I was a fool to think my horse and I were good enough to be riding medium. And that my friends, is just the stupidest thing I could have been worried about for two reasons. The first is that no one really cares what anyone else does. And secondly, even if they do care that could never take away from how hard I’ve worked to get to this level. As they say the people that matter don’t mind, and the people that mind don’t matter.


The next morning I woke up determined. Something in my mind had clicked, I genuinely felt like I could post my first 60% score at medium level. And from the moment I got on Nonie it felt better. I focused on what I wanted and how I would make it happen.

While the test was far from perfect I was able to ride each movement and use those precious corners and half circles to set her up for the lateral work. About halfway through the canter work I started to realise we were doing it! We riding a medium test… successfully!! The flying changes were clean and in the right spot and as we cantered down the final centre line she felt beautifully light in the connection. We even nailed a square halt, something that has been somewhat of a sticking point for me

Big pats for Nonie, and a creeping sense of pride at what we had achieved. Something that may mean nothing to others, but to me meant the world. The grin could not be wiped from my face!

Fatigue meant that the elementary test was not as good as it could have been with Nonie getting a little heavy in the hand. As soon as I had finished riding we got down to the last of the packing. Almost done I heard my medium class results get announced over the loud speaker. Had I heard right? Did he say 63%? I could hardly believe it, I ran over to the scoring box and rifled through the pile of tests for my sheet and yep, 63.7%. I was bursting with pride, over the Moon!

With that happy news we loaded Nonie into the float and hit the road. Just an hour into the drive home, my electric brakes started to flash an error code ‘SH’. Well SH*T. We quickly found a safe spot to pull over and Steve confirmed that the wire to the brakes on one side had rubbed through and were shorting out. Fortunately Steve made quick work of repairing my brakes and we were back on the road.

The rest of the trip home was blissfully uneventful and we had Nonie safely tucked into the paddock by 8pm. It was probably one of the most enjoyable competitions I have been to in a long time and I learnt so much about competition riding and focus. While Nonie is enjoying a few days of well earned R’n’R, I’m hanging out to get stuck back into our training and get back out into the ring.

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About the author


Andrea Parker

Andrea is an Adult Amateur dressage rider who competes at medium level on her 13-year-old mare Mon Ami. Andrea shares her journey through the equestrian world on her blog The Sand Arena Ballerina and is working on an equestrian podcast called Equestrian Pulse.