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Getting back in the sand arena

horse riding in a sand arena
Written by Andrea Parker

Last weekend Nonie and I had our first time back in the sand arena as Brisbane-it’s. This also happened to be our first competition in over six months.

The lead up

My first proper ride last week was on Tuesday (Nonie had a body work session on Sunday so Monday was strictly a stretching day) and the nerves had well and truly set in. I rode terribly.

A good discussion with Steve helped get me out of my head. A few deep breathes helped me to reset and the next day we had a much better ride.


On Saturday morning we made our way down to the Redlands and Southern District Equestrian Group grounds and helped set up the arena. With my job done I drove the 5 minutes back to Nonie’s paddock for a ride.

We had a low key but magic ride! I wanted to keep the work fairly easy as the day before a competition you aren’t going to learn something new. I did want to have a look at the changes – something we can always do with a little more practice on. With Nonie feeling straight and soft pretty quickly we had a look at the changes. Left to right is rarely a problem and this was true on Saturday – if anything she gets over eager and wants to prove that she can do them, popping them in earlier than needed.

The right to left is late behind if I don’t have her perfectly straight and a good quality canter. I also have to sit up and wait for her to change, rather than throwing my upper body at her and pushing her balance onto the forehand. On our second attempt we produced a beautiful clean and expressive change which left me grinning like an idiot. I called it quits at that.

Competition Day

Sunday morning dawned crisp and clear. After the nerves of earlier that week I felt excited to get out. At least I was until I got Nonie off the float at the RASDEG grounds. The grounds back onto a large sporting complex and being a Sunday it was filled with screaming children playing some sport where they chase balls (weird!).

She came off the float did her best impression of a giraffe and looked like someone had put redbull in her coffee for breakfast.

I popped her into yard and left her with a haynet for company while I got myself organised.

As time ticked by I realised I hadn’t actually allowed myself enough time to do all her usual finishing touches and warm up. So with just a quick brush I saddled up sparkly SD Design boots and all and headed out to the warm up.

With the dulcet tones of children screaming and whistles blasting Nonie felt hot. She took a disliking to one of the other two horses in the arena and prepared to do another impression. This time it was a spinning top that took her fancy. I quickly made the decision to move down to the fenced sand arena that was blissfully empty.

Time passed quickly and I just felt like I couldn’t get it together. She was stiff and heavy on the right rein. This should have been a clear giveaway that I just needed to get her straight. Oh and breathe!

But the nerves had suppressed the better part of my common sense. There was still enough making its way out that I decided to call it quits and not push anymore in the warmup. Given where my mindset was at I think this was actually one of the better decisions I could have made.

We went into the ring feeling less than prepared. The judges horn sounded and I even forgot my usual pre-ring positive affirmation. The test felt atrocious to me. But a quick break somehow allowed me to shake it off pull it together for the next test.

As soon as I entered the sand arena for the second test warm up I felt myself breathing in rhythm and made a conscious effort to focus on what I needed to do rather than what wasn’t happening.

The test was riddled with mistakes, 2 errors of course (Andrea will you ever learn your tests correctly ????????‍♀️) and an improptu tempi change, bringing our score down to 56%. But I was still much happier with this second test. We felt more together. But there is still a lot of room for improvement!

(YouTube links to me below.)


On reflection perhaps it was a mistake for us to have been out competing so soon after such a major upheaval in our lives. She had only just started to settle down and produce the quality of work I know we are capable of at home after the move. But at the same time I am glad this first one is done and dusted.

We have two big competitions coming up over the next two months. I have a plan to make sure we give ourselves the best chance for success at these but that’s for another post!


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About the author


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.


  • Sounds like all things considered it went fantastically! You’ll be ready for anything having coped with the screaming kids…!
    Good luck with the two coming up! Xx

  • Sounds like all things considered it went fantastically! You’ll be ready for anything having coped with the screaming kids…!
    Good luck with the two coming up! Xx

  • The first one is always the worst one, so I think getting it out of the way was a good choice! Next one will go much better ???? You both look fab