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The Year I Fell In Love With Competing

Written by Andrea Parker

In 2015, I Fell In Love With Competing And In Doing So, I Fell In Love With Dressage All Over Again

While this may not seem like a big revelation, for me it is. Throughout 2014, I questioned whether I would ever compete again as a result of several bad experiences. My life had changed tremendously over the past two years.

I had graduated from university, moved away from home, secured my first job as a Dietitian and began competing without my mum and support person extraordinaire. I had failed to fully acknowledge the impact that this had on me not only emotionally, but also upon my riding.

The season prior to graduating from university had been a successful one in my eyes at least. I foolishly expected that this success would continue when I was once again able to get back in the ring. What’s more my access to training at the time was limited resulting in the formation of a number of bad habits.

These things combined with the enormous amount of pressure I had piled on myself left me in a situation where competing was not fun anymore.

horse comp

A weekend in early 2014, that was the final nail in my coffin is one that I can recall with absolute clarity. My lack of planning meant that I hadn’t allowed myself enough time to finish getting Nonie ready nor did I have time to warm up properly. Like a bad CD jammed on repeat the thought kept running through my brain, ‘I hate this, it feels awful’. We entered the ring nervous and tense, Nonie spooking at the arena boards.

Needless to say we didn’t put our best work forward in the arena.

After shedding more than a few tears upon my return home that night and with some words of encouragement from my ever sensible partner, I made the decision to leave the competition area and focus on training the remainder of the year. The year passed by and I was enjoying riding enough, my motivation to improve saw me out riding every afternoon, even in the absence of a competition to prepare for.

At The Beginning Of 2015, My Ambition Resurfaced

I had always wanted to compete at an Equestrian Queensland State Dressage Championships and I had decided this would be the year I would finally do it. I was sure that my sole focus on training over the previous 12 months, had resulted in the solidification of our skills.

I was cautiously optimistic that this would translate into once again being successful in the competition arena. Our ‘first’ outing was set to be a low key local training day. We went out and rode a prelim test, which would have kindly been described as ‘calm’, but I was ecstatic that my nerves had stayed safely suppressed and we hadn’t blown the test.

dressage comp

With a renewed sense of confidence, I quickly nominated for a slightly bigger training day in a town 1.5 hours away. In the week leading up to this competition my nerves steadily grew, our training was not as effective as it could have been. I had become short and snappy with my partner. I quickly realised the error I had made in the assumption that training a horse gives you all the skills you need to be a successful competitor.

With the feeling of having nothing to lose, I finally made the decision to contact Danielle Pooles from Dressage Plus just two days before that competition.

Over the course of an hour Danielle helped me to explore my fears, understand their source and what the outcome might be if my fears did indeed eventuate.

One of the most important questions Danielle asked me was “Will the outcome of this one competition or test be important to you in one month, one year or five years down the track?” For me this was so helpful in regaining perspective and detaching myself from the outcome. Additionally, Danielle taught me several practical strategies to help me better manage my nerves. The result was a competition where we not only performed well in our tests, but also had fun from start to finish.

I continued to work with Danielle for the rest of the year and the skills that I developed over those first 12 months were invaluable. We qualified for our first ever EFA State Championships and finished in the top 10 at Preliminary up against some very talented horse and rider combinations. Another significant achievement was riding our first elementary test at the end of that year.

For me one of the most fundamental things that has changed with regards to my mindset has been letting go of the need for each test to be a perfect performance, which would highlight how hard I had worked, and instead allowing it to be what it is meant to be; a litmus test that highlights success in our training and exposing area’s which require further development.

I had let go of the need for each test to be a perfect performance, which would highlight how hard I had worked, and instead allowing it to be what it is meant to be; a litmus test that highlights success in our training and exposing…

I’d love to hear about your experiences out competing with horses.

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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.