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Louise Curran Small Tour Champion at The Winter Championships, Boneo Park

Louise Curran Small Tour Champion at The Winter Championships, Boneo Park
Louise Curran, Small Tour Champion
The Winter Championships at Boneo Park
Boneo Park
Written by Louise Curran

Sometimes you have a day of competition where everything starts to fall into place and all the hard work and hours of training actually pay off.  The Winter Championships at Boneo Park were a day like that for Gandalf and I.  We managed to achieve personal best scores to win both the Prix St Georges and the Intermediate 1 tests and, as a result, were awarded the Small Tour Championship.  What a day!!

As you can imagine, we were pretty excited and my resolve to be calm and collected when I look at the scores went completely out the window.  I was totally inelegant!  A week later the trophy and rosettes are sitting in a very prominent place and I'm still on a bit of a high.

We had a very different lead up to this competition if only we could do it before every comp!  In the week before the competition, Gandalf, Fred and I, along with a group of friends who are all very dedicated and focused riders, moved into Boneo Park for an intensive clinic with our coach, David Shoobridge.  It was an amazing opportunity to immerse ourselves in the intricacies of dressage training under the guidance of a coach who insists on excellence at every step and unstintingly offers the support that helps us to achieve it.

And boy, was that support called on during the week!  One of the reasons that I love dressage is that its an area of my life where I'm on a very steep learning curve and the building of knowledge and skill is an intensely challenging and rewarding pursuit.

In my professional life I generally feel completely confident and competent.  Dressage is a complete contrast to that and I love the huge challenge it presents and even the vulnerability that results.  Im really still just working out how to do all this, and in putting myself out there to be judged, Im stepping way outside my competence comfort zone.

For example, the first ride of any clinic is a bit nerve wracking for me as we strut our stuff under our coach's eagle eye.  Have we made progress since he last saw us?  Is everything still on track?  Or that thought that's always in the back of my mind have I gone completely off track and just stuffed it all up?!

Thankfully, I was given the thumbs up for both horses, even young Fred who has been a bit of a brat at home lately.  In fact, Fred confounded me by working beautifully and behaving superbly in that first lesson.  It didn't last I'm coming to that!

So, smooth sailing on day one. There's still lots to work on with Gandalf as we focus now on the quality of each movement and achieving genuine engagement and self carriage but its all progressing in huge leaps.  My beautiful grey partner, who not so long ago could barely leave his paddock, is now the superstar of the stable and continues to astound us with his talent and his new mindset.

The horse is extraordinary now, as much as anything, its about me developing the feel.  Having never experienced dressage at this level, its taking a bit to get there.  Theory is fine but translating it into practice can be damned difficult!

Lie the right canter pirouette on day two!  How can the left one be so good and the right one be such a disaster?  I won't go into all the torturous details;  suffice to say I was disappointed (aka seriously pissed off and upset) at my inability to get it.  At this point, coach and team swung into support mode they have far more confidence in my ability than I do.    A relaxed dinner with a few drinks put life back into perspective and we were ready for day three.

One of the highlights of the week was spending it with a group of people who care about each other, support each others progress, offer encouragement and advice when things aren't going so well and genuinely celebrate the successes together.  And there were plenty of successes to celebrate!  After the intensive clinic, each of the team achieved significant personal bests in the competition on the weekend   it was a happy team at the end of the competition!

On day three Gandalf and I finally got the right pirouette under control (more or less!) and it was Fred's turn to convince me that I couldn't ride. He decided to exercise his five-year-oldness and was simply resistance personified.  You want flexion?  Nope.  You want control of the shoulders?  Nah cant have it.  You want forward?  OK, as long as I can go flat out, on my terms.  And no matter how hard I worked, I simply couldn't get the responses we needed.


Louise and her boys Cil Dara Gandalf & Fiodore

Time to watch the master at work.  I bailed, David took over and Fred very quickly understood that, with a real horseman on board, resistance was simply not an option.  It was inspiring (and a bit frustrating!) to watch how easily superior expertise, quiet authority and a calm approach had such an instant effect.  In a very short time, I was watching a very flash young horse perform superbly.   Once again, the horse has bucket loads of talent; we just have to sort out the rider!   When I jumped back on Fred, he felt amazing.  Now all I have to do is keep that going.  Easy!  Yeah, right!!

All of this was leading us into competition day for Gandalf and after some high highs and some low lows during the week it was time to plait up, get into the costume and get out there.

With David there to warm us up for both tests, we went in firing and the first test, the Prix St Georges, felt fantastic.  I was focused, Gandalf was absolutely with me and we put in the best test we've ever ridden.  Thankfully the judges agreed and the smiles on my coach's and support teams faces as we came out of the arena let me know that wed just ridden a ripper of a test.

The Inter 1 was a little less inspiring but nevertheless a personal best and as it was only the third time we've tackled this test I was very pleased.

Are you wondering about the canter pirouette?  The right pirouette, that wed been working on all week, was great and scored really well but the left one was a complete dogs breakfast!  Just as I thought I was getting it..!

Day two of competition was Fred's turn and he put aside all his resistant, teenage type behaviour and gave me a great ride.  He's so much fun to ride and he's going to be something special when we get through the juvenile years in the meantime he's teaching me so much and providing another source of challenge and reward.

Before this intensive week I was wondering how our bodies, human and equine, would stand up to the physical demands of the workload.  To make sure that we all managed to stay on top form I increased our Rose-Hip Vital dosages in the days before we left and throughout the training week.  Although we were tired at the end of it all my body was still in great shape with none of the expected aches and pains the performances from both horses suggest that they were feeling pretty much the same.

So, goals for 2016 are on track and next month Gandalf and I will have been competing together for a year.  We started at Medium level and are now competitive at Small Tour.  Every new step with this horse is a wonderful gift and while its very much one step at a time, we've stopped putting limits on our goals.  Now we just have to see if we can back up this last success in the next competition. Hmmm no pressure!!

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