By Audris Griffith
As I write this, I’m five months and fifteen days away from arriving in Houston to compete in the 2019 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Dressage Championship. I am thrilled. And I am scared to death. I’m a late-in-life-rider who is showing Training Level on my late-to-start-dressage-horse and having a blast, alongside a major serving of butterflies before each test we ride. Anticipation of this event, which for me is both joyous and nerve wracking, has put this season of my life in a new perspective.
At 57 years of age, and with no riding background whatsoever from my youth, I decided I wanted to seriously study the Pyramid of Training and ride local schooling shows. Although I did not have the opportunity to learn to ride as a child, and adulthood left no time for horses until I neared retirement, my lifelong love of horses raged on relentlessly. I decided to jump in the deep end and learn dressage after I watched three barn friends compete in a show in Dripping Springs, Texas. I admired their gumption, their riding ability, and the way they and their horses “danced” together in the arena. I wanted to be like them, and I wanted to use the schooling shows to match feedback from judges with what I heard from my trainer and my own perceptions of how well my horse and I were progressing.
I am fortunate to have a horse partner who is patient and forgiving. Eduardo de Regente RIS, known to his barn friends as Lalo, is a 15.2h grey Azteca (Andalusian X Quarter Horse). He is not the long-legged, elegant dressage horse who can sweep across the arena with grace and power. He is hardworking, honest, and shows up with a can do attitude each time we work together. He does not have large, expressive gaits to wow observers. He does have a remarkable consistency and a personality that wins over those around him.
We are fortunate to have access to the Central Texas Dressage Society GMO, and with my stomach in the back of my throat, Lalo and I entered our first schooling show in January 2018. The blood was pounding in my ears, and I vaguely remember the Intro Level tests passing without us making fools of ourselves. Lalo patiently and competently executed the few maneuvers at that level, and I tried valiantly to stay out of his way. I do remember our patient, and sometimes long-suffering, trainer, Laura Boone, smiling as we exited the arena after the third test, saying we did well. I wanted to find a bush behind which I could throw up. She wanted to talk about what we would work on in our next lesson. Lalo wanted a carrot.
I do not possess natural ability for riding generally, and dressage specifically. I do have a strong work ethic and am committed to read all that I could about this elegant sport. I watch videos and study how talented riders position their bodies. I strive to be like those more skilled than I and have my aids seamlessly communicate with Lalo versus being the blaring foghorn they can be if I am left to my own devices. (Picture here my first attempt at a leg yield, and you should see the Leaning Tower of Pisa sitting in a saddle.) I experience moments of joy when I find the effectiveness of the outside rein, and I feel like crying after a ride where I was so stiff Lalo might as well have had an ironing board in the saddle to tote around the arena. And then I experience the next little breakthrough in our training, when I feel his first steps of lengthening at the trot or he sits down in collection on a 10M canter circle, and I believe we can move forward.
Lalo and I continued to compete last year in local schooling shows and moved forward to Training Level. “Round and through”, “round and through”, “round and through”, I heard from Laura until I felt that mantra was tattooed inside my eyelids. Lalo and I steadily raised our scores, and I got to the point where the butterflies in my stomach became a familiar part of test prep rather than an urge to empty the contents of my stomach. Then Laura said we should enter a recognized show, and I should aim to qualify for the 2019 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Dressage Championships in Houston. She said it will be fun. She said we are ready to push forward. She said Lalo and I have the ability to move forward together. Lalo just wanted another carrot. I wanted a bush to go behind.
We continued to school First Level and worked hard at our Training Level movements. We entered the Austin Dressage Unlimited Blue-Haired Special in Dripping Springs in March, and earned our qualifying scores for the Regional Championship. I watched the USDF website daily, waiting for our names to be posted on the GAIG/USDF Regional Championships Qualified Horse and Rider List. The day I saw our names listed, I grinned from ear to ear and all of the frustrating moments (when I wondered if I would ever improve and get the feel of dressage rather than thinking the movements) faded away.
Step by step, we will train together to prepare for the Regional Championships. I hope Lalo and I ride the tests well enough that Laura smiles. I know that Lalo will get his carrot. And, I anticipate that in five months and fifteen days, I will be a better rider than I am today. For now, I’m off to the barn to get ready for the USDF Justice For All show this weekend. I need to pack our gear…and the butterflies of anticipation.