The short version :
I did an Equifeel competition with Aero on Sunday in Manosque. Our first outing in roughly a year. I was very pleased with him, he was super-calm, attentive and connected (with me, mentally. Not in the dressage sense of the word). We did two competitions; seven tasks in each competition; did a couple of things for maximum points; finished up third in each competition.
Ok, if my Equifeel stories bore you to tears, you can leave now.
Here’s the long version.
The first issue was that my horse box (remember? hole in floor?) is not quite finished yet. The new floor is in, but we have decided to put a rubber compound over it instead of laying the rubber mats back down. So we ended up taking MC’s trailer, with Quieto and Aero aboard. And Aero has a reputation for being something of a cannibal when travelling with other horses… and MC’s trailer is maybe forty years old and was built back in the days before someone thought of putting a divider up front between the horses’ heads…
Well, it’s not too far to Manosque, maybe a little over half an hour. We tied the two of them up as short as we dared, crossed our fingers and off we went. And there wasn’t a peep out of them. Even so, distant memories still stirred in my brain of the time we arrived at Aghabullogue hunter trials, having been kindly offered a lift by a livery. We unloaded Aero and were in the process of tacking him up when said kind livery came over to us and asked “Do you have any antiseptic?” Puzzled, I went to look at her horse – the poor guy was covered in bleeding bites, pretty much from his ears to his withers… shame on you, Aero!
We unloaded the horses as soon as we arrived and, thank goodness, Quieto was unmarked. Phew. We tied them to a couple of conveniently placed trees and let them pick at the grass while we waited. In the rain. I forgot to mention that as soon as we crossed the Luberon, the rain started. But it wasn’t too bad, just a heavy drizzle. Quite Irish, really.
There was a dressage competition finishing up, so we had a while to go but, finally, we made our way over to the warmup. Perhaps a little earlier than Aero needed, in hindsight. Quieto needed it, though; he was on high alert. There were lions and zebras and even a demon running around all over the place. Seriously! It was the dressage-to-music thing that they do over here, so there were loads of little kids in fancy dress! Aero wasn’t bothered by them; he knew they were children, but Quieto was convinced that they were horse-eating monsters. MC was trying a new technique to calm him, asking him to lower his head and concentrating on breathing calmly herself while she did so. It seemed to work, but it took a while.
Meanwhile, Aero and I ‘connected’ quite quickly. And we stayed in the warm-up, connecting, for over an hour. Which was definitely too long, for both of us.
The first task was Reverse-and Return. We did this for twenty points, were he had to reverse for six metres, over a pole on the ground. Reversing is absolutely his Party Piece now. He was perfection.
Next task was Compas, or turn on the forehand. The options here are 10 points for a quarter circle, 15 points for a half circle and 20 points for a full circle, but you may not touch the horse if you’re doing the 15 or 20 point option. I played conservative here and went for the 10 point option. We could probably have done the half circle. Next time!
The rain was pelting down at this stage, but things were rolling along nicely. We moved on to our next task, slalom. The options here were 10 points to do it with a normal lead rope, 15 points to do it with the lead rope attached via a light elastic band and 20 points to do it at liberty. Slalom is something I don’t practise often enough. We had to go for the ten point option, which we did just fine. No photos of this section, my photographer had gone to the indoor arena to watch her children. And to be dry for a while.
Next was Deplacement Lateral, side pass in English I suppose. The same options for 10, 15 or 20 points. We are good at this and did it for 15 points. Should have gone for 20…
Next up was the Bache, tarpaulin. I bravely said 20 points and unclipped the lead rope. Aero stepped onto the tarpaulin and then seemed to be veering away from me. Eek… I raised my whip and said “Whoa”; he stopped for the required five seconds on the tarp and then walked on again. Phew!
Two tasks to go; we headed to the indoor school for a nice respite from the rain. The first task here was the Trèfle, or cloverleaf. Same options again, 10 points on a normal lead rope, 15 points with the lead rope attached via a light elastic band and 20 points to do it at liberty. I went for 15 points. He was super, head at my shoulder the whole time. Should have gone for 20…
Our last task was the Essui-Glace, windshield wiper in English! There’s a single jump and a control zone for the handler. The handler must stay in the zone, the horse must stay out of it. Aero understands this game; he jumps, watches for the turn signal, turns and jumps again. I dithered. 20 points or 15? It was set up in quite a large area, at the open end of the arena, looking out into the car park. Maybe he would be distracted and I would lose our connection… “15 points” I said, and I attached the elastic.
I sneakily led him past the jump so he knew what was coming up before I sent him off. He trotted off obediently towards the jump and, somehow, the elastic snapped, without me feeling the slightest pull on it. Zero points straight away. He popped the jump, turned and popped it again. #shouldhavegonefor20
I had also entered the Elite section. Not because we are super-brilliant or anything, but I figured we might as well have a full day’s worth of entertainment. I looked at my soaked, now-shivering horse and doubted the wisdom of this decision. He was the only horse there that seemed to be feeling the cold, poor sensitive creature that he is! I borrowed a rug and kept him covered in between tasks from then on.
The Elite section was not radically different to the Club section. It had the same Reverse/Return, then there was Pivot (turn on the haunches) instead of Compas. Reverse/Return was fine, Compas was not. He stepped out of the circle, but the nice girl judging it didn’t seem to notice!
We went to the indoor arena next. There was a heap of poles higgledy-piggledy in the middle of the cloverleaf markers. The horse had to traverse the heap twice. Once again, we did it for fifteen points. No problem.
We had a pause then, waiting for our turn at the last section. I got colder and wetter and thought wistfully of getting home and falling asleep beside the fire… At least Aero was covered with a rug, but he too really began to switch off at this stage.
We had the same slalom, but I had to carry an umbrella this time. If you saw my entry for Interdressage last month, you’ll know that an umbrella is not a problem to Aero. However, holding it consistently over my head seems to be a problem for me and I incurred a -2 penalty for allowing it to drop.
We moved on to the Deplacement Lateral, but by now we were both well past our ‘Best Before’ date. He stepped over the pole in the Deplacement Lateral, incurring another -2 penalty. He wasn’t concentrating on me and I was too slow to spot that he was creeping forward.
Finally, on to the last task. A double. The first part was two oil drums on their sides and the last part was a large bridge filler that you’d put under a show jump, maybe 80cm high, 70cm wide. I set Aero up at the start and we set off. Quite unenthusiastically. He ground to a halt in front of the barrels and then stepped over them. One foot at a time. Not easy to do, but he did it. I tried to rev him up a bit for the bridge thingy, but he was still totally switched off. Ground to a halt in front of it and considered stepping over it. Nope, not a good idea! I reversed him and we charged at it again, with me trying to get him a bit more excited about it. It worked, and he flew over it.
Phew! Finished! was all I could think. I’m sure Aero felt the same. I covered him up once more with the now-soaking rug and tied him onto the side of the trailer with Quieto on the other side, hay nets in front of their faces. The prize giving was ready to roll – I think everyone else wanted to get home and dry off just as much as I did.
MC and Quieto won both sections, Club and Elite. Her calming down technique had worked a treat and Quieto was a star, doing almost everything at liberty. Alexandrine was in second place in Elite, beaten by her Mum! And Aero and I came away with two third places,two rosettes, two more little plaques, a bag of horse treats and a key ring.
All in all, it was a long and tiring day. I remember when I did the Equifeel at Nanse last year with both horses, I was exhausted having done ten tasks with each horses. The mental focus required for each task is very tiring and it must surely be just as wearing for the horses. I know that, next time out, I don’t want to do more than fifteen minutes of warm-up with Aero beforehand – he doesn’t need it and it just added to his fatigue.
I also know that we’ll be trying a few more twenty point options next time!