Championnat 2015 – Part 3
I’m going to go back a year before I fill you in on the second day of competition at Le Championnat.
Last year, the Equifeel organising committee introduced a drastic new rule for competition, which was intended to eliminate the possibility of abuse. Any time a competitor touched his/her horse, with the stick or even with the hand, they would incur a penalty of -2. Sounds perfectly reasonable, until you realise that this also means that a competitor cannot even give their horse a reassuring pat or scratch while doing a particular test – all rewards and reassurances must wait until each individual test has been completed. What was even less reasonable was that this new rule was introduced, not AFTER the national championships, but on their eve. Quite literally – it was announced at the coaches briefing session the evening before Le Championnat. Can you think of any equestrian discipline where this would be considered acceptable? Imagine riders turning up at the World Show Jumping Championships and being told that although they can carry a whip, they’re not allowed to use it!
We all grumbled. We all thought it was insane to introduce it at that particular time. But then all the French people stopped grumbling and got on with it. And I decided that I’m the foreigner, it’s not my country, not my organisation, not my rules, so I’m not going to complain. And I didn’t. I didn’t even mention it in my blog at the time.
With that in mind, it should have come as no surprise to me that, once again, the Equifeel powers-that-be decided to implement more new rules on the eve of Le Championnat. But in my innocence, I thought that surely they wouldn’t do it again – everyone had complained so bitterly the year before. Ha. Silly me.
This year, they extended the ‘no touch’ rule. Now, if you opt for a 15 or 20 point contract, you are committing to not touch your horse at all. If you do touch your horse, it’s an immediate zero for that particular atelier. Harsh. They also redefined some of the rules for the different tests – I’ll explain these as they come up.
And yes, I’m making excuses. Or preparing you for what’s about to come. Read it whichever way you like.
We no longer had Mr and Mrs Paris to help us – hence the shortage of photos in this post. This time, MC and I assumed that YA would do his own thing and we made our way to the Parc Equestre in our own time. Aero was slightly less anxious going through the Intersection of Doom, but he became more and more stressed as we wound our way through the trees on the other side of it. He glued himself to Quieto, who was taking it all in his stride – it was his fourth visit to the Parc Equestre, after all! Once we got to the manège, I took Aero off to one side and worked him a little, to try to get him listening to me and to establish some sort of a connection with him. He tried his best, but he just couldn’t settle. Eventually, I brought him back to the shade of the trees where MC and YA were waiting with their horses. Aero whinnied at Quieto as we approached and then he and Quieto settled into a serious session of mutual grooming, scratching each others’ withers and loins energetically for a good ten minutes.
This calmed him down no end, but oh boy, it was a big mistake. You’ll see why in a moment.
We were going in inverse order of ranking, so YA was the first of our gang to go, with MC going two horses after him. As soon as Quieto left, Aero started to become anxious again, calling and calling to his buddy. Oops. It seemed that the lovely mutual grooming session had caused Aero to become ‘connected’ to Quieto rather than to me!
Thirteen horses later, it was our turn to go. The very first test that day was Pivot (pirouette), which is definitely our weakest thing. To make it even harder than usual, it had to be done with the handler on the right hand side of the horse. There was no question of me going for a fifteen or twenty point contract here – we would go for ten points, where we ‘only’ had to do a quarter turn, and I could hold Aero ‘normally’ with a lead rope.
We stomped our way through it. One foot stepped out of the hoop on the ground; he dragged the hoop around a bit and I ended up touching him with the stick near the end (for a ten point contract, that’s a -2 penalty). We ended up with three -2 penalties, so we scored four points.
Heigh ho, it could have been worse.
Next up was the Four Leafed Clover. I decided to be brave and go for twenty points. It worked, we scored our twenty, but I realised as I did it that the connection I had with Aero was very fragile. He drifted away from me a couple of times, and it was difficult to get him ‘glued’ to my shoulder once again to continue. Still, I managed. Things were not going too badly… maybe my dream of a top ten finish was possible.
The next atelier was one of our party pieces – Reverse and Return. We do this for twenty points normally – ZIP ZAP done. But this time, the organisers had added a twist – those damned barrels full of pool noodles. For twenty points, the horse would have to back up along a seven metre ‘lane’, passing between the barrels at the end. Well, I thought of how scared Aero had been the day before when faced with the barrels of noodles. And I thought about how brave he had been to eventually push through them. And I said I would just go for fifteen points – he would have to reverse a mere four metres, finishing well before the barrels.
Poor Aero was so worried about those damn barrels. He didn’t realise that I’d gone for the ‘easy’ option and that he wouldn’t have to pass between them! He couldn’t reverse straight because he felt he needed to keep them under observation – they were dangerous, you know! – so he kept stepping out of his zone, incurring a -2 penalty each time. We ended up earning just five of our possible fifteen points here. I should have gone for ten points – I could have reversed with him, giving him confidence, and we’d have been better off in the long run.
Sigh. Hindsight is wonderful.
(Aside : I’m not grumbling about adding the noodles to the Reverse-Return, by the way. I reckon it’s perfectly acceptable to dress up the tests at the National Championship. It’s like putting fancy flowers in a dressage arena.)
Put it behind you, I told myself. The next atelier was Transitions, in the round pen. This is normally a twenty pointer for us, but I felt our connection was even weaker after the Reverse Return, so I opted for the fifteen point contract. Aero had to start in the Departure/Transition zone, facing me; do two circuits of the pen and make a transition, entering the transition zone in trot and changing to walk while in the zone. Then we had to change direction and do the same thing again, finishing with him in the zone, facing me once again.
But this was one of the tests where they had just announced a change to the rules. It’s described as above, word for word in the rules on the internet “Enter the zone in trot”, giving competitors the option of cantering, and returning to trot before entering the zone. A more difficult task, in my opinion. But the organisers had suddenly decided to rule that all circuits of the pen MUST be done in trot. If not, they would not be counted.
It took me some time to set Aero up in the Departure zone, but eventually he was ready. He set off in trot, did his two laps and halted perfectly in the zone. Great. Our connection had improved! Now to turn him – oops. Like the previous day, he was difficult to turn but, after half a circuit, I succeeded. I need to make up for lost time here, I thought, and I sent him off in canter, knowing that I should be well able to bring him to trot before the Zone as needed. After the first lap in canter, the judge called something to me, and people were shouting at me from the viewing gallery. It was YA I heard – You must do it in trot, he yelled. CRAP! I’d forgotten the stupid new rules! The canter circuits would not count!
Aero came back to trot as soon as I asked, and did his two laps. I asked him to walk in the Zone, but he did it a fraction late, just as one front foot was stepping out of the zone. You have to do your two laps and then the transition again, yelled the judge, but halfway through the first lap we ran out of time.
Zero scored. Our first zero of the competition.
Put it behind you, I told myself again. The last test was the double. This could go either way for us.
But once again, this was a test where they had announced rule changes- not even on the eve of the competition, but as we had walked the course! The new rule was to do with fluidity – if the horse changed gait between the jumps, it would be a -2 penalty AND you would have to do it again, keeping to the one gait all the time. Well, I knew for sure that if Aero started in trot, he would move to canter. The best bet was to start in canter, surely, but it would be hard to keep up with him…
I chose the fifteen point contract – I would have to remain 1.5 metres away from the jumps, while running parallel to Aero as he jumped. He knew what was coming up – JUMPS! YAY! He also knew only too well that we were at the end of the competition, and he started calling to Quieto, who he was sure was outside, waiting for him.
He lined up in the Start zone, I clicked him on into canter, he jumped the first jump and ducked out of the second, veering across my line, making straight for the exit gate and his buddy. Start again… same thing happened, with Aero’s separation anxiety and stress levels growing. He called, again and again. On our third try, he took off like a bat out of hell, ripping the lunge line through my hands.
Well, that’s a zero score straight away. That’s been in the rule book for as long as I’ve been doing Equifeel. I can’t complain about that at all.
But I CAN complain about the other new rules, once again introduced at the eleventh hour. The new rules most definitely had a negative effect on me in the last two ateliers, and blew apart any hope I had of a top ten finish. We slid down to 29th place – still in the top half, which was my original goal, but I was really disappointed to drop so far.
YA had mixed fortunes in his round, slipping down a couple of spots, but finishing just ahead of me in 27th place. MC had decided to throw caution to the winds and opted for twenty point contracts throughout. It didn’t work. Apart from the slalom, she scored zeroes throughout, but she played with her horse and had fun!
The more I thought about it afterwards, the more annoyed I became with this penchant for rule changes on the eve of the National Championships. Twelve hours of driving each way, with our poor horses standing patiently in the trucks for all that time, plus all our hours of preparation beforehand – for nothing, thanks to what can only be considered a thoroughly unprofessional approach to our discipline. Sure, I was never going to win and, looking at the scores afterwards, even if I’d scored fifteen points in each of the last two ateliers, I still wouldn’t have cracked the top ten. Even so, it’s really frustrating to know that my horse and I performed below our best, mostly due to the last minute rule changes.
What can I do? I reckon the only sensible thing I can do is vote with my feet. So, I won’t be attending Le Championnat as a competitor next year, although I’ll probably go along as a supporter for my friends.
I love Equifeel and all the Equitation Ethologique stuff that I’ve learned since coming to France. My goal for the next year is to compete at Elite level locally, with both horses, and work towards putting a little show together with them. Whether it’s just a video or whether we ever actually perform in public remains to be seen…
PS Sorry for the lack of photos. Our Paperazzi were missed.