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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Christensen

My First Time at Grand Prix

Today I attended Donida Farms' On the Levels Symposium, where Rebecca and David Blake did a wonderful job explaining their training process up through the levels of dressage. During lunch I met and talked to one of the other auditors. She explained how she likes to practice her dressage tests before a show at home by laying out paper letters in her living room and running through the test pattern on her own feet. I love it, because I do the exact same thing! We shared a good laugh about the looks we get from our significant others as we prance around the house!

The conversation reminded me of my first time at Grand Prix, so I shared the story with her, and since it's such a fun, fond memory, I thought I would share it here too. The first time I ever rode through the Grand Prix test was in the competition arena. I had never practiced it. I had never even read through the entire Grand Prix test until the afternoon before that competition ride. I had to memorize it overnight. For anyone unfamiliar with the Grand Prix test pattern, it is LONG. It's the test they ride in the Olympics, and it includes basically all of the movements we do in dressage... in a very specific order that I needed to memorize overnight without ever practicing it on a horse. Here's how all of that came about and how it all went.

I had been working my way up the levels on the wonderful Westfeuer's Doublette, owned by the equally-amazing Alyssa Pitts. At the time, I was a working student under Alyssa, and she had given me the opportunity to share a lease on Doublette with another one of her students. When I started riding him, he had competed through 2nd level. I had competed through Training Level. Together, under Alyssa's coaching, he and I worked our way up the levels. I earned my USDF Bronze medal in 2013 for scores over 60% at 1st through 3rd level. In 2015, I earned by Silver medal for scores over 60 at 4th level and Prix St Georges. My next goal after that was my gold. For that I needed scores over 60 at Intermediare and Grand Prix.

Our goal for the end of the 2015 show season was to complete our Intermediare scores. We would then spend the year training before the 2016 season with the intention of coming out at Grand Prix then. Neither Doublette or I had ever done one tempis. We were saving those to work on after our PSG/Intermediare season was done, as working on them can confuse the horse and might have temporarily messed up our 3 and 2 tempis. Neither Doublette or I had ever piaffed or passaged in the show ring before either, though we had played with both a bit at home.

On Saturday of a weekend show I got the final Intermediare score that I needed. I had met my goal for the show season. Doublette was 20 years old, and he had worked hard. I called Alyssa and told her we had done it. I told her I was thinking of scratching my Sunday ride and letting him have the day off. We had met our goal and he had been wonderful. Why push him for an extra ride that we didn't really need?

Her reply? "How about if you ask the office if they would let you change tomorrow's ride to Grand Prix and try that?"

My reply: "Um... because I've never read through the test ever? Because I've never done one tempis in my life? Because Doublette also has never done one tempis in his life? Because I don't know if I can actually passage for real, we've just played with it for fun? ...Because of any and all of that??"

Good coaches push us to push ourselves. Alyssa said "what have you got to lose?". The office let me change my test, and suddenly I had before me the arduous task of memorizing the entire Grand Prix test overnight. Doublette had already done an FEI level test that day, so I couldn't ride him again to practice, so all I could do was practice myself and visualize it. I built an arena in the field at the show grounds, using sugar cubes as letter markers, and I proceeded to prance through the test over and over and over. For hours. The rest of my group went out to a bar for drinks that night. I stayed and pranced around in the field. I have no idea how many times I went through that test. My one and only goal was not to go off pattern when I rode it for real.

The next day I did get to practice bits of the test in warm up, but the warm up arena was too crowded to really ride through the whole thing. I didn't even try the one tempis in warm up because in the test the 2s come first, and I didn't want to confuse him and ruin those. So our competition ride really was our first time riding through the test. Shockingly we got a 59.8%... only 0.2% less than the 60% that we needed for it to count towards my Gold Medal. An absolutely insane achievement given the circumstances.

I definitely attribute that success to the power of visualization. I had never physically ridden through the test on a horse, but I had ridden through it hundreds of times on Doublette in my mind the day before and the morning of the ride. I had imagined what every piece was going to feel like, how I was going to cue it, how he was going to respond, how I would plan for our next movement... because I practiced it so much in my mind, I was able to pull off a fairly respectable score my first time riding it... Really quite a surprising score, given that it WAS my first time riding it. Visualization really is an amazingly powerful tool, and that is what we are striving to share with other riders through Hypno-Ride.

I'm all jazzed up now after the symposium... about riding, about Hypno-Ride... about everything! Can't wait for day two tomorrow!


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