Catch up with Leanne and Buddy's elementary dressage debut in their latest Equo blog.

You know the way horses sigh? That big exhalation of breath that includes a blow through the nostrils and the huge rise and fall of their rib cage? Well, never has horse and rider felt more in tune than when we finally halted at G in our first elementary dressage test and I let out a huge sigh of relief as I saluted – and Buddy did the same!

I used to hate dressage. There, I said it. But with Buddy it’s been different. Right from the off, he has been a favourite with the judges, who have always commended his rhythm and obedience. We naturally moved up from Prelim to Novice within our first year of competing and we have so far managed to avoid the £60-per-45-minute extortionately priced dressage lessons.

Then we got stuck. Affiliated (and more recently riding club and unaffiliated) Buddy always would score in the high 60s… but these days that’s just not enough. We were getting consistent comments about him leaning on the forehand, not having enough body bend, not enough from behind, not being uphill – you get the picture. He had become a lazy happy Prelim horse and more to the point, I had become an ineffective rider.

In February – just before the debilitating glandular fever struck – we found a straight talking, but supportive and very knowledgeable trainer (Anne Ratcliffe) and since then we’ve come on leaps and bounds consistently winning novice tests and being placed at a riding club national final.

So it was time to take that step. The big, huge, ginormous step up to Elementary level. I found a new centre that I’d never been to before through Equo Events (always best to go somewhere where nobody knows you if you are going to make a pig’s ear of things!) called The Magpie Centre, in Norfolk, and hit the button to enter a Novice and Elementary test.

The surface wasn’t quite to Buddy’s liking, as it was a touch on the deeper side in the corners, resulting in him trying to plough through the canter rather than sitting on his hocks, but other than that he was a sweet little horse. The first Novice test went well and we won the class with a decent high 60s score.


Then it was time to hold up my tea tray (Buddy much prefers you riding him on the D rings, which has resulted in me dropping my hands and rounding my shoulders) and attack this Elementary. I always get nervous before a test and I could feel my stomach doing backflips, which makes it 10 times harder to control my somewhat wobbly core, something that I’m learning the further up the levels you go, the more important it is to be secure.

Trotting down the centre line I put my best smile on and it pretty much stayed there – at times through gritted teeth – until we finally halted at G. At which point we both breathed a sigh of relief. It was a great effort from us both, but boy does it take stamina and strength to ride at that level! Since having glandular fever earlier this year my cardio fitness has taken a massive hit and never was it more evident than in that moment, as I huffed and puffed around the indoor arena trying desperately to look pretty while inside feeling my core and legs burn as we took on each movement – is it just me, or do they come up really quickly at Elementary?!

The outcome was not all that bad though. We scored little under 63%, which was the highest elementary score of the day, so I was super chuffed! Before meeting Anne I never thought it would be possible for us to move up to those dizzy heights, but since training at a higher level at home I’ve learned it’s not about those one or two sideways/backward movements in each test that should stop you from trying something, it is all about improving the quality and consistently of your horse’s way of going… and that is our challenge now.