Our trip to the venue was uneventful – if longer than I expected but we arrived just as it was getting dark and in a mini blizzard…. It was very cold! We did all the usual steps on arrival - taking Rhaps for a walk to stretch his legs after the journey… he insisted on rolling in the indoor school! Putting extra shavings in his stable, fitting up his water bucket in the hope that he would not play with it too much and drown his bedding, make up feeds – and unload the lorry. The trot up was the next day and riding times in the competition arena had been allocated by the organisers. I had a time of 8:30 which at least meant that we would have him out to work – then he could rest before we got him ready for the vet’s inspection. Finally it was time to head off and find our hotel & some dinner!
For a number of reasons the other riders that had the same riding time as me did not show which meant that Rhapsody and I had the entire warm up arena and then competition arena to ourselves to give him a good forward going stretch and ride through some of the test movements. I was very pleased with his thoroughness and forwardness – he felt quite fresh which was good! I always finish the training with a strong canter/trot down the centre line without halting because he has taken it into his head to halt at X no matter what I say, so we did that a few times till I felt confident that he was not taking control.
The trot up went absolutely fine – despite having been given a time of 4:30 they ran incredibly early and so were screaming for everyone to head for the vet check station. Rhaps barely had a walk much less a trot before he was up in front of the judges and vets but he strutted his stuff and there was no worry on that front.
Thursday’s time was 1:14 but we were still up and at the yard bright and early so that Angela could walk Rhapsody in the main arena before 8 – around and up the centre line to face the “judge” sitting in the box – something that sometimes catches horses unawares no matter how experienced they are. We had our plaiting/tacking up times all planned to avoid any last minute panics and right on time I got on Rhaps to warm up. Despite riding this test countless times I still had gone over and over it in my head – planning each move so my preparation would not desert me in times of nerves – which it has in the past! The test went very well – until the final centre line when despite using my stick to remind Rhaps to keep going forward he just planted at X. The chief judge rang the bell for an error of course… and so 2 marks deducted. It was a good halt though for 7’s so on balance I was probably no worse off than if I had tried to pick up the trot and persuade him to the G marker. It is definitely something I am going to have to take him to task on at a local show in the near future!
Friday saw a similar routine with an early morning walk followed by an afternoon riding time. Feeling very focused and pleased with Rhapsody’s work and attitude we entered the arena determined to get the score we needed for the last few rankings points. I thought the test went really well… he didn’t stick in the pirouettes, the counter canter was fine, pulled off all the simple changes so I finished thinking that we had done enough. Walking Rhaps around to cool down I was stunned when they announced the score. We had missed is by the smallest of margins - 0.16%!! Totally gutted! When all the scores came up on the live screen TV I was shocked to see a 34 mark discrepancy between the judges! That is a pretty huge amount! I did have a word with one of the other judges who ironically I had heard mention the day before about the differences in marks when one rider had a difference of 15 between judges. Basically there is nothing I could do about it.. and although I know this is dressage and if you can’t take the subjectivity of it don’t even bother entering the competition – but it was still difficult to swallow especially as my low scoring judge had not generally scored all riders lower than the other judges – just me and one other rider – the rest she had scored above. I just really could not believe it – but I felt Rhapsody had gone really well, tried hard and was a pleasure to ride and for once I could say that I had kept my brain in gear throughout the test. But that was that… we would have to resort to applying for one of the 3 wild cards available – along with every other country who did not qualify a team or individual. A long shot!
As we did not qualify for the music decided to come home on Saturday, a long drive back to the ferry but we were in the front of the queue for boarding as the ferry arrived and started to unload the freight vehicles. Suddenly there was a surge of over 100 people who all ran towards the ferry to try and get on board. The port staff all went into action but there was little they could do against such numbers. Very quickly water cannons were blasting the ferry – I wonder if they are usually used to wash it down as they seemed to already be in place - or maybe they were brought in quickly by the police? Anyway from our view there was a lot of people running around, port vehicles driving around and general mayhem.
More than 5 hours later with the riot police there in large numbers the infiltrators were removed in dozens of police vans. Throughout the standoff I was able to pop in the back when it was safe to do so to check Rhapsody and offer water and feed and lots of hay and carrots but he was getting fed up as we all were! Eventually we were escorted to another ferry for our homeward journey… finally back home at 2 a.m. UK time – 3 a.m. Dutch time – poor Rhaps had been on that lorry for 16 hours! If I had any doubt about it before – which I didn’t - Rhapsody’s wonderful temperament and attitude really shone through!! If nothing else let this be a lesson to everyone - be prepared... we had plenty of feed, water and hay on board for Rhapsody thank goodness - and a few snacks for ourselves!!
We are both having a little break to recover from the ordeal but will get him back out again fairly soon as he is so fit and well. And as for Angela – there is never a dull moment when she comes to groom for me! Thanks goes to her for keeping Rhapsody looking great and me calm and positive!