Ruth Tolkien rising at the RDA County Day 2016

Ruth Tolkien riding at the RDA County Day 2016

Riding at the RDA County Day 2016

It must be 20 plus years since I’ve got up in the morning and put ‘uniform’ on! Tie included! Something weirdly, intensely familiar and yet distant at the same time. Managing to pin my stock tie just to my shirt this time and not make it a permanent attachment to me as well, as I plaited my hair, I ran through the pattern I’d created in my mind of the dressage test I was doing for the millionth time. How many times I’d walked it round the living room I’d lost count but the ‘square safety pin with fast sides’ was firmly ingrained in my mind’s eye.

As I wait for my friend to pick me up, it all still felt extremely surreal. I’d only had about 4 dressage lessons and two of those were rehearsing this test. I’ll never forget our conversation on the phone after my first lesson. Along the lines of “have you ever done a dressage competition? Would you like to?” and me, being me of course I said “I’d love to!” and that was about 5 weeks previously! Now I’m off to ride a horse I’ve never ridden before, in a school I’ve never walked round or even seen before, at RDA County Day?! And be judged on my test?! My friend’s faith in me blows my mind!

My nerves are stilled and confidence boosted as we arrive and everyone comments on how smart I look which was a huge relief and quite gratifying after many hours watching the intricacies of stock-tie tying on-line and accompanied ‘decorative’ language!
Meeting other riders and staff from our school whom I’ve never met before was a really wonderful experience. Waiting for our times in the arena we all headed for a cup of tea and a patch of grass in the sun and I almost forgot why I was there! It was so refreshing to be around so many enthusiastic and talented people of varying age and with so many different levels of ability as well as not being the only registered blind rider.

How it got from 9am to 1pm so rapidly I have no idea but suddenly after aching to be on a horse all day, I was sorting out my stirrups! Or trying to – I’m convinced after 5 years of riding, if only a month of dressage, that I just have completely uneven legs! Stirrups sorted I work though the test and get to know Tabby the beautiful pony I’m working with. Extremely good at a ‘square halt’ although she decided that she enjoyed halting rather a lot! Using everything I’ve learned over the years I managed to ask her to move again an eventually sorted out a method of getting her going again after the halt-part in the test.

As we walk up to the inside arena from the warm-up area the sun is beating down and it almost feels cold as we enter to many “good luck” shouts from our school. The smell of the damp sand and my pony is calming and I let her rhythm move my legs and hips, sinking into my saddle. I walk down to introduce myself to the judges and as I do try to note some kind of marker for the centre line and get a good idea of the contrast of the white corner markets against what looks like to me a cocoa-coloured sand.

Warming up with an even walk and a few circles I tried to keep my heartbeat in time with her pace. As the judges rang the bell, I felt a prickle of adrenaline but deep-breathed it away and entered down the centre line. The first trot worried me a little as I was obviously a little more stiff than I’d anticipated but I forced my shoulders back to where they should have been and it evened out by the time we slowed to a walk again. After the square halt, Tabby moved off beautifully, no problems with not wanting to go again! I think I relaxed completely then and the second trot was much smoother. Walking down the centre line for the salute at the end of the test, I suddenly felt the adrenaline creeping up my knees in waves and into the pit of my stomach. As I smiled and turned Tabby to leave the arena I realised I was crying! Completely overwhelmed by what we’d just done! Truly an awesome feeling! Ah well, can’t help being the hopeless sentimental I am and I think perhaps it even appealed to the judges too!

Oblivious as to how I might have done, I found a spot on the grass in the sun with friends as we waited for the next categories to finish and the results to be put up. About half an hour later, mid conversation with my friend, one of the staff from our school broke in to say that my friend had come 3rd and I’d come 1st in our category. How many times I said “pardon?” must have sounded ridiculous! I just didn’t believe her!! I felt tears prickling again! Mixed with uncontrollable giggles!

As the presentations drew to a close, and we were all beginning to grab bags and hats and escaped gloves etc. my friend took my arm and said “put your bag down a minute!”. Bemused I did and she walked me over to where the organisers were still standing at the presentation table. Apologising profusely, I was handed a trophy and given a huge round of applause for what turned out to be the highest overall test score in the county?! Speechless except of course for a very stunned “thank you very much” I really couldn’t utter a word for about ten minutes! There may have been some Moët when I got home!

In my humble opinion days like that are rare and beautiful and mean the world because of all the people who are part of them. What an incredible opportunity and experience and one which will be with me always. Thank you so very much RDA Chiverton!

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