For the Love of Dressage

I don’t know about you, but when I have to do a dressage test, I get myself all tied up in knots. Come on, own up? You too??

Do you practise your test endlessly? I do. I know it back to front, inside and out. I dream about it. I skip round my kitchen doing it – well the skip bit makes it sound elegant when in truth it is anything but. It is in my head, I know it in the warm-up but as I come down the Centre line bits of it just seem to fly away into the ether. Know the feeling?

I know how petrified I am of messing up but just imagine if your short-term memory did not function at all?

You can’t remember what you did in the last 5 minutes. Or the last day. Nothing – blank. 

Just think about it. You arrive at a venue and you have to get from your box to the warm-up area. You are told where to go but it doesn’t stick. You are completely reliant on your Mum or partner or friend to get you to the right place because you just can’t remember. 

You are guided to get to the arena. You are trotting round the outside without a clue about the movements that you are going to do because you can’t remember. 

I am in awe of a young lady who does this every time she goes out. The bravery to me is inspiring.

I hadn’t quite realised what Katie Radzik has to cope with every day of her life. She is a bubbly, smiley, super smart young woman. When you talk to her you would never know that the conversation that you are having will be forgotten once the words are spoken. 

Katie also has physical challenges to deal with which puts her into Grade 4 Para but this grading makes no allowances for her lack of short-term memory, this is not categorised under the current rules. 

So how do you ride a test with no short-term memory?

If you are like me, I am drilled on preparation for the next movement but what if you never know what that movement is – until someone tells you in your ear?

She has inspired me. Her bravery to go out and be judged takes my breath away. 

Talking to her amazing Mum, Stephanie at the Para Freestyle I was intrigued to know how the Freestyle works. If we mess up, go too fast or too slow, we have to think quick on our feet, after all the judges have no clue as to what we should be doing.  Do a bigger or smaller circle, come up the three-quarter line to save time, make a short cut or a long cut but what would Katie do?

Katie has the fantastic Joyce, a Grade 2 judge who is her “voice” and her memory. She stands at the side of the area and tells Katie the next movement through her mic into Katie’s ear. The test is scribbled on a piece of paper (the last one at Wellington was very soggy) and Joyce reads, keeping Katie on track with her movements but also in time to the music. 

I think for most of the test, once I realised what was going on, that my jaw was hanging open. The transitions to the different music were spot on and frankly if you didn’t know you would never suspect that Katie hadn’t any idea of the following movement and what she was going to ride next. 

So next time you are at a Dressage competition and there are Para riders doing their thing, I would ask you to take the time to stand and watch. Each and everyone of them is very special, overcoming incredible odds to do what they do, with passion, commitment and dedication. I was humbled and swore then that never again would I moan about not remembering my dressage test or being able to quell the butterflies in my stomach. 

I don’t believe our Para Riders get the attention they deserve and maybe something like this would provide us all with a greater appreciation of the courage, bravery and commitment of these riders.

To show organisers, can we not get to see our Para riders as an integral part of the show rather than pushed to the end of the day? Their effort, commitment and dedication deserve to be celebrated in the same way as every other rider, don’t you think? 

Thinking about it, what I would love to see is one or a few of our top dressage riders, do Katie’s freestyle under competition rules with a voice in the ear not knowing what was coming next.

So I wonder, is anyone is brave enough to take up the challenge? 

Claire Hubbard

©The CentreLine

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