Your centre line face

Beaming smiles, frustrated frowns and visible sighs of relief – you’d be surprised what your final centre line reveals about you and your horse.

Having recently spent some time writing for a dressage judge, I was fascinated by people’s facial expressions after they performed their final halt and salute. The judging may be over by that point but those few seconds at the end of the test give so much away about the weeks/months/years leading up to that moment and the relationship you have with your horse.

Most of the time it is easy to tell whether the rider is relieved, upset, delighted, disappointed or furious. When I was writing, I felt those emotions through the glass of the judge’s box and I desperately wanted to acknowledge that I understood how they felt. Having ridden countless centre lines on a range of horses from lazy ponies to ticking time bombs, that final halt can be an emotional experience! In that split moment you can either feel like all the years of hard work have been worth it, or that you’ve had enough of the humiliation and are going to take up basket weaving instead.

Of course, the judge can only score what they see in front of them at the time, but how often have you wished you could give some extra context to your test? At the last outing with my horse, I wanted to say to the judge “Think that was bad? You should have seen my last test!” I’m not sure what my face looked like at the end but I tried to telepathically communicate with the judge that I was delighted with the improvement.

So, it got me wondering what else our facial expressions might say about us when we perform that final centre line. Here is my top ten:


  1. The ear to ear grin: Yes! We smashed it. Next stop, the Olympics.
  2. The sigh of relief: Hoorah – we stayed in the arena for the first time in months AND I remembered the test. Result.
  3. The confused expression: We’ve practised those transitions for months and suddenly he’s forgotten how to walk.
  4. The grimace: What a total arse. That is all.
  5. The wry smile: Yes, I know flying changes weren’t required – but wow what potential!
  6. The knowing look: Hit me with your lowest scores, I’m ready.
  7. The apologetic exchange: Mouthing the word S-O-R-R-Y to the judge.
  8. The quivering lip: You have no idea what we have been through to get here. I’m so proud, I love my horse (sob)!
  9. The final frown: That’s it I’m throwing the towel in and trading the lorry for a campervan.
  10. The nod to the stars: I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive!

Undoubtedly, there are many other stories being told as you reach that final halt. I’d love to hear what your centre line face says about you!


Flower pot monsters – and learning to deal with them

It’s been nearly a week since we ventured out to do our first Novice tests last weekend – I’m not sure where the time has gone! Here’s a quick run through of how it went:

I had a very civilised start time, so I was quite organised for once and arrived with plenty of time to spare. It was a very hot day but I wanted to give Rupert enough time to settle, so he would be nice and relaxed for the tests. But in the boiling hot indoor arena, it felt like we were warming up for ages and Rupert started to feel like he was flagging.

Eventually we were called for our test. I  did a little dance inside when he walked through the barriers and past the giant champagne bottles, bins and other ringside gremlins which have been an issue in the past. But I wasn’t prepared for the new monsters which had suddenly appeared in the form of FLOWERS which were neatly dotted around the arenas. Because there is very little room around the edge at Keysoe, we spent a very embarrassing few minutes (seemed like hours) reversing into white boards and demolishing the arena as I tried to persuade Rupert that the horse-eating blooms were nothing to worry about!

Eventually, with a change of direction, some swift repairs to the arena, and a huge pony club kick, we somehow made it down the centre line. But his mind was not on me at all and he spooked his way around the test. If swerving were a real movement, we’d have got 10s!

In the lead up to this outing, my main worry was how difficult the second test was. I soon forgot about that as I was faced with a much more basic problem of actually getting in the arena and going anywhere near the outside track! I wasn’t really looking forward to going back in and Rupert felt very flat in the warm up. But I was relieved when a kind lady agreed to read the test for me, as it was one less thing to worry about if we had navigation problems!

Surprisingly, Rupert was a lot braver about the flowers this time. They were still terrifying but we had more space to get round them in the second arena, so he didn’t panic. The test felt 100 times better than the first, still spooky and behind my leg but I was absolutely delighted with the improvement. I did ask for medium trot and canter but there wasn’t much gas left in the tank by then, so the marks reflected that. I didn’t dare let go for long in the give and retake the reins, as the flower pots were looming up ahead, but the counter canter was easier in the big arena than at home.

All in all, I felt it was a massive learning experience for us both. I warmed him up for too long because, although he was nice and relaxed in the warm up, that all went to pot (literally) when we went to the test arena. He was then behind my leg and not really listening.  I was pleased with how Rupert improved for the second test, as he started to accept my reassurance that the flowers were not out to get him – something to practise at home I feel.

The first test was a bit of a disaster but the judge’s comments were really supportive and encouraging, particularly on how I had ‘coped with the situation’! The second test was better for 62.8% but I felt a little disappointed with the marks and comments. I guess, to me the difference between the two tests was so immense I was expecting an award for actually doing a 20m circle! But it was a different judge and they have to mark what they see in front of them – there are no prizes for lack of swerving. I felt a little better seeing other people having similar issues getting into the arenas and riders exchanging supportive tales of woe – it meant we weren’t the only ones overreacting to the decorations!

With a qualifying score for the Petplan Area Festivals, I have been debating whether to rush out again in the next few weeks to try and get another two sheets before the deadline. But I’ve decided to take the pressure off a bit. It’s not so much the qualifying, but the Area Festival is the week after the Regionals and my husband will be away for both – making it more tricky with home, the kids, work and everything else. So, I’m just going to focus on the Regionals for now and plan ahead a bit more for our next Novice outings. Sometimes you have to think about the bigger picture, and I never even dreamed we would qualify for anything this summer. I’m delighted that we’ve come such a long way since our first competition back in April and thankful that all the things I worried about then, are not as much of an issue now. Onwards and upwards as they say…..

Bitten off more than I can chew?

Still experiencing the euphoria of Glastonbury, I decided to enter our first two novice tests next weekend. The reality of the situation hit home today when I practised the tests. Rupert has had nearly two weeks off so he doesn’t quite know what has hit him. Novice 37 is a bit of a slap around the face after the relative ease of Prelims – with a quick succession of movements, including counter canter, give and retake the reins, medium trot and canter, three halts, square serpentine and 10m circles. I know Rupert can do it but it’s a real step up and it will be a miracle if I can remember the test as well as Novice 23, which is a lot kinder!

Instead of stressing about how crap it might be, I am trying to take a more practical approach. I think I’m still tired after Glastonbury, as I am not panicking yet. Maybe that’s the answer – more festivals?!! Anyway, I’ve got a lesson tomorrow with the wonderful Tahley, who I’m sure will whip me into shape and I will practise as much as I can, on and off the horse. You Tube will be my friend this week!