Piaffe

When Kia gets a letter asking her to be part of the Young Riders' Dressage Tour, she is over the moon! But besides fun and new friends, the tour will also involve new challenges, hardships, and even enemies. With a little crush and lots of sneaking out, the tour is bound to be unforgettable for all the riders!

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1. London Dressage Cup

I’ve never done well in competitions, even though I’ve been to quite a few. I don’t know what it is. I love competing so much. Every time I’m excited by the competitive atmosphere, proud to see myself and my horse in competition gear and I love every minute of it, but I never come above fourth place. As most riders probably do, I’ve gone through the phases of blaming the judges and blaming my horse to recognise the true culprits of my misfortunes; myself, and lack of luck.

These rather depressing thoughts wafted through my mind as I brushed and tacked up a snappy Tim. Despite the length of time I had spent working with him, he never quite got rid of his school-horse habits, and would often do a sneaky side-step or turn around to bite me, before quickly turning back round with an innocent look on his chestnut muzzle. After a few weeks of trying to re-train him, I gave up in frustration. Once a school horse, always a school horse, I suppose.

The test we were about to do was technically not hard for us at all. Junior level, with a single flying change, some half-passes, halt from canter and extended gaits being the most difficult we were to encounter today. Tim, as I quickly saw when I started riding him, was very talented in dressage, and we had already mastered change-in-four and pirouettes in walk, and were working on pirouettes in canter and making the half pass narrower, so that it might resemble a Grand Prix one, an element that Tim found quite baffling.

Although I knew, or hoped, rather, Tim and I could nail this, I could not help my stomach tightening in anticipation. This was no little local show, this was, after all, the London Dressage Cup, and the competition was going to be tough. It had always been a dream of mine to ride at a big, nation-level competition, and when Tim and I narrowly qualified a month ago, I was over the moon. Mr. Rosenbach, owner of Meadows Riding School, and consequently owner of Tim, wasn’t. “Kia, much as you love him, Tim here is a school horse and I see no reason for him to be treated differently than all the other horses, getting days off here and there and going to fancy dressage shows.” I tried to protest, but he wouldn’t take any of it. Matilda, my coach, or Tilly, as she prefers to be called, managed to persuade him otherwise. So, here we are, I suppose.

I led Tim out to the warm-up arena and groaned in frustration. The 60x20 arena was packed with horses and riders of all sorts. I doubt I’ve ever seen so many, at once. The majority looked very professional, all Stuebben saddles and German-bred horses. I had spent hours last night oiling every single bit of leather on my tack, but of course the second-hand saddle looked nowhere near as impressive.

“Kia! There you are!” A flustered Tilly sighed, rushing up to me, “I’ve looked all over the stable complex for you. Well, come on, mount up!”

Deciding to skip the queue for the mounting block, I jumped into the saddle. Tim stood quietly, before turning round to butt his nose into my boot.

“Come on, silly!” I laughed, picking up the reins.

The warm-up was more dodging horses than warming up properly. A couple of girls in the ring seemed familiar from the qualifier show. I tried to push back the thought that the majority of them had done better than me at that qualifier. Think positive, Kia, I told myself, straining my ears for Tilly’s instructions. Although she was trying her best, the petite Tilly could hardly make herself heard over the countless other coaches. Quite a lot of people had those walkie-talkie handhelds, and at the moment I wished I had the same.

Tim was being his usual competition self. He seemed more interested in the things around him than the exercises we were doing, but his paces were smooth and flowing, which I was happy about. I made sure I stayed calm, focused and positive, because I knew Tim could get a bit panicky in new surroundings.

“KIA!” a voice bellowed from the opposite side of the arena, “Come on! Your go in a moment!”

I took a deep breath as Tim and I dodged horses to get to the arena exit on a loose rein. Tilly hurriedly grabbed his reins and led us out onto the asphalt road, which separated the warm-up arena from the seats and the competition arena.

“Right, remember he gets a bit worried at times, so lots of half-halts to make sure he’s concentrating. Keep him moving at a good speed, and remember to keep the forehand in front on those half-passes. Good luck!” Tilly instructed. Her hand was still firmly clasped on Tim’s reins. I smiled. It was 5 years since I had come to Tilly as a little girl of 10, wanting to learn how to ride. She was the one who led me into dressage and who watched me progress up the dressage ladder, I was her first proper dressage pupil. After all those years, she had become almost like a second mother to me. And now we’re here, at the London Dressage Cup.

The competitor before me, a skinny girl on a lanky grey horse walked out, her face contorted in trying to hold back tears. Guess she hadn’t done so well then. Tilly let go of us, clapping Tim on his croup as we strode into the arena.

Already I could see how big an event this was. Practically all the spectator seats were full, and I could feel all their eyes on me. Instead of the 3 judges I was used to, there were 5, just like at all the really big events! The arena itself was massive, allowing room for a 60x20 square outlined with dressage markers and flowers, 5 judges’ boxes and plenty of room for the riders to walk round those boxes. The judges were busy affirming the scores for the girl before me, so I gathered Tim’s reins up, making him bend his head nicely, and pushed him forwards into an active trot.

“Competitor Number 42, Kia Brown, on Tim. You may begin the test.”

42? Yikes! And I was only in the middle.

This is it boy, I thought, kicking Tim forward into a collected canter. Lets rock and roll!

The test passed as if in a blur. The square halt was perfect, and Tim concentrated on all his movements. I made sure he kept up an active trot, once or twice encouraging him with my spurs, and checked his head carriage plenty of times. I remember thinking to myself, as we neared the corner where I was to push Tim into an extended trot, that this was our worst element. However, we’d practised the sequence so many times that it felt like Tim remembered it, and flew into the extension with me hardly asking. Luckily, Tim stayed concentrated on the walk, and the canter part was easy for both of us. With another effortless square halt from canter, we finished the test and walked out.

As soon as we were back on the asphalt, Tilly flew over, grabbing Tim and ordering me to get off. I could usually tell from her face expression whether the test was good or bad, but this time Tilly seemed in a particular rush.

“Uh, Tilly? What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Kia, he’s just a bit sweaty so I want to get him cooled down. You get changed, and meet me by the trailer in a bit.”

The score of the rider before me was announced. 60.45%. Well, she won’t win, but it’s a decent score, I thought to myself. Don’t see what her tears were about.

Sighing, I made my way to the changing rooms. Knightsbridge Stables, where the Dressage Cup was being held at, was an extremely posh equestrian centre, with multiple arenas for dressage and showjumping, a cross-country field and paddock after paddock encircling the main stabling area. The changing rooms were very big, but hardly big enough for all the competitors that were here today, so jodhpurs, riding boots and helmets were dumped around everywhere. Luckily, I had arrived very early and managed to grab a locker. I cleared some space on a wooden bench, and changed into some comfy blue breeches and an old t-shirt. My dressage uniform, pristinely folded, went straight into its bag, as I didn’t want it to get crumpled and dirty. After jumping around trying to put my old trainers on and letting my hair loose from my hairnet, I walked out of the changing rooms and made my way round the back to where the trailers were parked.

The back area looked like the parking lot of a shopping mall, apart from there were trailers here instead of ordinary cars. Some of these trailers looked more like living caravans, and were clearly used by some very professional riders. I could not help but give a wistful look to a couple of them. Finally, I had managed to locate the small green trailer with the Meadowlands Riding School logo, a horse going over a big jump. Tilly and Tim were there already, with Tilly busy texting away on her phone and Tim taking advantage of the slack halter rope to munch some grass.

“Tilly? Shall I go get his travel leg wraps?”

Usually, Tilly and I left before the competition finished. After all, I never placed, and it saved us a lot of time.

“Ah, Kia. Don’t you want to know your score?”

“Oh, right. Um. Ok then!” Being my usual spaced-out self, I had forgotten to stay behind to hear my score being announced.

“73.78%” Tilly announced.

“Right, sweet. Wait, WHAT?” I exclaimed, as Tilly’s words sunk into me.

“Kia Brown, you have just pulled out the dressage test of your life. 73.78%! You are the current leader, and by quite a stretch!”

I rushed over to give Tim an overwhelmed hug. He looked up in surprise, and went on munching the grass.

Tilly laughed. “Well, Kia, what are you waiting for? Bring him back to his box, we have an awards ceremony to attend to!”

 After about 3 hours I was sitting in the backseat of the trailer, tired but happy, with a sleeping Tim in the back and a big golden cup right next to me. Watching the competitors after me was positively painful. Tilly and I anxiously gripped our seats, analysing every ride and straining to hear the score. Apart from a girl on an stunning dapple grey mare who got a 70%, no one came remotely close to my score. I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift over this hard but exciting day. Me, Kia Brown, London Dressage Champion! I could hardly believe it.

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A/N: So hey guys, this is my first ever story! Its a bit cliche, but I promise it will get better :) I hope you enjoy it and feel free to comment etc.

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