Horse and rider are finely attuned when they enter the competitive dressage ring.
Last year Blenheim rider Sue Lucas and her horse Georgia Girl were named the level 4 champions at the Lucas Saddlery Winter Dressage Series at Omaka. The 2014 series finishes with an event on August 3, marking 25 years of winter dressage in Marlborough.
Sue, who owns Lucas Saddlery, has sponsored the series since it began and says Marlborough was one of the first regions to hold competitive winter dressage events.
"My vision for the winter series was to look after up-and-coming riders for the future." Events range from lead-rein for the youngest riders, through to grand prix.
A dressage routine typically lasts seven to eight minutes around a marked arena, the horse doing turns and displaying a range of gaits with little or no visible direction from the rider.
Sue uses words like "discipline" and "rapport" to explain how it's done. "You need a very good rapport with your horse," she says. Key factors include regular work, positive riding and black and white instructions.
Grand prix and Olympic-level dressage horses carry out extraordinary moves but horses can do them all in a paddock without any direction, Sue reckons.
"Horses . . . create all these movements in dressage in their play," she says.
As if on cue, a piebald Shetland pony in a paddock beside Sue's Rose St property gallops past the saddlery shop window. Then it gallops back and does a couple of circles, completely unprompted. Personal play-time varies according to a horse's age, fitness levels and athleticism, Sue says. Nine-year-old Georgia Girl is a hanovarian cross, a dressage blood line. Sue rides her most days and the pair regularly practise their paces for the dressage ring.
Sue helps Georgia develop her muscles and carrying power so she can take the weight in her hindquarters, freeing her front legs to take bigger dressage strides. Horses competing in the top levels can cross their front legs while moving forward, pirouette while cantering and switch their leading front leg during a canter - the best ones on every stride.
Sue grew up in Fairhall and has ridden horses all her life. Her late mother, Maureen Bishell, was a district commissioner of the Marlborough Pony Club and a patron of the Blenheim Pony Club. Sue now holds the latter role.
She counts highlights in her riding career as being in a 1971 New Zealand Pony Club team that won gold in Canada; and competing in New Zealand Horse of the Year Shows.
Dressage became her main discipline 25 years ago. As well as competing in levels 3 to 5, she attends dressage events in Marlborough, Nelson, and sometimes Christchurch and the North Island as a List 3 judge.
Marlborough is not one of the country's larger dressage regions but it produces some of the country's top riders, she says. In the past 25 years, at least 10 from the region have become top New Zealand title holders.
This year's final winter-dressage series will be held on Sunday, August 3, at Omaka.
- The Marlborough Express
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