You might be a seasoned affiliated competitor or maybe the prospect of affiliated competitions and thoughts of not having the right equipment or the right horse fill you with dread? In this blog instalment, we spoke to Harry Hall’s own Rachel Bowles about tackling butterflies and being pleasantly surprised following, her first attempted at affiliated dressage a few years ago!


“I started dressage begrudgingly as my trainer at the time told me to improve my flatwork on my jumping pocket rocket Tiggy. “No more jumping until you get better control”, were the exact words he used! But I was missing my unaffiliated show jumping competitions and chasing red rosettes.


After a few months of flatwork and hacking, I entered my first unaffiliated dressage competition – and got hooked. Tiggy and I were enjoying dressage, having fun with Prelim dressage and improving on our scores every time we went out. A few years later, Tiggy was diagnosed with arthritis in her knees so went into early retirement and my unaffiliated competition days ended abruptly.


Missing riding and competing, a few years later I found Wisley, a beautiful dapple grey who had been an eventer with a flair for dancing. Wisley and I got on like a house on fire from day one and after a couple of unaffiliated dressage competitions my trainer said: “do some affiliated competitions and enjoy him”. Whilst feeling flattered that my trainer thought we were good enough to do affiliated dressage, the thought filled me with butterflies; everyone will be so good and will look down at me, and I don’t have the right kit.


I plucked up the courage eventually and bought a day ticket to do two Prelim tests at the nearest affiliated venue – gulp! I remember being so nervous the night before wondering why I hadn’t bought new white jodhpurs, a new hat with no scuffs on and hoped my ten-year-old slightly baggy show jacket would look  OK.


The morning of the competition, we bathed and plaited Wisley and he looked amazing, but this didn’t help the butterflies, as we arrived at the competition they were doing a loop the loop in my tummy! I was so nervous wondering what the other affiliated dressage horses Wisley doing dressagewould look like; would we be good enough? But then everything changed. Once I was on and in the warm-up arena, I realised we were not out of place at all. Everyone was chatting, saying good luck and well done to one another, and my old white jodhpurs were white enough.


There were all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities in the warm-up and suddenly I felt part of an inclusive community, one where breeding, height and ability didn’t matter. Doing my personal best, was all that mattered.


After our two tests, I went nervously to the secretary’s office to collect my score sheets (filled with dread again about what the judge would say about my baggy riding jacket and my marks). Well, I nearly fell over – we had won both classes and my test sheets were filled with encouraging comments about how to improve for even higher marks.


I came away wondering what all the worry was about, to think that an affiliated competition would be any different to an unaffiliated competition after all riders are riders and judges are judges. Shortly after, I decided to become a member of British Dressage and still enjoy competing today, nearly ten years later.


My advice to anyone thinking about trying affiliated competitions is – you never know if you don’t try. If your reasons for not trying are the same as mine, I encourage you to embrace the nerves, do it anyway and make sure when you’re there, you have FUN. In what other sport can you compete in a class against a professional rider who might have even been to the Olympics? Everyone has to start somewhere, and I guarantee you, even the likes of Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin will have gone through similar nerves at their first affiliated competition.”


Rachel xx