dressage · dressage tests · Uncategorized

Summer Plans: First Level

In the spirit of putting things out there and then working up to them: I’d like to enter Tristan at first level this fall in our barn schooling show.

To that end, we’ll be lessoning a lot, working on fitness, and I’ve already broached the idea with my barn manager (who teaches us right now). She thought it was definitely feasible provided we keep working hard at forward.

So I’ve been looking through first level tests with an eye to the specific things that we’ll need to do that are different from Training, and where we are on those.

Photo Jun 05, 9 09 39 AM

plus some photos from last year’s fall show because I think I never shared them?

1. 10m half-circle + full circle in the trot

Okay, we’ve got that! We definitely school it pretty regularly. The trick is keeping it together, of course: keeping up impulsion while not letting his outside shoulder bulge out.

2. 15m circle in canter

We’ve done it. It’s not always pretty. This will require me to really work on that outside shoulder.

Photo Jun 05, 9 10 27 AM

3. lengthening of stride in trot and canter

Ummmmmmmm. Nope. Never really done it. I’ve played with transitions within the gait but more as an aid to adding impulsion. I’ve asked for nice big trots across the diagonal just for fun but never with the kind of discipline that a true dressage lengthening wants. Plus, it’s Tristan, anything that’s even vaguely more energy will always be our sticking point.

4. leg yield

We have these down COLD, we do them basically every day, whew, finally something I feel good about. I mean, there’s still loads that can go wrong but I have done this horrifically and perfectly and every way in between so I know how to take them apart and fix them again.

Photo Jun 05, 9 11 20 AM

5. change of lead through trot

Yup, got this one too, it’s just a matter of polishing it. I am actually pretty militant about doing this on the diagonal when schooling because it really freshens him up to turn down the diagonal at the canter, drop to the trot at x, and ask for the other lead. We probably put more strides in the trot than they want, and I am often focusing more on GO GO GO than I am on light, prompt transitions, but we have the basic concept down.

6. counter canter

lolol we’re fucked. Well, okay, no, we need to work on it. How’s that for optimism? (you guys my horse actively tries to fall over in just a correct lead canter, he is going to mutiny when I ask him to try even harder to balance, sigh) The good news is that it’s First 3 and I can just…not. But I am nothing if not overambitious, so probably we’ll be tinkering with this a bit.

Any advice for me? What was the hardest thing for you to get right when you moved up to First Level? Is reading this making you want to just go gallop a cross-country course instead? Any videos or tips that you found particularly helpful to think about?

dressage · dressage tests · soapbox

Soapbox Moment: Dressage Salutes

Okay. I need to come clean about this.

The way the vast majority of people do their dressage salutes drives me absolutely crazy.

You may argue that since I am very distinctly in the minority here, I’m in the wrong. You may even be right.

I don’t care. Seeing a quick, careless, sloppy salute gets under my skin immediately and fills me with irrational anger.

Please note that I did say “irrational.”

What do I mean? Here are a few examples. Please note: the riders here are more or less a random sampling, and many of them are really lovely riders. I’m only using them to talk about their salutes, not their general tests.

Do you see what I mean?

That quick, hurried flip on an antsy horse, before it’s even settled. The “get this over with” attitude toward the whole thing.

I see it in almost every single test I scribe for, and I do a fair amount of scribing – probably more than your average rider. (I have problems saying no.)

Here’s how I was taught to salute:

Ride your centerline.

Halt. Wait a beat for your horse to settle and square, and while doing so, seek out the judge’s face and make – if not eye contact – then at least a moment of connection.

Lower your head. Wait a beat.

Lower your right hand. Wait a beat.

Return your had to the reins. Wait a beat.

Raise your head, and in the moment that follows, re-find the judge’s face and get your horse ready.

Strike off.

Does that sound really long? It’s not. By “beat” I don’t mean even a full second, but I do mean a pause. Take a breath. Let yourself settle and have a moment of space. The whole thing takes perhaps twice as long as one of those flippy salutes, but by that I mean it takes perhaps 2-3 seconds, total, rather than a fraction of one second.

To me, a quick flip salute like the majority of riders do presents two major disadvantages.

First, it’s disrespectful. The point of a salute in the dressage test is to acknowledge the judge, and his/her role in what’s about to occur. It always makes me think of the (mostly apocryphal) gladiator salute. (“We who are about to die salute you!” though maybe that’s not very cheerful?) It’s a sort of mutual gesture of partnership. You present yourself to be judged, and acknowledge that the judge will be evaluating you. Giving it the space it deserves is only right. (Though, judging by how many people blast through it and the pretty good scores they’re still getting, most or all dressage judges don’t care too much!)

Second, it’s a built-in deep breath. Dressage is stressful. Riders are often nervous, frightened, worried – you name it. Going down the centerline is one of the biggest pressure moments in all of equestrian sport. Why blow through the one moment in the whole test where you can relax for a split second? Take that moment of zen. Appreciate it. Then get on with the business of riding the test. Don’t waste it!

So there. My soapbox moment. I realize this is a really small thing to go crazy over, but it really fills me with an all out of proportion amount of frustration.

Agree? Disagree?

beginner novice a · beginner novice b · dressage tests

New dressage tests!

The USEA has announced the new 2014 eventing dressage tests!

Here’s Beginner Novice A, and here’s Beginner Novice B.

First, a moment of honesty: these aren’t really all that different from previous tests. There’s only so much you can do with a BN test and still be fair. So we get a 20m circle at the ends, and a 20m circle in the center, both directions, trot and canter, with some free walks/diagonals thrown in for kicks.

Things I like:
– BNA has the circle in front of the judge to the right, which is our best direction.
– BNA has eons of time to prepare for that turn down the center line.
– BNB has a free walk down the long side: all the marching, none of the steering
– BNB has two diagonals at the working trot, which are a really great opportunity to show of a nice forward trot.
– They do read as really different tests, and BNB has just enough extra complexity to make it a nice B option

Things I don’t like:
– BNA is nearly identical to every other circles-in-ends test ever written which means I am going to have trouble finding exactly the right spot for transitions.
– BNA has some fairly quick transitions from canter to working trot to center line which could cause some seriously wonky centerlines and clearly tests should be written so I have all the time in the world to prepare for the things that come up next, right?
– BNB has left lead circles first, sigh, goodbye points.
– BNB actually has a worse transition to the centerline and it puts the free walk at the very end of the test. So you go from working trot to medium walk to free walk to medium walk to working trot all on one half of the arena. That is going to end in tears more than once.
– Neither test has my beloved broken center line. I freaking loved that thing. Way easier than getting a green horse to go straight to C, much softer line all around. *sadface*

dressage · dressage tests

"Throwing" a Class

I clicked on the title of this COTH thread thinking I was going to read some gossipy chat about high stakes dressage classes and underhanded betting schemes.

Instead, it’s a discussion of whether or not it’s okay to randomly start riding whatever figures you feel like in the middle of your dressage test, if you feel that makes the ride better. Say, you feel like a 10m circle would really help out your right bend, so if it’s okay to just throw one in. The OP frames the question as schooling show with a tense horse, so that helps maybe a little bit, but I am utterly horrified.

No. No, it’s not okay to start riding whatever you feel like in the middle of a dressage test, even if you’re okay with getting dinged for error of course. That is not the point of a dressage test, which is a proscribed series of movements in specific places and specific times, one leading to the other. The transitions are part of the test.

Not only is it missing the point, it’s incredibly, staggeringly rude to the judge, to the show organizers, and to your other competitors. It’s wasteful of the time and effort everyone has put in to craft a schedule, to choose tests, and to put on the schooling show in the first place. I have scribed for many, many dressage tests and if I ever saw someone randomly dropping in additional movements just because they felt their horse needed it, I would be confused and pissed off, as would every judge I’ve ever worked with.

Now: are there situations in which you can essentially school in a show ring? OF COURSE. Here’s the difference: you have a conversation with the show organizers ahead of time. You say, we’re having a lot of trouble with the show atmosphere; would it be possible for me to ride my test just before a break, or during a break, or at the end of the day, or first thing in the day? You make it clear that if things go drastically wrong, you might need to stay in for a few extra minutes to school and fix it. You are polite and courteous and you don’t just do whatever you feel like.

I’ve done that. I’ve asked to go back in the ring at the end of the day. I’ve completely, utterly blown a test and, knowing there was a gap after me in the schedule, asked if I could go back in the ring and work it out for a few minutes. Most schooling shows are totally fine with that; it’s what they really want to do. In fact, I’ve scribed for judges that have sent me as a runner after a horse and rider that just exited the ring to ask them to come back and work in the ring for a bit after they’ve had serious problems.

But just deciding to ride something different on the spur of a moment? No. That does not make you a considerate rider who’s just doing the best for her horse. It makes you a jackass.

2012 show season · beland dressage schooling show · cross-country · dressage tests · groton house summer classic

Groton House Summer Classic Recap

Short version: GOOD BOY!

Long version: show prep was delayed on Saturday due to the failure of our apartment’s central air mid-day Friday. I baked up a storm while the repairman cleaned the compressor to rid it of all its pollen build-up. I finally got to the barn around 3:30 and commenced prep, which was actually fairly straightforward. I’ve got a packing rhythm down now, and for the first time this season felt confident in everything I’d packed and gotten done. My prep ride was not good, and in retrospect should’ve been longer – I never quite got him through and connected, but we were in the outdoor and he was pissed about having to work harder in the deeper footing. I gave him an hour-long bath with both shampoo AND conditioner, and he looked fantastic – I even scrubbed his blaze and Quicksilver’d his hind sock to really bring out the white. He was miserable and furious the whole time, but that’s pretty standard for baths.

Sunday morning we got off just a few minutes late, but it turned out I hadn’t allotted quite enough time for tacking up and getting him ready by myself – as everyone else bolted for the Beginner Novice course walk and I didn’t even have time to snag an Elementary kid. It was probably my fastest and most efficient show tacking up ever, and failed on two counts: his braids and my white breeches, neither of which was really presentable. I’m going to have to start braiding him for lessons to get practice back, and to figure out how to secure the running braid, especially the tail end – it’s been pulling out mid-warmup and looking awful.

Warmup was good, not great. It had some nice moments and was in a good place near the end. We needed a bit more suppleness than we ever got. When we trotted around the ring prior to starting he gave bug-eyes to the judge’s house, but we turned and trotted back the other way and he was already over it. We started our test, made the turn at C, then turned to go across the diagonal – and got rung out.

I was completely baffled, and walked back to the judge. “You’re meant to cross the ring directly at B,” the judge said. I stared at her, and said “I thought it was a diagonal?” and my brain completely melted down, thinking oh God, if I’ve memorized this test completely wrong, and how am I going to ride all my diagonals as direct lines, and she said, “You’re riding B, right?” and I said, “Yes, B. But I really thought it was a diagonal.” The judge paused and said, “Novice B, right?” and I felt a huge wave of relief. “No, Beginner Novice B.”

Now that we were on the same page, I circled off the long side, back down the center line, and started my test over. I’d lost some connection and rhythm, though, and was flustered, and on top of never quite hitting my stride in the warmup meant it was not the best test I’ve ever ridden. It did have some nice moments: I was really pleased with my accuracy, making a point to distinguish circles from corners, nailing my diagonal departures and arrivals, and really letting him shine on those diagonals. The left canter was a dud – flubbed the lead, unusual for us, and then meandered down the long side – but the right canter felt good. The final centerline and halt was good.

After the dressage test we had some downtime, as I untacked him, organized jumping equipment, and put him back on the trailer. I settled arrangements to meet my stand-in coach for the day – Denise from my XC lesson last week, as my times didn’t work out to make the general Flatlands one – and then even had a few minutes to chat with people and relax.

Then we went on the XC course walk and my semblance of calm went up like a puff of smoke. It was a solid Beginner Novice course – Denise said that King Oak in the fall will be comparable or even perhaps a bit easier. It was still a good move-up course but this was a big leap of faith I was taking, transitioning up to BN so quickly. Tris and I have a long, solid partnership, we’ve been working to expose ourselves and get off property and stay focused, but this was still not a decision based entirely on safe, solid, reliable mileage.

I brought my camera, but was too busy suppressing my gag reflex to take pictures, and there are no pictures online that I can find, so a verbal description will have to suffice. First jump was a nice, inviting big log uphill, and then a turn left to a bit of an airy three-log pyramid on a fenceline, with a bit of a downhill on the landing. Curve left over a little barn-like coop, and then land and turn right and a bit of a run across the field to what I think was a maxed-out rolltop. This was the first jump of any size and it was the one that I was most worried about. Land from the rolltop and enter the woods, then go left through a gate and over a tiny little ditch. Continue along a trail through the woods, turn a hard right and go down a bit of a steep, rocky, hill, at the bottom of which a sharp left loop and over an open log fence of some size – basically another log coop with zigzag logs across the front. Come out into the back field for an option: big, almost Novice-sized flat-topped coop or a smaller adjacent one. Curve right uphill for a cute little brush fence, and then downhill again for a solid red coop. Through the woods, curving left, and out of the woods off a small drop with a downhill away back into the field, then a hard right back into the woods, up and out the other side and turn left over two related fences, both hanging logs – I believe four or five strides between. Through a bit of a tree line, and down a steep hill into the water complex, which is gorgeous, but we were only doing a mandatory crossing. Cut left after the water to come up around a hill to the right, for a little red bench, then left over a rock pile topped with a log, then uphill over a cabin for the final fence.

It was a solid course. I’m not sure what I expected, but it got in my head in a pretty good way. I walked from that to the stadium course, which was also solid: fairly straightforward lines, but a couple of full-on BN airy oxers. That did not help the knots in my stomach.

I tacked up and got him ready with the help of one of the barn grooms for the day, and we walked up to the stadium warmup, where we stood quietly in the shade with Tristan’s nose on an XC jump that wasn’t on the course. He was near to falling asleep, and I talked to T. for a few minutes, asking him if he had any particular advice for Tristan for the XC course (“Point him at the jumps. Keep your leg on.”). Then it was time for us to put in a few jumps, and oh, did I ever eat the first few. Leaned, didn’t keep my leg on, stared down the jump like it was going to eat me – a tiny little crossrail, mind. T. got after me, and cleared it up, and we had a couple of nice jumps over an oxer, and then waited again. I was more or less completely numb waiting, and then went into the ring, and saluted the judge, and picked up the canter and…locked on the first jump. WHEW.

I think it was one of the best stadium rounds I’ve ever ridden. It flowed, I got my distances, and I was so determined to get up and over everything that I had plenty of leg. We had a small bobble coming to the second-to-last when we didn’t land with the right lead and we had a stride or two of fight about picking up the correct lead, but we nailed it, and then I was so relieved to be coming toward the last jump that the distance wasn’t great, but we did it.

We walked down to XC, and we had a bit of delay so they could keep the numbers of people on the course down, and then they told us to go. I composed myself a bit, and pushed him forward into a trot. We were a bit lacking in impulsion for the first fence – which Denise had suggested we trot, but we landed and we were away. My nervousness translated nicely into laser focus, and there was nothing in my head but forward, forward, forward, and steering. There were a couple moments when his shoulders drifted, but I got them back immediately. Our direction on the course walk had been to land going away, much like our XC school, and we accomplished that on a few fences. There were a few moments when I trotted him – through the gate and over the ditch (which he jumped BEAUTIFULLY, clean and economic and landed cantering), down a few of the trickier hills, over one jump Denise had suggested we trot as it came after one of those hard downhills and picking up the canter on a tight turn would’ve stretched our balance.

We had a few rough spots; the big red coop going into the woods came right after a dirt road. I had thought that Tris might jump the road, actually, and was urging him forward, but he skittered a bit at it – not a stop or spook, more like a moment of uncertainty that there was new footing underneath his feet – which threw us off our approach, and though I had urged him up and forward again he knocked the jump hard with his front legs. He recovered quickly on the landing, though, and didn’t seem too stung, so we kept going. When we emerged up the hill, we were called off by the jump judge to be overtaken – I didn’t think I’d been going too slowly, but so it goes. Then there was a fall on course, so we were a little while in re-starting. I didn’t give him a great approach to the fence, plus he was tiring, and that first fence was a little awkward. I urged him forward for the second, and he cleared it easily.

We trotted down the hill to the water and he went bug-eyed on the approach, but I kicked and kicked and kept him pointed at it, and eventually we trotted in, went back to a walk briefly in the water, and I praised him to the skies and then picked up the trot again out and the canter again going up the hill. The last few jumps were great, and then – since I had jumped the right-hand side of the last fence – there was a split second when I wrestled control of his shoulders back to stay pointed between the finish flag.

I was really, really proud of him, and could not have asked for a better go of his first full Beginner Novice course. He was pretty tired, just stood to be untacked and sponged off, but his breathing came back down quickly, and after he was sponged a few times my father took him for a bit of a walk around the parking lot. When he came back he was completely cooled off, and I put him on the trailer to hang out and rest in the shade, and made much of him.

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing – I spent some time watching other warmups, with friends, and watching the scores go up. Our dressage score of 37.6 had us tied for seventh place after dressage, but after the jumping phases we moved up to third. I hadn’t expected to finish in the ribbons; I was aiming for finishing on our dressage score. I was pleasantly surprised and quite proud of Tris. The only confusing spot of the day was when I looked at my dressage test – and we’d received a four on our free walk. His free walk is usually his shining gait, and I had thought ours was pretty good that day. Ah well.

Home, where I turned him out in his pasture for a long drink and a roll, rubbed him all over with liniment, and gave him a gram of bute with dinner. Back to work on Tuesday for a flat lesson; our next show is a dressage schooling event on July 8.

2012 show season · beginner novice a · dressage tests · hitching post farm · video

Hitching Post Recap: Dressage

…and then life intervened, whew. I haven’t even turned on my home computer since Monday, much less been able to work from it.

Back on track. Tristan woke up on Saturday morning disinclined to participate in the day’s activities. He paced his stall, followed me around while I cleaned it around him, had hoovered up his grain but was fussing too much to really eat more hay after that. I cleaned his stall as best I could – he’d tracked hay a fair bit, next time I’ll know and bring a hay net – and put him on the trailer. We got to the grounds about 6:50. My goal was to get on by 7:30.

Thank goodness I had some help getting him ready, because he would. not. stand. still. He’s typically a little fidgety in new places to be tacked up, but this went beyond the pale. He was flinging everyone who hung onto him every which way he could. Eventually we got tack on him, but it took three times as long to do a running braid in his mane – and unfortunately it looked terrible – because I couldn’t get a grip with his flinging about.

He was a hot ticket in his warmup too, and I fell into my typically nasty trick not wanting to put leg on because he was so reactive. Please understand that Tristan’s reactive is an order of magnitude smaller than most horses; I prefer him that way. He is spooky and light so rarely that it unnerves me when he is. I can out-stubborn my horse all day long, but as soon as he gets reactive, I feel like I’m riding a horse of spun glass and hesitate to apply firm aids.

Luckily, T. talked us through it, and pointed out that when I actually put my leg on, firmed my reins, and rode him, he was going nicely. If I’d had another 15 minutes I might’ve really settled us in, but the warmup was not terribly productive. We moved down to the secondary warmup and did some trotting. I opted out of cantering down there to avoid problems with the little kids on ponies without steering.

I felt good about him once he was in the ring, though, and overall, was happy with my test. He was responsive and mostly willing. The first left canter circle was terrible; sort of a 15 meter egg shape instead of a proper circle. After the free walk, though, I felt great about everything. I knew we’d nailed the free walk, which is one of Tristan’s favorite things, and I felt great about the right trot circle and then, bless him, he gave me an right lead bang on cue. My halt wavered a bit but I waited until he’d settled and gave a full, proper, measured salute.

(Pet peeve: riders who slide into a halt and nod and fling their hand out to the side in .25 seconds while their horse is still jigging. I halt, confirm he’s settled, put down my hand, half count, put down my head, half count, and then bring both back slowly. Then I look at the judge, then I drop the reins.)

The judge said it was a really nice test, and T. said afterwards it was really quite pleasant. He has said in days since that Tris wasn’t carrying any tension at all in his hind legs, and really produced a nice, rhythmical test, which was great news. Though I didn’t know it at the time, we scored a 32, with an 8 for the free walk and, astoundingly, an 8 for gaits. Thanks to my hare-brained wavering during the halt, we got a 5 for that – apparently I managed to completely miss X.

One of the barn moms was kind enough to email me a few days later and say that she’d videod the second half of Tristan’s test, so here it is for posterity. It starts with that lovely free walk.