From Endurance to Dressage
Wow. Things have been hectic at my house. There's work of course; that keeps me very busy five days a week. There has also been a fair amount of showing of late: 6 show days over an eight week period. Hubby and I also just spent a weekend at our cabin. This was the first Saturday that I've actually been home in several months.
I would have liked to have arrived at the barn after a leisurely morning at the house, but our temperatures have breeched the 90 degree range so it's back to early morning rides when possible. I lunged Speedy in the side reins first, more about that later, but then it was Sydney's turn.
He and I had a few bleh rides this past week so I was really looking forward to getting some solid work out of him. Riding after a full work day is hard. I am not as mentally sharp as I need to be, and my body is already tired before I even step into a stirrup. All of that equaled rides that weren't as productive as they needed to be.
Since Speedy had been a bit wild and wooly on the lunge, I suspected Sydney might be feeling fresh as well so he also did some lunge line work. Nothing wild happened, but he did toss in a few bucks, and he did give a few dig-in rounds on the line before I asked him to return to a more sensible tempo. Once I knew the worst of whatever was going to happen had happened. I brought him back to a walk and gave him lots of reassuring pats and hugs. I've learned that the lunge line is a bit stressful for him. I think (know) his previous owners used the lunge line simply to work out excess energy. But that's a different topic.
My riding plan was to focus on my hand and body position to see if I could have a positive effect on Sydney's position. I kept my hands low and really encouraged him to reach to the bit with my seat and legs. We did lots of circles, changes of direction, serpentines, and trot work down the long side.
I am finding that the best way to loosen up Sydney's neck and back is to do lots of changes of directions. We've been doing a lot of serpentines over the past week or so, and I find that if I pick up the canter after a few of those, his canter is lighter, and it is easier to move his shoulders.
I am really happy with the work that he is doing for me. He can reach so nicely for the contact when he is relaxed and his canter, both to the left and right, has come a long, long way. We can now easily make the turn at A to go down the centerline and we can even do a three loop serpentine. We'll continue to do what we can to work on suppleness and will hope that he can give me at least half of what he can do at home at his next show.
I am so very glad that I stuck it out with this boy. He is a very nice horse!
It came over the weekend! Can I just say that I danced around like it was Christmas?
Want one? You only need four scores over 60% from 4 different judges at USDF-rated shows. Sounds a lot easier than it was; it took me six USDF shows over 13 months to get the four required scores.
I’ve been using the bucking strap for a week. It has proven to be much more useful than I originally thought it would. I’ve used it while riding both boys, but for different purposes.
While Sydney is stiff, he enjoys being loosened up and gets a lovely swing through his back once he relaxes. I am finally realizing that his shape and build make dressage easier for him than for Speedy. He is built more uphill and has a better top line than Speedy does. He is also much more willing to accept contact and actually enjoys stretching out and down.
When I first get on Sydney, we always walk on a loose rein. This week, I’ve allowed the rein to be fairly loose, but I’ve tucked my fingers under the strap. Within a minute, Sydney lowers his head and neck and walks along very relaxed. He no longer starts out with a giraffe neck. The strap helps me keep my hands low and quiet which tells him to go low and quiet.
When we pick up the trot, I also keep my fingers tucked under the strap. For the last two months, I have started out with my knuckles pressed into my thighs to keep my hands quiet as well as to encourage myself to ride with my seat and less with my hands. The strap serves the same purpose, but it allows me to keep my hands in a more natural positon.
As I feel Sydney get more relaxed, I slowly let go of the strap, but I focus on maintaining contact with it so that my hands, particularly the right one, don’t get too high. If Sydney starts to resist, flip his nose, or root, I re-establish the steady contact by slipping a finger under the strap and adding leg. As we continue our warm up, I also slowly shorten the reins. This usually causes Sydney to tense and bounce his nose, but as soon as I tuck a finger under the strap, he actually reaches and accepts the shorter rein length.
On Wednesday night, for whatever reason, Sydney had a bee in his bonnet and couldn’t relax. The strap was extremely helpful when tracking left. I tucked my left fingers under and was free to focus on slowing down the outside shoulder without losing the inside bend. The next night I did the same thing while tracking right. The strap is really giving me a better feel as to what steady really means.
And then there's Speedy G ...
Speedy is so heavy on the left rein that while the strap is very helpful, it is physically difficult for me to maintain my hold on the strap as he resists the left bend; he’s that heavy. JL suggested I put him in a bitting rig for a few days with a slightly exaggerated bend to let him work through the problem without fighting me in the process.
Several times this week I did just that. Speedy’s a smart boy and while he wasn’t thrilled to have his neck bent in the side reins, he didn’t fuss or throw a tantrum. It took him a bit to trust that he could go forward even though he couldn’t stretch his neck out. I tend to be overly cautious with the side reins, so I know they weren’t too short. To prove to him that he would get a release by softening his jaw and poll, I left the outside rein fairly long and shortened the inside rein to where I have been holding it with the use of the strap.
The first day we tried this exercise, he resisted the inside bend, but by the second day, I could see a little slack in the inside rein and I was able to push his body away from the whip’s tip much more easily. I paid special attention to the inside hind leg and really asked it to step up and under himself (to the best of my ability). By the third day of the exercise, the lunge line was slack as Speedy trot around me without falling in or tugging on the line. We did a series of trot to canter to trot transitions that I was really happy with.
On Saturday, I lunged him one more time before riding. I know that it will take him a while to build up the outside hind and really learn to stretch his right side. Now that I understand his stiffness, I can help him loosen up.
I try to keep my posts original, but now and again I run across stuff written by other people who either say it better than I ever could, or, like today, answer one of my many questions.
I have been troubled by scores lately. I want higher scores like everyone else, but more than that, I need to know what the scores really mean. It is very difficult as a teacher to earn a score that I consider the equivalent of failing. In my classroom, anything less than 80% says you didn't try your best. Truly internalizing (and believing) that 60% is not a failing dressage test score has been very difficult for me. If 60% isn't failing, what is? And if 60% is passing, are all those riders who earn 70%+ scores the equivalent of the Gifted and Talented kids, equestrian geniuses if you will?
To answer my question, I did some more Googling, which most of the time only yields more confusion than answers. In this case though, I stumbled across an interesting website with some really helpful articles. I am not sure what the site is actually called (Classical Dressage Notebook?) as there is no Home page, but here is a link to the page I am referencing.
Here's what the author, Sue Morris, has to say about scores:
"Firstly, let’s look at what is a good dressage score. As a rule of thumb we can say that:
Adequate - 50+%
Very Good - 60+%
Exceptional - 70+%"
If this is the understood breakdown of test scores, then Speedy G and I are in good shape! I've been under the impression that the hacks (like me) were scoring 60% while the real riders were getting the 70% scores. Very good sounds very good to me!
The author goes on to clarify each mark ...
"The judge scores each movement on the test sheet out of 10 and the standard definitions for these marks are:
10 Excellent------ Very rarely given. It means as good as it gets.
9 Very Good------Not often awarded; you can be very proud when they appear on your score sheet.
8 Good------------ An appropriate level of engagement for the level.
7 Fairly Good------Still a good mark, maybe a minor inaccuracy prevented an 8 being given.
6 Satisfactory----The movement was obedient and accurate, marred by outline, perhaps.
5 Sufficient--------Horse did what he should, but maybe lacking engagement or on the forehand.
4 Insufficient-----A serious inaccuracy occurred; counter bent; rough transition; head tossing.
3 Fairly Bad-------A serious problem occurred; lack of control, very late or fluffed transitions.
2 Bad---------------Now we’re talking severe disobedience; bucking; rearing; napping.
1 Very Bad---------The horse must have bolted through the movement to receive this!
0 Not Performed---Self explanatory. Horse didn’t perform any of the required movement e.g. failing to strike off in left canter and continuing on in trot."
While I have seen the scores explained before, I even have a chart here, I've never seen further comments like these. These seem right on the mark and offer more clarification. After reading this, my goal of eliminating 5s on my score sheet seems like a good one.
It appears as if the score of 5 is where the comments begin to take on a negative quality. So it makes sense that scores in the 50 - 59% range would be considered only marginally adequate. If it is at the 6s where the positive properties begin, then 60%+ would be considered "passing." The higher your score, of course, the more passing it becomes. If 60% scores are very good, then it does ring true that scores of 70% and higher are exceptional.
This relieves some of my personal angst over my recent run of 60%+ scores. My scores in the high 50s have always felt disappointing. The problem is that my scores in the 60s haven't felt successful either. I couldn't understand how both USDF and CDS could use 60% as a baseline for awards and recognition programs if it was a failing or marginal grade. I feel much better about those 60%+ scores now. I can live with very good.
Sue Morris (read about her here)
I just received my California Dressage Society "plate" from my local chapter of CDS, the Tehachapi Mountain Chapter. I just ordered the plaque so that I'll have someplace to stick the plate. I have no idea how long it will take to arrive, but once it does, I'll be sure to post a photo of my one little plate mounted on the plaque. It won't be lonely for long though; I already have seven scores above 60% at CDS/USDF/USEF shows for this show season, which means I definitely get another plate for next year!
As a pie-in-the-sky goal, I am hoping to have enough scores in 2013 to at least apply for the California Dressage Society's Henry Burchard Memorial Trophy which is given to the rider with the most scores above 60% for the show season. We were pretty close last year with 11 scores; the winner had 15. We may not be brilliant (I am discovering that my cute little Arab doesn't quite move with the same grace as the big boys do), but we are persistent, prolific, and fairly consistent.
I am not sure quantity is as desirable as quality, but it's the best we can do for now!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: