From Endurance to Dressage
Build Your Own Arena - DIY Style
I've never kept my horses anywhere that had a true dressage court. Maybe someday... At the last barn where I boarded, the owner was fine with me laying poles from Home Depot on the ground to form a short dressage court. When I moved to the current ranch where my boys live now, I just never set my poles up again. For First Level, and even Second Level, the lack of a measured space didn't seem to have too much of an impact on my dressage scores. The same can't be said of Third.
After last weekend's show, I showed up bright and early to the ranch and asked if it would be okay to assemble a dressage court. The ranch owner is a kind woman and supports Speedy and me however she can. She instructed Reggie, the ranch's doer of things, to drag the arena and bring my poles over with the tractor. I spent the next two hours measuring and placing poles. I ended up with a 20 x 48-meter dressage court.
With my poles laid out, I added my orange cones that have the letters taped to one side. Since it's not 60-meters long, I had to decide where to modify the length. I subtracted 2.5 meters from each 12-meter section, and 1-meter from each 6-meter section. While it's tight at H,M,F, and K, it will feel like I have oodles of room once I am back in a standard length court.
The first day I rode in my new space, I wanted to kick myself for not setting up my poles THREE YEARS ago when I first moved to the ranch. It was a whole different experience riding from letter to letter and actually using a measured-out center line. I could see how this is going to improve my test riding accuracy as well as the over-all quality of our movements.
With my spaced measured out, I decided that the cones weren't a good every day solution. I've used them before, but not only are they hard to see, any time there is a puff of wind, they get knocked over and blown away. I've had to hunt them down after a windy evening, and I didn't really relish the idea of looking for them every morning. I went back to the ranch owners and asked if they had something heavy that could serve as my letters. No they didn't but what about using ...
A quick trip to the grocery store, and I had just what I needed. I bought square water jugs and printed two of each letter on a piece of paper so that I could apply a letter to the "front" and "side" of each jug. This way, I was able to angle the jugs so that I can see the letter no matter from which direction I ride.
I cut the letters to size with a paper cutter and affixed them to each jug with packaging tape. For less than $10 (I already had 4 jugs), I had new letters that wouldn't blow over, were essentially water proof, and were cheap to replace if kicked or damaged.
The whole project took me less than an hour, and they look really good! I even added the center line letters in red although I can't see them when riding. That's something I can always fix later on.
I was pleasantly surprised by how easy they are to see while riding. If I thought having long sides and a 20-meter short side were helpful, having letters is a game changer! As I rode, I was able to keep my figures much more round and even, particularly on Izzy. Even he seemed to like the new set-up. It was like driving a car out in a field versus driving on the freeway with marked lanes. Izzy just seemed to know where I wanted him to go!
We're supposed to have one last lesson tonight before Sunday's CDS-show. I can't wait for Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, to see my new work space. Hopefully it will help me improve my geometry. It certainly can't make it any worse!
If you're interested in using water jugs yourself, or some other similar material, I'm leaving a pdf of the arena Ietters I created. Just download and print.
When Third is Better Than First - Part 2
Part 1 here.
Finishing my 3-1 test was a huge relief. I knew it wasn't brilliant, but it wasn't terrible either. I am constantly telling my trainer that my greatest fear isn't embarrassing myself - I do that all the time. No, my greatest fear is embarrassing her.
It's stupid really. As a teacher, I never worry about my students embarrassing me. As long as they try, I'll never be angry or disappointed. I tell them every day that as long as they're trying, they'll ultimately accomplish whatever it is that they've set out to do. Usually it's long division or simplifying fractions. I feel like the flying changes are a lot like both of those math skills.
If I am not worried about my own students embarrassing me, why should I worry that I'll embarrass my own teacher? I shouldn't of course, but that's what happens when you have the utmost respect for someone and don't want her teaching methodology to be misrepresented. Finishing 3-1 without the judge kicking me out for being an idiot helped me realize that while we still have a long way to go, Third Level is the right place for us.
So when we did our second test on Saturday, Third Level Test 2, I was much more relaxed. I focused more on the geometry and worked harder to get an inside bend, especially in the corners. Most of the test was pretty satisfactory. We started off with a 7.0 for our centerline but a 5.0 for our shoulder-in left. From there, we earned a steady string of 6.0s with a lone 4.0 for getting "stuck" in the half turn on the haunches left. We earned a 7.0 for the medium walk. Our half pass right earned a 5.5 for not being on centerline, but from there we earned another string of 6.0s except for one.
Our flying change from left to right earned a 6.0 with the comment, "kicked leg, then clean". Our change from right to left looked better to me but only earned a 4.0 with the comment "late with HL." I can't see it very well in the video, but that 4.0 really cost us a lot of points.
For Saturday's Third Level Test 2, we earned a 58.816%. We missed a 60% by 4.5 points (out of 380!). Yet again we were this close.
The second and third tests of a two-day show weekend are usually our best. For the first test, I am typically nervous, and for the last test, Speedy is usually tired, and I am sort of over it. For our second try at 3-2, Sunday's last ride, I simply wasn't prepared. I had spent so much mental energy riding 3-1 over and over in my head that I let 3-2 kind of hang out in my peripherals. I knew it was coming, but I was hoping that it would just sort of happen in a best case scenario sort of way. That is not a good strategy by the way.
While I was determined to ride the hell out of Sunday's 3-2 test, good intentions were not quite enough to get a 60%. The trot work went nearly as well as the day before, except the renvers left. That thing lacked any hint of angle and garnered us a 4.0. No, it wasn't the trot work. It was the half pass to flying change that did us in.
I'd like to blame it on somebody, but it was my fault. I didn't run through the test just before entering at A like I usually do, so as my reader called out each movement, I was mentally lost and wishing she'd read it faster so I could prepare sooner. The whole canter section was a disaster starting with the walk to canter at F. We got a wrong lead and just never could get things organized again.
Speedy kept dropping the canter which meant I kept asking him to pick up a counter canter while half passing while also preparing for a flying change of lead. All I can say is don't try this at home, kids. It doesn't work. The same thing happened the other way. After the medium canter, I just couldn't get him sitting enough to make the 10-meter circle at C which meant he lost the canter, and there we were trying to replicate the same disastrous counter canter/half pass/flying change combo. I am lucky we even got the 3.0s and 4.0s that we did.
When you bomb 5 different movements - walk to canter, half pass times 2, and the flying change of lead times 2, ain't no way you're pulling a 60% out of that mess. But you know what? It's okay, we finished with a 6.0 for a clear release of reins, a 6.5 for our extended canter, and a 7.0 for our final centerline. In total, we earned a dismal 54.474%.
Knowing that the mistakes were mine and not Speedy's means it's an easy fix for next time. I am proud of the fact that I completely biffed a string of movements only to shrug it off and finish strong. On one test the judge even commented, "changes still developing." I love the positive spin she put on that. Yep, they are developing which means they'll only get better with time.
We're doing a CDS-rated show on Sunday. You can bet I've been working on the geometry and those 10-meter circles. I'll show you how tomorrow!
When Third is Better Than First - Part 1
Well, we really and truly did it; Speedy G and I competed at Third Level, and we did it at a two-day USDF/USEF-rated show. Did we hit a home run? Nope, it was more of a bunt really, but at least we got on base. Even with scores below 60% (yes, really!), I am still sort of giddy about the whole thing.
I still can't believe we did it! Although what exactly "it" is, I am not sure since we didn't earn any kind of qualifying score. The four tests mean absolutely nothing. But still. Third Level!
I was hoping for more, but at least it was better than I had feared. The number one thing the judge penalized me for on 3-1 was the geometry. In the half pass, we didn't start at centerline and our 10-meter circles weren't 10-meter circles. Those two things cost me a fair amount of points.
A lot of things went very right on Saturday. Our very first centerline (3-1) earned an 8.0 and our first pairs of turn on the haunches earned 6.5 each. We also earned a 7.0 for our medium walk.
And of course, a lot went pretty wrong. Since we didn't actually make it to centerline, our first trot half pass earned a 4.5, but who cares! We did a trot half pass! The second one earned a 5.0 with the comment, "still not from CL."
The worst part was of course the flying changes. For the first one, we scored a 4.0 with the comment, "late behind."
The other one was worse, MUCH worse. The judge's comment was spot on, "late behind many, many steps" which was a kind way of saying, I didn't think he was EVER going to change! We earned a 3.0.
In total, we earned a 57.703% which was 8.5 points (out of 370) short of my goal. We've done worse, especially when first starting a new level. It felt better than the video looks though.
I had had a lesson with Sean Cunningham of STC Dressage on Friday night and then had him coach me on Saturday since Chemaine Hurtado, my regular trainer, couldn't be there. His feedback was really helpful. That night, after finishing both of my tests, I watched the videos and read over the judge's comments. I was determined to do better the next day.
While I gave a few half points (and even a few full points) back, our flying changes were much better the next day. Both of them scored a 6.0 which definitely raised the score from Saturday's 3-1 test where we had earned a 4.0 and 3.0. Both changes have a double co-efficient which means the changes earned us 24 points on Sunday compared to only 14 points the day before.
For 3-1, we improved by a full 6.5 points, but it wasn't quite enough. The brilliant 8.0 we earned on Saturday's first centerline fell to a very sad 5.0 on Sunday. When I tallied up my points, we missed a 60.0% by just 2 points. We lost that 60% down our first centerline and didn't even know it. We earned my least favorite score, a 59.459%.
To say I might have been a wee bit crushed would be accurate. After 4 minutes of cursing under my breath though, I realized that Speedy and I have another USDF/USEF show next month. And if we don't get a 60% there, we'll go to another show in August. We'll get it eventually.
We also rode Third Level's test 2 which I'll try to get written for tomorrow. No 60.0% there either, but we had fun!
What I Am Not
Before I get to this weekend's show recap, I wanted to share some things I learned. (Spoiler alert!) I didn't get a single score of 60% or higher. While that was certainly disappointing, I had a ridiculously good time even so. Best of all though was that I gained some new insights about myself as a rider.
Guess what? Speedy and I are NOT Charlotte and Valegro. But no one else is either! I don't know why this hasn't occurred to me before, but the idea smacked me in the forehead as I sat watching a Second Level class after my own rides were finished. This is HUGE. I have spent NINE years certain of the fact that I pretty much suck at this sport. Over the weekend, I realized that EVERYONE else sucks, too!
When I first started as an Introductory Level rider in the summer of 2010, I thought everyone else rode beautifully, especially those riders a few levels above me. I would watch their warmups, particularly at Second and above, and think there was NO WAY I could ever ride as well as that.
I am not a rail bird, but what comes out of my mouth next is going to sound railbird-esque. As I watched the Second Level (and lower) riders, I could see and appreciate their effort and their try, but they pretty much sucked JUST LIKE ME! It is not my intent to disparage anyone. Instead, what I saw was a bunch of women and kids on a journey really similar to my own. None of us are fabulous, and we're all struggling equally.
That was one of the biggest insights I had: I am no better than anyone else, but I am not WORSE than everyone else either! Realizing that I am not a terrible rider or that conversely we all are, did a ton for my confidence. While we aren't Charlotte, that doesn't mean that we can't be good.
I was stabled near a big name trainer and a few of her clients. They had F-A-N-C-Y horses and (what seemed liked) plenty of money. I'll admit I felt a bit outclassed for a minute. One was riding First Level and the other Training. Both ladies felt compelled to offer explanations for why they were riding such low levels - both horses were Nervous Nellies who needed low pressure rides to build confidence. Okay, I thought. And? No need to justify to me why you're not riding PSG.
One of the ladies then added, in a very embarrassed tone, that she couldn't even remember the last time she rode at First Level. I bet Hilda Gurney does. It was probably fairly recently, too. Oh, wait; I just looked it up. She rode Training Level in May and again in April and again in March.
If that rider only knew how long it had taken me to get through First Level! I didn't take her comment personally. I just shrugged my shoulders, knowing that they were simply expressing their own feelings of inadequacy. I've got plenty of my own. But then I realized that we're all there for our own personal goals. No one's goal is better or worse than anyone else's. And suddenly, I didn't feel so outclassed after all.
Another realization that hit me was that losing so much weight, 42 pounds at the last check, has made showing a heck of a lot easier. Last summer, I could barely make it through my Second Level tests without collapsing in exhaustion. While I was still huffing and puffing at the end of each of my Third Level tests, I wasn't begging for them to be over, red-faced and wobbly. Doing Third with that extra weight would have been hard, really hard. If you're thinking of losing a few pounds, do it. It does make riding easier.
We all know that showing with our friends turns what could easily be a solitary pity-party into a group laugh-a-thon. I always enjoy hanging out with my friends at shows, but this time, something was different. Somehow the whole event seemed to be about enjoying the moment and the people in it rather than having a laser beam focus on THE SHOW.
One reason I go to this particular venue is because the show is managed by my dear friend Jen. She's an amazing show manager and puts up with some unbelievable weirdness. Dressage riders are a curious bunch. I spent my non-riding time as her beck and call girl. I ran tests from the judge to the show office for tabulating, I did some printer troubleshooting, and then I even helped the guys dismantle the dressage court so it could be moved to a different ring for Sunday's rides.
When I wasn't riding or helping out Jen, I spent some time laughing with my friend Sarah who helped me both unload and load crap. She just finished saving her gelding Enzo's eye. He has spent months battling an eye infection that started with a very small ulcer. She hopes to be showing in July. I'm certainly rooting for her.
I also hung out with my friend Valerie, owner of the Dressage Pony Store. If you ride a smaller statured horse, check out her online store. Her own pony Clooney, seen above, always looks brilliant in the stuff she carries in her store. Speedy's pad in the above photos came from the Pony Store.
Valerie is just one of the most down to earth people you'd ever want to meet. We spent hours giggling over our score sheets - she rode 3-3 and 4-1. We both laughed at comments we'd never seen before: vague, modest, not to CL followed by still not from CL, and my favorite, 11-meters (in reference to my 10-meter canter circle). We practically snorted over the 11-meter comment. It was just such a precise comment while my circle clearly was not.
This show definitely showed me what I am not. I am not Charlotte, but no one else is either. I am not a terrible rider and neither are the rest of you. I am not out there doing this alone. I have a lot of friends who want us to do well because that's what friends and fellow competitors should want.
And finally, while I didn't get a single qualifying score, I am not disappointed. Go figure!
Horse Are Expensive 3.0 - May
This weekend's show recap is coming. I need a few minutes to write it up. In the meantime ...
In the rush to close out the school year, I completely forgot to share my expenses for the month of May. Winter is normally when I do most of my saving for vacations and showing, but Speedy's "winter of woe" used up all of my summer play money. Things are going to be tight this summer.
Every time I start to feel that I might have a month free of unexpected "adult" bills, something else crops up. In May, my car had yet another run in with an object that meant a $500 bill. That money was supposed to cover half of what I still owe on Speedy's winter vet bills.
I was discussing my financial woes with my husband. I told him the easiest and quickest way I could get caught up would be to give up lessons and showing for a few months. Even he wrinkled up his nose at that. Sure, it would save me money, but the main reason I work is to be able to have horses. He suggested I just chip away at the bill slowly.
I quickly agreed and then sent in yet another show entry. It's only money, right?
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%: