From Endurance to Dressage
I am on my way to RAAC. I'll admit it; I am really excited about this opportunity. Yeah, yeah, big deal. I know. It's not like riding for a USDF championship, but I did have to qualify, and I worked really hard to be able to go.
I've been talking about RAAC for some time. Most of you probably have no idea what the RAAC actually is. Here's a blurb from the California Dressage Society (CDS):
I qualified at both Introductory Level (Basic) and at Training Level. Believe it or not, it was more difficult, for me anyway, to qualify at Intro because you have to have two scores of 65% or higher from two different judges. That's not so easy. For the rest of the levels, you only need two scores of at least 60% from two different judges. That was easy. I had more than seven scores over 60% to choose from.
RAAC is a two-day affair. The first day of the show is just a regular CDS/USDF/USEF show. Anyone can enter. Day two is also just a regular show, but RAAC participants are riding for a second level of recognition. I know there are RAAC ribbons and prizes of some type, but in all honesty, I have no idea what to expect. I know there is some kind of an award ceremony and a photo session for high placing riders, but I really doubt that I'll need to participate.
It's not like I am selling myself short; I am just realistic. I qualified at Training Level, but I only just started riding these tests less than a year ago. I've only done test 3 twice, and both rides were done this month. Many of the other riders will no doubt be much more practiced at this level. That's okay. My goals, as always, are to have fun, get a somewhat acceptable canter departure, and not finish dead last.
Geez. My goals continue to be rather low. Is have fun what the never-good-enough crowd always hopes for? I seriously hope that one day I can write, be in the top three as one of my goals. And I am serious about not wanting to be dead last. (Insert ominous music here.) I know someone has to be there, and it will most likely be me, but I really hope not.
Here are my ride times and class sizes for day one; these are not RAAC classes.
Oh yay. I get to go first. Did you notice who the judge is? Hilda Gurney!!!! I rode for her in Santa Barbara; she gave me good scores then. I hear that she likes Arabians. The bad thing about riding for Hilda is that her scores won't help me earn my USDF Training Level Award as I already have one score from her. I need a total of four scores from four different judges. Bummer.
This is by far the largest class in which I will have ever ridden. One of the other riders from the class is also from Bakersfield. I wish her well. I don't know any of the others. There are thirteen riders; that doesn't bode well. Isn't 13 an unlucky number? I just hope and pray NOT to be the thirteenth placed rider.
The second class is a bit smaller, but I still don't know any of these riders. This class is judged by Gail Hoffman. I rode for her in June, and I didn't get great scores from her. I hope her scores were low because we stunk as opposed to her having something against Arabians. Again, I just don't want to be last.
Here are the RAAC classes. They're held on Sunday, but I don't think every rider entered in the classes are participating in RAAC. I guess I'll find out on Sunday.
My first class is at 8:00 a.m. Guess what? I think I am going to win. How embarrassing. I am not sure why no one else in the entire middle section of California entered at Introductory Level. Was it not worth the time and money to get to the show? Was it too hard for Intro riders to earn two scores of 65%? Were other riders embarrassed to go to RAAC only to show at Introductory? Again, I just don't know. I hope that CDS doesn't drop the Intro classes from RAAC. I saw it as a great opportunity to get my feet wet. I never imagined that I would also qualify at Training Level.
And then there's the BIG one, Training Level 3. It's the real reason I am going to RAAC. I am not putting pressure on myself. I know we won't win, and I can say fairly confidently that we probaly won't be in the top three. I only hope we're not in the bottom three.
This class is also judged by Gail Hoffman, not my biggest fan. My plan is to try and do everything that I practiced with JL this week: keep Speedy soft, encourage him to listen to my leg, keep my seat light, and ask for the canter with a light leg aid. If we get through the canter departures without the theatrics, the only thing bugger that will lower our score will be the stretchy trot. If that's the only part we blow, I'll be more than happy.
I am fairly certain I won't have an internet connection at the show grounds which means you won't hear from me until Monday. I promise to let you know how this whole thing goes. Wish us luck!
On Sunday night I sent JL a text, right lead canter was BAD. Can I have an extra lesson on Monday night, and will YOU ride him? A yes answer came back.
She started out by checking all of the things that we've worked on: did he move off her leg? Yes, with spurs. How was his whoa! Pretty good. Did he soften? Not too bad. As she rode, she talked me through what she was doing. When she found a little stickiness, she rocked the rein until Speedy was light and responsive. Sometimes she had to use the pulley halt to let him know that he couldn't hang on her.
JL discovered that Speedy wants to be really light. The problem is that he doesn't want to move his hind end. The spurs got his butt going, which allowed him to lighten up in front. She also discovered that the rider has to be very, very consistent with him and NOT let him hang for even an instant. Once he knows where he needs to be, consistency will keep him light.
Then she worked on the canter. There was improvement right away: no bucking, no kicking out. It wasn't the prettiest canter departure, but it was much improved. JL's feeling was that I was using way too much leg and it was pissing him off.
For the last half of the lesson, I got on. Man, oh, man was he soft! He moved so nicely off my leg, and he stayed really light up front. We worked on the right lead canter as well. Again, it wasn't great, but we were able to get a few departures that didn't involve launching me to the moon.
I went back for a follow-up lesson on Wednesday. When I came home, I told Hubby that I need lessons twice a week. It was so effective to follow up two days later. Two-a-week isn't likely to happen any time soon, so I'll just have to appreciate what happened this week.
Any way ...
We started the lesson working to the right and worked on establishing softness. With spurs on, Speedy was listening to my leg right away. We did lots of moving sideways to help soften him. When needed, I rocked the rein. I couldn't believe how much lighter and softer he was. If he's not light and soft, I am not to canter him. If he's sticky up front, my job is to unstick him. That might mean rocking the rein, or doing a pulley halt.
Once JL and I felt that he was soft up front, she asked me to canter left. He exploded forward like a rocket. Damn. Where did that come from? JL kept telling me to use less leg, and I kept saying that I hadn't used ANY leg.
JL: you didn't use any leg?
We repeated the exercise, and each time, the same thing happened: from rising trot, I sat a stride and then ... whamo! Explosive launch forward. After a half dozen attempts, JL finally saw my mistake. When I sat before the canter departure, I was sitting down DEEP and PUSHING.
We gave it a little test. She instructed me to do a rising trot and then sit for a bit and then return to rising trot. Sure enough, the second I sat, Speedy tried to launch forward into a gallop.
The problem has been mine all along. (No surprise there.) I was sitting much too deeply which is the cue for GO FASTER! We spent some time just working on my sitting trot. We went round and round first at the rising trot and then at the sitting trot until Speedy quit trying to gallop when he felt me sit.
It was then that I was able to really start working on the canter departure. I went from rising trot to a soft, sitting trot and slooooowly put my leg on. We cantered a pretty decent circle. Not beautiful, but not explosive either.
To the right, we did much the same thing, except that I had to first get him straight before asking for the canter. Speedy wants to carry all of his weight on his right hind which allows him to kick with the left. JL had me ride a square where I pushed his left leg back under himself so that he had to carry more weight on the left hind. Again, the canter departures weren't great, but they were much improved.
The most amazing thing happened during this lesson. All of the individual parts started to stand out on their own. I felt like I was riding in slow motion. I could finally feel his hind end moving. As we were trying to get the canter departure, I could feel each hind leg trying to "get it." JL kept telling me to be patient, and wait for it. I finally understood what she meant. As I sat softly, I was telling him that something was coming. He started to listen. I rested my leg on his side, and then very slowly added pressure until he was sure that I really wanted to canter. And then he did.
It was the best lesson we've ever had.
The other day I wrote about riding Sydney in the afternoon for the first time since May. It was a pretty tense ride, and I worried that was how it was going to be in the afternoons. I wasn't happy.
I rode again on Friday afternoon, but this time, there wasn't a tense bone in Sydney's body. It could be that I was more relaxed and that I had no time constraints working against me. Hubby was at the cabin so it didn't matter what time I got home. I fed Sydney and let him eat for more than an hour as I hosed the barn aisle, mixed feed, raked, and did a variety of other barn chores.
By the time I saddled, it was still 100℉, but neither of us seemed to care. Sydney was so relaxed that I actually had to tap him with the whip to get a little momentum going. We did lots of walking and after just several circles in each direction, I hopped off him with effusive Good Boys! to show him that relaxed behavior gets a reward.
I got a late start on Saturday morning as I needed to run by the feed store before going to the barn. I didn't get started with Sydney until well after 9:00 a.m. Even so, he was just as relaxed as the evening before. I was very happy. I tried something a bit different just to let him know that this is supposed to be fun. I gave him a loose rein and asked him to trot. My plan was to make all of the turns with just my seat and legs, no reins.
An interesting thing happened. Sydney kept a really nice rhythm and went long and low on his own. He also made the turns without me needing to work the inside rein. I even made the turn at A up the center line with no rein. And then, just to see if he was really listening, I sat back and exhaled at the same time. His halt was immediate and square.
After the halt, I picked up the reins and worked in the same manner, but this time I tried to maintain an elastic and steady connection. Sydney lost his easy rhythm, and our turns got more shallow. He also got fussy up front. This tells me I am not steady in my hands and need another lesson on him to help me establish an acceptable amount of contact.
I am okay with this. It wasn't as though he had his head sky high and was herky-jerky all over the place. It just felt as though he was more steady when I gave him the long rein. Steady is steady and can't be a bad thing. I just need to learn how to take up a steady contact with him so that he feels just as comfortable in my hand as he does when there is very little contact.
As long he remains relaxed, anything can be accomplished!
Since Speedy was seriously wound up after the first test, I took him back to the warm up where I planned to canter him for the full 15 minutes that I had before needing to be back in the show arena. We cantered to the left for a long, long time. It definitely helped. He got softer and softer and finally quit plowing through my hand. Although he was slightly hollow, we did earn a 6 on the second test for the left lead canter so I must have been right about Speedy's need to work some of his tension out.
After working on the left lead canter, I started to work to the right. At this point, all hell broke loose. I became one of those riders that trainers warn about in the warm up ring. To those who were trying to warm up, I offer my sincerest apology. I know that we were scary to be around, and I hope that I didn't mess up your own warm up.
Every time I asked for the right lead canter, Speedy either gave an enormous kick/buck, or he dove to the inside, or he did a combination of things. He was throwing an all out temper tantrum. Each time he blew a gasket, I slammed the breaks on, and asked again. I would get one semi-decent canter transition for three ugly ones. Before I knew it, my fifteen minutes were up and I had to report to the show arena. Crap.
As I stood at the gate waiting to go in, I had a panic attack. I simply couldn't remember the test. Speedy's shenanigans had me pretty flustered. After my first season of showing, I decided that memorizing my tests was the only way I could be successful as I always travel alone and don't have a reader at the ready. On this day, flying solo was not going to to the trick.
To no one in particular, I simply said, I need a reader after all. Several ladies looked in my direction. They must have had some sort of show down in the eye meets eye duel, because one of them clearly lost. She asked which test I was riding and looked genuinely sorry when she said she didn't have a copy. I pulled my Winnie Widget out of my pocket and handed it to her. We both talked through the test; she was trying to learn it while I was trying to get my brain moving again.
The second lady, the winner of the eye duel, kept telling me to just breathe and remember that it was one simple test and no big deal. She shared her own earlier problems with her own horse and reminded me again and again to breathe and relax. By the time I went through the gate, I was smiling and laughing at the whole thing. I greeted the judge who also smiled very good-naturedly. It's been more than two years since someone has read the test to me. I would not have made it though without her. Thank you, Kind Soul!
Our trot up the centerline, always our best movement, earned a 6.5 and our first loop to the left also earned a 6.5. I could feel that we were on a track for a solid ride. Our left lead canter earned a 6, as did the canter circle at B. In this test, the rider circles at B, but then continues on past C to H where she has to cross the diagonal returning to trot at X. We haven't done much work on this movement, so I wasn't surprised by the 5.5 or the judge's comments. This is an area we need to work on.
Our medium walked earned a 6.5 as did our free walk. The single loop to the right earned a 6 which is a solid score especially since we've only done it twice.
The next section of the test cost us many, many points. For the right lead canter, Speedy threw a wild fit. He bucked, kicked, and refused to pick up the canter. We earned a 3. Once I did get a canter, it was on the wrong lead so I brought him back to trot and asked for the departure again. The second time he actually picked up a decent canter, but it was too late for a good score: 4.5. However, our downward transition to trot after those shenanigans earned a solid 6. I felt it was a good recovery.
Training Level Test 3 saves the stretchy trot for the very end. We scored another 4. Halfway through the trot, which was nothing like stretchy, he hopped into a right lead canter, SERIOUSLY - this is when you canter??????. I am quite sure the judge should have been harsher in his score. I was grateful for the 4.
After failing at the stretchy trot, I set my eyes on nailing the trot up the centerline. I know we do this well, or at least better than anything else, so I positioned us for the best score possible. The judge rewarded our effort with a 7 and the comment, straight.
We scored a dismal 55.800%, 10.5 points shy of a 60%. The right lead canter depart has a coefficient of 2. Earning a 3 there really hurt our score, as did the 4.5 for the canter circle. I am trying hard to look at the movements separately rather than the overall score. We goofed in only three movements. The rest of the test was very satisfactory.
I keep reminding myself, my goal is improvement, not perfection!
Here is the score sheet. Click to enlarge.
But first, do you remember Angela? She was the rider who was getting ready for her very first show ever. If you don't remember her, you can read about her here. She was just finishing her second test of the day when I pulled in. I didn't get to see her ride, but she spotted my trailer and came over to say hello. Her handsome steed, Good Will, looked charming in his button braids, and Angela's smile lit up her face. She had scored a 63% for her very first ride and admitted that she was hooked. She assured me that was coming back for more shows. Congratulations, Angela!
I wish I could say that our own rides earned such a good score, but alas, our old enemies, canter depart and stretchy circle, both got the better of us again. Even so, if you look at my scores, we were on track for a 60%, but during the middle of our free walk, the equestrian center's tractor dumped a big load of manure into a large metal can and Speedy went from relaxed, swinging walk to full-on gallop. It cost us a two-point deduction for going off course, and I am certain we lost at least a half point on submission. The noise was no excuse for bolting. This is a problem that needs to be fixed immediately. This is the third show in a row where he has spooked hard enough to cause us to lose points. By the way, I gathered up my reins lickety-split, made a small circle, and returned to the track where I let the rein back out with no further tension. At least he got over the spook really quickly.
I am not disappointed with the test. We scored many 6s, and while there were no 7s, there were also no 4s. And considering that Speedy G was high as a kite and seriously tense, I was pleased that I was able to get him through the test without scores lower than the two 5s. I just kept telling myself to add more inside bend and inside leg in order to reduce the spooks that were just waiting to happen. As much as Speedy wanted to rocket right out of the arena, I was able to make it through the corners and keep him under control. But according to the judge's comments, I still didn't have enough inside bend.
I think back to where I was last summer and know beyond a doubt that we are steadily improving. Do I think we have a chance of placing at this weekend's Regional Adult Amateur Competition? Nope, but we're going anyway. My goal is to have fun and just see how we stack up against the riders from the middle third of California. Maybe we won't be terrible. We might even look decent. I'll let you know!
Here is the score sheet. Second test is coming tomorrow. Click to enlarge.
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%: