From Endurance to Dressage
I've been to more than forty dressage shows and a dozen clinics. I've also participated in more than 80 endurance races. I know how to complete an entry form. This entry form, however, was a completely different beast. I read through the whole thing (all 33 pages) and never found my classes. I almost gave up right then. If I couldn't even find the right class, what did that say about my readiness? (said with an eye roll)
It probably would have helped had I known that the CDS Championship classes are referred to as Horse of the Year classes. (Holy crap. Nothing like adding extra pressure!) But since I didn't know that at the time, I kept reading, looking for the Championship classes since I knew (or thought I did) that Speedy couldn't possibly be in contention for Horse of the Year.
Finally, I went to the CDS webpage and looked up the championship results from previous years.
As soon as I saw the first set of results, I realized that yes indeed, Speedy and I would be riding for the Training Level Horse of the Year award for Adult Amateurs. Hmm. That gave me a great deal to think about.
The next thing I noticed was how BIG the classes were. In the Adult Amateur Training Level class, there were 18 riders in 2012, which was the last time the championships were held in southern California. I also studied the scores; they ranged from a high of 72.321% down to a low of 55.400%. I know the judges at this show are all very highly qualified. What I hoped was that these weren't brilliant riders getting their lowest scores ever, but rather that they were riders (just like me) getting fair scores from knowledgable judges.
What really interested me was that the scores were all exactly the type of scores that I've been earning this season. And that got me thinking. If these riders really were your typical adult amateur competitors, I had a chance of doing pretty well at the show … if I didn't let my nerves psych me out. I decided to enter.
This dressage show is not run like any other I have been to, so it did take me a while to complete the entry. Most of the information required was typical: ID numbers for horse and rider, stabling requests, and so on. The part that threw me was figuring out which classes to enter.
It took some time and a phone call, but I finally figured out that for the championships, riders will ride Test 2 on one day and Test 3 on another day which is actually one class, 2AB. The scores are then averaged to determine the Horse of the Year winner for each level. Normally, for a two-day show, I would ride two tests each day to maximize my time at the show. For the championships, you only get two rides over the course of the entire show (unless you qualified on multiple horses or at multiple levels).
Riders are also allowed to ride in ONE warm-up class on Thursday, but only one. The other thing that makes this show tricky is that the schedule is not made in advance. In other words, you don't know which day your tests are being judged until a week or so before the show begins. When I completed my entry, I had no idea which days I was going to be showing.
I have since received my ride times, and unless something changes, I will ride Test 2 on Saturday and Test 3 on Sunday. Way up above, you can see the entry fee for the Horse of the year classes - $170 gets you a "package" deal. The entry fee of $170 allows me to ride Test 2 and Test 3, and that's it. Pretty expensive!
Stabling was also high. No matter how many days you stay, the price for a stall is $175. And, according to USEF's rules, if you are entered in more than one championship class (who isn't?), and they are not scheduled on the same day (whose is?), you MUST stable on the show grounds rather than just paying the $20 haul in fee. I live too far away to haul home, but there are a lot riders who do live close enough to take their horses back home each afternoon.
The last little thing I should mention about this entry form is that quite a lot of money is at stake for the top riders, relatively speaking.
Basically, if you're in the top five, you're getting a check, and if you're in the top ten, you're getting at least a ribbon. And I think the top two get something monogrammed, but I can't tell if that's just for the USDF Regional Championship. Below tenth place, you're just walking away with more experience.
So. What did these three dressage tests cost me? A whopping $664 which includes the three tests, stabling, fees, and camping. It does not include shavings brought from home ($40), a shared tack stall ($35), trainer fees ($200?), gas ($100?), food ($50?), or other incidentals.
I hope I enjoy it!
I don't know how many members the California Dressage Society (CDS) has, but I do know we are the largest Group Member Organization (GMO) of the United States Dressage Society (USDF). Being in a large GMO has both advantages and disadvantages. It can be challenging to qualify and earn awards, but on the other hand, CDS offers a ton of opportunities for participation.
We just finished competing at the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC). While there, we earned an automatic spot in the CDS Championship by winning the Training Level Novice division. Speedy and I also earned the qualifying scores necessary to go as well.
Qualifying for the CDS Championship
The CDS Championship is a huge show. Just getting there takes some planning. The qualifying criteria is different at each level and for who you are: AA, JR/YR, or professional. For Speedy and I to qualify, we had to have 5 scores of 63% or better from four different judges. We qualified last year, but just barely. This year, all but two of my season's scores were qualifying.
My first scores of the season were a 68% and a 62%. We followed that with two 61%s, a 65%, and a 63% at a two-day show. At the next show, we nailed it with a 67% and a 65%. We finished up the regular season with awesome scores at RAAC: 70%, 68%, 72%, and 64%. Even though I qualified for the championship, I wasn't going to go until I saw how high my RAAC scores were.
I've heard so much about the championship show; it's HUGE, busy, and jam-packed with the USDF Region 7's elite horse and rider teams. I may have forgotten to mention that this show is not only the CDS Championship, but also the USDF's Region 7 Championship. I definitely didn't want to go if we weren't going to look as though we belonged.
The Entry tomorrow ...
It never ceases to amaze me how MUCH there is to learn about dressage. No matter what new concept I finally get, I am immediately made aware of how much more there is to learn. It's a lot like exiting a tunnel; the farther you go, the wider your horizon becomes.
I had another lesson on Wednesday afternoon, the last for two weeks (more on that in a day or so). JL wanted to see how far I had gotten with the stretching exercises. Pretty far, I thought! She was satisfied with our progress, but wanted to push us more.
As I suppled Sydney's neck, she instructed me to start really watching the outside shoulder to be sure that the bend didn't come from a drifting shoulder. When Sydney is really tense and stiff, that kind of stretch is okay, but if I really want to get him light, I need to do it with his shoulders in front of his haunches.
As we trotted, I held the outside rein very steady, and brought my inside hand straight back in a rhythmic pull … hold, hold, hold. Then, I held the inside rein, and repeated the pull … hold, hold, hold with the outside rein. I got a lot less give, of course, but JL pointed out that the give was worth a lot more.
Slowly but surely, I felt Sydney's weight start to shift back. Not only is he getting more and more supple in his neck (how fast was THAT?), but my feel for heavy and on the forehand has gotten MUCH better. Now, I can feel when he's leaning on my hands, and more importantly, I know how to "rock" or "slide" to get him to let go. That's the whole purpose of our most recent work: get this horse to move his neck and let go of the tension. He wants to brace against whatever may be coming.
After we had done a bunch of suppling work, JL again asked for the canter. She kept reminding me that the more uphill we get him, the easier the canter departure is for him. At first, he fussed and tried to run through my aids; he knows when we are about to canter. But since I have an improved feel for heavy, I just worked the reins and insisted that he soften his neck before we canter.
The moment that I felt him let go, I quietly asked for the canter. It wan't a perfect departure, but I was grinning from ear to ear. It was definitely uphill, and his croup was lower than his withers. And oh man, was he light! It wasn't every stride, but it was darn close. Every other stride I had to remind him to get light, but after a minute or so, he cantered that 20-meter circle so light that I was able to hold the reins with just my thumb and first finger; that's my gauge for lightness.
It was by far the best canter work we have done. JL was quite proud of the moment too. She knows we're onto something, and I think she's just as eager to see what Sydney can manage in the show ring. The work that we're doing right now is to help me (and him) deal with the tension when we're away from home. I can't wait to see how far we've come either!
This is getting more and more fun!
At Monday afternoon's lesson (where it was 100℉), we continued working on suppling Sydney's neck, JL added a degree of difficulty though. With the heat, it was probably a good thing because it's hard to be a complete jerk when you're roasting and browning in an oven. (Whenever we work on something new and hard, Sydney doesn't usually behave very well.)
We started out with all of the stretching that I talked about the other day. JL wants me to do as much of that work as I can over the next few weeks. Until he really gives his neck, Sydney won't be able to compress his frame enough to be in an uphill balance.
Once I had him letting go as much as I could, JL changed the stretches. For the next level (at the trot), she had me hold the outside rein and then rock the inside rein without giving the outside rein. When I had gotten all the stretch I was going to get, she had me hold the inside rein where it was while I used my outside leg to shift his shoulders over while also rocking the outside rein. When I had gotten all the stretch I was going to get, I held the outside rein where it was and went back to the inside rein. It felt as though I was reeling him in.
I know it's really hard to picture, but in essence, I was lifting his front end, one side at a time. I was compressing his neck on the left side, holding it there, and then compressing his right side and holding it, back and forth. Picture a window washer's scaffold. Lift the left side, lift the right side.
You can also think of it like reeling in a fish. You take a strong hold and reel it in a little until the fish kind of gives. Then you reel him in a little more. If you try and reel it in too quickly, the line will snap.
After all of the reeling in, lifting, and compressing, we gave Sydney a walk break. Then JL suggested a canter to see what we had. Right away, I could feel that Sydney's balance had definitely shifted; he was actually level and not running downhill.
Whenever we work on something new that Sydney thinks is going to be hard, he gets really tense and tries to run through my aids. This time was no exception. We had to go back to the stretches after a few canters, but that was okay as it gave me more time to work on being effective at the stretching. And when we returned to the canter work, he was still better balanced and far more level than he has been in the past.
Over all, it was a great lesson, and I know that with a few weeks of work, Sydney is going to get looser and looser through his neck which will help him accept the shorter frame. And in the end, getting off of his forehand will only help him stay sounder longer in life. This kind of work is good for all of us!
I know that everyone has their favorite brands of breeches, and while I am not a snob, I am also kind of picky about what I ride in. I can't stand to pay too much for pants that I regularly trash. I do a lot of barn chores that typical boarders don't do. I feed every day, turn horses out, fill water troughs, drag the sprinklers around (they're dirty and heavy), add bedding to my stalls, sweep everywhere, and so on. I get pretty grimy, and so do my clothes.
It's hard to spend $175 on a pair of breeches when you know they're going to be used as work wear on top of riding wear. I like the TuffRider brand; they fit and wear well, and the price is very easy to swallow. They're under $45. Even though I am happy with the TRs, I have been dying to try out SmartPak's Piper breeches. Another student of JL's has a pair, and they are really nice looking. C swears they are comfortable, and they do feel sturdy enough for the kind of use that I'd give them (she let me give them a feel).
But. They're $80. For non-show breeches, that's above what I want to pay. So imagine my surprise when this showed up today in my email's inbox ...
So, a new pair of Piper breeches are on their way. I chose the Anthracite with Electric Coral even though the charcoal with light gray was screaming my name. Surprisingly, I said no to the conservative gray pair. I am starting to dig this living on the edge thing.
The best part is that the breeches only cost $59.55 total (free shipping)! And if they don't fit, or I don't like them, SmartPak will happily pay the return shipping.
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read