From Endurance to Dressage
Part 1 here.
I usually move on to test 3 of a level after I get at least a mediocre score at test 2. Why are the second tests of the lower levels so horrible? I don't think there's a single test 2 that I've liked. We scored a 62.105% on Third Level's test 2 this Sunday. Did we hit a home run? No, but it was satisfactory enough that my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado - owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, thinks we're ready to move on to test 3.
The only new element in test 3 is rein back to trot. That doesn't mean test 3 is easy, we know that from 2-3 and 1-3. The third test is where all of the movements get thrown at you as quickly as possible in ways that do not appear to make any sense. Even so, I am ready to start tackling 3-3 and have even sent in my next two show entries. I may regret that decision. Oh, wait, I already do!
As you would expect from a slightly more challenging test, our scores dropped a bit for test 2. We didn't get a single 4.0 though. When we got to the walk to canter at F - a movement that caused us all sorts of trouble on test 1 (except that it was at C), I told Speedy he had better pick up the canter correctly. And just as a final reminder, while we were waiting for the judge to ring us in, I asked Speedy to pick up the canter from the walk several times. I may have even had a whip in my hand. My diligence paid off though as Speedy earned himself a nice little 7.0 for that transition to canter. Well done, Dude, well done!
The rest of the test went pretty solidly, not brilliantly, but it wasn't disastrous either. We need more suppleness, more uphill, better throughness, and more clarity between our collected and extended gaits. I get it. We're still a developing Third Level team and probably will be for quite some time.
One movement that I only started to do two weeks ago is the clear release of both reins for 4-5 strides over centerline at the canter. It shows up only in test 2. When Chemaine asked me a week or so how it was going, I laughed and said that I was just going to skip it. HAHAHAHA. "Um, no," came her reply.
She showed me what it should look like, I practiced it once or twice, and then I did it at the show at El Sueno earning a 6.0 both times. On Sunday, it looked awkward as heck, but the judge liked it well enough to give me a 7.5. Do not ask me what my body is doing. Instead look at how forward I shoved those reins. I wanted the judge to see that I was CLEARLY RELEASING THE REINS. Maybe I am sorry I am not doing 3-2 again.
If Second Level is all about the counter canter and the simple change, Third Level is about the flying change. Ours definitely still reside in the "developing" camp. Both changes earned 5.0s for test 2.
The judge's comment was very succinct and spot on, "kicked out." The next change got better quicker, but it still earned the same score. With the double coefficient for the flying change of lead, the 5.0s don't exactly help our overall score.
In the video, I look quite determined, and I was. Speedy was so behind my leg in the first test that I carried the whip around the outside warning him that he had BETTER WAKE UP PRONTO. It helped. Even so, getting him forward with more power but expecting him to be soft and supple is still really hard. For both of us.
One of my favorite moments though was this surprise shot caught at the very end of the test. I NEVER smile during a test, yet here I am looking as happy as can be!
This dressage court doesn't have the center line letters (DLXIG) marked on the main letters. I had just come from an extended canter M-F with a transition to collected canter F-A. From A, you continue up centerline in collected canter until the collected trot at L, which I couldn't find.
With no letters to help me, I was frantically chanting Daddy Loves eXotic Indian Girls hoping to find "I" (S/R) for my halt. In the photo I was laughing because I was certain I had overshot the "I." The judge gave us a 7.0 for the center line and halt, so it must not have been as big of an issue as I had thought, although from the photo, it's pretty clear I was way off. Good thing there was no judge at B/E!
Once upon a time, eliminating 5s from my score sheets was my goal. I am in that place again. I now know we can get 7s on every movement; we've already done it. Now the trick is to do it on a single test!
This Sunday, Speedy and I made the short trek to Tehachapi to show at a CDS-rated show hosted by my own CDS Chapter. We earned a 63% (and change) at Third Level!
Some of you already know how hard I am on myself. On the one hand, I am ridiculously giddy with glee. On the other, much larger hand, I am sitting here wondering if the judge had something in her eye as she watched me ride because 63% is a score I'll always be quite happy with but will never think we've earned.
About 10 seconds after seeing my score, I started beating myself up as I agreed with the 4 for the walk to canter but disregarded the two 7s for the flying changes. It's just so much easier to believe in the weak aspects of the ride than it is to accept the strong ones. We had 12 scores of 7.0 or 7.5. What more can I ask for? My trainer, Chemaine Hurtado - owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, is no doubt tired of trying to cheer me up when we do well. I am working on it, Chemaine, I am working on it!
While the score was not earned at a USDF-rated show, the judges at this particular CDS show series are notorious for being tough. I nearly always score better at USDF-rated shows than I do at this summer series. I decided that my effort deserved the score rather than just feeling that we got lucky.
During the warm up, a friend whom I haven't seen in ages, noted that Speedy was really carrying himself. I laughed and told her that I still feel like that struggling Introductory Level rider. Every level is a struggle, so it never feels as though we've "arrived!" Of course, I used to think that riders in levels above me were out there having a grand old time on their perfectly behaved, push-button horses. HAHAHA! Good thing the Intro Level me didn't know how much work it was going to be. If anything, it's just gotten harder.
This test was far from perfect, but after watching the video, I gave myself a little pat on the back. We're probably never going to kill it at Third Level, or Fourth, or ... , but we belong right where are. Without being in full training, I don't have the luxury of schooling a level above where I am showing. I need help with the movements that I am showing right now. And each time I show them, they'll get better and better.
So what scored well? The shoulder-in to start. Both of them earned a 7.0. We earned 3 scores of 7.5 - medium trot, rein back, and the left turn on the haunches. The rein back has a double coefficient so that made up for the 5.0 on our half pass right.
The best score though was for our flying changes. We earned 7.0s for both of them, and those also have a double coefficient. The judge noted that they were both clean. She didn't note their exuberance, something I am still working on, but clean is what matters.
So what didn't go so well? The right lead canter has always been a bit of a pebble in my shoe, a pain in my butt, and our achilles heel. I schooled that flippin' walk to canter at F and C a bazillion times. I remembered to look to the inside and get the inside bend, but Speedy still picked up the LEFT lead at C. Booger. So in the corner, I tried again, and again. By this point we were at M where the medium canter had to start, so I got the lead and then tried to rocket him from a walk to a medium canter. I wouldn't recommend that strategy.
It came as no surprise that we scored a 4 for that walk to canter transition, which was more than generous. And since I didn't get to set it up correctly, thanks a lot, dude, our medium canter also took a hit earning a 5.0. Thankfully neither of those movements carries a coefficient. Those two scores, combined with a previous 5.0 for the half pass right, were the only scores under 6.0 on the entire test.
I always try to learn something from each test and show. I had no huge AHA moments like from the show the weekend before - BEND YOUR HORSE and WATCH THE LETTERS, but the judge made an interesting comment on this first test. On the collective marks for Rider's Position and Seat, she wrote, Nice position, show more confidence. First of all, I never get positive comments on my position so that was incredibly nice to hear. Do I need more confidence? I would say that is spot on. I'll work on it, Judge.
I'll work on getting Test 2 written up for tomorrow. In the meantime, here's the video of our first test. That rowdy flying change comes at about 5:45 if you want to skip the boring stuff.
We're getting there even though "there" keeps moving. Dressage is a funny sport!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon. By the time that you read it, Sunday's show will be over, and only then will I know how much of my Friday night cram session made it to the test. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came down to help me do some last minute "studying" for Sunday's second attempt at Third Level.
Just like studying for a real pencil and paper test, we did the lesson in a sort of flashcard style. On the first card, I wrote Turn on the Haunches on the front, and then flipped it over for the bullet points.
On the next card, I wrote Renvers (I hate you!), and flipped it over.
The Half Pass (trot or canter) card could really be Renvers part II; they're really similar.
The Flying Changes card is so filled with scribbled notes that some of them may have crept over onto the front of the card.
Did all of this work? I'll let you know tomorrow!
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!
On Tuesday, I had one of those lessons where your brain gets buzzy, and you almost feel like you had too much to drink. But in a good way. With Sunday's show likely to be cancelled, I told Chemaine, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that I just wanted a regular lesson. There wasn't any need to try and polish anything up for the show. I am glad that's the direction we went because we tackled some of our fundamental weaknesses.
The first was our consistency. Chemaine used that word over and over throughout the lesson: consistency of frame. consistency of rhythm, consistency of bend, and so on. Now that we're showing Third Level, we have to kick it up a notch, tighten things up, and smooth out the rough edges.
Keeping Speedy consistent in his frame is my job. Too often he plays around trying to avoid the frame that I've established. As soon as Chemaine encouraged me to "get him consistent in the frame," something just clicked. She probably didn't see the light bulb come on over my head, but I sure felt it. By maintaining that consistency in his frame, he'll be more balanced in his collection and of course steadier in the bridle.
For the rest of the lesson, consistency became the theme. For the shoulder-in, Chemaine reminded me to keep a steadier tempo. Move the shoulders over, half halt to keep him on the rail, but then release the halt halt to allow him to move. So often my half halt is too long, preventing Speedy from moving forward. Chemaine encouraged a half halt, half halt, let go. Half halt, half halt, let go rhythm to encourage more fluidity in the shoulder-in.
She employed the same strategy for the renvers and the half pass. Half halt to move the haunches, keep a consistent bend, and allow him to move forward. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When we moved to the trot half pass, she changed the aids slightly by directing me to do shoulder-in slightly to haunches in to shoulder-in to haunches in. By putting all of this together, I was able to keep better flexion while keeping his haunches to the inside of the bend all while still maintaining a consistent tempo.
One weakness that's no longer is our medium trot. A year and a half ago, I could barely sit a working trot. I made it my mission to be able to a) sit the trot so that I could show at Second Level, and b) sit the trot so that I could someday get out of Second Level. I worked on it over last winter and by our first show in March of 2018, I could sit the collected trot, but I bounced all over the place for the medium.
I continued to work at it last summer until I could more or less sit the medium trot without too much air beneath my butt. Chemaine promised me that as Speedy's medium trot got more balanced, more powerful, and more uphill, the medium and extended trot would be easier to sit. She was right. I still don't sit it as effortlessly as I would like, but I am sitting it, and more importantly, I am actually creating the medium trot with my seat.
This series of screen shots is from one medium/extended trot across the long diagonal. Our extended trot looks suspiciously like our medium trot. Maybe the judge won't notice.
We couldn't finish the lesson without schooling the flying changes. They are so much improved, but there's still work to be done. The left to right change is almost reliable if I set him up correctly and remember to look in the direction of the new lead. The right to left change is still a bit hit or miss. It happens, but they're often dramatic or not clean or he simply changes before I ask. Here's a left to right change done relatively correctly (after about five attempts).
At the end of the lesson, I asked Chemaine to be straight with me. Compared to other adult amateurs on horses that they're bringing up from ground zero - in other words, riders not on school masters or $80,000 imports whose extended trot has to be tempered rather than developed, how do I stack up? I don't need to be awesome. I don't need a 70%. I just don't want to embarrass myself or her at a show. I don't want to be that rider that causes the judge and everyone around her to cringe.
While Chemaine's response didn't make me shout out hell yeah!, I was relieved. She replied, Let me put it this way: everything is recognizable. You know what? I'll take that. Recognizable is at least a 5, and maybe even a 6. We're ready.
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