From Endurance to Dressage
For so long, I went to shows by myself, spending a lot of time watching others ride and feeling a bit like an outsider. Even so, I made it a point to chat with my barn neighbors, making some good friends along the way, and slowly I started to feel like I was part of the crowd. Now, nine show seasons later, I am going to shows with my trainer and her other students as well as meeting up with old friends. It's definitely a lot more fun than cranking it out alone.
Being a part of Symphony Dressage Stables means having a great team supporting me no matter how I do. It means getting my boots polished, my rides videoed, and doing the same for a friend. It also means staying up late laughing about being Naked and Afraid with a strange man while wondering if its okay to spoon with said stranger if you're married. We never came to a consensus.
This year's Central Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC) was held at Twin Rivers Ranch, an eventing venue. For the eventers out there, you'll know the facility well. It was the first time many of us had ever shown there. As a side note, there is also a Northern and Southern RAAC as well. California is pretty big.
I got to TRR on Friday at lunch time and got our tack stall set up. Jen pulled in a few hours later. Since it was so hot, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, arrived in the early evening to coach us in the massive covered arena. I meant to get pictures, but I got busy.
Both horses warmed up really well, and I had some good aha moments while riding. My Second Level feel is really starting to develop. I am not sure we're completely confirmed at Second Level, our simple change is still a bit weak, but we're definitely getting there.
After our Friday night lesson, Jen, Morgan, and Chemaine all headed out for dinner while I gratefully walked to the house we rented (yep, a rented house right on the show grounds. How awesome is that?!). After a cold shower and a quick bite to eat, I snuggled into bed and read for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep. It had been a long day and we had two more to go.
Everyone was up early on Saturday morning as Jen's Prix St Georges ride was scheduled first thing. With only one ride for the day, Jen spent the rest of the day hanging out and graciously videoing my rides.
My first ride of the day, Second Level Test 1, was at 10:06 which left me plenty of time for braiding and tacking up. Like every show this season, my goal has been to score nothing lower than a 6.0. We met our goal for this test while also scoring a pair of 7.0s for good measure. Our final score for the test was a respectable 62.727% - not breaking records, but it was a solid effort.
Since last riding for this judge, I worked really hard on getting Speedy more active. While we didn't hit a grand slam, the judge did notice. Our medium walk earned the comment, fairly active needs over stride. Our counter canter from E to H earned the comment, fairly active. She still felt we needed to cover more ground and show over stride/thrust, but all in all, she noted the improvement where she saw it.
As we near the end of this show season, I am more than happy with the progress we've both made. My sitting trot is passable, and Speedy's medium gaits are getting better. We've also nearly eliminated the curling, although we still have our moments.
Here's the video from Second level Test 1.
Second Level Test 3 tomorrow ...
One of my strengths when I show is the ability to shake it off, whatever it is, and get on to the next movement. My super power failed me on Saturday though. I am not sure what my kryptonite was, but it was lurking somewhere near ring 1.
Everything about the show was going so well. The grounds were fantastic, including the stabling and parking, and my barn mates were all about good fun and friendly competition. Not like a few years ago when one of the competitors said that her friend was showing in my class and was going to win. Turns out she didn't, but I did!
Anyway, things were going well until I made a slight miscalculation in how long I needed to warm up. Apparently, showing is now old hat to Speedy and 15 minutes is all he needs. I gave us 30. After the first 12, I knew I had gone in too soon, so we walked and walked and walked. Just before my ride time, I decided to wake Speedy up with a big gallop.
Two things happened. First, he got really annoyed at me, and second, my trusty show pad, that one that wasn't looking as perky as before, nearly slid off his back. He gave a few bucks before I saw what had happened. In horror, I jumped off and reorganized the pad. From that moment, my confidence was shot.
As we trotted down center line, all I could think about was my stupid pad slipping off during the test. I kept glancing down to see if it was still there! Once I forced myself to forget about it, the next worry took over.
Speedy was behind my leg, note the curling above, but I knew that if I really goosed him forward, he'd flip me the hoof. That would be okay for one movement, but when he feels like I am working against him and not for him, he quits trying. Instead of sending him forward with a big cowgirl kick, I just nursed him through the test.
And really, it wasn't a bad test. My goal was 6.5s and 7.0s. We got more 6.0s than I would have liked, but considering how behind my leg he was, it wasn't terrible. That 4.0 though, I have no recollection of not being in canter. It's right in front of the judge though, so if she says we weren't cantering, we weren't, but that score came as a shock to me.
As with the comments we've had all summer long, the judge's further remarks were spot on. "Capable pair. Needs balance in transitions up and down. At times, horse over round and low in outline today." I love how generous she was in using "at times" and "today" as though yesterday we weren't and tomorrow we wouldn't be!
As we exited the ring, I knew it wasn't even close to a best effort, and I acknowledged that I had given the test away. I let the bigness of the show and the quality of my competition intimidate me.
I shook it off almost before we made it to the ring steward. Yes, I had let my confidence slip for a moment, but I recognized it for what it was. I was already planning my comeback for Test 3 which was to come later that afternoon. There was no sense in beating myself up about it, and suddenly, I felt my super power return!
Many of Sunday's riders didn't even bother with riding Test 2, so it was a very small class. For the adult amateurs, Saturday's classes were all warm ups for the actual RAAC classes held on Sunday. The scores from Saturday's tests still counted for USDF, but I knew that I still had time to get my little team squared away for Sunday's "big one."
When John and I compared our tests, we laughed at the point difference. Just 2.5 points separated our tests which would prove to be a theme for the weekend!
More to come ...
Today's the big day. We are headed to the California Dressage Society Central Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC).
MISSION: The mission of these competitions is to provide an opportunity for all CDS Adult Amateur riders to qualify and compete against others of similar skills and experience. The regional nature of these shows will help to provide our membership with a developmental path for gaining competitive experience, promote excellence and increase awareness of and support for the Chapters.
I've competed at RAAC four different times, winning at Introductory Level and Training Level. I've been to RAAC at first level, but we didn't do so well. I am expecting this year to be different!
In 2013 and 2015, we finished dead last. Both times! And even weirder still, we placed eighth. Twice! Several year apart. There's actually quite an interesting pattern to my placings.
In 2014, I competed at the CDS Championship. That means that for evermore I must compete in the RAAC Elite division rather than Novice which is for riders who have never been to the championship. I don't know if this makes things more difficult or not. The elite division is for riders that have competed on a bigger stage; it doesn't matter if your horse has shown at a bigger show or not.
No matter what happens, I know that we've prepared as well as we can. Speedy is fit and ready, I know my tests (knock on wood right now, please), and the trailer is clean and ready to go.
Wish us luck!
Holy freaking heck, but am I tired of this test. I have decided that after the next two shows, I am done with First Level. There is nothing more that I can get out of it. With that said, I do want to finish strong. On Wednesday, best friend and I loaded both boys and headed to Moorpark for lessons with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables.
I took my last two tests with me as a reference for Chemaine. Rather than learn any new exercises, all I wanted to do was school the tougher movements of test 3. After discussing the judge's scores and comments, we decided to address three main areas - the leg yield, the 10-meter circles, and the canter work (15-meter circles, lengthening, and single loop).
In Test 3, the leg yield goes from one corner to the centerline (leg yield right) and after a moment of straightness in the center (X), the rider leg yields back to the rail (leg yield left).
I have two trouble spots on the leg yield. First, It takes me too long to get the left bend for the leg yield right, and second, I lose the shoulder. To help me fix this, Chemaine gave me a "process" for keeping my wet noodle of a horse packaged up better.
10-Meter Trot Circles
Our circles aren't bad, but it is an area where I know we can again earn 7.0s. My issues are not getting an inside bend to the right, slamming into the halt, and not getting enough energy to the left.
To help with this section of the test, Chemaine had me think of several things.
Our canter work isn't bad, and we're already getting scores of 6.5 and 7.0, but I think we can get 7.5s or even an 8.0 with just a bit of tweaking.
For the 15-meter canter circles, the rules are the same as for the trot circles.
It is during the change of lead through trot where I hope to make up the most amount of points. We can change from a left lead to a right with very little effort. Getting him to let go of the right rein is our trouble spot.
To help me fix this, Chemaine had a great series of steps.
Besides tweaking these movements, Chemaine also encouraged me to keep my chin up, literally. When I curl, Speedy curls! Riding with my chin up will help a lot.
The next show, Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC) is in just a week. The changes I am looking to make are all small, but if done correctly, they'll be really effective!
Tracy, from Fly on Over, summed up my show experience perfectly. Her comment to me was this:
Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.
That is exactly how I felt about this show. I certainly didn't win anything, but everything about the show was an opportunity to learn or observe or to take away a new idea. Who knew I would need such a big take out container?!
The first take-away is that First Level is going to take us longer than I thought. We have a solid foundation, but there are a few things we've got to figure out before we can even consider moving up to Second. First and foremost, we need to get some noticeable differences in the lengthenings.
We can get a pretty decent trot lengthening at home, but I am too conservative in the show ring out of fear that Speedy will break into the canter. Chemaine kept encouraging me to really go for it, but the lengthening isn't confirmed enough for me to feel confident in asking for it. The same is true for the canter lengthening. I want to make sure that he stays in the court and doesn't lengthen himself right through the judge's tent.
Strength is also an issue for Speedy. While he has a nicely muscled hind end, I realized that when we do a trot lengthening at home, it's not the full distance from H to F. During the tests, he wasn't able to to hold the lengthenings. Chemaine suggested I use more of my arena - like down the fence line or across the whole distance of the arena, to build strength. I don't have an actual dressage court, so I can use any lines without having to stay in a "court."
To improve the trot lengthenings, Chemaine had me think about half halting in the corner and then as we come out of the corner do a slight counter bend to push his outside shoulder back in line with his body. This will help to straighten him up which will make the trot lengthening easier for him. At the end of the lengthening, she suggested I do the same thing so that he doesn't fall over to the letter. This will make the transition to working trot easier to see.
I was also reminded that dressage is a long and often difficult process. No matter how much I might want it to be easy, it's not going to be (most of the time). One of my friends really brought that point home for me. She is a very talented rider on an equally talented horse. She has her bronze medal and is currently working her way through Fourth Level with an eye toward moving to the international tests.
Her gelding gave her a spectacularly wild RAAC Warm Up ride which earned her a very disappointing 49%. She was frustrated at how long it was taking her to get to the FEI levels. (I'll take her problems please.) She later went on to earn a very satisfactory third place finish at the RAAC Fourth Level Test 3, so perseverance does yield rewards.
This rider really inspires me. I am certainly not glad that she feels a sense of frustration at times, but it does make me feel so much better when I feel frustrated with earning a measly 56%. Her struggle through Fourth Level just tells me to suck it up. It's not going to get any easier, and frankly, it might even get harder.
Speedy and I have been through this up and down journey already. When we start a level, we put in a few honeymoon rides, but then his behavior takes a dive when he feels that he can't do it. We start with scores in the 60s but they quickly fall to the 50s as we figure things out. Little by little our scores rise until they make it to the low 70s. This exact process happened at Introductory and Training Levels.
First Level has gone the same way. We started out with some solid scores in the 60s, but they slowly fizzled out until we landed back in the land of 50 percent. It's okay. That just tells me we have more work to do. And really, what's the rush? It's not like the Olympic Team needs me in 2016.
Besides reaffirming that dressage is hard and that everyone else struggles, I also took away a few practical nuggets. Chemaine showed a new to me exercise that I've been using all week on Izzy. It's a simple suppling exercise that has worked wonders. As I ride, I ask for left flexion, when the horse softens to the rein, I ask for right flexion. It doesn't matter which way you're tracking. It's all about asking the horse to let go through the jaw and poll.
Once you can get your horse to let go of either rein, he will be more supple and lighter on his front end. Chemaine even suggested I do this while doing the canter loops and the lengthenings. The point is to keep your horse loose and supple so that he can bend and move. Genius.
And finally, I realized that while winning the class is a boatload of fun, not winning has to be just as much fun or the whole thing really isn't worth doing. Because really, the majority of us aren't going to be doing much winning. I am pretty sure the Charlotte Dujardin's of the world work really hard, but they're also born with something that makes it all come together with ease. For the rest of us, it's not easy, so it had better be enjoyable.
This show was fun, really fun. There were certainly some disappointing moments, but knowing that I have friends rooting for me and a trainer who believes in my ultimate success made those blips seem so minor.
My (rated) show season is pretty much over. I might do a schooling show in early November, and I will be attending another clinic with Dr. Christian Schacht, but I probably won't make it to another USDF show until spring. I'll be spending the winter working on those First Level movements that aren't confirmed as yet as well as continuing Izzy's dressage journey.
If I step back and look at the really big picture, I think I am right on target!
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 …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
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