From Endurance to Dressage
We're all on our own paths when it comes to horses. Some of us are owners who let someone else do the riding. Some of us don't need a judge to tell us if we're doing it "right." Some of us want to enjoy the beauty of the trail without the distraction of scores. And some of us need, want, and crave those scores.
It's no secret that I am a score stalker. I am a frequent visitor at USDF Scores.com. I analyze my own scores as well as those of other riders, particularly if it's someone whom I admire. I've done a lot of thinking about scores lately, especially since Izzy is now my full time ride. We earned scores in the high 50s at our last show (58.9%, 60.6%, 55.5% 58.1), and I definitely need to push them up into the 60s. Simply wanting it doesn't make it happen though. It takes a concerted and focused effort to raise scores.
A year or two ago, I created a spreadsheet where I could enter all of the scores that Speedy earned at Third Level. I am working on entering Izzy's data as well. By studying Speedy's scores, I was able to see where we were doing really well: centerline, rein back, turn on the haunches; and maximize those scores. I also saw where we struggled: flying change to the right, canter half pass right. For our last show together, we earned a 7.0 for all three flying changes to the right. Identifying your weakness and focusing on it, will help improve your scores.
Another thing I recently realized is that the difference between a 58% and a 68% is just riding each movement one point better. That's it; just one point. If I were to focus on trying to change a 58 to a 68, I could never do it. The gap is too wide, but if I focus on earning just one more point for each movement, a score in the 60s is very attainable.
Izzy and I are going to Santa Barbara this weekend for another two-day USDF show. We'll ride Second Level Tests 1 & 2 again. I've been schooling those tests religiously since we came back from SCEC. For every ride I keep the judge's comments running through my head like a ticker tape. Neck short, angle varies, conservative ... Every time Izzy's neck gets short, I flex him to the inside, put my inside leg on, and push my hands forward. When I come through the corner in the shoulder-in, I pick a post on the fence and ride straight towards it to help maintain the angle. While our medium canter might still be conservative, it's at least getting more supple.
We might not get one more point for every movement, but we're going to do our best. Even a few more points will have us scoring in the 60s. While a 68% would be amazing, my goal is a 60% or better at all four rides. That's a tall order, but we're capable.
Day two of a show has always been a struggle for us. I am tired, Speedy's tired, and we usually just want to go home. At the SCEC show last October, I finally made the decision that two tests on Sunday is one test too many. At the June show, I rode only one test on Sunday and felt that it was a better choice for both of us. For that show, we had two scores above 60% on Saturday, but I lost focus on Sunday - even with only doing one test, so our score was only 58%.
For this show, my goal was to earn above 60% for all three tests. I've already mentioned here and here that I had adjusted my warm ups to be less than 20 minutes. That proved to be successful; on Saturday we earned a 63% and 61%. Sunday was again super hot, and we were both tired. I felt my enthusiasm waning, but then I gave myself a kick in the butt. If my mental energy was flagging, there was no way Speedy was going to bring his A game. I sucked it up, Buttercup.
As planned, I did the shortest warm up possible; it was less than 15 minutes, The rider in front of me had just started, but rather than walk around for the next 7 minutes, something that makes Speedy sleepy, I headed to the ring so Speedy could watch. Not that I thought he would be inspired, but I was hopeful that the activity would perk us both up.
For day two of the show, we had a different judge. Word had already trickled down that she was tougher. Rather than think that Saturday's judge was just generous, effectively admitting that my scores had been inflated, I decided to show this judge that we were indeed worthy of that Bronze Medal.
While I was mentally ready for the ride, Speedy's energy level just couldn't be raised. I am not sure whether or not you can see it on the video (below), but I was thumping my legs and driving with my seat for the entire test. Speedy felt like a sputtering engine about to stall out at any moment. For much of the test we did well; we earned six scores of 7.0 (both flying changes earned 7.0), and thirteen of our scores were a mix of 6.0 and 6.5.
Unlike the day before, we also had two scores in the 4.0 range. We earned a 4.5 on our trot half pass right which has a double coefficient meaning we earned nine points out of twenty - ouch! We also earned a 4.0 for our canter half pass right. Again that movement has a double coefficient. And finally, our final halt, one of our strongest movements, earned a paltry 4.0. Speedy just refused to plant his feet. Had we earned 6.0s on all thee movements, we would have earned a 62.625%. Instead, we scored a 60.375%. It wasn't a brilliant test, but I met my goal: all three tests earned scores above 60%.
Next up is the Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC) August 8 - 9. That gives us a couple of weeks to focus on the half passes and polish the flying changes. We could also use some work on our shoulder-in. We've done the RAAC many times, and while we've been last a few times, we've also won at Introductory Level, Training Level, been reserve at First Level, and won at Second Level.
We'll either win at Third, or be dead last. I am hoping the former!
I've now been showing at Third Level for exactly one year. Speedy and I have been to seven shows at Third, including this one, and I am finally starting to feel some comfort at the level. I showed up with a plan, and I was able to carry it out pretty much to the letter. I've learned what Speedy can't, or maybe won't, do at a show. He's plenty fit, so it may have more to do with desire. Long pre-rides and warm ups only serve to rid him of any sparkle. Speedy only gets better at shows; he doesn't need any extra riding to get relaxed.
As planned, I limited my first warm up to less than 20 minutes. I asked for some simple walk, trot, and canter, did a bit of sitting trot and shoulder-in, and then I asked for a flying change in each direction. That was it. I knew we were as ready as we were going to be, and rather than give away our best effort in the warm up, something that's been happening lately, I saved it for the show ring.
One way I know that I am riding a level with at least some competence is that the ride starts to happen in slow motion. We're not moving more slowly, but I find that I have more time to think about and prepare each movement. I have time to go through my mental checklist of what needs to happen to make that movement as good as I can get it. For the first time at Third Level, that's how I was able to ride the tests. That doesn't mean we killed it or anything, but our scores showed great improvement, especially in the flying changes.
For our first test on Saturday, 3-1, we scored a solid 63.784%. I could not have been happier with the result. We earned thirteen scores of 7.0, one of which was a 7.5. There are only twenty-eight scores on the entire test, which means we earned a 7.0 on almost 50% of the test. But most impressive to me was that of the six flying changes we did over the course of the weekend, we earned a 7.0 on five of them! For nearly three weeks, I worked on that left to right change, and it showed!
While test 3, our second ride of the day, wasn't spectacular, I was equally pleased. We earned a 61.375%, and that was with a two-point error. I lost a stirrup just after the extended trot and spent a few frantic seconds trying to get it back. Unfortunately, the whole debacle happened just as we were supposed to halt and rein back. Oops. The judge blew her whistle and reminded me about the missed movement. Fortunately, the rein back has a double co-efficient. We earned a 7.0, so the two point deduction for the error brought our net score down to a twelve which kept our score average at 60%
For test 3, the championship level test, we earned eight scores of 7.0. Both flying changes earned a 7.0 with the comment, "clean" on both. The half passes still need some work - 5.5 & 6.5 for the trot half passes and 6.5 & 5.0 for the canter half passes, but they were improved over earlier shows. Again, I schooled the heck out of those over the past few weeks.
Saturday was a great day. I could not have asked Speedy to try any harder, and other than missing the rein back on test 3, I didn't make any foolish mistakes. I felt like I rode the test to the best of my ability. The good news is that we're definitely getting stronger at the level which gives me hope for doing well at August's CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition.
To be continued ...
Third Level is taking more out of Speedy than First or Second ever did. I remember when he could do a Friday warm up ride and then two tests a day without any issues. Now? Not so much. Based on the results of this show, I am going to have to change the way I am doing things if I want to ride three tests over a two-day show.
We weren't brilliant. We weren't even decent. We finished the test with a sad little 58% and change. It was deserved though. We gave away our 60% in three movements - the walk pirouette to the left (4.0), the canter at C (4.0), and that pesky left to right flying change (3.0). In the walk pirouette, Speedy started to poop just as I asked for the turn. In the video (3:45), you can see him step wide which cost us several points. The canter depart at C has plagued us since the beginning. If I am not super correct in my aids, Speedy picks up the left lead. It's now a "thing." The change of lead was just him saying, NO. He basically flipped me the bird. We all know he can do a lovely left to right change. He just didn't really want to.
Were it not for those three errors, we would have had a score in the low 60s as we had a smattering of 7.0s to help the 5.0s. What this test showed me was that Speedy gets tired which makes him grumpy. We'll attend another two-day show in mid-July. My plan will be to do a short ride on Friday afternoon, no longer than 30 minutes total. My warm up on Saturday will be no longer than 20 minutes. On Sunday, my warm up can't be more than about 12 minutes, and it can only consist of a stretchy walk, trot, and canter. I am finding that Speedy is giving me his best work in the warm up.
If I ask for a movement too many times, he starts to feel like he's getting picked on and pretty much throws in the towel. That definitely happened with the flying changes on Sunday. I did a few in the warm up to "sharpen him up," but when I asked for them during the test, he felt like he had already shown me his best effort so he said nope. Lesson learned, Dude.
It wasn't all bad though. Our entry was still good with a 6.5, our rein back was solid with another 6.5, our second walk pirouette was spot on with a 7.5, and our medium canter showed some improvement with a 7.0. My friend Jen, the show manager, had shot a slow-motion video of parts of the ride that revealed I needed more outside rein in my 10-meter circles. I added that in and bumped those scores up to a 6.5 and a 7.0. And as usual, our last centerline was a 7.0
Shooting video for me for this test was my trainer's daughter. She had a young friend with her who is just getting into dressage, so on the video you can hear Morgan coaching her young student. After I listened to it, I felt sorry for the friend because some of the movements weren't performed well enough to be able to identify them. I am looking at you extended gaits! Here's the video with the score sheet following.
More tomorrow ...
While this is probably the best Third Level test we've done, at a USDF show anyway, I can still see we have so much work to do. We earned a 61.750%. It was "enough," but like I mentioned yesterday, I want us to get better. My goal is to ride tests that earn scores in the mid-sixties.
While we have plenty of room for improvement, I didn't make any obvious errors, and there were some parts that were pretty good. We scored an 8.0 for our first centerline, and our walk pirouettes, always a strong movement for us, scored a 7.0 and an 8.0. In the video you'll hear hear Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, tease us a bit right before the first walk pirouette when Speedy spooked. He actually spooked because the scribe made a sudden and loud noise, and while you won't hear it on the video, she gasped out an audible oops in apology. Given the dramatic spook (look for at it the three minute mark), I thought his recovery was pretty spectacular.
While the flying changes weren't brilliant, they were on my aids, and they happened at the centerline. While a 6.0 just means sufficient, it's a much better score than the 1.0 we got twice last year.
The left to right flying change also went pretty well. Again, not spectacular, but it was when and where I asked for it. The screenshots make his changes look so dramatic, but on the video you can barely see him make the jump.
What I love about these two changes is how rhythmic they were. We've worked really hard to be able to do the changes without a change in the tempo. It was only a few weeks ago that I was able to figure out why he was rushing through them. For so long I had to really put on the gas to get some jump in the canter. I realized that I was still asking for that rev up even though he doesn't need it any more. Once I quieted my seat down, his changes started to happen within the canter rhythm.
My half passes still need a lot of work, and the shoulder-ins weren't as nice as in Test 1. But again, nothing was catastrophic. Last year we struggled with some 3.0s and 4.0s (and even some 1.0s and 2.0s), but this year, I've turned them into 5.0s and 6.0s. With a little work, I know I can turn those into 6.0s and 7.0s, and that's how I'll get scores in the mid-sixties.
Here's the video, again with Chemaine offering some feedback. The score sheet follows.
Tomorrow - day two.
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 …
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
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