From Endurance to Dressage
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 ...
I had actually sent in an entry for a completely different show, but a week or so ago, the property owner felt it necessary to cancel at the last moment due to fear of COVID-19. The show secretary told me that the SLO-CDS Wine Country Show was still scheduled to go. I quickly contacted that show secretary and submitted an online entry. There was a glitch though; the stabling was full. It's slightly over two hours to Paso Robles, and the show was a two-day show. Speedy had to sleep somewhere.
I quickly called a friend who lives in the area. I knew he'd be able to help me, and sure enough, he had a fantastic solution. A year or so ago, he had purchased 20 acres just minutes from the show grounds and said Speedy and I were welcome to camp at his place. It had been a long, long time since Speedy had spent a night at the trailer, but I knew he'd be okay. Neither of us got much sleep - horses tied to the trailer make a ridiculous amount of noise, but it all worked out.
On Friday, I drove straight to the show grounds for a quick tour of the place and a super short warm up ride. After showing a few weeks ago, I had created a new showing plan that called for a minimal ride on Friday, quick warm up on Saturday, and virtually no warm up for Sunday. I stuck to that plan, and I am glad I did. It was 100 degrees all three days. As it was, Speedy was exhausted by Sunday morning, and we had early ride times which meant we showed during the coolest part of the day. Those riders who showed at 4:00 in the afternoon deserve some serious respect. And a beer.
After our quick ride on Friday, I hauled Speedy over to my friend's house and set up camp. Early the next morning we drove back to the show grounds. Around noon, I loaded him up for the return trip back to camp. On Sunday morning, we again drove to the show, but instead of returning to camp after our test, we headed back home to Bakersfield. I have to say that Speedy got a little tired of getting in and out of the trailer.
Knowing that California is teetering on the edge of a return to a complete shut down, the show secretary followed US Equestrian's rules to fidelity. Upon arrival each day, including Friday, every person's temperature was checked at the front gate. Masks were required, and social distancing was enforced. Scores weren't posted anywhere which discouraged "loitering," and there was no real show office. Most communication was done over the phone. There was a see-through barrier placed between the judge and the scribe, who wore a mask. The judge didn't wear a mask while seated, but I am sure that was so the scribe could hear her.
You would think all of these precautions would suck the joy right out of showing, but you know, it didn't. Yes, the mask was uncomfortable, especially in the excessive heat, but it was worth it to be able to show. I always travel alone, so not being able to bring spectators doesn't really affect me. I did hang out with my host - he was in charge of dragging the arena, watering, and running the freestyles, and the people I parked near each day were all great fun.
To be continued ...
On Monday, I shared what Izzy and I learned at our most recent lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. When I got on Speedy, I told Chemaine that I wanted to work on Test 3 of Third Level. With a show just two days away - I swear that write up is coming beginning tomorrow, this ride needed to be my show warm up.
After a quick "loosening up," I started test 3. After the center line halt, there is a medium trot followed by a shoulder-in to two 10-meter half circles: E-X Half circle right 10m, X-B Half circle left 10m. Immediately after the second half circle, you half pass left.
Speedy's shoulder-in right is easier to do but Chemaine had me ask for more vertical flexion to get him rounder and softer. We struggle much more with the shoulder-in left. What I've been doing is asking with my inside leg only which has just let his hip swing out. Chemaine had me really think about establishing a wall with my outside rein and leg as I use my inside leg. With a firmer outside rein, Speedy's hip can't swing out. Instead, his inside hind has to step under and cross over.
As soon as I understood how to more effectively ride the shoulder-in, particularly to the left, we moved on to the trot half passes. While my scores over the weekend were still wildly erratic (half pass left - 5.5, 7.0 and half pass right - 5.0, 4.5), Chemaine gave me some great strategies to help me get them under control. The first tip was to make sure my 10-meter half circles were deep enough to help me establish some bend. The second tip was to take an extra stride or two in the half circle as I started the half pass. I can't say I implemented all of that particularly well over the weekend, but I now see what I can do to improve those scores.
I had spent several weeks schooling the canter work from test 3, but the canter half pass still needs work. Chemaine had me think about getting a much more collected canter that had more jump rather than being slower. She counted the strides from K to A and then from A to F where the canter half pass left begins. By collecting the canter (getting more strides), Speedy carries more weight on his hind end which allows him to lift his shoulders which is how to get a fluid half pass. Ours still isn't fluid. And it's barely a half pass, but we're working on it.
The work we did during the lesson must have paid off at least a little bit because our canter half pass scores did show improvement. For the canter half pass left, we earned 6.5 and 6.0. For the half pass right, we still have a lot of work left. We earned a 5.0 and a 4.0 with the comment, "struggling, lacks bend." Yep. I know what I'll be working on for the next month.
The one movement that we only reviewed (instead of schooling) was the flying change. Based on my matrix of scores, I had realized that my left to right flying change was a real weakness, so for the past three weeks, I've done a boatload of them. You can see the result in the photo above and below.
Over the course of the three tests that we rode over the weekend, we did six flying changes which carry a double coefficient. That means they're counted twice. We earned a 7.0 on five of them. The lone sub 7.0 score was for a right to left change that earned a 5.0 with the comment, "late in front." I watched the video and couldn't see it, but it's obvious that our changes are now becoming a strength. In fact, Saturday's judge wrote in her further remarks, "Confirmed changes."
If we're friends on Facebook, you already know how the show went. We're out of town for a day or two which is why this post is so late in the day, so tomorrow's post may or may not happen, When it does, it will be a show recap.
More to come ...
During all my years of showing - a puny ten, I've rarely practiced the tests at home because Speedy is the king of anticipation. He likes to tell me when we should do a movement. I've always worried that he would memorize the tests and stop listening to me. After looking over my spread sheet of movements however, I could clearly see that we need to practice the tests at home so that I can focus on what is making things difficult at shows.
The analysis of my data shows that our half passes and our left to right flying changes are weak. I decided to ride those sections of the tests at home. Was that ever a great idea. Did Speedy start to anticipate? Why, yes. Yes, he did. I love it though because I was able to school him a bit on waiting for my aids. It's okay if he anticipates. I sort of like that he does because it tells me he's with me; he knows what's happening. Asking him to wait is like building in a half halt.
Schooling the left to right flying lead change has been really helpful. By doing 4 or 5 of them in a row, I am discovering why he doesn't always change. Sometimes, he's just being a stinker, but most of the time it's because I am doing something wrong. Yesterday, I realized that I was losing the new bend, so when I asked for the change to the right, I was letting him look left. Ain't gonna happen like that.
I've also found that by schooling a series of movements in their entirety, like the canter half pass to the flying change, I can really focus on what my aids need to look like. For the canter half pass left, we need to start with a walk to canter at K followed by the half pass left followed by the left to right flying change. If the canter depart stinks, I stop, and we do it again. If the half pass sucks, we stop and do it again. Same thing with the flying change. I am able to isolate each movement when and where it should happen which is helping pinpoint the problems.
Surprisingly, it's not boring either. I offer Speedy lots of praise, and somehow he has stopped feeling picked on for repeating an exercise. In the past, doing it more than two or three times seemed to suggest to him that he was doing it WRONG WRONG WRONG. Maybe I am approaching the repeats differently. I keep telling him that he's a good boy and asking him to try to get it even better. I also feel like I am building his fitness level. Three days of riding at a show - Friday's warm up combined with tests on Saturday and Sunday, was sort of wearing him out. He needs to be able to do more than four flying changes over a weekend.
We'll be going to show next weekend, fingers crossed - damn you, COVID-19! I am feeling better about our chances of scoring closer to the mid-60s. I am hoping that by really honing in on our weak points, it will pay off in higher scores. We'll see.
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%: