If you've been following along, you're probably getting the impression that I had a rough time at the HDEC Spring Show. Quite the opposite would be the truth. I came home grinning from ear to ear, bubbling with enthusiasm. Yes, my Friday warm up brought tears to my eyes, and yes, my first test gave me a sub 60% ride, but what I learned over the weekend made up for those two tiny blips on my unhappy radar.
I've already mentioned that I spent hours watching virtually all the tests before mine, and even quite a few tests after mine. I started to notice a few things:
- Hilda warmed up by doing lots of little things. She didn't just ride circles. I could tell that she was warming up for the different elements of her test.
- The best riders used the court's "alley" (what is that space actually called?) to school their horses one last time before starting.
- The best riders used strong aids when necessary, even during the test. I saw and heard Hilda whack Wintersnow pretty firmly with the whip a few different times. I also saw her, and several other riders, do pretty strong half halts when needed.
- Some riders rode with their hands further apart, Hilda did this, but many riders had their hands quite close together with the outside rein laying pretty firmly against their horses' necks.
- No one kept their lower leg perfectly still. All the riders, especially the good ones, used their lower legs to cue their horses.
- The best riders smiled when they were finished and praised their horses enthusiastically.
The most important thing that I observed during all that watching was that the best riders continued to ride their horses during the tests. They didn't just sit there hoping the horse knew what to do. I think I've been riding my tests hoping that Speedy G will do a good job. I decided I needed to change that mentality and start actually riding the test.
I also decided that I have not been using my warm ups to good effect. I tend to just ride straight lines and then do some circles hoping that will supple him up. For Sunday's warm up, I cut it to 15 minutes. I did what I do at home: a walking lap, and then I got to work on bending Speedy's body. I planted my inside hand and did some of Michael Schaffer's perfect circles. I made the circles quite small and moved Speedy away from my inside leg.
I also did just two of the trot to canter transition that comes after the left lead canter circle. They were smooth and respectful so I decided not to piss him off by making him do any more. I didn't even bother with a right lead canter. He never fusses with that so I left it alone. We finished the warm up with a few more small circles until he softened his neck and poll. And that was it. I walked over to the ring steward, chat her up a bit, Speedy adores visiting, and then went to the ring to wait.
The other important thing I noticed about the judge's comments from the day before was that I needed to prepare for the transitions, and she was absolutely right. Up until now, I've been so focused on simply memorizing the test: track right at C, trot circle at B, change direction at the corner, canter in the far corner, etc.
For the first test of the second day (T-2), I began adding the word prepare as in prepare to track right at C, prepare to circle at B, prepare to change direction in the corner.
When I entered the arena's "alley," I started working on getting Speedy focused on me right away, I bent him this way and that, moved him off my leg, worked on a straight entry and square halt, and then made sure to position him so that we could enter at A with a right bend, our better way. I couldn't believe how much work I was able to do in those few minutes before the judge rang her bell.
Although our halt, salute wasn't perfect, it was much improved, and I knew it. In fact, everything felt better. I wasn't hoping Speedy wouldn't fall apart, I was telling him what to do, and he was trying to listen. I prepared for each turn and transition and focused on keeping a bend. I knew it was a better test when I made the final canter to trot transition (score: 7). A huge smile was plastered across my face as I came down centerline and halted (score:6.5).
The result? I scored 9 points higher than the day before. My score was 60.893% - a definite improvement!