From Endurance to Dressage
My Soap Box Rant
Lecturing on a soap box is a bit arrogant unless you have something to say that people actually want to hear. Otherwise, you're just some weirdo spouting off cockamamie ideas that make people roll their eyes and cross the street to get away from your idiocy.
Knowing that, I am climbing up. You can roll your eyes and walk away, or you can gather and shout amen, sister! with the rest of the believers ... Dressage is incredibly hard. Showing dressage is even harder still.
After I finished my first test of the weekend, I left the arena feeling a bit grouchy and made that statement to my trainer. It's not that I resent doing things that are difficult. I thrive on demanding work. The more onerous, the better. Give me something that stretches me to my limit, and I am a happy camper. Weenie babies don't ride 100 miles through freezing cold temperatures in a single day. I did, more than a few times, and loved every minute of it.
What used to drive me nuts about endurance riding was all the people who would claim that they too were endurance riders. Whenever they were asked which endurance races they had done, they would claim that they just "conditioned" their horses in endurance saddles or had done 10 - 15 mile fun rides.
Sorry, simply using an endurance saddle to get your horse fit doesn't make you an endurance rider. You have to actually ride an endurance distance on a prescribed course under a vet's observation. And doing it more than once helps. That's what makes an endurance rider.
I am sure you can see where this is going.
As I finished that test and groused about this sport being difficult, what I really meant was that unless someone is actually showing at USDF-rated shows, they don't know how hard it really is to put it all together in front of a judge, make it look easy, and get a good score. It's hard, really hard.
When we ride at home, we can repeat the transition over and over. We can ride that figure twice until it feels balanced. If we're not ready for that canter departure at C, we circle back around and give it another go. Or, we pick it up at M. Who is going to notice the difference? At a show, the rider has to string all of the movements together without any do-overs.
That's what makes showing so hard. We don't get a second, third, or twelfth chance to get it just right. It has to be done correctly then and there, ready or not. So even if someone's horse has a few lovely flying changes at home, until they have to get five 4s from H to F with the third one landing at X, those changes don't mean much. And they mean even less if the rider can't follow it up with five 3s across the other diagonal. That was for Jen and her Prix St Georges test this weekend. Ask her if riding it correctly in front of a judge is easy or hard.
The thing about showing at a USDF-rated show is that the judges aren't cutting you any slack. It's not their job to make you feel good. It is their job to give you legitimate, honest, and helpful feedback. The judges at fun shows or schooling shows ARE there to encourage you and give you softball scores. That's their job. They're trying to get you to come back. They want you to feel good about showing so you'll pay your USDF money and help the sport grow.
I know many people will disagree with this viewpoint. Many riders feel that the judging at schooling shows is equal to that at USDF-rated shows. Maybe. I only show here in California, but I find it awfully difficult to believe that the L Program Graduates would change their style just because they live in another region of the US. The USDF and USEF work very hard to standardize judging around the country.
When I was still competing in endurance races, I loved those shorter distances for introducing a horse to his job. As a dressage rider, I've done many schooling shows for the same reason. There's no sense spending all that money on a USDF show until you know how your horse will deal with new venues, judges' booths, and the stresses of showing,
Until you can put it all together in front of a USEF judge at a USDF show, preferably one that holds his or her "S" license (Senior Judge), it might be best to hold off a bit on the celebration. Those USEF judges are tougher than they look.
So that's it. That's my rant. I am getting down from my soap box. What's your feeling on judging and scores?
10/29/2015 06:12:47 am
+10000 on this rant. It IS hard to put an entire test together in front of the judge... especially when you're on a horse who KNOWs you're in front of the judge and that he won't be reprimanded (i.e. sat on his butt and made to do it over, correctly) for doing what he wants. Brat.
10/29/2015 06:26:33 am
Many of the judges at my local schooling show also judge at recognised shows. My instructor is a retired judge. I would hope they would score my test with the same standards regardless of the venue. But, I don't really know. And I suspect some of my tests have been judged leniently. But others have not. Perhaps it depends on the judge? I don't want my schooling scores to be inflated. And then go to a recognised show and be discouraged. I'll be sure to ask my instructor next lesson. I do understand your argument, and it makes sense. But I also think that it may depend on the judges perspective too.
I've come to the conclusion (in eventing and dressage) that unless you're willing to put up the $$ for recognized shows, you're not that serious about it - which is perfectly fine, as long as your honest with yourself and others about that! I did a lot of unrecognized events. Part of it was the money, part was the I'm-never-moving-on-from-this-level-so-why-pay-recognized. Then when I DID do recognized events at BN, I didn't even bother joining the USEA because I wasn't sure I was sticking with it (spoiler- I did a couple novice MTs and quit before doing my first novice HT).
i agree with a lot of what you say here, but take exception to the first sentence. i am serious about my sport but don't bother with recognized. it's a question of outcomes. what is to be gained by doing recognized?
I think a lot of that comes from exactly what you said about building a show record- people trying to sell a horse without the recognized show record. I've seen a ton of second level dressage horses that have never been to a recognized show, only the small local ones.
10/29/2015 07:10:45 am
I totally agree about the scoring, schooling show versus USDF show. That said, if I can't consistently ride a test, start to finish with no pauses, do overs, etc. at home being videoed, that is in the solid 70s, I know will not get in the high 60s at a rated show. Show nerves, horse nerves, and atmosphere almost always take away points at any show. Rated or unrated.
i'm not comfortable agreeing that unless i am competing at a recognized level, i don't really know what it's about or can't really say i am a participant in that sport. by that logic, i'm not actually an eventer. but see, i identify as an eventer, really truly. but perhaps there are folks who see me as otherwise? idk.
The relative to the pack thing- exactly! I was grooming at a mini trial where the low score for the open novice division was a 39. The woman who got that score actually complained to management for too tough judging- she's been riding Prelim at recognized events for probably longer than I've been alive, usually winning them every time out. She knows her stuff (and is either an L or r judge I believe). A 40-45 was actually doing really well at that show. Normally, you'd go home and reevaluate your dressage and what went wrong for something in the 40's, that time out? Nope. You did just fine, scoring was super tough.
10/29/2015 08:11:40 am
AMEN sister! I agree 100%. It is really friggin hard to string tests together. Around here (KY), I usually pull off mid-60s at Third Level at schooling shows. At rated shows? Try 53s, 54s, and woohoo a couple of 62s. There is absolutely a difference at rated shows. The judges are not giving away things for free.
I agree that schooling show judges can be more lenient. It depends on the judge though. It seems like half are out there handing out 70's like it's water, the other half you're lucky to eek out a low 60 with a flawless ride.
So obviously I don't show dressage, and maybe it's different between disciplines, but I feel like the differences between schooling and rated shows are two-fold: 1) the judging is a little bit more strict and 2) the quality of your competitors is different.
I have to say that I disagree. Just because someone doesn't show at USDF rated shows doesn't mean they don't understand how hard it is. I consider myself a dressage rider and have never ridden at a USDF show. Part of what has kept me at the schooling shows is that it is hard and I want to show up ready to really compete when I do spend the money on a USDF show.
Oh man. I'm gonna disagree big time here. L and little r judges tend to score cushy at 1st and below, and harsh as hell on 2nd and above. I've had much better scores (and more consistent!!) from S and above judges when showing 2+.
Hmm I haven't had the same experience. I find that some of our L graduates (L "judges" are actually not judges, they aren't considered judges until they get their r) are just kind of awful at all levels. There are some that I like, but the vast majority simply don't have the education to be judging, but you gotta learn somehow so they dump them on the schooling shows.
I also disagree.
For reference, I almost exclusively ride under S judges, mostly because that's who we get in this area for most of our shows and I've been riding at the FEI level for the past few years. I can't remember the last time I rode under an R or r judge. I almost never do schooling shows, only this past year on my baby have I done them, and that was mostly so that I could keep those lower scores off my record.
For me there's simply no comparison between an L grad and an S judge. To get into and graduate from the L program you need a few scores at Second and no teaching experience, the S program is an insane amount of teaching, judging, and riding experience.
This is a hard one for me, because a show is a show in my mind. I don't get more nervous at one versus the other. Mostly, I just want to be happy with my test. It's not that I don't care about scores or winning, I love to win, but I just kind of accept that my test is going to be what it is no matter what kind of score I get at what type of show. So, I don't necessarily find recognized shows more difficult (except for affording them). I do however enjoy them more because the judges are more knowledgeable and I appreciate the better feedback. Give me an 'S' judge over an 'L' or 'r' judge any day.
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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
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CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
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