From Endurance to Dressage
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 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%: