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Monday, November 2, 2009

Diamond Bar Schooling Show

There are two directions I could go with this post. I could either be little miss sunshine and pretend that everything is absolutely hunky dorey and I'm glad for the learning experience yada yada yada....or I could be a snively, whining brat. I'll try to strike a balance between the two. :)

Edited to say: I have edited this post 45 million times and I’ve had enough. I’m publishing. It’s still whining and self-serving, but too bad. I’m trying to be honest and analytical, but it’s hard when in reality I’m split between feeling like a sniveling brat and a righteous, epitome of good sportmanship. So for better or worse, here’s the my report on the schooling show. :)
Truely, life is so interesting.

First of all I'd like to tell a little story. What's going through my mind is the poem "The Night Before X-mas" - however, as I'm sitting on a plane at the airport (waiting for engine repairs) I'm not feeling at all creative and rhyming. So use your imagination.

It was the morning of a dressage show......and all through the stable horses were screaming because Farley was getting fed and they weren't.

Because I got up way too early in the morning to braid and make her look fabulous.

A french braid in her tail, a french braid in her mane. Topped off with a little button knot!

The boots were polished, the show shirt kept white. Unfortuantely white breeches were not in sight!

Tan would have to do.

We trailered to the ribbons to win!

No mirror for tucking hair or centering bow - oh what to do! Take a picture of course and so how it looks.....

And into the ring! Intro Test A and B! A pretty prancy pony with endurance in her veins!

OK - enough with that. Here's the show pics. I'll tell you what actually happened after you take a look at these gorgeous shots!

This was either the walk/trot suitability tests or Intro A

Comments: we are headed away from the "scary" corner and she's tense here. I'm asking her to soften, which she did by the next movement. Look at that muscle in the hindquarters!!!!!! What a difference. She didn't have that 2 months ago. This definately wasn't the best pic from this test, but I wanted the shot for conditioning comparison purposes in the future.

This is either Intro A or B

Comments: Her flexion to the left is the "hard" side. I felt like this was a really great picture.

This is Intro B

She's slightly behind the bit here. So I'm asking her to push a bit.

So I'm sure what you really want to know is how I placed. Dead last in every class.

To tell you the truth I was a little shocked. I got a 51 on Intro A and a 53 on Intro B (Most of the scores in the class were in the upper 50's). I placed second (last) in the dressage suitability class. The suitability class didn't bother me as I was using it as an opportunity to get in the court before my actual test. But my actual tests went fairly well - she was a little more tense than in the lessons, but in all honesty her performance was very close to what I've been schooling.

So what happened? The only comments I got on my test was that she was not relaxed enough and she was not comfortable with contact on the bit.

(just deleted 2 paragraphs of whiney comments).

(Scroll down if you want to reach the little miss sunshine pictures at the end. The comments from here to the picture I am allowing myself to be a wee bit whiny.)

I will say this - there was a photographer who took ~30 pictures. In 85% of the pictures Farley and I looked GOOD.

In most of the pictures she is tracking very well with her hind legs. Really following through.

As far as bit contact, I was doing exactly what I have been schooling. Pushing and then softening, pushing and softening. She really was a good girl. The only thing I can think is that at intro level they really do want very little contact and for the horses to have their little noses stuck out.

I have not problem admitting that there is plenty that I need to work on. After all Farley and I have only been doing this for 2 months! BUT it was a little dissapointing to place below people who did the following:

1. Sloppy salutes (Take your time! It's about respect! Don't bob your head like you are bobbing for apples).

2. Going off course

3. Not doing the transitions AT the letter. It says "trot at C", not "trot somewhere in the vincinity of C". This actually really bugged me. I nailed every transition I need to do at the letter. Does accurate riding of the test count for anything? Related to this is the person that did the entire test at the sitting trot. Yep, she placed above me too.

4. No attempt at softening what so ever. Literally they were holding on with the lightest contact, with the horse's nose sticking out. If I had known that they is what they were looking for, I would have ridden Farley on a loose rein. (actually - I probably wouldn't have - it's not the right thing to do).

Alright - Little Miss Sunshine time:

Farley looked GREAT. I got many compliments on her appearance. Braiding is absolutely worth it.

I've been complaining to my trainer that I can feel the difference in her body but I can't see it. The first picture up above of the show literally stopped me in my tracks. There is so much muscle in her hindquarters that wasn’t there before.

I can’t stop staring at my show pictures. It’s so unreal how different she looks under saddle and how much my riding has improved. Absolutely freakn’ amazing. I never could have even dreamed that I would be riding this well right now. How exciting to think about it improving even more. It’s like looking at a stranger when I look at the pictures.

It was a good experience. I’m glad I went. I have some things to think over. I think that doing a more intense warm up may help her to relax. She was actually pretty good, but after my last test I went back to the warmup ring and did some canter schooling and she was even better.

We have a starting point. The next time I take the tests, I’ll have something to compare them to. This is a good thing! If I got low 50’s on my tests after this much improvement, then it’s a very good thing I’m taking lessons!

I think dressage is going to be a more “spectator friendly horse event” than endurance for my non horsey friends and family. I’m always a little reluctant to invite people to endurance rides because of how long I’m gone and how focused I need to be on my horse.

I’m very proud that I remembered both my tests in the ring. I got some practice of managing misbehavior within a movement, and organizing in time to ride the next movement.

I love the schooling that I do outside of the show. It’s worth it to do dressage just based on the joy I get from working on it on a day to day level. Although I don’t enjoy shows as much, they are going to be very important to track progress and keep me focused on the small details (which I very easily overlook unless there is something to focus me). I do love the individual “report” cards the judges give after the show. It’s very helpful for understanding why the placed you and insights on what’s important to the judge.

Overall I’m so VERY PROUD of my little pony. Considering that this was her first non-endurance competition, she handled the stress very very well. As we work together, we are only going to improve.

So on to the next show! Blue ribbons await!

I hope this post wasn’t too whiney and repetitive. My mind keeps flip-flopping between how proud I am of my horse, how disappointed I am in my score, confusion over what the judges saw and what I thought the focus would be on, determination to do better next time etc etc. J

(BTW – my plane is finally in the air, 1 hour 15 minutes late. I have a feeling I’m going to miss my connecting flight.)
Update: Not only did I miss my connecting flight - when I hopped on the next available one, my luggage didn't go with me. Darn. So I'm sitting in Birmingham eating and wondering how long I can resist an icecream.


  1. Remember, it was THAT judges opinion. I drove my friends horse at a combined driving event last year, and he was really good in his dressage test, and we had some scores that were off the charts different than others in the class. Pays yer money, takes yer chances. The important thing is if YOU are happy, had fun, and the mare had fun. Anything beyond that is a bonus. maybe convince a friend to video you next time.

    Bet she was the only endurance horse there. lol

  2. I had lost sight of that - you are right - the same judge did all 3 classes. What would be really interesting is to do a show where I did 2 tests with 2 different judges and see how they compare (as long as the horse did similarly).

    I did have fun. I think Farley had fun. She certaintly behaved herself and acted like it....

    Not only was I the only endurance horse there - I was the only ARAB there too. Everyone else was on warmbloods and quarter horses. What's funny is I was the only one that went the totally traditional route with my tack and dress. LOL. I do nothing by halves!!!! :)

    BTW - everyone feel free to critize away on my dress etc. in the pictures. I'm interested if I'm making any horrible mistakes in my dressage (besides the breeches!!!!!).

    I so need a black girth.

    I see what needs to be improved in my riding - puppy dog hands, I lean, I push out with my feet with a post, need to keep the toes in, slightly leaning forward at times, sometimes my leg goes too far back (which is a miracle - my leg is ALWAYS too far forward!).

    Any tips on keeping nice shiny boots shiny and not dusty when going into the ring?

  3. I think your pictures are great. You guys look very neat and tidy and I believe that white breeches aren't a necessity for lower level tests.
    Farley is such a pretty mare, you should be very proud of her- for her first show I think she looks very relaxed!
    I've been inspired by your dressage posts, and have decided to take some lessons with my horses this winter. I don't know if we'll do any actual shows but I would only hope my boy could look 1/2 that professional at his first show (actually I'd be happy to just stay on him:) ) Karen W.

  4. Karen - thanks for your kind words. It's hard to put into words just how much the dressage has helped me. I'm so glad you are taking lessons!

  5. I wondered when you would report on your show! Very interesting and entertaining.

  6. Ok, here is my take on dressage judges:
    They always have to find something wrong, its not that they are being mean, they are just doing their job. Dressage is supposed to be about training and learning, so they need to tell you what you are still doing wrong so you can go home and work on it. Hopefully they can say this in a nice way!
    Remember that while you see a high strung endurance horse doing wonderfully at her first dressage show, they see an energetic Arab. They do not know all the hard work that has been put into getting to where you are now.
    I have found that for the most part dressage judges want to see a calm relaxed horse vrs. a not calm relaxed horse that is performing better. They do seem to really not like horses that are at all forced into a frame or are being held back.
    I always got the highest scores on this one TB who loved to slow down and stretch his neck all the way out!
    Since you were judged by the same judge the whole day, it is possible that he/she saw something that they didn't like in one test that carried over into their judgement on another.

    And lastly, dressage judges are just as prone to being breed biased as any other. Although I do have to admit that most of the judges that I have dealt with are not really that way. Granted those judges were all at small unsanctioned schooling shows.

    At any rate you and Farley look great! I hate all the prim and properness of dressage so I have no comments for your turnout, other then that Farley's braids look very nice!

    So glad you had fun!

  7. Thanks for your feedback JB and I think certaintly some of the factors you mentioned came into play. Yes, it was one judge all day and the comments on both tests were absolutely identical.

    BTW - another student of my trainers rode last weekend too - she also rode in the earlier shows in this series. She was getting 70's at the last show, so it will be interesting to hear how she did at this one and her comments. Another view is healthy!

    A arab is going to move differently than a warmblood or quarter horse. That's just way they are. If I was serious and cared a lot, I wouldn't be competing on an arab - that's for sure! A short horse with a short back is going to look choppier than a longer horse. Just part of the game. I think it's going to be important to keep in mind my goals and achieve them privately at each show, even if it's not recognized by the judge. For example, getting Farley to step through at the trot. She really short strides at the trot and it's even worse at the canter. Looking at the pics, I was pleased to see how much she was reaching through.

    I did talk to my trainer about the show and her insights really cheered me. It sounds like schooling shows in this area can be a crap shoot depending on who's there. The correct goal at a schooling show is personal goals, and not necessarily a specific show or judge-oriented goals.

    I'm trying to be careful and positive about what I say becuase I don't want anyone NOT to go to a schooling show in my area, or in their own area because of my comments. They are useful experiences, however I'm learning from my trainer and from others around me, that goals may need to be modified from what you expect at a recognized show.

    I try to write so that if the show organizer read my blog and my comments, she wouldn't think me an ungrateful brat, but rather understand my confusion surrounding the show and some of the inconsistencies.

    I think the proof will be in the pudding - when I go to my first recognized show (probably in January) and get my scores there.

  8. Hmm...I don't know what to tell you without a video, but I guess I will just say the only things that come to mind because they are common. But first let me be my good teacher self and give you complements. Your and your mare looked fantastic as far as turnout goes. Try as I might, my fat spotted pony and I would have taken 2nd place to you at a show if there was a turnout competition.

    As for "other horses" doing better...warm bloods I would belive, but quarter horses are built the exact opposite way from a well moving dressage horse. In dressage you want the horses shoulders to be higher because that gives them a bigger gait and more freedom of movement. Judging from the pictures Farley is a very nice mover so I wouldn't even give the breed thing a second thought. Most judges would place an average arab over an average quarter horse any day because of how they are built in relation to movement for dressage.

    As you know I did Intro this weekend as well so here is what I think the judges are looking for at intro...

    Perfect figures. They want the test to be totally accurate so while at 1st level you 8 meter circles can be 10 meters without most judges knowing it at intro they want your 20 meter circles to be the right size and also perfectly round. If you cut off even one quarter that can bring you down from a 6 to a 5.

    Rhythm. That is pretty much all Intro is about. You might have been very rhythmical, I don't know, but that is just a thought.

    Forward. Looking at the pictures of you and Farley she is not tracking up, which means she is not using her back. Which is a big no-no at intro. As you saw, contact does not count for a lot at intro, but forward does. Has your trainer ever told you about the german training scale? Just google that phrase and dressage and you will see a cool pyramid thing with what most people consider to be the proper progression of dressage. At intro they are only looking at the bottom of the pyramid, so contact counts for very little. Also, my grasshopper, you are making a very common newbie dressage are thinking too much about the horses head. Dressage all comes from the hind end (every person to have ever ridden a dressage test ever obsesses about the head so you are so not alone)

    Submission. This could be the "not relaxed enough" comment. In dressage it is all supposed to appear effortless. Which it is so not as you know! If you gave the impression that you were struggling with contact that would knock you down. Stupid I know because you need the contact as you go up, but better to make a head in the air look effortless at intro then get the contact.

  9. My trainer teases me all the time that at intro all you need is forward, straight, and steady. She laughs because Phoenix and I often have none of those things. Which is why as simple as intro is it is still really hard for me.

    My thoughts? Maybe 8 movements is not enough for you to show off your cool mare. What about doing intro B and then training 1. If she is better after she canters that might help you out a lot. And the cool thing about dressage is that those people who messed up only lost 2 points off their total score. That sucks when you put in a nice ride, but it is great when you make a mistake. Even doing the completely wrong movement can only take away 2 points. And for those people with poor transitions, unfortunately there is no separate score for transitions at intro. As you go up they will be scored alone, but for now if the judge likes the movement, but the transition is sloppy they can not give the transition a lot of weight. As for the rider who rode at a sitting trot...the test is marked rising trot so that person should have been DQed for not showing the movement.

    I know that you said that this was like a pre-schooling show so that makes me think that maybe the judge was not a real judge. Did they have a letter next to their name on the shows prize list?

    Don't be too down that your first tests were not the best, I can't think of a single person who did well on their very first dressage test. And I know A LOT of people! Even Courtney King-Dye (Olympic rider who finished 4th in 2008) did not do well the first time she entered at A.

    My advice? Don't be so hard on yourself. And I know that you said you came in last in every class, but did you get ribbons in each class, because years from now I doubt that you are going to recall how many people were in the class and that you will be very proud of Farley and her very first red ribbon.

  10. OntheBit - some very good comments and I will keep them in mind as I do the next test!

    So this show didn't even have a prize list - that's how informal it was :) they allowed gaited horses to show at this show......AND THE GAITED HORSE PLACED ABOVE ME!!!!!! So yep, I really should take everything re: this show with a grain of salt! :)

    On my next tests I'll try to get a video so that I can get better feedback.

    My next show doesn't even offer intro from what I can see from the 2009 Omnibus ( I only know what that is becuase of YOUR blog!) so I probably would be training 1 or training 1 and 2.

    she's better after SCHOOLING the canter, unfortuantely if we only do 1 20 meter and then try to trot - the trot is very quick and tense, so I have a lot of work to do in the next few months.

  11. Hey - OntheBit - I just looked at my goals for the show again (which were don't go off course AND look spiffy) and I'll assume from your comment that even with a hairy horse, second hand breeches, boots, and shirt, Used tack, and the fact I had to clip her bridle path with sissors....I ACTUALLY achieved the goal to look spiffy????? WHOOOHOOOO! :)

  12. Mel, I think you and Farley look very nice! Congratulations on surviving your first dressage show. Just think - you didn't mention how Farley was scared of the judge's stand at C, so you already have one up on many horses at their first dressage outing. :)

    I agree with OntheBit about her comment about focusing too much on her head. It's my understanding that at the lower levels the judge isn't looking for full collection, instead they want to see a horse accepting the bit, softening in their mouth and moving out with confidence. So at intro levels they're wiling to overlook a horse that noses out some as long as they're accepting the bit quietly and moving off the rider's commands properly. I made this mistake myself, and had to be reminded a lot not to over collect Huck, his back isn't ready, and he'll end up hollowing his back and either going above or behind the bit based on the day.

    I think you guys did great for your first time out. I'm proud of you!



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