Monday, October 24, 2011

Dressage Show Reflection and A Gift

First, I would just like to say "Thank You" for the well wishes and support to those who commented and to those who, perhaps, just read and nodded at their computers.  I know that this was nothing more than a little schooling show, but I still got butterflies before we trotted up the centerline.  Harley had some show nerves, too!  Competition, by its very nature, puts us in a place of vulnerability.  Some people thrive on competition, some avoid it at all costs, and then there are those who fall somewhere in the middle.  I think that it is pretty safe to say that I am in the middle of the pack.  I can handle competition, I feel that it is good to put myself in that position once in a while, but it is not my motivation for riding and certainly not my main focus.

With that being said, I would like to share some history about my previous showing "career".  When I was in high school and college, I competed at First Level, again only at schooling shows a couple times a summer, but they were at much fancier stables than the shows I occasionally attend now.  Just to give you an idea, I once rode at the same show as Heather Mason.  She was most likely schooling a client's horse, but it is possible that we rode in the same class.  I do not remember the placings, but I did score a 66% that day and my (leased) mare was being a handful.  In fact, I regularly scored in the 60th percentile at First Level on two horses, a handsome gray, Appendix Quarter Horse gelding and a feisty, bay Hanoverian/Thoroughbred mare, both over 16 hands.  It seemed like there were plenty of 60's to go round.  I often rode both horses at the same show, and sometimes in the same class, which meant that I had to warm up two horses and manage two very different styles and personalities.  It was an excellent education, for which I am very grateful.

With one exception, I did not ride a Training Level test until I took Harley to his first show, where he scored a 58%.  Not bad for having been a pasture ornament less than twelve months before the show.  We trotted up the center line half a dozen times before we were able to break 60% at Training Level.  I like to think that I am a much better rider now than I was ten years ago.  I am certainly more tactful and aware.  There are also many groundwork skills that I knew nothing about ten years ago, or even five years ago.  With all the knowledge and experiences that I feel that I have acquired since owning my own horse, you would think that I could trot into that ring and score 70%!  Clearly, it does not work that way, but I am okay with that.

My former First Level mounts always scored 7's for their gaits and pretty much all the collective marks.  I scored 7's with them.  Sometimes, my mare would get lower marks for submission, but that did not prevent her from scoring an 8 during the test.  The gray scored 8's even more easily, as he was a well-mannered, honest horse.  Harley, for all his charm and good nature, scores 6's.  This is just the way it is.  When he scores 6's, I score 6's, too.  We pine after 7's instead of 8's.  This is frustrating.  I would be lying if I said that it didn't bother me, but I did not team up with Harley to become a great showing pair.  I love riding him.  I love what he has to offer me and our partnership, even if high-scoring gaits or movements are not in the cards.  It is okay.  I knew this going in to the show.

So, as you can imagine, I was completely tickled in May of this year, when we scored 7's for all of our collective marks for the first time ever.  It is also worth mentioning that we had not entered a dressage show since 2009.  Believe me, I was grateful.  The judge was very encouraging and congratulated us for moving up to First Level.  Even though our tests (First 1 and 3) were not without mistakes, we earned 64% and 61% respectively.

I do not think that my jaw could have dropped any lower.

Maybe she was an overly generous judge.  Maybe she was being lenient since we were at a schooling show.  Maybe she was captivated by Harley's wonderful "try" and my determination to believe in us and ignore our short-comings.  No matter what it was, I appreciated the opportunity to ride for her that day.

And then October's show came around.  A part of me did not want to enter, because I did not want to ruin the aura from our previous event.  I am not going to show forever.  One of these shows will be our last.  Maybe we should end on a high note and just have fun at home from now on.  Some nagging questions began to lurk in my brain:

What if we drop back down to the 50th percentile?
What if we look silly?
What if we look over-faced?
What if people wonder why I am bringing my thirteen-year-old quarter horse to a dressage show?

Laying it all on the centerline.

I had to talk myself into going.  I told myself that those things did not matter.  What mattered was enjoying my horse, doing something different, and maybe learning a few things in the process.  I was rewarded for my efforts and for taking a leap of faith, but not exactly in the way you might think.

We were the only ones to ride at First Level, so we scored first and second place, with a 60% in test 1 and 61% in test 3.  I think that our "going out on a limb" is worth stating, because I was nervous to go out there and ride First Level tests for the judge, but I did it anyway.  I saw a warmblood, whom I know is trained to at least Third Level, in a training level class with a young rider.  There were also many other folks like me, on cute Arabians, Quarter Horses, and Paints, but I seemed to be the only one taking the First Level leap.  I was also one of the only ones without a trainer.

Sometimes you have to block everything out and "Just do it".

We scored 6's for all our collective marks (Oh well.).
We nailed a few 7's, for which I am particularly proud of the counter-canter, canter-lengthening,
and three square halts!  Those felt validating.

Lengthening in canter right.  My goodness.  He is cute.

A respectable balance in canter here, but unfortunately not during our 15 meter circles.

I was disappointed in our canter circles and transitions.  The circles are usually reliable 7's, but he was not very round or bending properly this time.  The left lead was crooked and on the forehand.  He also stiffened in the transitions, which have been coming so nicely at home.  I did not help him very much, as I was often getting too far ahead of the motion, detaching my seat, and sitting too far forward.  So it goes.

But...Harley scored many, many compliments for looking handsome.
Being cute never hurts.  ;)

And the judge told us and wrote in our remarks
that we have tons of potential.

I felt like telling her that I am over thirty, my horse is thirteen, and I am a full-time teacher without time or money to exercise our potential, regardless of how good her words were sounding. 
I was a sea of vulnerability.

I worried that she thought we were younger than we looked,
just starting out,
eternal rookies.

Instead, I kept these things to myself, and then, she surprised me.

Since we were the last ride of the day,
she gave us an impromptu lesson.

A free, fifteen minutes with a dressage judge
showing us exactly what our potential looked like,
and proving to us that we could do it.

I was floored by the experience and by the judge's generosity,
which I would like to share with you.
Next time...


  1. Congratulations! What a wonderful show experience and thank you for sharing your feelings about being on an "average" QH and not a warmblood. I love LOVE my Paint and don't regret one minute having him instead of the Friesian who scored 8s and 9s on his gaits... but those thoughts do creep in when we get a 6 for gaits. I guess its one reason I'm not anxious to show him. I know I shouldn't care, and I don't when I'm at home, but then we go to a show and I see the score and... I care. Argh.

  2. Love the photos. Harley looks gorgeous.
    I;m glad it went well. Congrats. :)

  3. Uh, why WOULDN'T you bring your 13-year-old Quarter Horse to a dressage show??? Dude, there was a QH at Rolex not too long ago!

  4. It sounds stressful and fun at the same time - you should be proud of yourself and your horse. And how wonderful that the judge was willing to take the time with you - it's great when you encounter good and helpful horse people like that.

  5. Oh my heavens, your post really affected me. That is such a great story. Congratulations! So nice of the judge to show you your potential. I'm glad the show had a good variety of breeds and riders. Dressage is for everyone. Good foryou for facing your fears in order to improve your riding. Those are great scores!

  6. Great job, Val! Please, please, please - don't worry what other people think!!!!!!! I have come to realize that everyone else out there, mounted on a traditional warmblood or not, has the same fears and worries as everyone else.

    Imagine starting dressage at 38 or 39 on an Arabian who was started in endurance! Talk about a crazy notion. Imagine that same rider NEVER having shown at all. Never, not even once! We had been to numerous races of course, but not shows.

    I love being 40. I thought it sounded very old at 30, but what I've come to understand is that with age does come experience and a healthy dose of "I don't give a $%^& what people think". And I don't! If you want something, make it happen. If you want to ride a 13 year old Quarter horse, do it! Where in the dressage handbook of life does it stipulate what breed we must ride?

    You enjoy Harley, and he clearly enjoys being your horse. You're working hard, he's working hard - take him to the occasional show (or numerous shows) and be proud of what you're accomplishing WITHOUT a full time trainer and WITH a full time job!

    I can't wait to hear what the judge thought. I hope you're proud of your effort and that you add it to your pile of good experiences!


  7. I've never ridden in a dressage show (I've only ridden in a show twice in 33 years, we will do a dressage show someday, darn it! Even if my quarter horse is 20 by that time.) so all I know is hearsay, but it seems like an awful lot of people are afraid to take the leap to first level. Congratulations for having the guts to do it, if you don't push the boundaries you can never expand them.

    Anyway- that judge sounds awesome. I can't wait to read about your lesson.

  8. Annette- Thank you! It really was a good experience. As for the gaits score, I tell myself that I do not care, but seeing 6's and knowing that they mean "satisfactory" is, ironically, very unsatisfying. A judge once explained to me that the gaits scores is an "average" for all three gaits. She implied that she wanted to score him higher for his canter, but had to consider the walk and trot. I am not sure that made me feel better, but at least she cared enough to explain the rating. Sixes or not, I love Harley to an 11!

  9. Thanks, Ruffles! Nice stills with us all dressed up is another positive side effect of showing. :)

    Albigears- Okay, I hear you! Cool about the Rolex QH. But seriously, so many of the horses were younger than Harley. I do not really think of thirteen as old, but a lot of people seem to show younger horses. Maybe my impression is inaccurate. Anyway, Harley does not know he is thirteen. ;)

    Kate- I love meeting really helpful, encouraging horse people. I was caught a little off guard by the judge. At first, I thought she was going to tell us that we were way out of our league. Instead, she helped us out.

    Carol- Thank you. I am very happy with our scores and I feel that they were fair. I do not think that the judge gave anything away and I can see where we could have done better. I think that we could have scored into the mid-60's if our canter circles and left lead had been better. We CAN do better!

  10. Congrats!! That is super cool, especially about the judge taking some time for you. :-) I love hearing about how other financially-challenged folks make it happen.

  11. Karen- You are absolutely right. I needed to hear that. I should print out your comment and put it in my jacket pocket.

    Sometimes I just feel very limited by my resources, especially when I look at the cover of Dressage Today and see young riders on Grand Prix horses and training in Europe. I do not know if I would really have wanted that, but now that I must check the "senior" division, I realize that I will never have that kind of experience. I am loving the ones that I am having with Harley, though, and with the flexibility to enjoy other areas of my life. I look forward to many, many more great experiences.

    smaz- My original dressage instructor told me the same about First Level. I did not appreciate it at the time, because she started me at First Level and since I was riding trained horses and taking weekly lessons, I was very much up to speed. Going out on my own with Harley feels like a completely different experience. Definitely pushing the comfort zone!

  12. SprinklerBandit- Dressage on a shoe-string. That's my motto!

    Thankfully, knowledge and learning are mostly free. For this reason I rarely turn down the opportunity to learn something new, although weekly dressage lessons are just not happening. I try to make the most out of every lesson and training experience. I also read ANYTHING that I can get my hands on!

  13. If you did your best and know where to improve, there is no reason to be disappointed. The only thing you could have been truly disappointed about would have been if you hadn't even tried.

    Oh, and 13 is YOUNG in dressage years. I've said this on my blog before but thought I should say it here: I've ridden 2 PSG mounts - one was 24 and one was 29. They both could still perform PSG level movements. What I haven't said is that both were untraditional mounts. One was a fat, ugly appy gelding (some appies are pretty but he wasn't!), the other was a fat, ugly perch/qh cross. I would NEVER have picked those horses as being the level they were, but both were worth their weight in gold. And both were still being shown, and winning (though admittedly both were on joint supplements, but at that age, who can blame them?!). Age is just a number!!!

    I can't wait to hear what the judge did with you two after the show!

  14. HammersArk- Wow! Those are two amazing horses. Thanks for sharing their ages and breeds. I agree that trying was better than not going to the show. Then I would have been really disappointed.

  15. Congrats! Those are some great scores, and kudos for taking that leap into First - it can be intimidating - at least it was for me. Sometimes you just don't know how far you can go without taking a few risks.

    As for age, don't worry. My horse didn't show dressage until he was 16, and the next time we plan on going up centerline, he'll be 20 (just don't tell him I told you that!)

  16. Hi Katie- Thanks very much. How neat that your horse will still be showing at 20! Many more years to you both.

  17. I'm proud of you for going out there and competing honestly against all those who have trainers and "dressage-able" horses. I think Harley looks good and is cute too. That should be enough.

    Kudus to the judge for taking a few minutes to offer advice rather than a put down or discouragement.

    My daughter went to a 4H clinic on her fat old Arab mare and the guy working with the kids told us that we should buy her a "trained" QH if we wanted her to get anywhere in shows. That's just not right.

  18. Thanks, Fantastyk Voyager!

    I do not like to hear about judges discouraging any competitor, especially kids. Presented kindly, I am a fan of constructive criticism, but deconstructive criticism, not so much.


Leave a comment or add to my memoirs with some of your own.