Tuesday 6 June 2017

May Local Dressage Show Ride Recap

So as you may have read before, the first ever dressage show in my area was held May 20-21. You've already heard about the organizing aspect, but I actually rode in the show too (yes, I may be probably am insane). Here's how that part went:

First, I want to let you know that my decision on whether to ride or not fluctuated wildly before the show.
Initially, when the idea of a dressage show was hatched, I was going to do it with a partner, N. The plan was for me to do all the pre-planning work, and then N would manage the show on the weekend itself, freeing me up to ride myself. A significant reason why I organize dressage clinics is so I can take advantage of them myself so I figured the same would be true of a show. At this point, the plan was for it to be an unrated schooling show.
Next, I discovered that the show needed to clear a certain amount of profit to have N on board, I could see that wasn't going to happen (it didn't, I barely broke even), so I was on my own for all the organizing and managing. This made me think I probably wouldn't be able to ride myself.
Then, the show organizing began to take shape and I found out it would be a rated AEF show. Since it wasn't a schooling show anymore, I knew there was no way I could ethically compete. Hors concours was an option, but I figured I would still be too busy.
After that I got to know the judge better, and I really wanted to ride HC so I could get some feedback from her. It's not every day that you can ride for a Medium rated dressage judge from the Netherlands right in your own backyard.
Then, I got busier and busier organizing the show and wasn't able to ride much in the preceding weeks, I figured I would not be riding.
The week before the show at the clinic, a few friends asked me if I would be riding in the show. I said 90% no, but they told me I should. I wasn't fully convinced, but they influenced me just enough to make me check with the judge about me riding HC (she was cool with it), and to have me write my name in 3 ride time slots on Sunday when I was making the schedule (I thought I'd see how Saturday went, and then maybe ride Sunday if things were running smoothly on the organization side).
The final week before the show went by and I didn't have time to ride at all, I was 95% certain I wouldn't be using my ride times, but I kept them there, figuring it was easier to scratch then create them last minute.

Saturday of the show came and went, and I still wasn't planning to ride, I was just so ridiculously busy. But then, when I took the judge out for supper on Saturday night, she asked me about it, and told me I should ride. I warned her that I wasn't prepared, that I hadn't ridden much lately, that I wouldn't have time to bathe or braid, but she said I should still do it. Well, when a dressage judge tells you to ride, you ride.

At 8pm on Saturday night I left the judge in my house, drove across town to pick up my truck and horse trailer from two different places (my brother had used them for moving earlier in the week), went out to the barn, packed up the truck, and rode my horse (my last rides had been the less than ideal rides from the clinic, so I felt like I really had to sit on my horse before getting to the show grounds to make sure she wasn't broken). It was dark by the time I dismounted, and the judge was already asleep by the time I got home.

The next morning I woke up early, set out things for the judge's breakfast, readied my show clothes, packed my car, drove to the barn, loaded Kachina and hauled to the show grounds. There, I juggled grooming Kachina with running the show office, answering questions, getting the arena set for the day, organizing the day sheets and test clipboard (in which I looked at the timing, and scratched my first ride time but kept the remaining two), and getting volunteers prepped. I wasn't able to bath or braid, but at least I was able to tidy up her mane and tail marginally (first show of the season so she was still a winter yak). I repeatedly told myself I was insane.

Once the show started running for the day, I had an awesome volunteer take the show office over for me for a couple hours so I could go tack up and ride my horse. B runs the local breed show so she knows her way around a show office and I was comfortable leaving everything in her capable hands, there's no way I could have ridden without her help.

Warm-Up Part 1

I tacked up and started my warm-up. Everything related to the show had me totally wired all weekend and I'm sure Kachina picked up on my state of mind. She was feeling good, not tight or reactive like at the clinic, but neither of us were relaxed. The start of my warm-up happened to coincide with the morning break. The warmup area was right beside the competition ring so the judge came over to give me some tips (I was riding HC anyways so no issue). She had me really focus on holding my hands in front of me and pushing Kachina into them. It didn't work all the time but I was able to get a few moments of a new and really cool feel of her in between my aids. Periodically we went back into racing giraffe mode though.

I was embarrassed about the issues Kachina and I were having. It makes no sense but I felt like being the show organizer put more pressure on me to be a better rider. Of course if I hadn't been the organizer I would have been better prepared and likely would have ridden better. Nobody else was putting pressure on me, I was just putting way too much pressure on myself. The embarrassment made me more stressed out which added to our issues even more. In general though I'm proud of how I warmed Kachina up. I couldn't release all my tension but I made smart decisions about what exercises to do and I focused on riding one leg into one rein and bending instead of restricting her with my hands. I could get some nice walk and trot circles from her, but unfortunately every time I tried to ride a straight line or sit the trot (even just to change diagonals), Kachina would take that to mean that she should break into a tense canter, not exactly what you want right before riding a test with lots of straight lines and diagonals!

A friend had volunteered to hold my show jacket and some water for me while I warmed up. As it was nearing the time for my test, I got her to bring me them. Kachina isn't usually that spooky but of course she decided today that the water bottle was terrifying and my coat was going to eat her. After a few big spooks I had to drop my coat and dismount to put it on. Again, not the best way to prep for a relaxed test!

Walk/Trot Test B

Too soon, it was time for my first test, Walk/Trot Test B. I really really wish we were beyond walk/trot level, but we've been struggling with canter transitions lately (again/still!) so I felt this was the best choice for my first test. Moving from the warm up area to the test ring did not help with Kachina's tension, or mine. She spooked at the judge's truck and didn't want to get to close to the side of the ring with the stands. Our test was not pretty. We got a few moments of nice work, but in every single movement there was at least one moment of rushing or hollowness or counter-bend. I kind of wanted to curl up and hide in a hole, especially because I knew the judge, I knew the scribe, I knew the photographer, I personally knew every single person who was watching me fail. I'm a lot better at blocking out strangers than I am people I know. We got a 58%. While this wasn't a great test, I am accustomed to the fact that the first test of a show is usually pretty much a wash for Kachina and I. We always need at least one test to get in the ring and fail before we can pull it together.

Warm-Up Part II

Despite my shame, I put Kachina back to work for the few tests before my next ride time. I became a more active rider and got her to do straight lines and diagonals without losing it. I got some really nice trot work and some decent canter. Unfortunately the canter work brought back her tendency to try and tensely canter in the middle of every trot movement. I had to spend most of the time doing just walk/trot work to keep her brain in her head.

The rider ahead of me finished her last salute and I started my loop around the competition area waiting for the bell. The judge decided to have a short chat with the rider before me so I actually had time for several passes around the ring. These trot circles and diagonals represented some of the best quality work that we can produce and I was really happy, I was ready to start my test!

But, the chat went on longer than I was expecting, we had peaked in our work and I wasn't sure how to keep it going, I kept trotting, not wanting to lose the quality, but I lost a bit of my focus. The bell rang, my tension went up, and we kind of fell apart.

Training Test 2

My second test was training level test 2. The test started with a few oops moments (a very crooked halt and a spook at C), but I managed to not totally lose it. We again had some quick and hollow moments, but they were interspersed by longer moments of good work. We held it together for one whole trot circle and one whole trot diagonal so I decided then and there that the ride was a success. Not surprisingly, our canter sucked. To one direction she picked up the wrong lead and then switched to cross firing before I could correct it. Unfortunately in Training Test 2, the double coefficients are for the canter circles so that really hurt our mark (the other lead wasn't great either).

We got 57% so pretty much the same score as Walk/Trot B, but I was much happier with the test overall. We had multiple movements where we scored 7 so I know that when we are good, we are good, we just need to clean up the bad movements. Really, even if we just turned the few 4s into 6s we would have had a respectable score. That mostly just means figuring out the canter once and for all (please! please! please!!!).

These remarks are so simple but so true for me!
(It reads: "Canter is tough eh? Relax, breathe and practice!")

I came out of my second test, made Kachina do a couple trot movements without losing the quality, and then cooled her out, fed her lots of treats and put her away.

Overall I was glad I rode. The show survived without me for a couple hours, I got some good feedback, and I got media! (I'm buying photos but they will have to wait for their own post) The tests didn't go great, but that was understandable with the unfortunate clinic the week before, my lack of prep, and my level of nerves. Kachina stayed with me and tried her best. I'm proud of my little mare and got lots of compliments on her (she can look fancy even when she's giraffe racing!). We'll take this as a learning experience and use it to build for the next show, one that actually counts (best part of riding HC, you don't have to publish your scores, so there's no lasting evidence of a bad ride ;-) (except for this blog post I guess lol))


  1. woo sounds like a success to me! congrats on managing to fit in riding and juggling the show operations!

    1. Thanks! It wasn't maybe the type of success I was looking for, but you're right that it was a success of its own

  2. Kudos to you for juggling both riding and showing!

    1. I don't know if I'll try that again but we survived!