In the last show I had the good learning opportunity of doing 4 tests in the same level (okay so two were training level, and two were western dressage basic level but they are basically the same) in front of two different judges on the same day. By looking at the scores this should give me a pretty good baseline of what we can do acceptably and what needs work. I actually was super nerdy and started a spreadsheet categorizing all movement scores and coming up with graphs etc. but that's a post for another day.
There were certainly some movements where I could see/feel the problems for myself and 100% agreed with the judges' criticisms (e.g. canter transitions). However, there was one movement that I thought was a strong point but yielded us marks that were surprisingly low to me. That is the free walk.
Kachina has a good clear four beat walk. She was a forward moving trail horse before I got her and that pretty much means she can free walk with the best of them. She generally has clear overtrack and the walk feels marching and like it's going somewhere. In past shows we have sometimes bungled the free walk by breaking into trot for a stride or two (usually my fault). This summer I have done a lot of practice going from free walk to medium walk and back again which has reduced the breaks in gait considerable. I also have sometimes had the comment that I need to give her a looser rein. I generally hold the reins near the buckle, but the fact that Kachina does stretch out her neck a lot and that I have short arms means that we don't always have a lot of slack (and I don't want longer reins because they would be too long most of the time). At this show I made a particular effort to correct this lack of rein loop by holding my arms as far forward as they would reach.
In general, I was happy with our free walk at this show. I did five free walks in total (Western Basic Test B has two), and I was saddened and confused to find out that our free walk marks and comments were:
5.5 - more stretch more rein
5.0 - allow horse to stretch
6.5 - keep straight on track
5.5 - not enough stretch
5.5 - show more stretch
For a movement that always has a double coefficient, those scores hurt. Also, the comments suggest a serious and consistent deficiency, but one that I don't understand (except for the comment about staying straight, I know we did a bit of a zigzag on that one).
I don't have any video, but the photographer did capture multiple photos on the short diagonal of free walk that earned us a 5.5 and the "not enough stretch" comment (note, I did get permission from the photographer to use these watermarked proofs):
I feel like I look a little silly with my arms so straight like that, but to my eye I see a horse who is giving a significant stretch and a rider who is allowing the stretch. The judge clearly did not agree. I feel like I must be missing something (especially with similar feedback from both judges). Can you please enlighten me as to what is wrong with these photos and/or what the judge is looking for in the free walk?
For comparison sake please look at this image to see what a more normal head and neck position for Kachina is (and how long the rein bight is).
Here is a good explanation -ReplyDelete
I especially like the idea that your horse should look like he's going to graze. Hope this helps.
Thanks! I've never heard that about grazing, it's a good visual, and also tells me that I guess I need Kachina reaching down much moreDelete
Love the above link. I am no expert, but if this was me & Midge, my coach would be wanting me to give more and have her stretch out and down more. I hate to say this, but I think you might need to try longer reins - I know everyone is different, but mine are significantly longer than yours -long enough to require a knot in the end to avoid hooking my foot in them when we're working on collection, but in free walk and stretchy trot Midge needs the whole (unknotted - fun times, lol) rein on the buckle to stretch.ReplyDelete
Also, I have T-rex arms, so yeah, long reins are my friend :)Delete
I think you're probably right, but I was hoping there was a different answer! I already get annoyed when the end of my reins get stuck on my saddle or pad, I can't imagine how annoying it would be to have them near my foot! Also I really need to practice shortening and lengthening my reins better.Delete
I agree with the need for longer reins for a couple reasons. One, you want to demonstrate that your horse is freely stretching for the contact in the free walk. When you straighten your arms out you lose your ability to feel them in your elbow and it interrupts the connection. Two, it looks like she has a bit of a head tilt in the pictures (if this is incorrect ignore me). When Stinker tilts his head it is because he feels trapped and like he can't stretch. He is tight in the poll on the right side. If I don't give him extra rein on the left side he will twist his poll and it appears that I am not allowing him to stretch through that side. So he gets a few more inches of rein on the left so he will flex through the poll and let his crest flip to the right.ReplyDelete
She totally has a head tilt, good observation. Kachina is a big fan of tilting her head. She does it even on the ground in a halter so it's not really a restriction thing for her. I figured that since the comment didn't mention head tilt that wasn't the problem but I never considered that the judge might think she was tilting because I wasn't letting her stretch! That's really good for me to think about, thanks :)Delete
Having just spent a few hours scribing, I can tell you the judges really want the horses' heads down and out. Like Terry, said: nearly grazing. Get longer reins if you have to and try to lower your hands to you still have a straight line from elbow to bit. I'm not saying this as someone who is GOOD at this and I don't want to come across as preachy. I just figured I'd share what I learned from an actual dressage judge.ReplyDelete
It didn't come off as preachy at all, I asked for feedback and I appreciate getting it! :)Delete