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dressage competition

dressage, dressage competition, dressage judges, judge Kimberlee Barker, scribing

Hanging with the Judge

I spent Sunday scribing at a local schooling show with dressage judge Kimberlee Barker. It was a real pleasure despite the erratic Central Oregon weather, which had rain dousing the score sheets at one point, as wind whistled through our judges’ stand.
I highly recommend learning to scribe and trying to scribe at one show or more show per year. It’s always eye-opening.

View from the judge's stand. We can't hear your heart pounding, but we know it is!

View from the judge’s stand. We can’t hear your heart pounding, but we know it is!


If you’ve never scribed before, it’s relatively easy to organize a scribing clinic. Ask your local dressage club about learning opportunities. Schooling shows are a great way to start.
By sitting with the judge and noting her comments and scores, I guarantee you’ll go home with a few things to work on in your own riding. From our vantage point at C, the most obvious error nearly every Training Level rider made was to overshoot centerline in their entry.
This mistake is easy to fix and can save you a valuable point or two. Practice your turn onto the centerline at home on a regular basis, starting your turn long before you reach A. If you get to A and then begin your turn, it’s too late and you’ll end up having to wobble back toward centerline — which is not a great way to start your test.
Another obvious error we saw were riders who didn’t keep their horses on the rail. Use the rail to your advantage to help to keep your horse straight and forward. Again, this is easy to school at home.
Another glaring error is allowing your horse to counterflex as he gazes longingly out of the arena. Maybe you’re not able to get a really correct bend yet, as your horse is green or you’re new to showing, but do keep your horse’s head–and attention–in the arena.
Finally, remember that part of your job is to convince your horse that the show ring is a safe place. If you are stressed out, your horse will spend most of the ride wondering, “What’s wrong with mom??”
A tense rider does nothing to help a horse relax. If you got score sheet comments like ‘tense’ and ‘tight back,’ it probably referred to both of you.
Unless your horse is a true schoolmaster, he needs you to assure him that everything is fine. When you focus on helping your horse to relax, it may help you to let go of that death grip you’ve got on the reins. You can tactfully encourage your horse to relax or yell “Relax, dammit!” with every step of the ride.
We could clearly see the effect relaxation had on each horse and rider — and their scores — as the show progressed. In nearly every case, the rider’s first ride was tense and tight. By the time they entered the arena the second time, they’d relaxed a bit, remembered to breathe, and got higher scores. Relaxation is huge and easier said than done.
I know from personal experience that show ring stress can turn your brain to mush and your body to steel. (Not a good combination for your poor horse.) My own goal is to try to keep things in perspective: no show is a life or death situation. This is something I do for fun.
Speaking of fun, look at the young riders who blissfully enter the ring without a ton of emotional baggage. They tend to get around the ring in a much more relaxed manner, often earning more points than their adult counterparts.
Try to take on a scribing opportunity this show season to gain a new perspective. You are guaranteed to learn a lot. And, while it is work, it can be quite satisfying as you get to know your judge and anticipate her comments and scores.
Let me know how it works out!

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dressage, dressage competition, humor, transitions

A Safe Space to Be a Mere Mortal

It occurred to me that if I’d posted only those photos of my horse and I doing well at our most recent show, the response would have been enthusiastic but much less entertaining.
When I posted the photo of Micah taking a poo at M (for Manure) in my Walk to Poo Transition post, the response was terrific. My friends laughed with me as I sat through what felt like the longest nature break in history.
Following is a replay of that glorious moment, followed by my attempts to regain composure and continue the test. As you can tell, I couldn’t quite believe what had happened. It was definitely a good lesson in letting go and carrying on.

M is for manure. Photo by Andrew Martin

M is for manure. Photo by Andrew Martin


The numerous (and hilarious) comments on my personal Facebook (Lauren Davis Baker) and business page (Dressage for Mere Mortals), and soaring views on my blog (www.dressage mortals. org) told me I’d struck a nerve.
Leaving a steaming pile of manure behind, I try to regroup into a free walk. Photo by Andrew Martin

Leaving a steaming pile of manure behind, I try to regroup into a free walk. Photo by Andrew Martin


Clearly, people can relate to those moments when you put yourself on the line, only to be humbled by things beyond your control. When readers shared their own stories of moments of humility, we strengthened our community. For me, community is what this blog (and riding, itself) is about.
An eternity later, we make it across the diagonal and carry on as if nothing untoward had happened. Off camera, my trainer is (rightfully) laughing her head off. Photo by Andrew Martin

An eternity later, we make it across the diagonal and carry on as if nothing untoward had happened. Off camera, my trainer is (rightfully) laughing her head off. Photo by Andrew Martin


I’d love to post photos of my horse and I looking grand (and at times we really do!) but we see so many impressive photos of upper level riders with natural skill and ability (plus the time to ride), riding horses beyond our price range: horses with more talent and training than most of us will see in this lifetime. Sometimes that’s inspiring – but at times we need reminders that the struggle of the average rider is its own story, worthy of telling.
And so I share my weaknesses, knowing that it takes lots of small moments — and not giving up — to make progress. As riders, of course we have faults! But we live in a culture where admitting faults is sometimes seen as a weakness.
Personally, I’d like to create a safe space where it’s ok to say, “I love dressage but it’s really, really hard for me.”
I invite you to join me in that space. Or at least visit it on occasion, when you need a laugh or encouragement.
A better moment, during the same test.

A better moment, during the same test.

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Charlotte Dujardin, dressage, dressage competition

The Walk to Poo Transition, An Open Letter to Charlotte Dujardin

Dear Charlotte –
I thoroughly enjoyed your October 3rd and 4th symposium in Sherwood, OR and faithfully worked on improving my horse’s ‘go’ button, per your advice. We had several jolly ‘yee haw’ rides down the long-side, thanks to you. Our rides at home have been much more forward!
What we failed to school was the walk to poo under saddle transition.

No subtle leg aid here! Photo by Andrew Martin

No subtle leg aid here! Photo by Andrew Martin


Part way into my First Level, Test Two class this weekend, my lovely horse decided nature simply couldn’t wait any longer. He came to an unasked-for halt, groaned in satisfaction, and left a large pile of manure at “M”.
I do recall you saying that it’s a typical male thing, only being able to do one thing at a time. You also mentioned that if you ride with a whip at home and then drop it before entering the show ring, bad things can happen.
This was one of those moments.
I hope you’ll enjoy the photo of my Pony Club-quality kick. No subtle leg aid here.
Fortunately, I brought my sense of humor with me to the show. Miraculously, we got a second place ribbon and this lovely comment from the judge, “It happens to all of us 🙂 “
Best regards,
Lauren Davis Baker
A fan

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Competition Tips, dressage, dressage competition, equestrian

Show Ring Ready with Natalie Perry

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It’s a blast to watch Natalie Perry of Natalie Perry Dressage compete. Her tact and patience is amazing. Baby horse misbehaves, Natalie smiles as if to say ‘What can you do?’ Trained horse wobbles a little and she firmly but gently gives the horse more support.
Natalie’s the first to admit and remind her students that horses are animals, after all. In a recent interview for Flying Changes magazine, Natalie said, “Not everything is going to go your way in the show ring. No matter how hard you practice at home, horses are animals after all. You can’t control everything.” I found this advice reassuring, as I prepare for my next schooling show, determined not to pressure myself into a form of insanity known as Show Nerves.
Natalie also gave this fantastic bit of advice, which I’m using to help me to intensify my focus … since I tend to ride with relatively low expectations (for myself and my horse) when I’m not preparing for a show. “You have to prepare your horse for the level of intensity you’re going to expect in the show ring,” Natalie said. “Otherwise, you’re going to frustrate your horse.” Summed up: it’s not fair to ride ride like a cowgirl six days a week, then expect a dressage horse on show day.
My prep work at home has included incorporating an exercise Natalie recommended, which she learned from Dutch trainer Barbara Koot. “Write down every moment of your test, including every half-halt, bend, and step of preparation you intend to ride,” Natalie said. “Read it until it becomes engrained.”
No matter what level you compete in, your behind-the-scenes work will make a difference in your self-confidence and quality of your ride.
To read the full article go to www.flyingchanges.com or see their October 2015 issue, hot off the press.
To learn more about Natalie Perry go to natalieperrydressage.com

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dressage, dressage competition, dressage training, Heather Oleson Dressage, show nerves

Ride Like a Pro: Become Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

For some people, showing is fun. It’s not for me. Yet.
After a seven year hiatus, I’m back in the show ring, coping with show nerves and a limited ability to focus, knowing the judge is watching my every move.
I want to know how seasoned competitors do it. How do they maintain that laser-like focus throughout each ride? How do they manage to enjoy the process?
My solution? Go ask them. In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing dressage professionals, begging them to share their secrets.

Seasoned competitors like Heather Oleson, pictured here warming up Victor at the San Juan Capistrano CDI, make it look easy. Photo by Siggi Wolff

Seasoned competitors like Heather Oleson, pictured here warming up Victor, make it look easy.


First up, a discussion with Grand Prix trainer/competitor Heather Oleson from Eagle, ID.
Heather generously shared her thoughts, which I outline in detail in the September issue of Flying Changes magazine (you can read the entire article online at www.flyingchanges.com). I’ve summarized the highlights for you here.
My favorite quote from Heather: “The first thing any competitor needs to do is become comfortable with being uncomfortable at home.”
Continue reading…

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Much More Than Bits of Leather

Last month, my friend Patty asked for my address, saying she was going to send me something. Perhaps a birthday card, I thought.

We hadn’t seen each other in years, but used to ride with the same instructor in Ridgefield, WA. She’d since moved to Hawaii and I’d moved to Bend, OR. I was surprised to hear from her.

Days later, a box arrived on the front porch.  My husband, Al, put it in the kitchen without saying anything. He didn’t realize it was important. I found the box before bed and opened it.

Inside were the pieces of a bridle: headstall, brow band, crown piece, and reins, all carefully wrapped. Patty had included a note. It was her show bridle and she wanted me to have it.

My husband, Al, saw bits of leather with buckles and a bit. I saw so much more.

Trying on Micah's new bridle for size. (I haven't attached the matching reins yet.)

Trying on Micah’s new bridle for size. I haven’t attached the matching reins yet but doesn’t he look handsome? !

Patty had purchased Zarewitsch (Zar) as a Second Level schoolmaster. At the time, most of my friends and I were riding what you might (generously) call Training Level horses: green and naughty, with little appreciation for the principles of dressage.

Continue reading…

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