dressage competition

Aimee Witherspoon, dressage, dressage competition, natalie perry dressage

A Personal Best, for Many Reasons

Micah & I after a rewarding show day. Photo by Barbara Dudley Photography

Yesterday I overcame adversity.
Today the memory dances in my head, strengthening my resolve and helping to heal my battered heart. I came home with a blue ribbon and a score that was a personal best — reaffirming that pushing on through pain is not just possible, but necessary.
I owe this win to my trainer, Natalie Perry, and my friend, Aimee Witherspoon. Both taught me much.
To say that the past few months have been challenging is an understatement. August brought bad news; September the loss of my dog; and just weeks later Aimee was thrown from a horse and died.
Aimee’s death was both terribly sad and a harsh reminder of the inherent dangers of equestrian sports. Her death rattled me emotionally and shook my confidence on my horse. I asked my trainer for help.
“I need you to help me keep my riding positive,” I said, explaining what had happened. “Please help me keep my confidence up.”
Natalie, who is always positive, was on it.
“We can do that!,” she said.
Her support meant the world to me. I made the decision to ride only with her supervision until I regained my sense of self. We had a show coming up quickly and I couldn’t afford to un-train my horse. Micah’s a great guy but, like most horses, will take charge if he senses a lack of commitment.
And so Natalie helped me keep my mind in the present moment — on my horse and the job of riding. Her comments were positive and supportive, even when I faltered.
Come the morning of the show, I knew I was better prepared than I’d ever been. And yet, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wanted to scratch out of our two classes — even hoped Micah would throw a shoe to give me an easy way out.
As my determination waivered, I knew that to quit would be an insult to Aimee. She’d be furious if I used her death as an excuse. One of the bravest riders I’ve known, Aimee loved competition.
I also felt I’d be letting Natalie down. She’d worked hard with me and was telling me “You can do this.” I needed to believe her.
And so, I tacked Micah up for our class despite my doubts, trying to maintain focus. He felt fresh, energetic, and willing to listen.
“Let’s do this,” I told him.
I even remembered to smile at our show photographer as I went by.
When my efforts were rewarded with my best-ever score, I was elated. I truly needed to be reminded that I can and should carry on, even when it hurts.
This weekend I’ll be attending Aimee’s Celebration of Life along with many of the Northwest’s finest equestrians. As we share stories, laughter, and tears, I’ll thank Aimee for helping me push on past fear and discouragement.
My sense of gratitude toward my trainer remains tightly wrapped around me. While non-horsepeople will never understand it, it’s always more than ‘just’ about the horses.

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cantering, dressage, dressage competition, natalie perry dressage, The Go Button

Ride Like You Mean It

This morning’s ride was a bit of a rough go.
I swear my horse reads my every mood and he knew I wasn’t totally present. Indeed, I was feeling a bit down and lacking in physical and mental fortitude.

Horses find dressage more challenging than grazing in pasture.

Micah finds the collected work to be much more difficult than grazing in the pasture and has started to complain a bit. He also hates marching at the walk — he was certain he owned that gait.
Today we did a run through of Second Level, Test One and Micah knew an imaginary judge was looking over my shoulder, critiquing the ride. When he balked in his canter transitions, rather than school him for it, I tried to ride on hoping the judge wouldn’t notice. I could feel the points slipping through my fingers. It was a miserable test.
Natalie gave me a pep talk about the Go button and Riding with Determination. After a brief break, we had at it again. This time I rode it like a cross-country course. We had to go or die.
Clever boy that he is, Micah sensed this and off he went. It was perhaps one of our best rides.
When show day rolls around, I’ll need to set aside hopes of high marks and, instead, focus on riding really, really well. (That’s supposed to be our focus, anyway, but let’s face it — we’re all hoping for blue ribbons.) I also need to be prepared to school any naughtiness without regard for the judge’s opinion. I’m sure she’s been there herself.
Next time I ride, I’ll put an ounce of determination in my pocket before I get in the saddle. My horse always knows when I’m carrying it.

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Competition Tips, dressage, dressage competition, Dressage Illustrated

Becoming Show Ready with Dressage Illustrated

With my first show of the season just around the corner, it’s high time to get serious about really learning my Second Level tests.
This will be my first time showing at this level and to say I’m excited is an understatement. Last year at this time Micah and I were studying these same tests when the poor boy got caste in his stall, sending our show season out the window.
Instead of showing, my goal was to bring my horse back to rideable condition. It was pretty scary but, happily, Micah recovered and this year he is going better than ever.So, this is our second chance at Second Level.
To help me along, I pulled out the Dressage Illustrated Second Level booklet and began to study in earnest. I have to say I am impressed. Being a visual person, the illustrations made it easier for me to picture how the movements relate to one another. I feel like I have a better big picture idea of what’s going on. As a result, the tests are easier to memorize and the areas where we need to brush up are popping out at me.
It’s one thing to practice transitions within gaits and from one gait to another, but to practice them in the order they’re required by the test feels very different. As someone who likes to be over-prepared, I’m excited to get back in the saddle with my fix-it list.

If you find dressage tests difficult to visualize, learn, or memorize, give Dressage Illustrated a try. I think you’ll find them to be very useful.
Check out their website and Facebook page for more information about their diagram books and other products.

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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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The Walk to Poo Transition, An Open Letter to Charlotte Dujardin
October 12, 2015
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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