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.
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.
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.
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.
Every barn has a personality of its own. Some are competitive. Some are casual. Some are completely insane.
I somehow lucked into a barn that is just right, offering a positive attitude and complete acceptance of where you are or are not on the ‘competitive continuum.’
That means that whether or not you show isn’t important and, if you do show, the level at which you show is just right: whether you’re just starting out or competing at an upper level.
I admit to having Upper Level Envy, a documented medical condition wherein you really, really want to do passage, tempi changes, and other awesome moves — but in this barn I don’t feel looked down upon by those with greater ability. If they roll their eyes as I careen around the arena, they do so discreetly. I try not to get in their way.
One of my favorite barn personalities is Knox. He just turned two.
His mom, Jessie, does an incredible job of balancing motherhood, roller derby, and a love of horses, while dressing herself and Knox quite stylishly (note the hat). Both of her horses accept it as perfectly normal to walk nicely in hand, following a baby stroller.
It’s time for me to share my #1 horse show pet peeve: Spectators Who Critique Rides
Dressage looks easy from the sidelines but it’s actually a horribly exacting sport involving a 1,000 pound herbivore with a flight instinct.
Spectators who critique rides from the sidelines do everyone a disservice. Most disturbing are spectators who don’t compete themselves. If you’re not brave enough to be in the show ring yourself, your comments are unfair, unwanted, and unkind.
Most of us know enough dressage lingo to sound knowledgeable. It’s easy to say someone needs more outside rein, a more secure seat, or more tactful hands — but to have the presence of mind to accomplish these things in a stressful environment is something else.
From the sidelines, it looks as if each test moves in slow motion — as if the rider has plenty of time to make corrections. One might assume, from a ringside seat, that there’s MORE than enough time to half-halt, balance the horse, finesse the bend, or whatever else the rider needs to do.
Perhaps that’s true for professionals. As for the rest of us, we wish! Transitions happen quickly — lightning-fast. The judge rings the bell for you to go in, and the next thing you know your reader is calling, “X, halt salute.” You’re done and it’s all a blur. You’re still gasping for air. You didn’t have time to correct mistakes, you simply had time to make them. Or so it feels.
If you’re an expert rider, have pity for the less fortunate — they are struggling. If you’re not an expert, don’t pretend to be. You may be dissing the rider in front of you within earshot of their friends and family. That’s tacky! While you’re using the tone of a knowledgeable critique, what you’re really doing is a put down.
If you can ride better than that poor soul in the ring, do it. If you can’t, acknowledge the time, effort, and courage it takes to compete and give them a hearty round of applause for all of that.
Dressage is a lovely sport. Let’s keep it that way.