Tuesday, November 3, 2015

11/1/2015 Dressage Schooling Show

It's taken me some time to get this post together. I wrote down a bunch of thoughts, and then attempted to organize them into something that made sense.

Penn all braided and dressed for an evening in his stall. I thought he looked like Batman, haha.
A couple pre-show stories from the weekend first:

I saw 3 hitchhikers during my evening driving to and from the Halloween party and to the barn to go sleep in the trailer. The most disturbing of which was on my way to the farm, on dark backroads with no houses nearby, shortly after leaving the party. Someone was walking on the side of the road in complete darkness under heavy tree cover (no light in his hands or anything) in the direction I was going. I moved over so I wouldn't be near him as I passed. He turned around and stuck out a thumb, and I realized he was dressed as a freaking scary clown. And attempting to hitchhike (or probably just attempting to freak people out). I just about drove off the other side of the road in an attempt to make sure I didn't hit him so I wouldn't have to stop and see if he was ok.

Saturday night was windy and rainy. I hooked up my trailer in the rain in the dark, changed out Penn's blanket, and tucked into Trainer's trailer for the night. I woke up around 5am to the trailer shaking and promptly freaked out. I looked out the window and didn't see anything and went back to sleep when I realized the wind had really picked up and that's all that was wrong. You'd think a 4 horse trailer with large living quarters would be heavy enough to not shake like a leaf. Nope.

Penn eating breakfast Sunday morning.
Anyway, the horse show!

I am thrilled with how Penn behaved, listened, and performed. I think it was a very accurate representation of where we're at and his consistency level at home. He was a bit more looky than he is at home, and that certainly played a role, but overall he was willing to work through it.

I am slightly miffed as to the scoring (I'll share my score sheets). I know Megan at A Enter Spooking had said she doesn't like riding for L judges anymore, This was an L judge, and a retired one at that. Whatever that means, considering she still seems to be judging.

I know what I felt in my tests. I know what I saw in the videos. I know what the judge wrote. It's 3 different viewpoints. I'll be sending video off to Trainer to look over, and she'll see my paper tests and give me feedback too. Blog world feel free to chime in as well.

Video is probably the most valuable tool in learning and reflecting and gauging how the ride really was. I think from this point on, I'll always choose video over pictures because I'm super glad I had it this time around.

Chilling in his stall, nomming, pre-judgement.
Some of the comments the judge had were: 'needs to be more forward' 'more engagement' 'more self carriage'. Then the more prominent 'unbalanced'.

I felt that Penn was an appropriate amount of forward for his current level of training. I agree with the judge that he needs to be more forward for these tests. She's seeing a snapshot of our current work, and I think she got an accurate view of our shortcomings. But at this moment, yes, Penn could be more forward and I would have a lovely floaty trot, except he can't hold that and he'd end up falling on his face and laying even more on me and being even more unbalanced. So for now, we're keeping the quiet trot that needs "more" and building strength and balance.

More engagement and more self carriage I think are inappropriate for the level since it is only looking for 'steady contact' in the purpose. Unless she meant by her comments that he could be lighter in the bridle and not as heavy in my hand and has a tendency to curl, then yes, I agree. Say what you mean judge! But does the horse need more self carriage and engagement? Yes, duh. We are at the beginning of training. Of course he does!

And yes, he's unbalanced because he's a baby horse and I'm holding it together for both of us (a large reason why I chose to sit the trot Sunday).

Oh, E. She tried to get video. I gave her a crash course on using Husband's fancy camera and tripod and since I didn't get to give it a whirl myself first, my tests suffered from blurry, crooked, and head chopped off where hers didn't, haha. I told her to hold the picture button down halfway before recording to get it to focus, only she focused right in front of her on those white boxes (you'll see them) so I'm blurry most of the time. I also didn't have the tripod legs extended enough to get a bit more height and she didn't know they could be extended more. Oops. That's ok, we'll get it next time.

Without further ado, here's Training Level Test 1:

Let me begin by saying I do not sit the trot this much at home. I post most of the time and force myself to work through issues in posting trot. He needed some extra help, and it's easier for me to give it from sitting trot.

Also, anyone with an eye for distance in videos... I'm pretty sure this arena was set wider than 20m (66ft). If those white fences in the back are 10ft long... that arena is set for 70ft wide at least. If they're 12' long, the arena is set for even wider. My usual track in the dressage arena is about 1ft from the ring wall. You learn to ride very close to the ring edge when you move up the levels because you want all the space you can get! The arena didn't go where I thought it should and the corner letters came up faster than 6m I think. That's ok, this place is a hunter barn with a winter dressage series.

As I watched it, I definitely understood that the judge wanted more forward in the trot. I wanted more from the trot just watching it. The left lead canter was a disaster and I think the 4's we got were deserved. So much shuffling into it, it was runny, then I couldn't hold it together anymore because he's too heavy in my hand and unbalanced and we broke, then I said canter and it was wrong, then I got heavy handed with him about balancing the trot so I could get the correct lead back, and then we were off the rail. But in a snapshot of our training, sometimes the left lead ends up like that. Sometimes it's great. It's been good more often than like this lately, but I think the new arena and location messed with his concentration (and mine) a little bit.

The free walk leaves something to be desired still in terms of stretch. How she gave us a 7, I don't know. And I love the stare he gave the camera when we finished free walking. Little things like that caused him some distraction- in our courtesy lap he had a good hard stare at the lounge behind the judge. In the far left corner there was a gentleman taking pictures and his camera does the very loud clicking that the big professional cameras do... and everytime Penn heard it he flinched, poor guy. Obviously that means Husband needs to come take riding pictures of us so that kind of thing doesn't bother Penn!

This test earned a 59.565%. For as bobbly as it was, I agree. 8th out of 16.

On to Training Level Test 2:

So the judge blew the whistle while I was still making my courtesy lap in the arena, and while I refuse to be hurried along by such things because then you make mistakes, I hurried on my turn in the lower ring to turn up to centerline and ended up overshooting the whole thing, and only found centerline right at A. Bad rider! I should have realized I was setting Penn up to fail and done another 10-12m circle and then proceeded up centerline because 45 seconds is a long time. But I didn't and the entering centerline suffered.

I tried to ride more forward (I heard her comments to the scribe when we'd pass by in the first test), but I quickly forgot about that as I rode according to my plan.

I had tried to adjust my circles a bit to accommodate the wider than 20m ring (let's face it, 20m or 25m wide, who knows, but if you don't touch the both long walls on a 20m circle the judge is going to say you're wrong), and I think if I had done an actual round 20m circle I wouldn't have lost his outside hind in the left lead. The transition downward to trot was abrupt and heavy. But that is the weaker lead for us, so my goal was just to make it off the circle still in canter.

I was very pleased with his stretchy circle. Maybe I am biased because he's mine or it could be the fact that he couldn't do a stretchy circle without falling heavy on the forehand running two weeks ago. While it could have more stretch downward, I'm very pleased at the lack of curl and the willingness he showed to search out the bit when I moved it down. However, I need to show more difference between stretchy circle and working trot to finish the circle. I had an inkling that I'd mess up my downward transition to walk if I tried lifting him, so I let it go. I think he could use to spend more time in a longer frame like this particular stretchy trot (which needs more stretch for the test movement), but I think it's a fine line because he has a tendency to curl and lay on the rider and then be on the forehand, and I think he might revert to that (it's how he was when I bought him) if I let him go too long in that frame.

Took a screenshot and leveled it the best I could. Much better!
His poll absolutely needs to come up in the trot. Ack. I wish I had mirrors. I know I should be able to feel these things, but when I'm fighting the leaning battle and strength battle, sometimes when he feels light to me, he's actually still curled with his poll too low and I think I've won the battle because it's lighter than it was! But that's what Trainer is for. She gets after me about that, and then I promptly forget some of what she says (which is why I try to detail as much of lesson on here as I can so I can go back and reread and go, "ohhhh").

Anyway, I loved this right lead canter. The departs still leave something to be desired (some giraffe-ness), and at beginning training level, whatever. He is a bit bridle lame in canter and I think when I can nail the depart, I'll get rid of that. I have a major problem with the judge's comment on this circle- "on the forehand". I'm sorry, that horse has hop in his front end. He is not on the forehand. Maybe "slightly unbalanced and nodding" would be more appropriate.

I don't know what I was doing on this final centerline. At all. I completely overshot centerline. BADLY. I think I had a Mikey flashback and then Penn didn't turn like my trusty red sportscar and I went, "Oh crud. Salvage mode!" Then he got heavy on top of it and I earned us a poor score through poor planning. That was my bad buddy, sorry!

Of course he needs more balance and self carriage. Baby horse.
This test earned a 61.538%. I don't agree. I think it was a bit better than that. 9th out of 16.

Things I noticed:

The complete absence of half marks. Maybe we didn't deserve half marks, maybe we did. But all 6's equals a 60%, all 7's equal a 70%, and all 6.5's = 65%. That's a big difference stretched over the whole test. Maybe we didn't deserve a 6 or 7 at times, but I think there were times we did a bit better than 6 and could have gotten a 6.5. From what I remember from my dressage lesson/meeting with a dressage judge at the long format I did, she explained that the half marks were very helpful if you hadn't quite done well enough for a 7, but you were more than satisfactory. I've never had a test be completely whole numbers (except for the event tests back when they were only allowed to be whole numbers).

Everyone getting almost the same score. A floppy rider whose horse went around like a giraffe scored 1% less than I did in my first test (yes, I had a major left lead canter disaster though). I took a picture of the score sheets (I'm not sharing that because it has everyone's full names!) and when I looked back at it, the sheer number of ties that showed up in the picture were crazy. There were 35 scores in my picture- 15 of those scores made up 7 ties within 3 classes- and there were 17 classes that day. Both of my classes had 16 people, and both classes had 3 ties, one of which was a 3-way tie! A small class of 4 had a 2 way tie for first. I'm sorry, I'm calling a judging foul. Maybe it was the lack of half marks? Maybe she didn't use them on anyone's test (E didn't have any on her 3 tests either). The average score of the 35 tests that showed up in my picture? 60.206%. That accounts for a full third of the tests ridden that day (remember I said there were 90 rides in my last post).

Not a single person got 70% or above all day. There were a couple in the 40's, many in the 50's, and then the rest were between 60-65%. When I go to shows, I expect a broad spectrum of scores, like a bell curve. You have those who just aren't prepared or they mess up, majority I would think are satisfactory, and then there are a few exceptional. I watched a girl with a chestnut thoroughbred do a beautiful USEA Training Level Test A. She was accurate and her horse was STEADY and not going to put a foot wrong. He had one bobble- a beautiful clean flying change coming across the diagonal when his rider half halted for trot and changed her bend at X. The only major criticism I had for the test was he needed to carry himself more uphill than he did for the equivalent of a first level test. He was very level and at times downhill just a hair. His lengthening canter was good, his trot lengthens a little runny. I'm quite sure a steady test like that would have gotten her in the low 30's at a HT. They were just lovely to watch. She got a 60% (40 penalties). E rode a poor T-A test in the same class (we agreed it was lacking and very inconsistent) and got a 59% (41 penalties). She watched this rider and went "Oh wow, she's going to crush me."

Now, I am not a judge and you all just have to take my word for all of this. Maybe I'm a bit irked that I didn't score better and that's making me call foul. However, Penn felt better Sunday than Mikey EVER did at training level. Mikey carried a ton of tension, stiffness, and lack of throughness when we did training level. It also irked me that Penn only got a 6 for his gaits.

"Hi mom! I got an 8th place ribbon! Aren't you happy? You wanted a ribbon!"
E was disappointed with her rides, and it had nothing to do with scores. She has trouble getting the horse she has at home to translate to shows. She had some fabulous prep rides Fri and Sat, and then everything shut down when she was at the show. She decided she's going to every show in this series, and I told her I'll go with her to the Novemeber 29th one. So we're doing yet another show, unless Trainer vetos me and yells at me to leave Penn the heck alone for a while. I figure, Jan-Feb is for super vacation mode because the weather just won't cooperate with me!

And I am making full use of all of Mikey's old clothes. In the pictures of Penn in the stall throughout the day, he is never wearing the same clothes. *facepalm* Well, at least I'm making use of the bazillion blankets I own!

Braids out, blankets off!


  1. Some judges are like that. I definitely had one and it stung, even though I KNEW that it wasn't personal and I was there for exposure vs scores. At least she was low across the boards. :-) Just keep at it and next year will be better.

    1. Low across the board helps for sure! We're absolutely keeping at it, and I can't wait to take him to recognized shows. I know they're tough there, but they've never been overly harsh on me when I didn't deserve it... they also have nailed me to the wall when I have, so.... but I still look forward to riding with them!

  2. Wow she was kind of harsh in those collectives! Even with some bobbles, the quality of horse is still clear and that 6 on gaits should have been at least a 7 IMO, I'm totally with you on that one, wtf. And yah, why no half points? There were so many movements where yah he was maybe a bit inconsistent, but could easily have scored a 6.5 instead of a 6. I would have guessed that the scores were a bit higher after watching the videos. But hearing how everyone else got scored, yikes.

    Yah I've had some negative experiences with L grads. Some of them are really good, but there's something about the r, R, and S programs that really solidify a judge's ability to judge (as any continuing education in any discipline will). Sometimes I got scores where I think that the SCORE is what I expected, but then you read the comments and look at the path the judge took to get to the score and it makes no sense.

    But despite the judging, you guys look awesome and after wrestling my young horse through several of these things, I'm super impressed with how good he was! I'm sure you were masking a lot of the little baby things, but he looks like he's really with you and trying. I'm also impressed that you managed to ride such a nice test in an oddly shaped arena, I feel like I'd never be able to do that.

    1. I'm so glad you agree she was harsh!! I've been feeling very 'why the heck are these L judges so darn harsh all the time' and I was starting to wonder if it was me... considering I am the common denominator here. I'd rather have them be a little generous (no overboard or else we're looking at the other side of the spectrum!) because I auto subtract 3-5% of my score to compare with the difficulty of a rated show. When I looked through the tests, aside from the couple 4's and 5's, they look pretty good. Then you get to the total and it's a complete, wtf. I've had a couple tests that were flip flopped like you said, and I'm able to write those off a lot easier (I still try to address the issues that were pointed out though- if someone said they need to be better, I'm sure they could use some help!).

      And thank you!!! Penn is such a mellow guy and he tries very hard- I've been careful to make sure I keep everything super positive for him because I would love that attitude to continue- I suspect a super good attitude like that will make all the difference later on. He's not that difficult to keep on task- most of his baby things at this show were him just wanting to gawk and look, or flinch at the clicking from the photographer, haha. I've ridden in a couple arenas that are 'off' and it's really not easy. I'm sure you'd be able to though, you have a ton more experience showing and riding than I do.

  3. every test i tell myself that i wont rush when they ring the bell. and then they ring the bell and i go 'omgfreakoutgetintotheringNOWWWWWWW' haha. ah well.

    for all my talk in the past week about not caring too much about shitty judging, that opinion was based more or less on the idea that you can still see how you did relative to the pack. but if everyone scores exactly the same... wellllll... then that doesn't really work either. frustrating.

    anyway, nice tests and yay for Penn for being able to give a good representation of the work you've put into him!

    1. Thank you!! It took a while for me to figure out the no rush thing. It's the same idea in your test. If something goes wrong, don't hurry up and fix it because well, it's already wrong so now you have to salvage and make sure it doesn't mess up the next movement. When we broke in test 1, I really should have put some effort into fixing it the first time instead of throwing him back into canter. With the bell to enter- if you're trotting around the outside of the arena, most horses can trot the entire way around the arena without running out of time. If you're already down at the bottom ready to enter, take an extra circle and plan your entrance. You wouldn't hurry up without planning if it was a bell to get to your first fence, so don't hurry to enter!

      I think the half scores would have made a huge difference in 'relative to the pack'. Since she wasn't giving them, someone's barely 6 was my not quite a 7, and we would score the same. I think I would have been much higher up in placings if there were half scores. E read the scores and asked if the judge was blind- she watched me warm up and the other horses and was like, he was the best one in warm up, hands down.

  4. Love the video! You and Penn look better than Fiction and I have ever looked haha. I too think the scores were pretty harsh and I don't understand why there were no half marks. Oh well. Still great experience for Penn!

    1. Haha! You'll get there! Penn is pretty uncomplicated - eventually he'll be something you can toss anyone on and he'll take care of them. And yes, still an excellent experience for him!

  5. I think the test looks lovely, steady, and fairly relaxed, and Penn is a GORGEOUS mover. It seems to me like the judge wasn't spectacular but sometimes that happens. Whatever, it's a schooling show, you're there for the miles for Penn. He was a good boy and tried hard, so the scores can go hang.

    Also, WHAT was up with that arena? The size, the awkward poles on the side... I'm pretty sure we would have stepped all over them and zoomed about, so kudos to you for keeping Penn focused!

    1. Lol!! It's the small dressage arena! They ran all the intro, training level, and event tests in the small arena and first and second in the standard arena. The show also went from 8am to 6pm, so I think the time it takes for intro and training to mull around through a standard arena would have put them into the 9pm range on the tail end of the show. However, I think they might have willy nilly put the "arena" up because it was definitely wider than it should have been, and the corner letters were too close to the corner. I assume they don't have an actual dressage arena because it is a hunter barn that hosted the show. I'm good with poles and random things marking my arena, but I do ask that it's measured properly!

      And thank you for the comments about Penn! You're right, we're there for the miles. We'll be there again in a few weeks for the miles. But one can hope that the judge uses half marks next time!