Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dressage Schooling Show

Well, we had a pretty good show!  For our second-ever dressage show, Louie did pretty well; he did every bit as well as I would have expected him to, and at times even better than I expected. 

We got off to a little bit of a late start heading to our first class as we wanted to watch one upper level horse/rider go in Prix St. George, which was about 30 minutes before my first class was slated to start.  Luckily, they waited for us, as I scrambled to saddle Louie, and my friend Lisa did a quick mane braid and put on his bridle. 

Our first class was the training level derby.  This is a group class, intended to be a warm-up for horses and riders.  Louie did well in this class, placing 2nd out of 4 with a score of 72.9%.  Here is the video.
The judge came up to us for a few comments following the class, and said, "He's a Saddlebred, right?"  I was pretty impressed that he knew, as not everybody expects to see Saddlebreds competing in the dressage ring.  He asked how long I had had Louie and how long we've been riding.  He told me that Louie had a great canter, and he was really impressed to see a good, true canter from a Saddlebred.  I was a little bit surprised by that comment as anyone who's followed this blog knows how much we have struggled with the canter. . .

Following the derby class, I had a couple of minutes to warm up for my first test, and was very happy to get a quick schooling session from Julie Penshorn, the owner and trainer at Sunborn Stables.  She had some very useful things to say.  First of all, she wanted me to take the arch out of my back and ride from my core.  She pointed out that when I arch my back, I pinch my knees, then that causes Louie to raise his neck up.  Well that makes sense.  When I was able to go around with tighter abs, a more relaxed back, and looser knees, Louie did seem to relax more.  We worked a little bit on bending and getting Louie to relax and stretch down into contact.  Julie reminded me that if he backs off of the bit, I need to push him forward and encourage him to reach out for it, but not hold a constant contact on the bit- lighten up once he takes contact to reward him for it, and keep pushing him into it, bending him with my inside leg.  Finally we worked on our trot-canter transitions, as Louie was a little bit sluggish in departing into the canter, and I was begging him with my cues (back story here, in dressage we're not allowed to make noises or verbal cues to the horse, but I've always used a kiss cue to ask Louie to canter, so going without made it more challenging, so that's understandable).  What Julie had me do was kindof cool.  She had me get him really pumped up in the trot a little bit before we planned to canter, by kicking him a bunch of times, but holding him back (uh, I think that's basically like a half halt, right?), then sitting and asking lightly for a canter.  At first it didn't work and Louie just trotted right through my canter cue, but after about 3 times, he got it, and in our next tests, he sprung right into the canter, sometimes even a bit earlier than I had planned. 

Then the whistle blew for my first test- Training Level Test 2. 
We scored a total of 66.8% on Training Test 2.  We scored 8's on our trot circles in both directions, and 7's on our canters and stretchy circle.  His comments for us on the lower scored portions were generally surrounding crookedness, lack of energy, and needing to relax and not be so tense (particularly in the walks and the change of rein trots).  In our collective marks, we scored a 7 on gaits, 7 on impulsion, 6 on submission, 7 on rider's position, 6 on rider's use of the aids, and 7 on harmony between horse and rider.  His further remarks were, "Very nice horse!  I like!  Great gaits!  Walk needs work.  More energy without speed or tension." 

Before my last test, one of the Sunborn instructors, Jill, came out to give me some coaching.  She was also the one reading my tests.  With Jill we worked on the free walk, trying to relax and stretch down, and getting better tempo/energy/submission in the trot.  I don't remember much from this coaching session anymore, as by then, I was sweating pretty good and felt a little bit like I'd been through a whirlwind. 

The whistle again blew for my next test- Training Level Test 3.
We scored a total of 65.2% on Training Test 3.  This time we scored an 8 on our left canter circle.  We scored 7's on most of our transitions, our free walk (yay!  the schooling paid off!), our second trot "loop," and our right canter circle.  We got a low mark of a 5 on our stretchy circle this time, with a comment "shows no desire to stretch."  Most of our criticisms in this test were about being crooked or tense.  I can certainly see the crookedness, especially coming down the center line in this test.  For our collective remarks, we scored a 7 on gaits, 6 on impulsion (maybe we were more tired by this test?), 6 on submission, 7 on rider's position, 6 on rider's use of aids, and 7 on harmony.  Our overall remarks were, "Great canter!  This horse is worth putting time into!  Very nice pair.  Thanks." 

Following our last test, the judge had a few comments for us, which I always find very helpful.  The judge loved Louie's canter, he said it is his most balanced and strongest gait (I'm thinking, what? really? as I've always felt it to be his weakest and least balanced gait- shows you what I know).  He said his trot is okay, and his walk needs some work, as it's very tense, and needs more relaxation and impulsion.  He said that the quality of our walk and trot work would probably hold us back in the 60's for percentages in the lower levels, while our canter could give us higher scores.  He said that Louie would likely be penalized on the technicalities in the lower levels, but may do better in the upper levels, where there isn't so much emphasis on the walk.  (That is, if he can make the upper levels. . . but hey, I like that upper level comment! )  Overall, he said he really liked Louie and he would keep him in his training barn.  I made sure that Bjorn heard that comment, as he sometimes gives Louie a hard time since he didn't turn out to be a saddle seat horse. 

We had a great time at the show, and our fellow Saddlebred mom Lisa came to cheer us on and helped us a ton!  She even brought treats for Bjorn.  If you're reading, thank you Lisa!!  I'm not sure how we placed in our two tests, as Bjorn got antsy to leave before we could see the placements, but I don't think we were in the top 3 or 4, as there were lots of riders in training level today.  Even so, I was SUPER impressed with how well we scored, as scores in the 60's are very respectable, and it's better than two years ago when we scored in the high 50's in intro- we've definitely made progress.  And, I have to say, paying $15 for coaching was an awesome deal, as we basically got two mini lessons from two different instructors at the barn, and our tests read. We don't usually glean that much info from an hour-long lesson, so it was awesome! I will do it again, and in fact I might trailer up there to take some lessons this winter! We didn't end up doing the jumping class today, but that's okay with me, that was enough work for one day (read: we were worn out), and I think both Louie and I are going to sleep well tonight!  Got to gear up for our hunter's pace next weekend!

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