Road to Bronze, July 25th; My First Dressage Show

Autumn Hill Dressage Festival III Saturday  July 25, 2015 CSU Equine Center   Fort Collins, Colorado   My first show was well managed with a friendly, helpful staff.   The facilities at the CSU Equine Center were really nice, except the wash stalls weren’t working.  We had to bathe outside in a gravel parking lot.  The show arena had 2 rings and with two S judges, which gave me the opportunity to earn both my qualifying scores at First Level. 5:15 AM  After a fitful sleep, the alarm went off way too early.  I dressed and headed to the barn.  I was pleased to discover that Monarch was still pristine with a braided mane intact.  After feeding the horses and graining Monarch, I removed his fly sheet, brushed his coat, unbraided and brushed  his tail.  I was way ahead of schedule, and made a mental note to set my alarm for an hour later the next morning.  I returned to the camper to try to eat something, drink water, and dress for the show.  It felt good to don my new show clothes.  They gave me confidence. 8:00 AM  With the two of us in our show attire, we headed for the warm up arena.  Our test time was scheduled for 8:42 AM.  After a loosening walk, Deb instructed me to pick up the trot and get Monarch forward.  As expected, the warm up arena was crowded.  As I put Monarch into a forward trot, I learned to navigate among all the riders, horses, trainers coaching from the sidelines, and show nerves of various horses and riders.  Deb told me we would not do any specific movements, instead we would focus on developing the qualities of  dressage- forward, on the bit, obedient.  We worked the trot, doing transitions within the gait, as well as walk/trot.  Then we worked the canter, transitioning from working and lengthening the canter.  Monarch was amazing.  As a Lipizzan, he was bred for exhibitions.  Very quickly he became forward, prompt, and through.  He was enjoying himself.  With such a good warm up, Deb asked me to do a few leg yields, which were continuing to improve. At 8:35 I dismounted, put on my dressage coat, and headed for the show arena amidst well wishes and admiration for my beautiful horse.  My attention was so occupied keeping track of all the details needed to show,  it enabled me to keep my nerves in check.   The whistle blew, and there I was entering at “A working trot, X halt salute.  Proceed working trot.  C track left.”  Monarch felt good, I felt confident.  Then after the lengthen trot across the diagonal, as we made the walk transition at A, I heard the bell ring.  My brain went into rapid chatter: “wait, wait- I can’t be off course.  Why did the bell ring?  What should I do?  Should I approach the judge?”   Well my indecision put Monarch off the bit and he lost impulsion.  I looked up at Deb, and she seemed still focused on the test, so I proceeded.  When I did not get another ring from the judge, I simply continued with the test.  Before I knew it, we made the half circle at E, down centerline to G, halt, salute.

X halt salute

X halt salute

Leaving the arena, I was so grateful to have such a willing, lovely horse.  I didn’t think we had made any huge mistakes, except the bell at A.  I was soon to learn that in a 2 ring show, one judge uses a whistle and the other uses a bell.  I had heard the bell for the rider in ring 1 to enter.  We hadn’t gone off course, but if I had stopped riding to approach the judge, we would have.  Upon receiving my scores, I also learned that I had earned my first qualifying ride at First Level.  It’s a good thing I didn’t stop riding at A!  Including my coeffient scores, (which count double), I received 10 scores at 60%, 14 scores at 65%, and 2 scores at 70%, giving me 172 points for a final score of 63.704%.  My biggest errors were pilot errors, based on my inexperience in a regulation arena and my first first.  When I thought I was off course, the judge’s comment was “more forward in walk.”  I needed to better gauge the size of my circles, (though I erred on the side of small which helped me maintain a respectable score), aiming point to point in my diagonals, and overshooting the halt at X.  Monarch’s stretch in the trot circle and the free walk were deemed unsteady.  I was happy he did not jig!  Both 60%, barely passing.  The high point of this test was a 70% for the trot lengthen across the diagonal and a 70% in the collective marks for Gaits.  The rest of my collective marks were also respectable with 65% for all marks except Impulsion, which earned a 60%.  This was a big improvement for Monarch, as he is a laid-back horse.  We have worked very hard on creating a forward horse.

trot lengthening across diagonal

trot lengthening across diagonal

trot circle looking ahead for geometry

trot circle looking ahead for geometry

work in the trot             My second test came up shortly after the first, so I didn’t have time to study the judges remarks.  I also found the scribe’s handwriting very difficult to decipher.  Knowing that I had already qualified allowed me to relax a bit for my second test.  I couldn’t relax completely, as I knew we still had to  show an improved leg yield, particularly to the right.  With all the excitement of my first day showing, the second test was very much a blur.  Reading the judges comments from my second test, I see that I made many mistakes.  I was certainly keyed up and also tired from training so hard, then getting up very early on very little sleep.  The neither trot lengthening was brilliant, as we had trained (55%); wrong lead-left- at F, resulting in a 30%;  though we quickly corrected the lead, it set us up for a too-large (>15 meter) canter circle on the forehand (55%), and because I was fatigued my Rider Aid score also dropped to 55%.  On the positive side, we scored a 70% for the 15 meter half circle right, the leg yield left (wow!), the medium walk, and his Gaits collective mark also stayed at 70%.  The 70% scores and the coeffients scores, (all at 60% & 65%) were enough to  counter the low scores, resulting in 60.938% overall score.   Though my goal was not to compete, I was pleasantly surprised to receive 2 ribbons, a 2nd and 3rd place.  My daughter pointed out the rankings to me, as she is competitive.  “Mom, look at how many points you beat those other riders.”  In a sport that measures in fractions, the closest rider was 5 points below me.  The rest were even lower. Studying my test remarks that night, my task the next day was to get control over my weak left leg.  The judge commented that my heel was always up, and I used the spur too much.  (Repeated injuries and surgeries have made this my number one challenge in riding.  Besides my left heel coming up, the left leg tends to slip back, and then I tend to sit heavy on the left seat bone, even in movements to the right.  All this creates communication and balance issues for my horse, resulting in mistakes such as the wrong lead in movement 15, (working canter right lead- he picked up his left, and probably because my left seat bone was too heavy) and the loss of impulsion and contact in the right leg yield.) Other areas for improvement included the need to continue building energy and connection for the lengthenings in both trot and canter, the need to plan ahead for whip changes, the need to better visualize circles and half circles for correct geometry, and the need to turn sooner from the corner, making our path on centerline more accurate.  With sound feedback for focus, two qualifying scores, an extra hour of sleep, and even two confidence-building ribbons, I was ready for the next day’s test.

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6 comments on “Road to Bronze, July 25th; My First Dressage Show

  1. Wow that is a great write-up. Congratulations.

    • Thank you. I’ve begun my Second Level training where the horse’s frame comes up and his response to the aids must be instant. I will begin posting about our higher training after I get caught up with Day 2. The bar has been raised!

  2. Wonderful, congratulations!

  3. How exciting….I was riding with you the whole way. I am so very proud of you and Monarch. My stomach still has butterflies from reading your dramatic dialogue. Bravo.

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