Ever heard of online horse showing? I get the impression that virtual horse show participation increased in popularity this year due to COVID19.
The organization FOSH, Friends of Sound Horses, is in its third year of hosting the “Gaits Wide Open” virtual horse show in conjunction with the North American Western Dressage organization. FOSH shines light on abuse within the gaited horse industry and wants to promote more humane methods of training. You can learn more about FOSH at http://www.fosh.info. The website for North American Western Dressage is https://www.northamericanwesterndressage.com/.
I am aware that some traditional dressage riders blanch at the thought of western dressage competition and even more so at the gaited horse. On the other hand, basic dressage principles can be used by any rider/discipline to improve a horse’s way of going. It is in that spirit that I decided to participate.
Shiloh, as an older restarted horse, definitely has some issues with movement. I, as an older re-rider, certainly have plenty of issues of my own. Neither of us qualify as what I’d call naturally “good movers”. We are evenly matched in that way. We may always look a bit goofy in how we go, but that is no reason to avoid trying to improve. In the two years I have had Shiloh, I have tried to incorporate my own limited understanding of basic dressage principals into my riding.
To make entering a virtual show as simple as possible, the “Gaits Wide Open” shows offers a “walk only” test. Yes, you read that right. My first reaction when I read about it was to laugh and look for the “mount your horse and just stand there” test.
But you know what? The “walk only” test is perfect for where Shiloh and I are at. His gaiting undersaddle is improving but still not super consistent. We practice cantering on the lunge but I don’t feel he is balanced enough to do it under saddle yet (at least not with ME in the saddle). A walk test we can actually do.
The walk test incorporates the working walk, free walk, halt, straight lines, turns and circles. When you have a horse like Shiloh that finds doing a four beat walk difficult, walking in a straight line difficult, stopping without putting his head up in the air difficult, bending in the direction of a turn difficult, you might find that a walk only test is plenty to tackle. Viewing the video of my own walk test was like watching paint dry, but it was surprisingly challenging to ride.
Practicing the basic elements reminded me how far Shiloh and I have come. Shiloh is naturally a quiet and good natured horse, but when I first started riding him, he kind of rode like a zombie.
He was so out of physical shape, resulting in in a heavy, crooked and super pacey way of moving. He couldn’t walk over a single ground pole without stumbling over it. He would walk right through my halt aids, completely tuning me out. I was really never sure when he would actually stop.
If I would get him halted and ask him to walk again, I couldn’t get him to walk straight. I would ask him to walk forward, say heading North, and he’d step out immediately to the left or right, sending us due West or East. He would toss his head at any pick up on the reins, even in bitless bridles. And he was sooo slooowww. I felt like we were always riding through a big vat of molasses.
Most of those issues have thankfully improved as we continue to work on the very basics.
I had wanted to enter the Gaits Wide Open virtual show last Fall but couldn’t manage to coordinate a video-recording session before the start of Winter. With my husband now home, I have a ready photographer at hand. I finally completed my video and submitted it last week.
It was actually a bit of a production to get the video done. Without my own arena, I struggled to find a big enough flat space around my acreage without divots, holes, slopes, etc …. to space out the cones that formed a make-shift dressage arena.
The filming process contained multiple bloopers including camera malfunctions, dark skies that cast me in shadows during sections of the test, and pilot error like when I stopped Shiloh on the outside of a cone, putting his nose into an adjacent bush that he used as a snacking opportunity.
We ended up scrapping the first day’s attempts at filming and came back to do it all over again on a second day in a different location that didn’t cast shadows and was devoid of shrubbery.
I should get my test results sometime in October. I feel like the test that I submitted is pretty representative of our average ride, including things we do well and many of our trouble spots. I am not so much interested in my placing against other competitors but rather in seeing the movement scores and judge’s comments.
I envy the detailed feedback that dressage competitors receive through individualized, written scores and comments for each element of a test. Other horse show placings can sometimes feel random. With dressage tests, you know what the judge really thought of your ride. I hope to use the test feedback I receive to tweak and focus my riding.
This week, I printed out one of the “two-gait” dressage patterns so we can start adding some foxtrotting into a pattern. Shiloh and I may not be ready to submit a two-gait test for judging before the end of the year, but it gives us a goal to aim towards.
If you are interested in exploring the possibility of your own participation in a virtual horse show, check out this article from Horse Illustrated at https://www.horseillustrated.com/virtual-horse-shows. It contains descriptions of various reasons/ways people compete online as well as a great list of related links.
UPDATE: Click on the following link to read about the show results and final thoughts about our first online show: