Readers may recall a previous post where I shared my experience in entering my first online horse show (https://thebackyardhorseblog.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/shiloh-and-i-make-our-virtual-horse-show-debut/).
I chose to enter one class (a walk-only dressage test) in the 2020 Gaits Wide Open Championship through North American Western Dressage. The show was sponsored by the gaited-breed advocacy organization Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH).
In my work with Shiloh over the last two years, I have been bringing him back into riding work after he spent the previous five years unridden at pasture. Shiloh was understandably out of shape, no longer used to the sustained mental focus and physical demands of having someone on his back.
I know from reading, watching and listening that the basic principals of dressage can be applied to help a horse use their body in a healthy manner. So in my work with Shiloh, I have been trying to apply my understanding of those basic principals. Without any formal dressage training,though,I wasn’t quite sure if I was on the right track or not.
My goal in sending in a video of a ridden dressage test was to get feedback from a judge. I like winning placings and ribbons as much as the next person, but the critique was what I was after. Dressage is the only discipline that I know about that gives its participants written feedback from the judge. Marvelous!
For those of you unfamiliar with scoring of dressage tests, here is a brief primer for you taken from the How to Dressage website https://howtodressage.com. “In a nutshell, a dressage test is made up of a series of movements and each movement is awarded a mark out of 10. At the end of the test, all the marks are added together and turned into a percentage where the highest percentage wins. Each mark correlates to a predetermined standard that all registered judges are trained to observe.” The judging scale ranges from a zero (for a movement not performed) to a 10 (excellent). Overall, scores of 60-69% are considered good with scores of 70% or over considered very good.
For this Gaits Wide Open show, I could enter up to two free classes thanks to the FOSH sponsorship. Since I only submitted one video, I was given the option to have the same video critiqued by two different judges. Doubly marvelous!
What I took away from the written feedback is that I am on the right track, but that even at a walk, I have a long way to go.
Shiloh and I received an averaged overall score of 60.25%, combined from one judge’s 59.5% and another’s 61%. This put us in 2nd place in our small class of three. We were a quarter of a percentage point lower than the winner- so close! All of our individual movements were scored between 5 ( meaning “sufficient”) to 7 (“fairly good”). There were also overall scores for gaits, impulsion, submission and rider’s aids. We scored between 5 (sufficient) or 6 (satisfactory) in all of them.
What stood out to me the most is that we definitely need more impulsion, more spring in our step. Not faster exactly but rather more dynamic movement. I figured we’d get some comments to that effect, but I didn’t realize the extent to which this would be considered important.
Most of the comments were peppered with notes about needing more energy. Some quotes were “Show more energy (march)” and “ask for more energy/forward (more forward will improve suppleness)” and “a more supple back will allow for a more active walk.”
I know that compared to where we started, Shiloh IS more supple and active than he WAS. But clearly still, he would benefit from developing FURTHER activity and suppleness. That is EXACTLY the kind of feedback I was hoping to receive. It tells me we are heading in the right direction even if we aren’t meeting the mark right now. Rather than discouraging, I find that exciting.
The other thing that stood out to me was that my use of the arena could use some improvement. I need work on my timing and application of my aids to get rounder circles, more accurate transitions and more square halts. Apparently in dressage, the instructions to perform movements at specific letters is to be taken as a directive and not a mere suggestion. 🙂 One judge’s comment of “Watch your geometry” pretty much sums it all up! Need I mention that math was always my worst subject?
Putting my questionable math skills aside, I do know you can clearly see the effectiveness of a rider in how well they guide the horse through a pattern. Effectiveness in applying my aids at the right time, in the right combination with the right touch is something I have always struggled with so I thought the comments were very fair.
Anywho, I was particularly pleased to see the comments about Shiloh’s connection and contact with me. “Appears attentive and confident”, “Appears to be very willing to accept requests”, and “A quiet and harmonious team” were some of the most positive feedback.
When I first started riding Shiloh, he reacted to any contact by tossing his head and pushed through all of my aids as he ignored/didn’t hear them. Riding him now is like riding a different horse. He accepts rein contact with so much more relaxation than he used to and will organize his body in response to my seat now even before I apply leg/rein aids. I know he is tuning into me in a way he just didn’t/couldn’t before. So to have a judge make those types of positive observations is super affirming to me in my work with Shiloh.
I’m glad that I decided to participate in the virtual show and would like to enter again next year. Hopefully we can even add a two-gait test to our repertoire. I’d like to see if after another year of practice, we can register any improvement in our 2021 scores using the feedback from this show to guide us in our work.
If you might like to explore participating in your own virtual show, take a look at the North American Western Dressage website. They are very welcoming to the average horse and rider. Every breed accepted. They offer all kinds of tests, including in-hand and trail, for the beginner to the advanced. Visit them at https://www.northamericanwesterndressage.com/ .