Thursday, June 13, 2019

existential crisis: dressage edition

I never really understood why people would be so nervous before dressage tests. We had a friendly at-home schooling show this weekend, where I spent the morning stewarding the warm up and working the in gate. And was kinda amused (in a friendly way, I promise) by the riders who told me how worried, nervous or anxious they were for their tests.

After riding my own test (yes, singular) in the afternoon, tho, maybe I get it now.

ignore my resting bitch concentration face and just focus on how goddamn handsome this hunk of horse is!
Maybe the worry isn't so much related to fear that something physically bad will happen during the test. Like in cross country where you might legitimately worry that if you miss at the trakehner, you'll end up in the ditch....

No, no, I'm coming to realize that might not be exactly the same type of visceral fear that dressage riders experience before their tests.

charlie's friends have been using him as a scratching post. it's ridiculous, they rub up and down on his tail and he just takes it. but his poor tail tho, grrrrr!
Instead, it's maybe more existential than that. Like, the fear that the judge will strike you down from on high. Crucify you for even daring to present this mess of training and horsemanship to her. Or question the very bedrock foundation of everything you thought was true about your own precious unicorn, who in her opinion maybe more closely resembles some bedraggled cart nag you picked up from the Amish.

that mane is lookin good tho!! still a little short for these braids but i'm feeling good about my first effort!
Does that sound overly dramatic? Maybe. But did I spend the rest of the afternoon after my ride close to (or in) tears and texting my trainers in a panic that, "was I all wrong about Charlie?" and "who am I trying to kid here?" and "what was I even thinking?" .....Also maybe.

gosh i just love him tho <3
The worst part was that I didn't even think the test was that bad. Like, sure we trantered in one lengthening and broke in the next. And we jigged in the walk, biffed some geometry, and carried a fair amount of tension throughout... Definitely not a 60%+ score, but hopefully well-enough presented to provoke actionable, constructive feedback.

not perfect, but not bad either! #mymotto
Overall, I honestly thought it was a reasonable first effort. The horse did the things, accomplished the movements (more or less), and didn't feel over faced in doing so. And I promise - I did not tell Charlie what the judge thought of us. He has no idea, he thinks he was a Good Boy, and I have every intention of keeping it that way haha.

a wild astrid appears!
There's the rub, tho, right? Like, there's so much daylight between how I perceive the horse and how strangers see him. All I see is how far he's come, how hard he tries. I'm basically blind to so many of his limitations and weaknesses, bc all I see is the progress we've made on them.

I understand completely that judges will only evaluate what you show them in that particular test, in that moment. No reminders needed there, I assure you. There's just an alarmingly large gap between my expectations and the judge's reality.

charlie was 100% not expecting to see those huskies suddenly appear out of the doorway during our warm up lol.... pc Austen Gage
Tho ya know. In hindsight, it's easier to maybe pick up some of the pieces and put that particular puzzle back together. I expected Charlie to maybe be a bit dull, tired, and/or stiff from the pace clinic. Which, realistically, a careful dressage ride at home would generally be the perfect remedy for that anyway, even if it meant for lesser scores in the test, ya know?

welcome one and all to the grand series of cherry-picked video stills!!! here we see the elusive dressage brontosaurus preparing for the right handed 10m half circle
What I didn't quite see coming was the foot-soreness, tho, which maybe I should have since I've already been wondering when the time would come to put him in front pads... (Hint: that time is now, Emma! D'oh!)

We warmed up in the indoor which is considerably softer footing than the dressage court, so it wasn't maybe as apparent anyway. And of course the first movement in 1-1 is that damn 10m half circle, naturally to the left, our weaker direction at present. It's pretttttty hard to hide anything in a 10m half turn haha, especially when you ride a brontosaurus.

everything is better when we can move out tho. here we are earning a 4 after trantering for most of this lengthening
My guess is that the judge saw our few lurch-y steps in that early movement and was immediately on the look-out for any other signs of irregularity. Which.... ya know, with a horse like Charlie, if you're looking for it you WILL find it. In those situations, you can expect to have some points taken off from basically every movement -- your 6 becomes a 5 or 4, for instance -- and to have the judge recommend you scratch your second test. Which, naturally, I did.

i don't even care tho, i love him anyway <3
It's frustrating tho, ya know? Like, a little magic cushion and the horse was righter than rain the next day. It's not exactly normal practice to be galloping the day before dressage tests anyway, that's just how it worked out this weekend. And anyway, once he's in pads again the issue resolves completely.

But them's the breaks, I guess. Like I never expected to do well in the test, but I *was* hopeful to get useful constructive feedback on how to improve. Instead of getting comments that make me question why I even try with this horse in the first place.... Sigh.

sir, maybe you would be more impressive if you kicked up less dust. #justsayin
It's funny tho -- looking back on it, it was at this same show two years ago where I rode a much greener Charlie in the BN tests. And the judge was basically like, "You need to go back to basics. And maybe don't even jump this horse." So maybe I just have a particularly bad track record with this particular organization's shows?? Ha....

wheeeee canter lengthening!!
And maybe I also need to remember my philosophy back then too, bc it definitely still fits now:

"So I can objectively look at where Charlie and I are in our dressage training and kinda shrug like, 'ok so we kinda suck,' but it's not demoralizing. And it's not like.... A problem, ya know? It's just where we are, there's just more work to do."

lol we also cantererd in this lengthening, whoops
Bc yea. As much as it felt like a complete existential crisis having that judge look deep into my soul and make me question every choice I made with this horse.... Well. Let's be real. It's not the actual end of the world to have a bad day. Especially when the problems are known and fixable.

why does this sometimes feel like facing off with the enemy?!?
I felt better tho looking at the scores posted online after the fact too haha. It turns out they were awarding ribbons not by how you stacked up against the others in your class, but by where your test score fell within certain ranges. So a score above such and such percent would get 1st, then scores in the next range would get 2nd, etc.

in reality tho, it's just about me and this horse. he's my boy and that's all that matters.
My score earned us a 4th if that tells you anything (and No, I'm not sharing my sheet haha, I don't want to and you can't make me!), but actually we had the higher score in our class of 2 by the sliiiiiightest of margins lol. Throughout the whole day, there were zero 1sts, roughly a dozen 2nds, and all the rest were 3rds and 4ths. With a whole half a dozen scores worse than my own....

thanks frens for talking me off the ledge <3 <3 <3
So idk. Maybe that judge was kinda a B lol. And maybe I shouldn't let the fact that she's an "r" judge shakeup my mindset or undermine what I already know to be true about Charlie.

Charlie is a good boy. He CAN do the dressage, and he WILL keep getting better. I have good strategies in place already for maintaining him and managing his high mileage body, and working on our training will only continue to make him stronger and healthier.

And hey, if all else fails, he looks damn good in braids, amirite?? #atleastwegotnicepictures


43 comments:

  1. I had a judge write "rider needs to read prerequisites for the level".
    I guess that was the most helpful thing she felt she could give me.


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    1. OMG WHAT?!? wow some judges are so freaking savage ugh.... like, you'd think they'd be more interested in fostering appreciation and motivation for the sport, rather than always being so quick to crush our hopes and dreams.... geez

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    2. I know right! Out of all the judges comments I've ever had, hers is the one I remember word for word.

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    3. i don't doubt that for a second. everyone seems to have that one comment that sticks and stings, but damn there are just so many other ways to convey the same idea without being so freakin acidic about it

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  2. We've all been there with one horse (or more) where we really question why we are trying to mold the lump of clay into a certain shape when the clay has always been a lump, is a lump currently, and has no wish to be more than a lump in the future - because horses desire nothing more than scritches, naps, and cookies lol.

    I know it can be hard to shake off days like this, any bad day really but you will and you'll mark it away as another data point and a new routine (magic cushion after xc schooling sounds like a great thing to add especially if you have a dressage test the next day but also just for pampering the Charles).

    Big hugs.

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    1. thanks girl, you know i appreciate it! and that's exactly what i'm trying to do: learn from this and update the routine. i've never tried to ride a horse at these new levels/heights/speeds/etc, so i need to learn about all the behind-the-scenes barn management type stuff too. and lol @ the "lump of clay" part bc yea, that's basically it, isn't it?

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    2. Yeah and honestly - no one learns this stuff overnight or is born knowing it, so don't be too hard on yourself. Like I've honestly never used magic cushion but after reading this post it probably would have been a great part of Carlos' care routine - oh well we live and we learn right? It's all just groping in the dark until we find a match, and then groping in the terrible match lighting until we find a torch, and then before you know it you find the light switch!

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    3. ugh for real tho. charlie is teaching me all about all sorts of things i wasn't super likely to suck out of my thumb otherwise haha. like magic cushion - i'd never used that before this horse either! so yep, the blind groping for insight and knowledge continues. for ever and ever and ever, amen lol.

      bc we all know that joke, right?? the little kid excitedly shoveling endlessly through that massive pile of shit bc "there must be a pony in there somewhere!!" right?? lol...

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    4. This exchange brought me much joy. ♥️

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    5. and meanwhile i'm sitting over here imagining lumps of clay with handsome fluffy braids lol.... <3

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    6. The most handsomest clay that was ever seen from terrible match light LOL

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  3. I haven't daring to set foot in a show ring (yet). But I've witnessed friends in tears on multiple occasions because their horses refused a jump or botched a test and the judges were not to gentle about it. Years later, those same horses wouldn't even blink at a jump so small or a test so easy. Just wait until the day Charlie blows the judges out of the water!

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    1. definitely - that's always the way. at some point down the road, hopefully we'll all be able to look back on the struggles of today and just laugh them off. theoretically ;)

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  4. Judges can be some serious psycho savages, I don't care what level they are. But for all the bitches out there, there are helpful encouraging ones, too, so hopefully next time you get one of them!

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    1. this one really caught me off guard too -- i had been volunteering all morning and she was totally relaxed, go-with-the-flow, seemed really friendly and inviting to all the riders as they entered the ring. so i was shocked when she kinda cut me to pieces, and mildly devastated by my test sheet and score. but then i saw the full results online and..... maybe that's just how she rolls?

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  5. Are you kidding? He is THE HANDSOMEST I'll all braided up. I love it!

    I'll never forget the test where I got basically all 5s and found out later from my barn mate who was scribing that the judge wanted to ring me out for lameness... Thank God that farm finally upgraded their hard footing, bc Pig HATED IT.

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    1. the actual handsomest <3 <3 <3 and if that's the only thing i take away from the day, i'd still be happy haha. the rest will come eventually, right?

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  6. If only I had a dime for every time I walked out of the show ring with my tail between my legs and thinking "oh my god I've embarrassed myself, my horse and my trainer."

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    1. lol i'd be rolling in dimes if that were the case.... sigh. this sport certainly demands a certain degree of mental fortitude i guess....

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  7. blahhh I am always confused as to why judges are like this. You were doing First Level at a non-USDF event... constructive feedback is LITERALLY the point.

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    1. right?!? like that's kinda my thoughts too. like she did point out some areas where i know we need work, so that was in a way helpful. but it's kinda hard to find the encouragement in the notes from someone who seems like they kinda hated you lol

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  8. F*$k em... there are judges around these parts with known breed biases. And what can I do about the fact that I ride a welsh cob and ole Judgy McJudgerson only likes warmbloods? I ride dressage, I love dressage, nothing makes me happier than when it just flows and we get it all right, but if I based my feelings on myself and my horse on a judge's view I wouldn't ride anymore. You know what I'm saying? You and Charlie just do you and Charlie. I have no doubt you're rocking it. And -- those braids look great!

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    1. Thanks and that’s absolutely a good way to think about it. Judges comments are useful in small doses but don’t / can’t speak to the full story so we need to not rely on them like that. It’s hard tho!!

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  9. I mean, does it matter how the test went? Because Charlie looks AMAZING in braids, and I feel like that's what REALLY matters.
    Anything subjective is really hard to put yourself out there and try. So, be proud of yourself for doing it, and know that next time you have a good plan and a nicer judge.
    Georgie was the horse of a lifetime who I wouldn't have traded for the world's fanciest mover. But judges sometimes didn't appreciate accuracy, being correct or relaxation. If she wasn't a nice mover, she wasn't worth their time. Others rewarded us for all those things and I always appreciated their comments most

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    1. Ugh yea Charlie’s never going to be a big floaty mover lol so I definitely need to cover all those other bases as well as possible. Unfortunately on this day we just missed the mark. Next time we will do better !!

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  10. I'm pretty sure I blogged about this but once upon a time there was a dressage judge (who is really well respected and liked around here) who cut us to pieces to the point she pulled my husband aside on her lunch break and essentially told him I needed a better trainer and should get a different horse. Over what I felt like was a slightly below average training level test at a schooling show, mind you. A year later, I was SO nervous to ride in front of her at a rated show. She placed us first and second in our classes, with really nice comments and showed zero sign of remembering me. So, I guess moral of the story, dressage is crazy? You two are great, and you know how far Charlie has come! :) As a side note, I got a test back once that I felt like was pretty harshly worded, but when I chatted with the judge it wasn't at all how she meant it - there just isn't enough time or space in the comments to always give the right context.

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    1. Thanks and yea I don’t necessarily expect this judge to remember us down the line. Tho there isn’t really any confusion about the tone of her comments bc they came from her own mouth at the conclusion of my test. That’s awful tho about the judge who said all that nasty stuff about your trainer and horse! I’d be pissed if someone said that to me in real life haha - usually that’s just internet troll fodder!!!

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  11. You basically just summed up all my feelings on dressage, and comments that aren't helpful, and the questioning of why the fuck do I even bother. Dressage is hard.

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    1. Hah sorry, that was not very positive. I re read and went hmmm I'm obviously feeling down on the dressage train today!

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    2. Ha no worries - that’s honestly a pretty accurate summary of how it feels sometimes. I want to be positive and I want to like dressage and I want to use these schooling shows as opportunities to grow etc. but some days just don’t go to plan I guess and dressage doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room for that.

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  12. I get that the judge needs to evaluate what is in front of them but they also need to remember that they are judging a moment and not evaluating your entire training regime because they don’t know it. It’s like seeing a child melt down in the grocery store and assuming the parents suck.

    Also, yes, you fully captured dressage angst. Also I was legit nervous that Carmen might bolt. So there’s that.

    The judge we had last weekend was conservative in his scores but kind and n his comments so everyone seemed happy with him. It makes a difference. Sure, I bet they’d rather be judging the Carls and the Charlottes. But hey , you need us to keep the sport going. We’re important to it.

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    1. Seriously. Like don’t they know I would be more like Charlotte if I could?!? I tell Charlie every day to be more like a big Spanish stallion in the hopes of inspiring him to set his shoulders and front end free... but he’s still just Charlie lol.

      I feel like sometimes maybe I’m too picky in what I expect in terms of feedback. Like. Ideally a judge wouldn’t just tell us why we suck but would tell us what the gap was to a better score. Or would tell us what worked vs what didn’t? Idk haha

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  13. I'd love to know more about the specific constructive criticism this judge laid out... some are so tough with their comments without much real advice. At Scout's recent event at Fairhill, the dressage judge (who is known for being very critical) was pretty tough with her scores, but later when I saw her at a xc fence she went out of her way to say how lovely he was. You've created a great partnership with Charlie and all they are seeing is a tiny cross section that doesn't represent everything you've worked toward. I feel for you with the pads... we just put equi-pak in Scout's fronts due to the constant hard/soft ground conditions!

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    1. Oh ya know she gave the usual feedback about Charlie needing to come more over his back and connect better to the bit. Which, yep, that’s pretty accurate. And yea re pads Charlie has spent basically every summer with me in leather pads up front. This is usually the time of year we do it, tho now I feel like I waited a couple weeks too long. Oh well!!

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  14. Probably at least half the reason my horse is a monster is because I am so nervous and stressed before a test. Twister will ignore me and do his thing but Curtis feeds off me. This is part of why I don't have any big plans to jump Curtis at shows let alone event. I am a ball of anxiety. But Charlie looks so fancy and it's just 1 test. I always ride 2 because the 2nd is usually better 😂

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    1. Ha I usually sign up for two as well, and did so for this show. Except the judge literally suggested I scratch the second so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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    2. What a hag! It's not like it's grand prix. we are all still working on our shit

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  15. So... did the judge forget that this is a SCHOOLING show? Like, where you go to practice showing? Geeze. Well, if it's any consolation, your cherry picked photos all look pretty fab to me.
    It's easy to get hung up on one cranky judge's opinion, but it's really not worth torturing yourself. You know how wonderful your horse is. And Charlie knows he's the best 5XL pony around. Just keep doing you, and maybe throw a little extra magic cushion into the mix.

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  16. To be fair, my horses may actually leap out of the ring or attempt Haute Ecole maneuvers at any moment during a dressage test, so I have legitimate concerns. I once received the comment "out of control" three times in one test.

    As far as judges comments and criticisms go, I always recommend that competitors volunteer to scribe as much as possible. It offers real insight into what the judge is really thinking, and the constraints of trying to fit constructive criticism into a tiny box in the two seconds between movements. It ain't easy!

    I think he looked lovely, but I'm not a judge. ;P

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  17. Awww, he's such a handsome pony! That is a new way of "placing," I have never heard of that before, sounds more like barrel racing divisions than dressage. Sorry the judge was less than helpful, unfortunately, those exist. If my horse is not unsafe or in pain, I try to keep it in perspective: they are essentially just saying "your horse should prance prettier," so...not worth too much sleep loss.

    Pads definitely help the flat-footed horses so much, Encore benefited greatly from his EquiPak.

    If it makes you feel any better, one of my favourite test comments for Solo was "pair has potential." This was in year 5 of showing. XD The "...for something else" I filled in myself, LOL.

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  18. I 100% get what you mean about the disconnect between how your ride went and what your score was. That can be REALLY tough to handle. Way to stay positive and confident in Charlie and his progress!

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  19. I always get my worst scores from 'r' judges. Just my experience and I'm not sure why that is but yeah, they can be heavy with the pen. And I totally feel you on the 'facing off with the enemy' vibe when going down centerline. There are certainly days where I feel like I'm entering the coliseum like a gladiator.

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