Last Sunday my barn hosted an awesome non-riding clinic named FRED. Fun Rider Education Day. There was a mental skills portion and “From the Judges View” feature, which just happened to coincide with a (quarterly?) visit from an awesome dressage coach. I’d missed the chance to have a lesson from her the past few times she’d visited, so I added a dressage lesson to my educational itinerary for the day!
The lesson began with introduction where the trainer asked about what we’re currently working, what level we compete at, etc.
I told her we usually do 2’6 hunters at local schooling shows and are currently working on, besides everything, is preventing Leo from anticipating. Leo is smart, and clearly knows his job, so he knows that after we’ve walked and trotted and then walked again, we canter. He then anticipates the transition, and as soon as I pick up the reins he’s balky and jumpy, with a hollow back and head up and it’s just ugly.
The dressage instructor had us working on the same ol’ inside leg to outside rein concepts, but micro-managing our every move in the best way! She even went as far as to walk along side us holding my hands exactly where they should be in each part of a circle, give and take on the inside rein and holding the outside. When she could see that Leo was getting less and less responsive in the trot she had us canter a lap each way to wake him up, which worked well but also brought out the anticipatory monster in him after we went back to working at the trot. She immediately identified my problem: I’m telling him what NOT to do instead of what I want him to do. He goes to canter as soon as I pick up the reins, so I tell him whoa and clamp the reins and take my leg off - it was that visible. This unengages his hind end and creates even more frustration. She told me I need to give him something to work on and stop saying “no, no, no”.
It worked instantly. He gets balky? Leg on. She identified another one of my problems: abandoning him. Just because he knows his job doesn’t mean he’s going to magically collect himself and get the perfect pace and distance - he’s just not that horse. I’ve added that to my growing list of Things to Improve, as well.
Needless to say, my anticipated discipline transfer to dressage would not be very successful, despite my love for matching saddle pads and polos.
The Mental Skills clinic was taught by the amazing, Tonya Johnston. I won’t give away all of her secrets, because she has many resources available to riders struggling with their mental fitness or nervousness associated with riding. I would say that the overall theme of her talk was on being cognizant or aware of, well, everything involving your riding. It’s important to notice what is working for your riding [not just what doesn’t]. To put it simply, one must be mindful, set goals and reflect on your time in the saddle. Journaling your lessons to create a personal riding “textbook” (like an outline you’d make before a final exam) was personally my favorite exercise discussed. I would highly recommend attending one of her mental skills clinics, purchasing her book or even visiting her website to set up a phone conversation to speak with her for personal coaching.
Equitation, Hunter and
The USEF R Judge who presented was also super informative! She began her discussion on equitation, while the front page of the Equitation section of the USEF rulebook was passed out. The first sentence reads, “Rider should have a workmanlike appearance, seat and hands light and supple, conveying the impression of complete control should any emergency arise.” She emphasized that many equitation riders can be faulted for looking like they are placed into position nicely on a horse, while stiff and unable to follow the motion of the horse. You’re not to sit and look pretty. Function is emphasized.
When you enter the ring for an equitation round, unless your sitting trot is 110%, posting is fine - unless the sitting trot is explicitly called for (in a work-off or flat phase/class). Same goes for exiting an eq class. I also got the okay to walk in and go straight to the canter, so goodbye ugly, choppy anticipatory trot in!
Walk through the in-gate! Always!
Also don’t take a tour around the entire arena with your “entrance circle” - use it to make a good first impression.
Be timely at the gate - the judge and the announcer has been sitting around all day, don’t make them wait any longer, especially not noticeably rehearsing your course (by waving your whip around in a figure 8). The courses are posted in the morning. Learn them.
For Hunters: unless you have a young horse that needs extra balancing (or a horse with a tough lead), you walk in the ring, pick up your trot and then go straight to your canter. Not: walk > trot > walk > canter. Equitation it’s okaaay, but only if necessary because you can’t pick up the wrong lead otherwise. Huge points off for the wrong lead in an eq class.
Stirrup irons - make sure they are at least ‘metal’ color. The judge presenting likes just the standard stainless stirrups, but would not penalize a different type of iron except for a black color. Competitors cannot be eliminated for stirrup type. I’m going to be keeping my Lorenzinis until my trainers tell me otherwise…
Judges are not hoping for you to make a mistake! They want all the riders to do well.
The Hunter Derby: regular hunters on steroids. There are 2 rounds, a separate panel of judges, more natural jumps [haybales, walls, etc.]. The courses are built for more pace and animation. Successful derby horses do not have to be the typical, daisy-cutter hunter movers. Good jumpers are rewarded more than good movers. The order reverses for the handy round.
For the scorecard [looks like this], where judges document each round, each fence is judged and documented and the overall impression in noted in the comments. From there, the total score is determined and written in the scores section, where the judge can look at previous round to determine the round’s placement. So it’s not like dressage where your trot in is scored at x / 10, and your canter in the corner from 5 to 6 is scored at y / 10… actually I’m not even sure how dressage is scored. But Equitation and Hunter judging is about each fence’s score and then overall impression.
After our discussion, we all went outside to observe two trainers from my barn attempt a hunter, equitation and work off round. Hearing live feedback from a judge was sooo interesting! Mostly because the trainers she judged are, I would say objectively, amazing riders. They would trot in for their pretend class and the judge was like, “They’re okay, leg seems okay and position is alright” which is probably the understatement of the year. And she would go on critiquing their rounds, sometimes very bluntly, but they’d finish and she’d give a awesome [well-deserved] score like an 83. The whole thing just made me excited to have my riding picked apart so honestly, so time to get excited for my next show!