Jul 272013

Last Saturday, Lila and I headed up to Triple Creek Ranch in Longmont for a schooling dressage show. (Dressage is a style of English riding, where horse and rider are doing precision movements on the flat, i.e. not over fences. A “schooling” show is for practice, not accumulating points or whatnot. It’s less formal in its demands about attire, which was much appreciated on that very hot day.)

We entered three classes for each of the three “training level” tests. None of the movements were beyond our capacity to do well. However, I’d only learned and practiced the three tests the day before, because that’s when I decided to enter the show. Really, I would have liked a few days to prepare. But… c’est la vie! I knew that the show would be great practice for our first three-phase event on August 11th. (The dressage test for that is easier than any of these three tests.)

So I set off on Saturday morning, feeling rather nervous and excited. It was the longest trailer ride ever for us at 1 hour and 40 minutes each way. Lila grumbled at me a bit upon arrival about that, but she quickly settled down to her usual relaxed state.

For each test, I’d spend some time memorizing the test, then I’d warm up Lila, then I’d memorize the test again, and then I’d ride the test. (Riders are given times for each test.) I found a very nice trainer to read my tests for me — thankfully, because I didn’t know them perfectly, so I was in danger of forgetting an element or otherwise doing wrong. (That’s only possible in a schooling show.)

I enjoy the precision demands of dressage: you see very clearly where the holes are in your training when you do a dressage test. Moreover, I like the method of judging and scoring, which is far more objective than, say, a hunter class on the flat. Each of the movements (13 to 16, in these tests) is scored from 0 to 10, plus six “collective marks” are given for overall qualities of horse and rider. Brief remarks are written with each score, plus you talk to the judge for a few minutes after each test about strengths and weaknesses.

Given where I’m at in my training and the difficulty of these tests, I should get 6s at minimum, 7s are darn good, and an 8 is amazing. Happily, that’s about what I did. My total scores were as follows. (Due to differences in the number of movements, tests add up to different numbers, so it’s the percentage that allows cross-comparison of tests.)

  • Test 1: 157 of 240: 65.4%
  • Test 2: 180 of 280: 64.2%
  • Test 3: 165 of 250: 66.0%

Lila and I could have done better in the second test, but we did pretty much as well as possible on the first and the third tests. We have lots of work to do, but now I have a much better sense of where we need work. Oh, and I’m particularly pleased that Lila stepped up her game whenever we entered the arena for our test: she was confident, forward, and willing. That’s my girl!

The result of those scores was two first place ribbons, plus a second place. The competition wasn’t fierce: I saw some barely adequate rides, plus one major meltdown from a lady who was, in fact, months or even years from being ready to compete. Still, I saw some good rides, including from the lovely young woman who beat me in the third test.

It’s been an amazing year for Lila and me.

I began training with Martha Deeds of Middle Ground Farm last August. Lila and I aren’t naturally gifted, so every small advance has come at the price of hours of mentally and physically demanding work. As a result, I’ve learned more than I thought possible over the past year, and I’m now riding at a level far, far above my best from years and decades past. That’s so exciting — and even better: I know that we’re nowhere near the top of our game.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds… particularly at our first three-phase event on August 11th! Yikes!

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