Disruption: what if dressage tests had THIS score included?

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 4.29.14 PMMy husband is a horse person only by marriage, but he has, under duress, observed a fair number of dressage tests over the past few years. Today he suddenly suggested:

“Maybe they should have a score for “How Much Did This Horse Cost? And How Much Is Your Monthly Training Bill?”

Those horses usually win everything anyway.”

Well, yeah, usually. There is something compelling about those horses who cost Six Figures. They just do move differently. I find it a bit unfortunate that Dressage competition has become somewhat of a breed show. In other words, the most spectacular horse may win over a better trained (and ridden) horse. Although that’s a subjective statement, isn’t it? I call this “Breed Show Dressage.”

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In Breed Show Dressage, natural gaits and ability are heavily weighted, often much more so than correct training. The judge is so taken by that amazing walk, that showy trot, that he throws out 8s and 9s with abandon, waving off theDSC01944 “little problems” of being behind the vertical, jammed in the neck, rushed, with the hind legs trailing. The next horse, a more ordinary citizen, elicits a yawn and a bunch of 5s and 6s. She just doesn’t have the razzmatazz that Spectacular Gaits had, although her tempo is good, her figures correct, she’s steady on the aids and using her back correctly. Who wins the class? Leg flicking Spectacular Gaits, by a long shot. Spectacular Gaits beats Correct Training, in other words.

Proponents of breed show dressage say that we should reward good gaits. Indeed we should, WHEN they are the result of correct training and riding.

Should we reward them simply because they are natural to this athletic being? Not if this is truly Dressage. Regard the web definition for Dressage:

  1. Haute école (“high school”)
  2. the art or method of training a horse in obedience and in precision of movement.
  3. From the USDF site:Dressage is a French term meaning “training” and its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.

Perhaps our judges are being trained to interpret this as meaning that the more naturally talented horses should be rewarded more highly: start with the gait and add on from there. But to me, Dressage means training: to improving a horse’s natural movement, suppleness, obedience, etc. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my horse is not inexpensive (although not six figures), and I do get help from a trainer and clinicians. I’m not doing this on a super tight budget (although I have in the past). I’m just noting that maybe dressage is losing its way as it becomes more about Super Athletes and less about correct training.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 4.32.45 PMPerhaps my husband is right: let’s add on estimated PRICE under “collective marks,” just for jollies.

Perfection is the Enemy of the Good

Dressage riders are particularly prone to over analysis, perfectionism, paralysis, self-loathing (brought on by the aforementioned activities), and DESPAIR.

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Far Above Par (Finn) in the warm up arena, doing a working half-pirouette left.

I will NEVER achieve my goal! we cry in despair, whether that goal is to sit the trot without bouncing hideously, do tempi-changes or a decent pirouette, or simply ride a dressage test without going off course.

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Far Above Par (Finn) warming up. Yes, a little on the forehand, maybe some tail tension (did I just tap him with the whip?), and I’m looking down. And those white breeches are not flattering. How’s the inner voice, eh?

Eventers seem to be so much more laid back – perhaps it’s all that galloping, it just blows the cobwebs away and gives a nice shot of endorphins. Maybe seeing your life flash before your eyes when you almost wipe out on the cross country course helps keep little worries like whether you look fat in your white breeches in perspective. Who the heck really cares?

People are all thinking about their OWN thighs, not yours. Seriously.

As for hunter/jumper people, well, they are two different types, aren’t they? Hunter riders are a bit like dressage riders: everything has to be perfect: turnout, horse, rhythm, form, etc. Jumpers just want to get over the course clean and fast. The really good ones do it with good form, of course, but some pretty wild stuff happens on the jump course. Looks like fun…if I had more guts.

Last weekend Finn and I competed in a dressage show held over three long, long, long days. Grueling is how I would best describe it: hot, windy, tiring. Finn was a trooper (he’s a professional); I was a whiner.DSC02134

Things started out poorly, with me going off course in my first test in spite of having a reader. Kind of amazing, isn’t that? The judge gave me a disappointingly low score for the test, and it was a discouraging way to start the long show weekend.

However, I got back on the horse (or pony in this case), and kept trying, looking at the show as a chance to learn and to practice my tests, worst case. Things got better and I’m glad I didn’t take my toys and go home, much as I wanted to after that first day!

DSC02063My husband gave me the following encouraging quote from Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps it might help you if you are feeling discouraged right now…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Meanwhile, for those of us take chances, whether it is donning white breeches and submitting ourselves to the written comments of a judge and the imagined observations of spectators, or going over a course of jumps, riding a green horse out on the trail, or just pushing ourselves to keep trying, I say, “well done, you. Keep growing, and remember: this is all about having fun!”

Don’t let perfectionism destroy the Good that is within your grasp. Take chances and enjoy what comes your way!

Who could resist Finn's cute face?

Keep it fun for me!