Sunday, 15 April 2012

How to properly read a dressage test.

OK - so we've all been at a schooling show where the test that you've supposed to use has been changed. If you're anything like me - you can't memorize a test in minutes,so what do you?

The obvious answer is to get a reader. But unless you've got a good friend that also rides dressage and happens to be at the show, there's no promises the person reading for you will do it in a way that you can follow the test.

Here are my personal hints and tips for both the reader, and the rider in this situation.

For the reader:
If you had the test ahead of time, verify with the office (or the scribe) what test is being ridden. If different, make sure your rider knows.

Read Clearly, and loudly. I have a short, sharp "arena voice" that carries which helps a LOT. Unfortunately if it's dad or a male helper reading the test, it's likely to be harder to hear. If they can use a slightly higher pitch this often carries better.

Read ONLY the test, and read the full instruction - nothing more, nothing less. Yes, it's redundant to say "working trot, rising" over and over but do it anyways. Do not insert words or further explanation. At a recognised show any instruction other then what is written on the test is grounds for elimination. It is however appropriate to repeat an instruction if it looks like your rider didn't hear you.

Watch your rider while reading. Give them lots of notice of the next movement - at LEAST 2 letters ahead of the movement to give time to prepare. Try not to give a new instruction during a transition unless you have to, better to give the 2nd instruction ahead of time then too late (for example if you have a "A - Left Lead Canter, followed by B - Circle Left 20m - you'd read these 2 together before the rider gets to A - because once they pick up canter you're not going to have time to read the entire next instruction before you get to B. Also, read the first instruction after the bell has rung, and before the rider arrives at A.

If you're rider gets off course, try to wait for the judge to ring the bell before you read further. After the bell - simply re-read the next instruction. The rider needs to work this out on their own, if you try to tell them "no, no, Left rein and then pick up at A" you're coaching them and they could be eliminated.

If you've never read a test before - try to watch another (good) reader first. A person's coach is usually a good choice because they know how to read well. Another good bet is if there is someone that's read for several other riders.

A note for parents - I know you want to help your kid out, but if you're not confident get help first. I promise you you'll feel worse if you were the reason your kid didn't ride a good test. I've seen people rapid fire read the entire test aloud while the rider is still going down the center line. If there is an experienced reader handy, ask if they'll read for them, then watch and learn.

For the rider:
You have a reader because you aren't confident in the test. Verify that your reader has the right test, and then just follow the instruction. Discard what you practiced at home and just follow the instruction. You'll feel foolish if you ignored your reader and started riding a different test.

Realx, breathe, and have a good ride!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sometimes it is "just the horse"

Here's some conclusions I came to while riding Ellie this morning:

She's a crabby witch of a mare that spent 12 years as a trail horse. She's got no work ethic at all, and has been allowed to get her way FAR too much, and she's SMART!

Here's how a ride with her went the first time I rode her: great till she gets to the gate, then, she's done. When you try to steer her back out that's where the fun begins. She'll cow-kick, crowhop, wring her tail, and carry on - that is until you give her a little swat with the whip, then business as usual until you get to the gate again. It took me 5 or 6 rides to really get her going well, now she tries her tricks ONCE, and then gets right to work - and is she ever a lovely little thing. I convinced the owner to switch her from a curb into a snaffle, and she moves like a perfect little dressage horse now. honestly, if I could afford another one I'd probably buy her.

You could have spent a year with this horse trying to fix her "pain" issues (if she were mine I'd probably have her in a different bit for other reasons, but the plain snaffle is 100% better then the curb!) and gotten nowhere. All she really needed was some stiff discipline. Apparently she's still a nappy little witch with the lesson kids, so she's still for sale - but I expect she'll be bound for a better home now that we know she's a good horse as long as she gets good riding.

I still think that 90% of bad behaviour, especially out-of-character behaviour is related to something being a little "off", but in this case acting somewhat naughty is actually in character but undesirable. In Ellie's case, she had years of training that "if you scare the human you don't have to work", so this is what she does.

This is where the advice to just ride through it really comes to mind. The first time Ellie and I really had it out she was pretty determined that she was NOT going to work, and I was determined that she was - and if that meant we were going to circle the arena in a crow-hop rather then canter, then that was how it was going to be... I was in a western saddle, I'm not going anywhere! Then, the lightbulb went on that she had to be nice for me, and all is well in the universe.

You have to always keep in mind that most horses don't care about working. Sure, they can enjoy it while they are doing it, and some horses have better work ethic then others - but they'd equally enjoy sitting in the pasture all day eyeballs deep in a round bale. It's up to the human to convince that horse she's prefer to work nicely.

It's the good horseman that can look at a situation and be able to figure out why the horse is being a pill, and make the call as to weather it's a dicipline issue or a physical pain issue. It's a fine line, because there is nothing worse then beating a horse for telling you it hurts.