Qualifying? What is this "Qualifying" business.

Part of my resolve for competing this year is to enjoy the time I have with my horse to the fullest, to really experience a lot and get miles out of our relationship. That brings me directly to the issue at hand.

How hard should we compete? And how seriously?

It's been years since I've shown, and longer than I'd like to admit since I've done any showing beyond IHSA (that's intercollegiate hunt seat ... for the uninformed). I don't have all the time or money in the world to go jetting around to shows, but luckily dressage does have a large enough following out here for there to be plenty  of opportunities to choose from within 1-3 hours of travel. Plus, the barn I keep Guinness at is into dressage, and often takes students to schooling shows in the area. Hitching a ride is much cheaper than renting the whole rig on my own.
Guinness and I working hard at a Todd Bryan clinic in 2010.

The question is, do I want to focus on the smaller (and much cheaper!) local schooling shows, or do I want to be able to challenge myself with the larger competitions of USDF sponsored shows? And, if I decided to go to these sponsored shows, do I want to join to be able to qualify for awards? I can't even decide if that's something I care about.

Part of my wants to go to a few schooling shows early in the season, and see how capable we are, then decide. My thoughts on the issue are complicated:

  • I feel confident, as my experiences with trailering and riding Guinness has been excellent. He's usually a little more "up" in a new location, but not crazy. He trusts me implicitly, so we typically have very good rides while away from "home".
  • My main drive in thinking about doing recognized shows is wanting to do well. I respond well to criticism, especially in horse training. I love it when people pick apart my riding, or see a sticky moment and point it out for me. It's very helpful, and I find I learn more from doing things a little wrong than always right. I feel the competition at these bigger shows will be better, and the judges better. It might be a crazy thought, but it's still one I'm having.
  • We are schooling a solid Training, and I know that my horse is fully capable of First Level. I don't know if that's something I could do without lots of critique, and that's not really available locally.
  • I'd also like to show at the Horse Park, since it's right down the street from Cob Jockey. Maybe I could bribe her to take photos ;)
What do you think? Any experiences with recognized shows that you would like to share?

Stay tuned for video from GP and I's lesson a couple weeks ago with a visiting trainer. It was nice to get some feedback on my riding and my horse's ability. Highlights to come!


  1. Austen - I wish I knew when this was written. I was just trolling through the archives when I saw this post, and I wanted to comment; your posts have a time stamp, but no date stamp.

    Just as a quick re-cap: Here in California, we have a HUGE GMO, the California Dressage Society, and there is also have a smaller GMO (DASC) in southern California. CDS-rated shows are "more" than schooling shows, but less than USDF shows. They offer an excellent way to transition between the relaxed atmosphere of a schooling show and the prestige and formality of USDF shows.

    Schooling shows in my area are normally judged by L Graduates and other lower level judges (r). They are usually fairly generous with their scores and do their best to encourage riders. The judges at CDS-rated shows are almost always R and S judges. They are less generous and tend to be pretty strict, but fair.

    The judges at USDF shows are nearly always S judges and maybe even 3* and 4* judges (as in Hilda Gurney's case). These judges are qualified to judge all levels at USEF national shows and in the case of the 3* and 4* judges, the CDIs (international).

    Now for my point: I love schooling shows for trying out a new test or for starting out my OTTB. Once I was comfortable with the show environment, I moved on to CDS shows so that I could qualify for awards and regional shows. Once we had done that, I found it was important to test myself and my horse against fish in a bigger pond so we moved on to the USDF/USEF shows. I find that I get a very accurate opinion of where we are at those shows. There's no hiding behind generosity at a USDF show. :0)

    I think that when you feel that your horse can handle the bigger atmosphere of a USDF show, and you feel like you have a handle on the test, you should definitely do a USDF-rated show. You'll get a clearer picture of where you are compared to others at your your level. Then, you can decide to work more at that level or maybe you'll surprise yourself and find that you're ready to move on!

    As a side note, memberships can be quite expensive. If you only plan to do a limited number of rated shows, you can always pass on the membership and just pay non-member fees. Best of luck as you and Guinness continue along your dressage journey. :0)

    1. Karen, I'm working on the date issue. It drives me nuts too!

      What a great comment, and you really summed up what I've figured out since I wrote this post (March of 2012, btw). For me, a lot of my show decisions are balanced carefully between budget (my husband is in medical school, ouch) and training. I don't want to go to a recognized show and look like I have no idea what I'm doing. Luckily, my Indiana Dressage Society hosts a lot of really nice schooling shows. They aren't CDS quality, but close! Often at these shows I'm competing against the same horses that will go out and rock the Harmony in the Park (judged by Lilo Fore and Hilda Gurney this last spring). So, I feel these schooling shows have been a good judge of where I am in my training.

      Last year we did only schooling shows. I'm actually pretty happy about that. My goal is to get as many scores towards my USDF Bronze medal on my thoroughbred, which means I only need recognized scores at 1st level and above. Whoo!

      Hm. This is probably a good post idea. I'll try to write something up!

    2. I am always interested how riders in other states navigate the rated vs. non-rated showing thing. Please do a write up; I'd love to hear more!


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