Letting Things Be Ugly

Well our May show didn't go quite as planned. We ended up with a couple of pretty hard scores to swallow, and a lot of homework.Tension and frustration marred out tests, despite my efforts to leave them behind.

Our first test (First 3), while easier to memorize, is the most difficult test I've ever ridden. It's a big jump from Training, with the movements come fast and heavy. There is not a moment to take a breath, instead everything is one constant transition. I like this about the test, but it's a true test of contact and submission from the horse. In other words, it's pretty impossible to skate through this test without solid basics.

Skaters, we are not.

Pig warmed up tense. I warmed up tense. It was a perfect storm of bad contact. I tried to keep him balanced on both reins, and he was having none of this. He took offense to my braced right shoulder, my forward lean and my swinging legs. I was so worried about how awful he was acting that I couldn't remember to actually ride properly. By the time I did manage to get things together enough for a couple of strides, he had expended all the generosity he had left for me. We schooled some counter canter (oddly our best movement right now), and I headed over for my test.
The heavily wet footing did not help matters. Pig found it to be "gross" and he kept exaggerating his strides and refusing to move out in the stuff. Stupid rain.
I guess the best I can say is that it was reasonably accurate. Our bend was iffy, Pig's neck was braced against me during the whole ride, and we even blew the change of lead through the trot. It was so rough.

After schooling our simple changes for a little bit, I ended up putting Pig away for some rest and taking some time to try to forget how frustrated I was. I wanted to start my second test with an improved focus and a better start. I knew the only way to do that was to stay positive.

After a little over an hour of prep and a lovely ride by Kelly and Riva to inspire me (you guys are awesome!), I hopped back on for the second test of the day (First 2). This test is all sorts of movements all over the arena (Seriously? I've never done so many turns at R and P!), but it's pacing is much slower than First 3. As a result, there's more time to soothe a nervous horse back into contact before trying a new movement. I rightly thought that if I could get Guinness a little more relaxed, we could have a better test.

In warmup, I just worked on trying to get him to relax the base of his neck and stop bracing so badly. We didn't eliminate the problem, but we did manage a little bit of a longer and bouncier neck. Magically some of this relaxation even bled over into the test.

I'm not sure what our judge was expecting, but our scores were low. Like really, really, really low. My first test scored at 50%, and my second scored a 52%. We took the bottom of our class. After reviewing the scores for the weekend, I noticed that this particular judge was really hard on people. She hardly scored any horses in the 60s at all. Many of the horses I was showing with are actually 2nd level horses with average scores in the mid 60s at recognized competitions. Even they were in the low 60s or mid to high 50s. I'm not trying to make excuses for my scores, but it's helping me stay encouraged and keep working.

The little things, right?

Overall, it was still a good weekend and I'm glad we showed. The community at this show was really good, with lots of my old eventing crowd there and my new dressage friends. Plus, Jen was grooming/fetching wine and sandwiches for me. What could be better? Additionally, I'm more committed than ever to solving our contact problems so that we can work better.
Pig excitedly thinking about going home, or eating grass, or ... not showing ;)
In the time following the show, it has been hard to stop our poor performance at the show from getting me down, but I'm trying to keep everything in perspective. My mantra has become "it's okay to be ugly." In trying to fix our contact issues, Pig will sometimes throw a pretty big tantrum and trot around the ring ignoring me, head in the air. It takes all I have not to resort to the hunterland see-saw to remind him to stop that (right now!), and instead keep adjusting my position and keeping him forward into my contact without bracing up out of sheer frustration. Last night was a great example of this. We started soft and swinging, I made too many mistakes and started bracing. Pig threw a fit, and I started bracing more and forgot to ride my horse. Finally, after relaxing some and a lot of sticking to my guns and not letting him back away from the contact, we were back to swinging and loose in the neck. That second bit of nice work ended up more consistent and easier to keep than the first.

We'll get there. If I don't murder my picky horse first. ;)

Now, someone tell me a good breakthrough story so I can keep my spirits up!


  1. Thanks for the sweet compliment Austen! I have been most fortunate to take a few lessons with Jennifer Conour this year and get lots of help from Alexis.

    I enjoy watching you and Guiness - you obviously work hard and have a strong bond. I hope to get back to HHP for the fall championships and watch you two rock at First Level!


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