Last Chance @ By Chance?

No. I don't know why this farm uses so much punctuation in their show name. I am sorry.
I better start off this post by explaining the judging dynamic at this show. I was surprised to find that my ring had two judges, a “big R” judge at C and a “little r” at B. At the smaller USDF shows I tend to come to, we typically only have one judge at C. At larger competitions and championships, it’s more common to find judges at B and M. When more than one judge is present, their scores are averaged for rider’s final score.

For those who have never shown under two judges, it’s always good to know that the judge at C is the “head of the ground jury” or in charge of the whole operation. That’s the person you salute to (please don’t waste time saluting to everyone), and the person in charge should anything go wrong in your test (like you go off course, or your horse bites his tongue and is bleeding). Typically the judge at C will be the judge with more experience.

All that to say, I ended up with 4 score sheets for my two tests this week. It’s kinda fascinating to see all the feedback, and compare/contrast the judging. Honestly, I feel like the experience proved some of my biases towards less experienced judges. In fact, I might as well title this post “Why I Personally Hate Showing Under Inexperienced Judges”. But, you know. I didn’t. So let’s get down to business, and you can draw your own conclusions.

As I mentioned yesterday, Bast lost his brains about 5 minutes before heading into the ring for our first class, Training 3. His screaming was legitimately intense, and I was pretty worried about how well I’d be able to pilot him around. Looking back, I honestly should have just scratched him at this point. Ah well, live and learn. We headed to the ring anyway.
His worried expression just gets me in this photo. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out if the judge rang the bell.

Bast’s screaming made me unsure whether I’d heard the entry bell, so I called out to the judge that “I wasn’t sure you had blown the whistle?” She replied that she had a horn, actually. And honked it. I didn’t realize that was her actually honking for my entry, and so we continued to circle. Whoops. Miscommunication fail. She got frustrated and honked it at me twice, ushering me into the ring quickly. Time to get over that issue and get on with piloting my drunken trumpet around.

Our entry, as described by the judge at C, was “tense”. The halt was abrupt. As I’d entered unsure of my half halt, I was honestly surprised by how much Bast was letting me influence him, and that really affected us. I slammed him to a halt, expecting him to blow me off. My bad. We gathered a 6.5/5.0 respectively.
Pretty square, though...
By the time we got to the first serpentine, I knew I was in trouble. Every time Bast screamed (which was about 35 seconds after he shut his mouth after his last scream), he would stiffen his neck and try to wrench out of my left rein. He’s been stiff to the left in the trot the last week (as we’ve worked on getting him more supple to the right, of course), which made him even harder to bend that direction. I had to work really hard to try to show a clear change of bend through the serpentine, as well as keep the accuracy. My scores (6.0/5.5) reflect this.
My whole body was asking, and this is all the bend I could get. Ugh.
I pleased with the canter transition, however. Bast stepped right into the right lead without leaping, as he tends to. The judge at C was also content with it, giving us a 6.5. The judge at B hated how tense he remained and dinged us a 5.5 for coming off the rail and opening the mouth. Ah well, the trot transition got a 6.5 from both of them.
For a fun challenge, try to find the photos where he's actively screaming. Hint. This is one. 
Unfortunately, I knew the walk would be a complete catastrophe. With zero relaxation, you just cannot pull out anything over a 6, no matter how hard you try. I did get Bast to follow the bit for a half second, but then he was back to screaming. I really wanted to kill him through here.
I believe this is what Janet Foy calls "being a tourist".
The next trot serpentine must’ve looked quite different to the judges. C gave me a 6.5, with the comment “better tempo”. Meanwhile B was still completely unimpressed with the tension in my horse and awarded us the ever more common 5.5. Ouch.
This is terrible. And I hate everything.
The canter transition was still fairly obedient, and I was pleased. But the left lead was much harder to get and maintain bend, so we were scored about .5 lower on average. That’s very fair. By this point I just wanted to survive this test without murdering my horse.
Unfortunately when he loses the bend going left, he loses the straightness through his neck, and then he also loses his rhythm. It's basically the worst.
We only had the stretchy trot circle left, and I wanted to at least try to get some points here. Despite the circle being to the tougher left direction, I squeezed my inside leg for bend and asked Bast to come on my rein, following it down. He did, though he didn’t stop screaming. As the judge at C commented, his topline was correct but the tension really affected the movement and stretching. The judge at B just hated that he gnashed his mouth and pulled a bit when he got uncomfortable and twisted in his tension. Fair comments, but another score discrepancy.
Worst photo ever, but his topline is right. His impulsion however ... is lacking.
We wrapped up with the absolute worst turn up the centerline of my entire career. Bast was literally counter bend and WAILING as we made the turn. This was actually one of the biggest scoring discrepancies in the whole test, with the judge at C giving us a 6.5 and the note "Counter flexed at A, balanced halt". Meanwhile the judge at B awarded at 5.0 with the comment "Mouth open, hollow". Wow, that hurts.
Good lord. What a mess.
Overall the scoring for our T-3 came out to a 61.72% from C and a 57.58% from B, and an average final score of 59%. What hurt the most was not the individual scoring, which I thought was fair (if a bit tough from the judge at B in places). No. What hurt was the judge at B giving me a 5.0 for rider's correct and effective use of the aids (Clarity; subtlety; independence; accuracy of test). I rode the shit out of that test, and minimized the tension my horse exhibited. The test was extremely accurate everywhere except the second serpentine. I am really frustrated to receive a 5 for what I felt was a very tactful ride on a very wound up animal.
I don't know. I'm just not sure what about this ride deserved a 5. Especially since there was no comment next to the score, and the collective comments didn't indicate anything except horse tension. Also, my hands were not pulling. So, I'm at a loss.
However. We were #notlast and there was another test to get through. This one much more important ... our First Level debut.

I was so worried about Bast being another screaming nightmare that I nearly scratched right after my first test. However, I thought I'd try to bring him down and see if I could manage to get him a bit calmer and more focused. I fed him a ton of carrots when he started to scream, which took his mind off things. Then we relaxed for a bit between the class, him snacking on some alfalfa and me learning my test. When we headed back up to the ring his head was in a much better place, and my pockets were filled with mints and sugar.
Stuff the screaming baby full of pacifier candy...
Our warm up went much better. I hadn't allowed much time, about 20 minutes. That was about all I needed, however. I'd picked up my whip, to assist with the leg yield cue. We ran through some of the lateral work, and focused on going forward a bit and coming back on my aids. We schooled the canter lengthenings through 20 meter circles. Then, we walked a lot. And fed sugars and mints. Finally it was time to head to the ring.

Our entry started with a super wide difference in score. I thought our centerline was pretty steadily straight, and the halt rode forward. The judge from C agreed, awarding us a 7.0. The judge at B had a better view of Bast, and did not like how he stands behind the bit in the halt. I honestly am not sure how much of a fault this is (he's not moving forward, so why would I want him pulling on my reins in the halt? Someone have any insight here?). Regardless, he gave me a 5.5 for Bast being "behind the vertical". That's a difference of 1.5 points. Kind of significant.
Definitely not as square (note the dropped right hip), but our straightness was killing it!
After that, thankfully, the scoring is much more together. For the first lengthening, I honestly didn't even try to push. Bast was still too wound up, and I didn't want to tip him off balance and have him panic. I over rode the down transition, which I think helped us keep the score to a 6.0 across the board.

Then we turned up centerline and started on our leg yields. First of all, now that I've read the test closer, I'll pay more attention to the turn up centerline, as it is scored separately as a half 10m circle. As it was I didn't bend enough to get higher scores here, but that's on me and is easily fixed. The leg yield left, meanwhile was a bit twisted and uninspired. C awarded us a 6.0, but B came up to a 6.5. This can be a strength, but needs more relaxation than we had to come off well in this direction.
More bend, Austen. Practice these at home. It takes too long right now to get the bend required from the horse.
First 2 is a favorite test of mine because everything is so symmetrical. So, after leg yielding left, we turned right around and did the same pattern the other way. The lengthening this way surprised me. I put my leg on and lifted my hands forward and Bast motored. I honestly was so surprised by his reaction that I forgot to ride the movement and we fell out of balance. Sadly this left us with a 6.0/5.5 and comments of "hurried". Still, I'm not mad. Bast tried and I let him down here. That's very fixable and encouraging.
Always reward and be happy with a horse who tries. Always. 
The turn up centerline was similar to the other direction, but the leg yield right was fantastic. I knew we were nailing this as we rode it. Bast was in my outside rein half halt and moving nicely over from my inside leg. His body stayed very straight and he maintained his forward momentum. We could have had more suppleness with more relaxation, but honestly this move was the absolute highlight of the test. I knew it could be, so I'm happy we were able to execute. The judges awarded a 7.0/6.5 respectively. It feels good to score higher here, as this is a coefficient move, worth x2.

From here we had a terrible downward transition into our walk work, which was all 6s. Tension marred everything about the walk all day. However the judge at C did comment that we had a "correct topline" in the free walk, but that the tension knocked down our points. That's unfortunate, but not unexpected given the horse I had to ride that day.
Anytime someone wants to call my horse's topline "correct" I'm all about it. I don't know about you.
After the walk, we picked up the trot and then canter in quick succession. I was worried about picking up the correct lead at A, but Bast read my aids correctly and jumped right into the correct direction. However, the left lead continued to be the struggle direction, and his rhythm and balance were a weakness. The highlight of the canter to the left was actually the trot transition at X. Both judges agreed we needed more balance and suppleness, but C awarded us a 7.0 and B gave a 6.5.
Ugh the bend, balance and jump this direction need so much improvement, and yet have already come so far.
The right lead canter work received higher scores from B, mostly 6.5s. The judge at C was looking for a lot more self carriage. I think I might have been resorting to a bit of pulling through here to get the job done. I know Bast was getting tired and starting to flag.
Yeah. I'm definitely pulling a bit here. But, it's not terrible.
The test ended up a stretchy trot circle. Bast was definitely tired by this point. He followed my hand down nicely, but then started rooting at the bottom of his stretch. This has been an ongoing issue with him, and I think it's balance related. He stretches hard, but that occasionally throws him off his balance, tipping him down in front. We're working on it. The judge at B called us out on this in the comment and scored a 6.0. At C we were rewarded for the initial good follow of the hand and given a slight increase of a 6.5. I thought all of this was super fair.
Starts good. Gets downhill and off balance two steps later. Stretching is so hard for horses at this level.
Finally our last centerline and halt. C gave us a 6.5 and commented that our bend at the turn at A needs to have a lot more bend. I think this is definitely accurate and something you can believe we'll be working on. The judge at B gave us a 5.5 and said we stepped back in the halt. I don't remember this at all, but he had the best view in the house. I'm sure if he said it, we did it. Not good, and something else to practice. Still, I'm very happy with our centerline straightness, and think that's on the right track.
Remember when these used to be so very drunken? I do. Haha.

Overall, we ended our First Level debut with a combined score of 61.8%. Judge at C had given us a 62.57 and B had given a 61.14, so definitely much more consistent scoring in this test.

In the collectives, both judges remarked on Bast's tension. While he hadn't screamed nearly as much in this test as the first, he was certainly still a bit noisy. His tension also expresses in his mouth opening and closing a lot. It was clear the judge at B hated that. The judge at C either didn't see as much or realized it was just tension. I've come to understand Bast opening his mouth like that isn't a reflection of my hand, as he'll do it on a loose rein. That's just actually how he shows his tension. It's unfortunate that his "tell" is so obvious. I'm brainstorming ideas on how to deal with it, but I honestly just think it's going to take time, miles, and more relaxation development. Not the sexy answer, but probably the right one.
Look how much softer his expression is here. Love it.
I'd be disappointed in his performance if I wasn't so pleased with the learning experience it presented. Bast started the day fine, worked himself to a crescendo, and ended completely calm and happy. There was a lot of good growing up done at this show, that should serve us well going forward. I also now know this horse can handle a show at a brand new facility and with less than ideal circumstances and not kill anyone (well, maybe their sense of hearing). That's a huge benefit.

Bring on the homework. I can't wait!


  1. That does sound like a great learning experience for Bast.

    I generally agree with your thoughts about how it's worth showing under more experienced judges. That said, having scribed with both the judge at B and the judge at C (both FEI 4* judges), the specific movements where you mention a larger score discrepancy do mainly sound like the movements where the angle from B is a lot less forgiving and where a lower score from that judge is not particular uncommon. I haven't yet ridden in front of more than one judge at a time but I know my halts will need to be much better for when I do!

    1. You're right about the view being very different, and changing the score for the halts. For a long time I struggled to get Pig square behind, and worried about showing at championships for that reason.

  2. So at AECs I got to scribe for the judge at C for the Novice tests, but we also had a judge at E. Both judges were fairly experienced (Helpful), but they were both looking for different things (unhelpful). I got to listen to their conversations between each other during breaks to see where the discrepancies happened.

    i.e. we had a horse completely meltdown, canter sideways down centerline (supposed to be a trot), and the other judge tried to give her a 5.5. Like.. she never trotted... and she was never on centerline... or straight... so that was interesting.

    As for the halt, I think that is something that is really hard to see from C, but it is pretty clearly spelled out in the rulebook:

    "At the halt the horse should stand attentive, engaged, motionless, straight and square with the weight evenly distributed over all four legs. The neck should be raised with the poll as the highest point and the head slightly in front of the vertical."

    I also learned from scribing that "behind the bit" might have been her number one complaint and would've gotten you a 6.0, but combined with not being square and dropped hip, might have dropped you down to the score you got. All of this is, of course, speculation. What we wouldn't give for clear recordings of what judges say!

    1. Soooo fascinating! I'd love to have heard these two talk. I wonder if, as a judge, it's weird to see tests from B after seeing so many from C.

  3. oh Bast. You have got to stop the socializing! but he looks amazing tho, it's just miles!

  4. He's come a long way. I think you did well to continue to ride the training level test- it was a great schooling opportunity.

    I have an idea for the opening and closing of his mouth- you may hate it and it may not work but it might be fun to play with. I heard it from some western trainers and a couple dressage trainers: have the bit hang a bit in their mouth rather then at the '2 wrinkles' mark. The theory is that this encourages the horse to carry the bit themselves. It did work with Steele when he was getting backed. He learned very quickly to close his mouth on the bit and carry it.

    1. I actually already do this. He does do much better with them low. Unfortunately any lower and they'll whack him in the teeth, tho!

  5. Agree with you - getting them over messing with their mouth is a long tough road, strapping their mouth shut is not the answer. Carlos was always super busy with his mouth but once I found a bit with a nice roller on it he would play with that instead and keep his mouth shut.

  6. You rode beautifully - sounds like a fantastic learning opportunity!


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