What are you Waiting for?
Posted by Lorraine on Jun 30, 2012
When you’re schooling do you ever halt and stand still for five minutes and then expect your horse to return to work immediately and do his best? No? Never? So why is it, when you get to a show, you think nothing of it?
Shows vary but most have a steward who calls you when the rider before you goes in. You probably do the same if you’re on your own. The average test lasts about 4½ minutes – add a minute either side to get into and out of the arena and that means you have at least six minutes to kill between your warm up and entering the arena area.
That grey area between warm up and test needs to be used wisely. When you are called don’t be in a too much of a rush to finish. Wind things down calmly and leave the warm up when you’re happy.
Make sure the steward knows you’re ready and then, instead of standing and watching, even on the pretext of remembering the test, (which if you don’t know by then you really ought to have called!) take your horse for a walk. Be reasonable – don’t clatter up and down outside the arena – take him round the car park. Keep him walking forward into a contact and keep his attention. Then when you’re called to go in he’s awake and focused. All you have to do then is wait for the bell.
Dressage tests are lists of paces joined by transitions. Your job is to show the judge how well (and how willingly) your horse responds to your aids. Many riders stop riding as soon as they approach the arena; frightened to move in case they spoil everything. Think again!
All horses are different. If your horse is young or sharp he needs your reassurance that there’s no reason to get uptight. Show him that although the arena is different your aids are exactly the same. If you don’t change it’s one less thing he has to worry about.
If your horse is old and wise or lazy he may well have developed a sense of humour. Does he know you won’t pressure him when the judge’s eye is on you? Then it’s time he learnt that when the spotlight is on he switches on not off! Get your legs on and don’t be afraid to use your whip in the arena. The judge will understand and would no doubt prefer to see a horse corrected than sit wishing they could stick their head out of the window and shout “Smack him!”
The time before the bell goes is an important time. Use it well. What do you usually do? Have you ever really given it much thought? Everything you do affects your horse. And your score. He will take his lead from you. If you’re calm and positive he will be too. The minute or so you have while you’re waiting is the time to let him know he needs to listen, focus and go forward. It’s not the time to change things or pick a fight but it is the perfect time to get his attention.
Did you know you don’t have to ride around the edge of the arena while you wait? If you’re waiting inside you can actually turn across it or circle if you want to. That means if your horse is spooked by a banner or the judge’s car you can ride a circle and pass it two or three times before they ring the bell. Do this tactfully so you don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t force him to go right up to it. Ride positively round the arena near enough for him to see it but not so close that he wants to spin round and leave the arena!
The pace you use is up to you too. Some horses benefit from a short canter to liven them up (or even call their bluff if they’re threatening to explode). Those that are more energetically challenged may be easier (and less tiring) to inspire in walk. If your horse is easily distracted why not ride a couple of trot-walk-trot transitions as you pass E and B to show him you’re still expecting him to listen?
The entry is the most important part of any test. It doesn’t matter if your horse has a canter to die for, the best half pass on the planet or an amazing medium trot - if you start on a 5 it becomes the bench mark for the rest of your marks and you may have to do something spectacular to grab a 7. Start on an 8 and you may never see a 5! It could be the difference between winning and losing.
You won’t be marked on how you get onto the centre line but it can have a huge effect on your score. It’s better to get on a stride too late than risk unbalancing your horse with a right angled turn so from inside the arena ride a ½ 10m circle from F or K to D. From outside ride at least 10 metres away from A before you turn. This way you can get straight before you enter. You can even halt and trot again to get his attention.
One last thing to remember is there are no bonus marks for heroes or martyrs! Never ‘show’ the judge how difficult your horse is to ride. They won’t mark you higher. Even if he feels as if he’s about to explode when the bell goes take a deep breath and stick a smile on your face. Show them that he’s a pleasure to ride not that you wished you’d left him at home that day!
Good luck and enjoy your show this weekend.
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