Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Delusions of Grandeur

Today my horse crushed our dressage school. If I could have gotten off and chest bumped him, I would have. My focus was shortening the trot and canter up to as collected as Bobby can get right now while maintaining massive power in the hind end before sending him forward to a huge, uphill medium gait and then coming right back again.

He never once got frazzled. He didn't quit on me. He was sharp off the aids and light in the bridle. His back was up, his butt was down, and he was so round it felt like he'd grown several inches underneath me. When we were done, my core was aching and Bobby had a thin sheen of sweat up and down his neck. We'd worked our asses off in unison, and we were both happy to end with a good, long stretch.

I'd take that work into a Second Level test any day of the week, and I wouldn't be ashamed to turn down the center line for a Third Level test with that horse in the slightest. So when a comment gets thrown out that, "Horsey McBorsey was so good for Person McPersy the other day. She was seriously doing Second Level stuff so easy!" it bothers me.

Horsey McBorsey is a nice horse, and she hacks around on the bit politely in all three gaits. She knows SI and can leg yield. She's got a little bit of a lengthening on her. She's not a Second Level horse.

I've touched on this before here, about when you can call your horse confirmed in his discipline. For me, dressage specific rider that I've become, I think you have to make it through an entire test at your level before you can start throwing out labels. Most horses can--and should--be able to do basic lateral work and be able to adjust their stride within a gait. Having a horse that does SI and HI does not make them a Second horse. You should have to factor in degree of collection and being able to string all those movements together one right after the other for five minutes at a time.

Over the winter, there was a rider that talked nonstop about how she was going to event a horse. She'd done a couple of local Intro level events several years in the past and had no other eventing experience, she doesn't have a truck or trailer or any passing knowledge of the rule book, but she was going to take this horse out and event him all summer long. That bothered me, too.

When people offhandedly throw these goals or general phrases out like they're the easiest things in the world to achieve, I feel like it cheapens the accomplishments for those of us that work so hard at them, and for those of us that have actually attained those things.

There are people that act as if they're going to get to the top of their sport despite not being a naturally gifted rider, or not having heaps of money, or not being paired with a suitable horse. I'm okay with that. I feel like all of those things are me. I think you can channel that to become a better rider and to work harder always, all the time.

But to the people that have this vision that they're better than they are, the people that brag about things they don't actually have a firm understanding of, you bother me. Don't try to lessen the success of those of us that have clawed our way to every minor win we've gotten by diminishing those things as if anyone could cross them off the list without any effort at all. We work hard to be better, and it takes hard work to be the best.


  1. I knew this person who bought her greenish daughter a green pony. Said daughter then rode a more trained horse. Mom says 'she's a really good rider, she just needs the right horse'. so the green pony was the reason her daughter didn't look good on a horse. In a way that was right but I would reverse it. I took a deep breath to answer and then let it out. there was no point.

    Congratulations on your accomplishment!

  2. AMEN. A couple years ago I had some H/J acquaintances who decided to compete in a HT for some reason. They had schooled XC exactly once, and pretty much none of them knew their dressage tests, and all entered the BN division like it was no big thing. I don't know if it was an appropriate reaction on my part, but it made me feel really ticked off and upset that these people were just going in with no preparation or understanding of the sport and expecting it to be easy, especially after I had fought and worked so hard to get to the (very unimpressive) point that I was at in eventing. I think that kind of attitude is disrespectful to the people who take their discipline seriously and work hard to be as good as they can be at it.

  3. while part of me thinks it's a slippery slope to say "you aren't a *real* rider until you've done X" (for example, am i not a real eventer if i've only ever done unrecognized low level stuff?)...

    but i don't think that's what you're saying here. rather, it's saying: to *be* the thing, you have to be out and *doing* the thing. and *doing* the thing is not the same as being *confirmed* in that thing. and for that, i am very much in agreement.

    my horse can do almost all the pieces of a training level dressage test (except stretchy trot....). but can he do a training level test today? ehhhh probably not. those damned canter transitions haha. so yea he can *do* the movements.... but he's not at all confirmed in them enough to be considered a training level horse. soon i hope!

    1. Spot on with the second part. I don't buy into the unrecognized vs recognized debate. They are very much the same thing to me. But that's a post the blog world has delved into before as you well know lol

    2. I agree with you Carly, and Emma! She said it a lot better than I could've!

  4. Totally agree here. Someone asked me the other day what level my horse was, and I said solid First, but hoping to move up to Second this spring. And she said "oh you're a second level rider?" No, no I'm not. We can *do* all the second level movements with the proper amount of extension and collection and sometimes we can do them all in a row in a 20x60m rectangle, but we are absolutely not solid or consistent at it. Yet. Someday yes, but not yet.

    Besides, I'd rather err on the side of caution. If I say we're going 2nd and then proceed to do some craptastic w/c transitions, you're gonna think I lied. But if I tell you we're solid first schooling second, then you're gonna be like, oh, well obviously they're working on those craptastic w/c transitions.

    As for the recognized/unrecognized debate... in dressage there are different levels of "unrecognized". There's the unrecognized shows run to USDF rules, usually held by a GMO, at a nice venue in a regulation dressage arena with a legit USDF judge... and then there are the unrecognized shows run by the local barn in a 20x40-ish meter arena with crap footing and the BO's friend as a judge. If you're killing it with 70s at the former, good for you - you'll probably kick my ass at a recognized show. If you're killing it with 70s at the latter, I'll probably raise an eyebrow. Or a margarita. Possibly both.

  5. Ugh. Yes! And the people who are all, "I jump 4'!" When one time their trainer put the out of the combination up to that and the horse swam its way over once.
    On the other hand, it's best to let them run their mouth. You keep plugging along as you do, and when you both show up the horse show it will be very obvious who belongs where.

  6. Yay for a good lesson!! I completely agree with you.

  7. Heck yes.
    I've jumped 1.1m courses. My boy jumped 1.2 courses and 1.4 6 bars before me. We as a team however are only knocking at the door of 1m competitively together now.
    He's done Elementary dressage. I can ride many of the movements on him (extend for daaaayz - his fave thing) but guess what? We're doing PRELIM at the moment.
    Because doing one movement or one jump in isolation, or even a test or course *outside* of a show/measured environment is quite markedly different.

  8. "When people offhandedly throw these goals or general phrases out like they're the easiest things in the world to achieve, I feel like it cheapens the accomplishments for those of us that work so hard at them, and for those of us that have actually attained those things." I just emailed this post to a bunch of friends, because you said it so well. Some of us have to work really hard, and there is no shame in that!

  9. Yeah... this one is hard for me. Courage can do all the first level stuff at home, but we have yet to put it together in an organized fashion at a show, so I just tell people he's confirmed training level, which is true.

    I have to bite my tongue really really hard when people tell me how their horse is second level when it goes around completely upside down and on the forehand and has never been straight in it's life, but dammit it can do some shoulder in.

    I don't think I have any particular standing to tell them off, but I always hope they go to a show and prove just how second level they are to a real judge...

  10. Thank you for this. I get a bit frustrated when I see people who are completely in denial or completely blind of their horse's actual capability. Fiction is OK at training level right now - he nails it at home but falls apart in the show ring. So I don't consider us at all confirmed yet. My trainer has told me that we're definitely ready to move to First level, but I'm hesitant to do so until I can score high enough in Training to satisfy myself. So when I see people putzing around on their horses that perform far more poorly than my horse but somehow managed to get a super nice judge that scored them highly and now they think they are 'confirmed' or 'ready to move up'.... I get a little annoyed. But not because I look down on them - because I feel that having such an outlook keeps them from recognizing training flaws that still need to be addressed, and results in them over-facing their horse and then going OMG WHY?

    Maybe I'm a bit harder on myself than most, or maybe I'm just afraid to think too much of myself, but I'm never ready to call myself confirmed at any level until I'm placing high enough with several different judges.

  11. I totally get you. My boyfriend's step-mom told me last year her friend won champion at the highest level of dressage. I quickly went right on center line scores and saw the friend got 3rd place at a regional championship going 2nd level. I mean still more impressive than I can do, but man that was over the top.

  12. Yeah, my horse and I are going for a training level test and a first level test at the end of this month but I've only ever showed him intro at two schooling shows last year (thought my time was better spent training and working with him rather than showing him and getting 70%+ at local schooling shows.

    He's got all of the pieces of first level and several pieces of second--but we're not consistent at all and I know that his lack of showing experience is a factor as well. I call us training level working on first this year. You should always be schooling higher at home to not over-face your pony.

    I definitely know a few people who have some crazy ideas on how well trained their horse is. It really bothers me when they drop their horse into a new experience in a show situation. It's not fair for the horse and only sets them up or failure. Eventually it'll probably bite them in the ass. Hopefully not in the form of injury to the horse.

  13. I dunno how I missed this, but I'm glad I caught it. <3

    I feel like dressage is one of those places where you get comments like "oh, this is a 3rd level horse" because the horse can do a change. Or yeah, this is my Grand Prix horse, because he can piaffe. And, sure. Whatever. But it's easy to see who is actually capable and doing the work. Those are the people who get respect, and the ones out there day in and day out making themselves and their partners better.

    I think USDF's bronze medal program has made a bit of a litmus test for riders (and, yes, for dressage a schooling show is not equal to a recognized show in my mind). A "passing grade" designation, if you will. My horse is a confirmed third level horse. I can go out and get a "passing grade" at third level if I ride him well. But, our changes suuuuucked when we got those "passing grades". That's okay because dressage levels are not about "just doing the movements." People who think so are confused. It's about having your training be able to stand up to the test. The pressure. The quality of work must be maintained throughout. Some people can't take that pressure or demand a level of quality. Too bad for them. :)


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