By IDA ANDERSON NORRIS – Clearly as an active competitor, constantly competing from Training level to Grand Prix, and as a licensed USEF Senior dressage judge, I like and enjoy competition. As an educator, I find there are as many people who say they are primarily interested in only training as there are those who are interested in competing. It is my pleasure to encourage and support all of these folks, and I cannot say that either viewpoint is the best or only way to go. I love to train as well as compete, so I eagerly support and encourage all.
Practicing Tests for all riders:
With that being said, whether you love to just train or are looking to go out competing, I am a HUGE proponent of preparing and practicing tests, as well as evaluating them (judging them mark by mark) for riders, even for those who would never consider going to a competition. It can be a fun and stimulating challenge. Educators can take the opportunity to discuss and educate how the tests progress in relation to the training tree, to educate on progression of skills, history of etiquette, and the history or training techniques in dressage. Have fun with it. It can be social and be a challenge if it increases interest in learning more about dressage.
Competitive tests and levels prepare horses and riders for a step by step progression of skills, while improving endurance and strength. Riders training and progressing through levels will of necessity consult and use the training tree. Some of them may never really consciously realize that the tests and the stated objectives on the front of the tests follow the Training Tree. Competitive tests are written to lead a horse and rider forward from skill to skill in an organized and systematic progression, building on learned skills and helping horses and riders add new skills in a step by step manner. The test or pattern gives riders and educators a framework within which to make clear evaluations of work and skills that are confirmed or in progress.
By progressing and working through the tests of any level a horse/rider team will gain skills, balance, strength and endurance. Riders may say to me, “I’m third level,” and I say “Okay, ride a third level test one for me.” Riders who ride mostly alone and seldom perform tests are often in the habit of riding one half pass, letting the reins go and walking, then picking up the reins to do one flying change, etc. In order to accomplish an entire test, without stopping, a horse and rider team must have the skills, endurance, mental and physical discipline to flow from movement to movement in close succession. As the levels and tests become harder, skills and confidence develop. Horses and riders can quickly move from one balance and movement to another, while developing flow and stamina. Accuracy, confidence and familiarity with movements, and the combination of aids necessary to ride one movement after another, without breaks in the performance, is a tremendous skill and asset that is often best gained by practicing tests. Whether you compete or not a well-schooled mount should exhibit these abilities.
Developing the concentration for horses and riders to continue through an entire test is a wonderful goal. Additionally the strength and endurance for the team develops. Practicing accuracy, flow and recovery from mistakes in aperformance can be fun and challenging.
For those interested in competing, I have strong advice; no matter how much I personally like it, competing is not for everyone –nor for the faint of heart. Competition is not for every horse and rider, and that is okay, and as it should be. Since safety and confidence in a horse/ rider team is my absolute personal primary goal, I encourage EVERYONE to practice tests.
There are three things I say to anyone who asks me about competing:
1. “You do realize that competing is gambling?” You put your money down and you take your chances. Numerous things can happen: Rain, sleet, heat, slippery footing, your horse whinnies constantly, the baby carriage goes by in your ride, the crowd claps for the horse in the next ring, someone has a horse carriage going by, the grounds staff decides to change the garbage bags during your ride, dogs chase you, the judge drops her coffee on her dress during your ride, the wind blows the ONLY thing in the world your horse is afraid of, while YOU are riding. So you need to be over prepared and flexible.
2. “In order to go showing your worst day needs to be better than everyone else’s best day.” If that happens you might place, or win maybe.
3. “If showing is about winning, only ONE HORSE wins.” Notice I did not say YOU win, as this will be about the horse’s performance.
A competitive test is a snap shot of a few minutes in a day, in your development as a horse and rider team together. It is most often a test of environmental training. Can you and your equine partner work together under adrenaline rushes, distractions, lack of sleep, unfamiliar settings, unexpected sights and sounds, to maintain focus to produce a performance that appears harmonious, effortless and confident? Managing a smooth steady test at home in a constant, quiet, familiar environment is quite different from maintaining that same level of attention and confidence in unusual situations. Competing successfully can encourage and inspire a rider to greater heights, while a bad experience for a horse or rider can be devastating to morale, or ongoing safety if poorly planned or executed. Almost anything can happen– a great day or something totally unexpected. It is always best to be sure that you take each competition with a huge grain of salt. Be prepared, rested and do not over face yourselves. Whether you win, lose or draw the judge sees you for a few moments. You may be thrilled that you survived and stayed in the ring as the plastic garbage bag blew by, while the judge commented negatively that your horses was off the bit. Keep it all in perspective. In the meantime… ride safely, have fun and learn a lot!
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