Deciphering the judge’s comments at the bottom of the test sheet can be a little like reading a prescription note from your doctor. Tricky! However, the summary of your test and marks by the judge is always worth taking a look at. And taking on board.
We remembered some great advice once given to one of our followers, from International dressage rider Jessica Gale. Jessica has represented Great Britain on a number of occasions and is based at Froxfield Stud. She trains with Spencer Wilton.
‘Quietly ridden’ What does the judge mean and is this is a good thing?
Jessica Gale advised “Quietly ridden” is quite a confusing term as it could mean two different things. Either “your horse was spooky but you didn’t panic or pressurise the horse. Instead you rode quietly through it” or it could mean “you need to go for it more and ride more bravely”. Generally, it is seen as a positive comment congratulating you for riding quietly through a problem like a break in the canter and not panicking. If you look at the opposite of the word “quietly” I think it proves that it is a positive comment as you wouldn’t want “hectically (or loudly) ridden” on your test sheet!
What happens if my horse spooks in the test?
The problem with spooking in a test is that it can be regarded as the horse being naughty and taking advantage of the fact you are in a test or they could be genuinely scared. Depending on what type your horse is will have a great impact in how you should react to it. For example, you wouldn’t want to tell off a nervous horse for spooking. That would just make them more nervous. Similarly, there’s no point ignoring the spooking of a horse that is taking advantage and being difficult as it could lead to your horse becoming more and more difficult as time progresses. What I find helpful is to do lots of local shows with both types of horses. If they are nervous then they will get lots of experience and soon realise that the dressage arena really isn’t as scary as they think. With a difficult horse you can also use a couple of shows as training rounds teaching the horse he can’t spook and get away with it.
Keeping your horse focused on you.
I know that it is hard with a spooky horse. Their attention is easily diverted to something else. That can have a big impact on your test. In a recent test my horse went down the centre line, halted then turned and stared at the crowd and it was very hard to get his attention back to me. The key is to keep their concentration consistently on you. Even before they’ve spooked, which I know is easier said than done! I try to do lots of transitions around the outside of the arena before I go in to keep their mind busy. That way, they don’t have time to let their mind wander to anything they can spook at. In the test use little half halts to keep their attention on you. It may also help to try, if possible, to go all the way around the arena both ways. Doing this before your test starts will give the horse a chance to see everything from all angles. It will give you an idea of where the “difficult spooky areas” are.
Any other tips?
There are also little tricks you can use to cover up spooking in front of the judges. If you can anticipate when your horse spooks you can quickly use your inside leg and inside hand to stop them moving away from the spooky thing! Although, a warning with this method is not to tense up at what you think may be an object your horse will spook at. This is then almost encouraging him to spook. The key is to be ready for anything but to expect nothing!