Last month, I took some time to visit with family and get inspired. I had gone to watch a bit of the US Dressage Finals in Lexington previously and decided that I wanted to go again this year. I took my mom with me this time. She is the one who got me into riding, so she really gets how hard/beautiful dressage is.

We got to the Alltech Arena at Kentucky Horse Park on Saturday afternoon in time to watch the Intermediaire 1 freestyles and the Open Grand Prix freestyles. It was an absolute blast! We loved watching the different horses and riders, and their music choices. Jim Koford’s ride on Adiah HP was so much fun! You can watch replays on the USEF Network here: https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2017USDressageFinals.

During the show, the USEF had quite of bit of live streaming coverage with commentary from international rider and “S” level judge Kathy Connelly. This was an amazing opportunity to educate your eye by watching the tests and listening to her comments. Even if you never aspire to ride at the upper levels of dressage, you should go online and watch these tests.

For me, watching and listening to commentary it helps me understand what true connection and collection look like and the value of straightness and position, and it can benefit you, too. Looking at a half-pass that scores an 8 is really going to help you visualize your end game as you begin your lateral work and start training the leg yield. All of the basic work in the Introductory and Training level tests is what you build on moving forward. So, when you are training the horse at the basic levels, you want to be thinking of how this training will be utilized at the upper levels and what building blocks you need to lay to have the best foundation for progressing.

I encourage you to go to the link (https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2017USDressageFinals) and pick one of the classes to watch. Commit to watching six or seven rides in that class. You may prefer to watch the same test over and over as that gives you a more level playing field to compare the rides, but I really like the musical freestyles. If you watch them, listen to the music and observe the horse’s movement. Are they rhythmical? As you watch the class, compare the movements across horses. Watch the outline of the horse and rider’s body.

LISTEN to what the commentator says. When she says, “This horse has gotten a little short in the neck,” really look at how that changes the horse’s movement by looking at the outline of their body and length of stride and straightness. Look at how body type influences the horse’s movement. When they talk about the horse “getting a little low in the extended trot” again, look at the horse’s balance – poll to wither to croup – as they cross the arena. How does that affect the amount of extension and stride length?

This type of education is priceless. Not only does it help you understand what judges are looking for, but it helps you to develop a deeper understanding of how balance, impulsion, tempo and regularity of gait all influence your horse’s ability to execute a particular movement and to do it well. Mainly because you get to see it while listening to the commentary and thus helping you identify the good, very good and not so good versions of it.

What most inspired me about the Championships was the variety of horses and riders there. I have stoked the dressage fire in my belly and am ready to buckle down to work hard on the canter this winter. Now to get the lights hung in the arena and the mirrors up!