Sometimes when you go to a dressage show, you have a pretty good idea what your scores will be. Other times, you come out of the ring thinking one thing, only to be presented with a score sheet that has a vastly different perspective on your ride. And it can go both directions: better than expected and worse than expected.

The last dressage show Charlie and I went to, my scores were not what I had hoped for.  They certainly weren’t what I thought they would be coming out of each test.  While everyone else’s scores were nominally lower than other divisions, they still stung.  High 50’s and low 60’s were the order of the day.

There were spots where I just disagreed with the score. For instance, we went to pick up a canter between A and K. The judge was at A. We picked up the canter exactly in the corner, but then broke back to a trot after just a couple of strides. We got it back, but not until after E. But because our original canter was so short, and in a place where it was hard for the judge to see, we came out with a 2. Ouch! If you read the rules, a 2 indicates that the move wasn’t done. We did it, but the judge didn’t see it. So we got dinged.Image 22

There were also scores that didn’t take into account our progress in certain areas. For instance, Charlie and I consistently get comments from judges that he needs to be more forward and in front of my leg. At this particular show, he was much more forward than normal. But the judge didn’t have the perspective of knowing where we had come from to get to this point. And we weren’t forward enough for her liking, so another low score. This one I could understand, even though I still disagreed with it.

And as much as the low scores sting, it’s part of life in the dressage ring. There will always be tough judges, whom we can never seem to please. And there will be judges who seem to throw out high scores for darn near anything. But as good as those high scores feel, I don’t find that I learn nearly as much from them as I do the harsher marks. They make me think, and evaluate really hard about our ride. What did we really do wrong?  What truly went right?  How could we do each move better?  Where are the more challenging parts of the test that we just need to school more?

I could get mad, but that wouldn’t do me any good. In fact, my best revenge would be to go back to that same harsh judge and get better marks the next time around. So I try to go back through video of my ride, and read along from the judge’s sheet. Can I see what the judge saw? Do I see where there are places we need to improve?  Was there something that was just nerves or a spook? Is there something that would be a relatively easy fix? What corrections are going to require more work? And what is my plan to make that correction?

So excuse me, please. I have some 20m circles to do, and some canter transitions, and some bending exercises, and some light aid practice, and some leg yields, and…

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