Kate Samuels took a detour from eventing to compete in a straight dressage show–and she actually kind of enjoyed herself!
Top: Nyls and I trying to hold it together at Southern Pines this year. Photo by Crow’s Toes Photography
Anybody who knows me will tell you that dressage isn’t my strong point. I’ve blamed it on a lot of things throughout the years, namely that it’s “boring”; that my upper-level horse isn’t a very good mover anyway, so it doesn’t matter since he’s not going to win that phase; and that studying dressage was for weenies. All of these are really legit reasons, right? No … not really.
Nyls also struggles with dressage, which is partly my fault and partly a symptom of his personality. Characteristics that make him an unbelievable cross-country horse, such as having wicked fast reactions, an ability to anticipate the next step in a combination and a bull-headedness that will conquer any scary horse-eating jump, also make him more than a little difficult to ride on the flat. He is the king of memorizing movements in a test and therefore just anticipating like heck and not even waiting for the cue (ahem … lead changes).
However, I finally, finally, finally took the plunge this year and told myself that I had to buckle down and learn this stuff. I was sick of having the casual throw-away score, and despite Nyls’ disliking of the phase, I knew he could do better. Eventing lets you forget sometimes that your dressage wasn’t great, because you can end on the high note of a brilliant cross country or a clean show jumping, but I’m on a mission to change that.
So, yesterday, I competed at my very first recognized dressage competition at Dressage at Lexington. Of course, I had a few misgivings about attending, but I have to say that for the most part, they were complete stereotypes that turned out to be incorrect.
Photo by Crow’s Toes Photography
Nobody was prissy … everybody was actually really friendly! Misguided assumption number one: I would be surrounded by Dressage Queens who would sneer at my weird eventing horse. Nope! Actually, the people I met rivaled the friendliness of eventers. If I was putting the finishing touches on Nyls in the aisle way before tacking up, people would walk by and coo at him, petting his head and complimenting our turnout. The volunteers checking your number and your bit were by far the nicest people ever. (Weird fact: only 30 percent of bits get checked? Huh.) Despite the fact that I was wearing my Dapplebay shirt that says “Live Free & Jump XC” along with my Dubarry boots, nobody raised an eyebrow. The judges and scribes were all smiles as my horse continuously behaved as though he had never seen a judge’s booth before.
The feedback on your test movements is very detailed. A student of mine took her 5-year-old OTTB and did two Training Level tests as an equivalent for Beginner Novice, where she currently competes. While her tests were very consistent and quiet, the judge picked out things that I feel she probably would have gotten away with a little more in a BN test. This was great! The more detail you can receive on how well you completed a movement, the more you can improve! My tests were similar, with very particular indications of exactly what was correct and what was incorrect about each movement. Lesson learned? DO NOT let your horse get crooked at any point in his body at any time during the test; it will be noted.
You won’t be alone in a crowd of Dressage Queens. There were actually quite a few eventers wandering around in disguise! Sharon White, Skyeler Voss, the whole Morningside crew and many more were in attendance. You can probably pick us out of the crowd because our braids are smaller (and on the correct side) and our horses’ tails are shaped.
It’s easy to choose a test that has equivalent movements to your current level in eventing. For example, to practice for my Advanced movements, I competed at 3rd Level. My student, who competes at Beginner Novice, found Training Level to be comparable You can even move up a level in the dressage and see if you’ve got the stuff for the next level up!
There is great value in riding two tests in the same day and getting feedback from two different judges. Especially for the nervous-type horses, riding two dressage tests in a day is something we don’t ever get in Eventing Land, and I can tell you that my second test was a whole lot different than my first one. It really helped Nyls
accept his fate settle into a relaxed state. The other bonus is that you get two perspectives on how things looked from two different judges within two hours. One judge very much liked my walk work, and thought I lacked impulsion elsewhere, whereas the other one was a stickler for straightness through the body. Both were good at marking how to improve from there.
So, we finished our day in Dressage Land, scoring a respectable 67% on each of our Third Level tests and placed in each division. I was quite pleased to score well and place, but I was mostly happy that Nyls felt the best he has ever felt in this phase, and his focus was unequalled. I did register him for life with the USDF, which probably means I will be returning to this strange land and willingly!