What I Learned from Judging a Dressage Show

I had the opportunity to judge a dressage development show recently and the one word which comes to mind is COMMIT.

English: A Standardbred horse going nicely in ...

You are assigned a ride time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you arrive at a dressage show there is a calm sense of excitement. People are on their schedule and are systematically preparing for their time to ride. Unlike a hunter show where you ‘sign in’ at the ingate; dressage shows are civilized and each competitor has an assigned ride time. If your ride time is 9:37 then you present yourself at the correct time or risk being eliminated.

Although the show was part of a schooling/development series, you could see people really put the effort into making the show count and their ride count. I saw long-tailed coats, ‘dressage’ braids  and horses bathed and clipped. On the other end of the spectrum there were flowing manes and chestnut ponies (mare perhaps?) with prominent red ribbons. Either way, they were performing and getting comments and pursuing their goals.


the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.

When you look up commitment in the dictionary there is no picture of a person hauling off to a horse show, but rather a whole host of synonyms  such as promise, pledge, responsibility.

These are the words which came into my head as I watched people from all age groups, riding levels and horse types come into the ring.

English: Chestnut rabicano pony mare.

People from all agegroups competing.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They are committed to riding, they promised their horse AND themselves (and $$paying parents/spouses) to ride. They took the pledge and made it their responsibility to get to the competition ring. People who didn’t want to make the commitment, or the responsibility were probably back at the stable wishing they had.

Sometimes making that commitment is scary. Scary emotionally and even financially. Once you have made the commitment, there is one track to follow, kind of like getting on a train. You get on the train, you know where the train is heading (to competitions).  This is your commitment – to get on that train. The stops along the way are the goals along the way before you get to your destination.

Have you committed to your horse this season? Will you be committing to showing this season? Please let me knowhow you are making this commitment to yourself and your horse.

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Top 3 Equitation Tips – From a Senior Judge

As a Senior Judge I watch a lot of equitation rounds. You will find these top 3 equitation tips will get you noticed in the Equitation class.


Summary is this:

  1. Keep your leg locked on with the heel pressed down.
  2. Eyes up looking to the next fence.
  3. Keep your back flat.

These sound like simple things, and they are, but do these on a consistent basis and make them a part of your regular riding routine is important.

How do you improve your heels? Looking up? and keeping your back flat? I’d love to know.

Stay tuned for more equitation tips and exercises on how to improve these three things.


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Making a Bond With Your Horse

“When you’re riding, only the race in which you’re riding is important.”– Bill Shoemaker

What does this quote mean to you?

Does it mean:

  • When you are riding, whether it is in the competition arena or training at home, you should be paying attention to your horse.
  • Don’t get ahead of yourself?
  • Focus on the job at hand?

I think it means all of these. When you have the ability and knowledge to be on your horse,

A young Lipizzan at the Spanish Riding School ...

Look for the moments when the horse is honest and performing the tasks we ask. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

give your horse your full attention. Do not belittle your horse by not paying attention to what is going on underneath you. Look for those moments when they, the horse, are honest and trying to perform the tasks you are asking of them.

Do not look for the ‘have nots’. Those moments when the horse is misunderstanding and acting in a misunderstood fashion. Look for the way, we as trainers, can guide our horses to understand what is asked of them and to perform willingly.

The quote can be taken literally, “you are only as good as your last win”. But as horse riders and trainers we know… horses are creatures. As living creatures we should treat them with respect and this way you can form a bond which will grow and be a foundation to build your training and horsemanship.

Building a Bond With Your Horse

Horse clicker training italy 1

Horse clicker training italy 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When horse training, building a bond with your horse is one of the simplest yet most difficult things to do. The horse is programmed to build a bond. The difficulty lies within us! We have a bad day, stressed at work or caught in traffic, we expect to get on the horse and have it all go away.

Do you ever think the horse is having a ‘bad day’? Maybe they need something from us, a pat, a treat or a kind word to let them know THEY belong.

Focusing on your horse, whether in the stable, while riding or on the trail is one way you can start right now to create a partnership with your horse. It is more than saddles, bridles, round pens and ‘carrot sticks’.

Start by Saying ‘Hello’

Do you march into your horse’s stall and just grab his halter? Take a step back for a moment and think how it would feel if someone you knew came up to you and just grabbed at you. HOw would you feel?

Take some time, say 3 minutes, to just plane scratch your horse. You don’t need to give treats. You don’t need to have grain. You don’t need to give anything but your undivided attention! spend 3 minutes of hands on ‘rubbing’ and tell me what happens to your relationship with your horse.

How do you plan to spend more quality time with your horse.

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Horse Training – Have a STAR plan for your horse training

If you are a rider then you you have dealt with having to train a horse. It may be something simple such as walking correctly while being lead or it may be upper level dressage. Either way horse training comes into the picture.

We often come into resistance and what we would call disobedience while horse training. If you actually do a bit of searching you may find your horse is not really disobedient but rather is trying to tell you something or maybe even trained to do – what ever it is which you think is the disobedience. Your horse could be scared, spooked, or may not understand what it is you are asking. To make sure that he’s not just spooked, alarmed, perturbed or confused take a moment to asses the situation.

Take the STAR approach.

  1. Situation – What is the situation you are in. For example my horse was – refusing to go by the in gate. This is the Who/What/Where/When of the situation. Focus on the ‘problem’ you had. Who was riding, was it in training, at a show, on the trail etc.
  2. Task –  Identify the objective. This is key. The fundamental issue you need to overcome. Your horse may be stopping at the ingate (as in the example above), but what is the fundamental issue? Is the horse herd bound, is the horse not listening or reacting to the riders cues? Is the rider not asking correctly?
  3. Action – This is where you describe the action taken to correct the situation.
  4. Results –  What was the result of the action taken?

If you spend some thoughtful time on the situation and the action the results will usually speak for themselves.

Balance the Correction 

English: Horse Training Wattie Adams, exercisi...

English: Horse Training Wattie Adams, exercising one of his horses. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, the horse may be trying to find out who really is IN CHARGE. Remember horses are herd animals and will look for their leader. Some horses will often try to be the ‘herd leader’. Make your corrections in balance with the horse.


I had a horse which would run through the doorway and almost crush me. Correcting her by stopping through the door would just cause more anxiety and crushing.

Using the STAR approach –

  • Situation – Leading her through a doorway she scooted and crushed me.

    A Cossack training a horse

    A Cossack training a horse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Task – Is to get her to go calmly through a doorway without crushing the person leading her.
  • Action – I backed her through the doorway rather than leading her through the doorway.
  • Result – She now goes through the doorway calmly (in both directions!).

If you are having similar situations. Take a breather and take some time to get a STAR approach on them.

What situations would you use this simple step by step procedure in your regular riding program to help you and your horse?

Here are some other posts you may find helpful;


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