dressage check in

Camelot is just five weeks away, and so of course I’ve planned out both a general plan, weekly plan, and daily plan for seven days out of each week between now and then.

Planning soothes the soul.

Our dressage definitely requires the most planning.  Last year, my dressage goals were “stay in the court, don’t get eliminated” which I managed to barely succeed at.  I didn’t have any goals about scores or placing or actually performing tests to their specifications — I just wanted to get in and get out and get on to jumping.  So I rode the way I knew would make Murray the least annoyed, keep him the most consistent, and generally just tried to make dressage fun.

I do love dressage, and over the last year, we’ve been working very hard at it.  Very hard.  But the way I work on dressage is not what gets points in dressage tests.  I use a lot of over bending and shoulder-in and shoulder-fore to get Murray using his back.  I deter Murray’s attempts to not use his haunches by asking him to haunches-in or -out every time he drifts them one way or the other, making him really use his haunches if he wants to be lazy.  I try to do a lot of stretchy trot.  Cantering is usually a bit of a torrid affair of noooooooo I can’t possibly lift my back in the canter oh wait, you want me to flex a bunch and give that way okay!  It’s not the prettiest, but it achieves the goal of strengthening his back, and we are working up to relative elevation of the forehand slowly.

5-21 dressage 8

I know I can’t ride the test the way I ride at home.  And I need to figure out how to ride in the test to get the best results out of Murray while still achieving my ultimate obsession with sustainable dressage.  So I had a test-check-in lesson with Alana where I warmed Murray up like I would at the show (long walk, a little trot and canter, transitions, then a break and walk into the other arena for the test) and rode Novice A for her.  I have to ride all different tests because Murray learns tests pretty quickly and anticipates and gets tense, but since Novice A has all the same movements as BN A, I figured it is comparable.

Murray was fairly foul to warm up, and I will admit I was pretty disappointed. I got cranky, kicking canter transitions, and hollow trot transitions.  But that might just be all I get at a show, so I have to be prepared to ride that too.  I tried not to override Murray in the warm up, and after I got a good canter transition I called it and wandered over to the other arena for the test.

two-legged dressage is Murray’s favourite dressage

Murray was suuuuuuper noodly and uneven, falling through his haunches pretty badly down the centerline (and throughout).  He also got really cranky about his right circle and it was much more a rounded square.  I rode conservatively and didn’t really get the canter transitions.  And the walk-trot transition was a freaking joke — it is supposed to happen at C and I didn’t get it until H.  Embarrasssinnngggg.  Murray was also really inconsistent in the contact.  Overall, what I got was tense and disobedient.  I did, however, get a banging free walk and a square, straight, badass halt.  So I anticipate those two things will never turn up at a show ever.

Alana was like “damn he’s got a bug up his butt!” and told me to just try to make all my cues a little lighter to see if I couldn’t make Murray think they were more of his idea.  Even though she said she can barely even see when I’m cuing him to the next gait, I should just think trot and lighten my seat and see if that works a bit better.  Alana also advised me to drive him straight down the centerline, pretend I’m going to smash him into the judges’ booth right up until three strides before the turn so I don’t accidentally make him bulge with my legs, and keep my reins shorter for a more consistent contact.  So after a long walk break, we did the test again.

Murray was definitely better the second go around, but there’s clearly something about the way I ride practice tests and real dressage tests that lets Murray know he can be more opinionated than during a schooling ride and get away with it.  He refused to canter when I first asked him to, and I had to kick him into it.  The walk-trot transition also got him all cranky and squealing and horrid again, so we re-did it and after a longer medium walk he had a perfect transition.  His right canter transition I had to really thump him, and ended up having to do it a few times to get it right.  However, we managed to maintain the good halt again, so that was nice.

5-21 dressage 4

Despite Murray being cranky in the lesson, it was a really good one.  I have to be able to maintain my composure if he comes into the test rotten, and ride each movement independently.  But in order to avert the dressage monster’s emergence, here’s our homework.

  • Practice dressage rides like the tests more often — warm up, work, long walk break, then go to the indoor and do a test.  Instead of letting him get away with ignoring me during the test, I have to keep things black and white in my practice tests, so he doesn’t think that the dressage court is a canvas for his opinions.
  • School the transitions a lot.  And all kinds of transitions — long walk break, short trot, short walk break, long trot. Walk, trot, canter.  Murray has to be right on the aids, and has to get over his ‘tude regarding me asking him to do things.
  • Develop a warm up plan — more on this later.  But I need to figure out the best way to get Murray calm and relaxed in the show environment but also working and listening to me.  If you have any suggestions for a horse who tends to be tense, looky, and unpredictably cranky, I’d love to hear them!
  • Develop a soft canter off a soft transition — every time!

I feel like there was more homework from this lesson, but I honestly can’t remember it.  Which is bad.  However, there it is.  Five week plan.  Five more practice test rides (it’s too weird to do a full practice test more than once a week!), probably ten or fifteen more dressage rides on top of that, and a few lessons.  So scary when I think of it like that!  Five more jump lessons, five jump schools, five conditioning rides.  So little time!!

Anyway, I will get a chance to practice the test off property on Saturday, so we will see what warm up strategies I can come up with then!