Here in Virginia, summer gave us one last beastly hoorah with a few days in the 90s before gifting us a beautiful weekend to head off to Morven Park for the last show before our Regional Finals in October. What was supposed to be a little outing for us turned into 12 horses, but everyone rode great, and our results spoke for themselves.
Everyone scored great, from first-season-showing Jamie on 68% at Training Level to the ongoing three-way battle for domination at First Level between Kathleen, Kristin H and Heather. Little Kristin C, age 12, and Billy were Freestyle High Score Champions on 72%, and Kristin earned her last scores to complete her USDF Bronze Medal. Allison also finished up what she needed to do to get qualified for the Regional Finals on a nice young horse she rides for the breeders.
And not to be outdone, I took Fender back in the ring to knock the dust off before Regionals, and were rewarded with an almost-70% on Day 1 and a 72.9% on Day 2 to take the High Score ribbon at Third Level. Atta boy!
Getting ready for the show made me think about all the things that are important about tests, but that we sometimes neglect in the day-to-day training. To prepare for Morven, I focused a lot on three things.
The first was corners. At home, my indoor arena is 90×211, and I tend to ride off the track (so my horses don’t lean on the wall), but that means I’m sometimes a neglectful corner rider. At Morningside, they have a 20×60 perimeter set up in their outdoor arena, so I had no excuses. Corners are so important for so many reasons, but for a) a level like 3rd+ with lots going on in rapid-fire fashion, and b) a big long horse like Fender, the corners are particularly important to prepare him for the limited time i have to execute the movements ahead.
One of my favorite exercises for corners (at least, for horses who tend to fall INTO the corners) is to turn a meter or two early, and then leg yield to the track. I make a box like this, turning one meter before the track (or, on the open side of the box, the letter I’ve designated as the “wall”), then pushing Fender into it, remembering, of course, to keep my outside leg and rein in place so he doesn’t then fall out. If I can get over the PTSD of USDF FEI Young Rider Clinics of old with Conrad Schumacher in The Dreaded Square, it’s a great exercise.
The next is centerlines, halts, salutes. These I’m good about practicing, but there’s no such thing as too much. One of the secrets to good centerline straightness is thinking of a road disappearing to a point out on the horizon – it narrows to that point. I place an imaginary point a quarter-mile behind the judge at C’s head, and think of narrowing my horse to that point as I head down centerline.
For the halts, one of the things my sneaky horses like to do is slam on the brakes early, particularly if they’re old hats at the showing thing. As such, I almost never halt directly at X, but instead halt a few strides after. And it’s a great exercise to halt where you think X is, and then look to your right and left. It’s amazing how few people actually halt AT X!
The last thing I think about is only relevant to Second through Prix St. Georges levels, but I love me some walk pirouettes. They’re an oft-neglected movement, which is a pity, because they’re one of the movements that has nothing to do with the fanciness of your horse’s paces – a 5 mover can get great marks on a walk pirouette. Billy was notorious for getting 8+ on walk pirouettes and 4- on the collected walk score, as Billy would jig-jig-jig to the pirouettes, perform one beautifully, and then jig-jig-jig on.
A great exercise I was given for both walk and canter pirouettes is to think of them not as a circle, but as a stop sign. I ride one or two steps of turning, then one or two steps straight forward, then turn, then forward, and on. You have to do this exercise out in the middle of the ring, so you don’t crash into walls as you go beyond the 180* called for in the tests. But it’s great for horses who stick or who take over in the movement.
We have a month to prepare for the Finals, and these incredible cooler temps are making it a blast. Onward!