Sunday, Mar. 3, 2024

The Score Doesn’t Tell The Story

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This competition season, my goal was to earn a top-eight placing at the USDF/GAIG Region 1 Championships in Lexington, Virginia, in the third level adult amateur class. Last year, we competed in the same class at the Region 8 Championships in Saugerties, New York, and narrowly missed the top eight and a place in the coveted awards ceremony. With another year of third level training under my belt, I thought this goal was pretty feasible.

My mare Dixie and I qualified for the championships and attended them last month. Unfortunately, our scores were less than stellar, and we were well outside the top eight; I think I counted that we finished in 20th out of 35 competitors. I was, of course, terribly disappointed. The test felt really solid and clean. With a clean test like that one, we’d been scoring in the 65-66% range at regular recognized shows, but with the increased scrutiny of a regional championship, I was hoping for something in the 64% range. It was a 60% average, with the judge at B giving us a 58%, which was by far the lowest score we had ever received at third level.

Blogger Laura Adriaanse and her mare Dixie Rose didn’t get the scores they were hoping for at the GAIG/USDF Region 1 Championships (Va.). Liz Crawley Photography Photo

Even last year at regionals, I had two major mistakes in my test and managed to score a 64.75% average. This year, I was, frankly, devastated. I was discouraged. I felt like what I thought was among our best tests to date was actually relatively bad, compared to my competitors and according to my score.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take it a bit personally. Was I getting worse? Was I failing my talented horse? How flawed was my thinking and my feel if I thought a test I’d ridden well was actually more than 4% lower than the worst test I’d ridden at this level?

I let myself wallow a little and be disappointed for 10 minutes, then rallied and cheered up. I spent the days following digesting the show and all the disappointment it brought. I thought about the last two years of training that Dixie and I have put in to become a competent third level pair.

The judge doesn’t know about any of that work. All she knows is what she sees in front of her for those six and a half minutes in the ring before her, and she scores it as she sees fit. But that score, much as it took the wind out of my sails mightily, doesn’t tell even a fraction of the story that got us down centerline that day.

The score doesn’t tell the story of the Flying Change Hell™ Dixie and I have lived in for the past two years. There have been so many acrobatics and miscommunications and frustrations on both my end and Dixie’s. For months (and months and months), a successful flying change attempt was one where I could regain control within half a lap of the arena. I have often joked that Dixie’s changes offer me free chiropractic work as they often audibly crack my back. Dixie is a quick pattern learner who often thinks she knows better than I do, so she regularly takes the liberty of offering me several flying changes on the diagonal before I can even set her up to ask. The score on that test does not tell that backstory or reflect that the quiet, controlled (albeit together behind) changes in the test were an exceptional effort from Dixie and a massive victory for us as a pair.

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The score doesn’t tell the story of me sustaining a soft tissue knee injury in the early spring that kept me out of the saddle for months, nor the catch-up work I’ve done to retain my fitness and feel after my forced hiatus, which was a much longer, more difficult process than I’d anticipated.

The score doesn’t tell the story of the show ring nerves Dixie often exhibits, nor the multitude of preparatory solutions we’ve tried to help her feel as comfortable as possible when competing. She felt quieter and more confident than I’d ever felt her in in the show ring at this level, but the judge would never know that and could never factor that into her scoring.

What matters most, blogger Laura Adriaanse writes, is the “story of our nearly four-year journey as a pair and the feat that it was to produce a quiet, clean, confident test at the regional championships.” Photo Courtesy Of Laura Adriaanse

The score doesn’t tell the story of the journey it’s been to find and maintain the best program to keep Dixie as fit and sound as she is as a 19-year-old horse. She’s stoic about discomfort until it really gets in the way. I have a schedule I follow for her routine maintenance, of course, but as she ages and moves up the levels, it always seems to vary, like with her diagnosis of arthritis in her left front coffin bone in August. A maintenance program for any performance horse is delicate, but one for an older performance horse is even trickier. The judge could never know all we’ve been through to balance the formula to get it just right.

And so what matters most? The story of our nearly four-year journey as a pair and the feat that it was to produce a quiet, clean, confident test at the regional championships, or one judge’s opinion after watching a six-minute performance? I’m proud of Dixie, and I’m proud of myself. We’ll keep on chipping away and writing our story. Each moment and each step of the way is what it’s really all about.


Laura Adriaanse is an amateur equestrian and U.S. Dressage Federation bronze medalist based in Philadelphia. She started out in the hunters, rode for the University Of Mary Washington (Virginia) IHSA team, then switched to dressage after college. She trains with Ana DiGironimo out of DQ Performance Horses in Swedesboro, New Jersey, with her Hanoverian mare, Dixie Rose, with whom she hopes to make it to the FEI levels. She also owns an off-track Thoroughbred gelding named Chai, who lives in retired luxury at the Adriaanse family farm in Nottingham, Pennsylvania. Laura is a marketing and communications professional with aspirations of pursuing full-time equestrian media work. Outside work and the barn, she enjoys writing, livestreaming horse shows and spending time with her three cats.

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