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Leaving the "Good Stuff" in the Warmup Ring

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  • Leaving the "Good Stuff" in the Warmup Ring

    More and more often my horse is leaving his good work in the warmup up ring.

    At home (when inspired to do so) he will give me work worthy of 7's, 8's and the odd 9. When we head out to shows I get the distinct impression he scares the competition as we do our warmup. His stride is huge and ground covering with lots of impulsion, consistent rhythm and tempo. Everything a judge would love to watch and a rider would love to lay down. I get excited that maybe this will be the time we carry it over to our actual test!

    BUT! As soon as we get in the ring...it's as though I ride two different horses. His impulsion and reach are nonexistent in front of the judge. His lateral movement is choppy and dismal. His tempo and rhythm are erratic. He sucks back and won't engage his hind end. It's heartbreaking.

    I've tried larger spurs, smaller spurs, different shaped spurs. I warmup with my dressage whip however, being an Eventer, we are not allowed to carry our whip during our dressage test. He has recently begun schooling in a double, but I switch it up frequently for him because at Prelim level we are not allowed a double in dressage. (It wouldn't explain why his warmup is euphoric while his test is $hite, anyway).

    How do I get those competitor scaring and judge wowing movements in the ring?

    I can't be the first to go through this type of situation so here I am looking for ideas, suggestions, understanding, past experience of all you COTHers out there on how to get the work in front of the judge as good as the work behind the scenes. And even some company in my pity party.
    Cindy Geres

    Home of Foxwind SL (Cdn Trakehner and Cdn Sport Horse Approved)

  • #2
    I'd look to yourself, honestly. There's not many reasons he should be two completely different horses, unless he just really really likes the chaos of the warmup ring and hates being alone in the show ring.


    • #3
      I'd take him to a dressage show and experiment. It's a hard issue to fix at an event where you can only do one test, and the outcome is super important. Personally, I'd enter him in two different first level tests, i.e. stick with something that is non-challenging for him.

      Make sure you aren't getting nervous or riding differently.

      Then, try different things. For your first test, go in with the whip. For your second test, warm-up and do the test without the whip. If those don't work, sign up for another show and try changing up his warm-up environment (i.e. find someplace to warm up alone), and experiment with a very short warm-up so he isn't tired when he gets in the ring.


      • #4
        Many of them know when you don't have the whip. If they don't respect your leg, you are going to live with this problem forever. The solution is to get the horse to respect and be quick off your leg so that you have the same horse in the show ring that you have at home and in the warmup.

        Spurs, big or small, no matter the shape, are not the answer.
        Donald Trump - proven liar, cheat, traitor and sexual predator! Hillary Clinton won in 2016, but we have all lost.


        • #5
          My guess is that at warm up, you have plenty of time to set him up for the best movements, while during the test, you are limited to what you can do. In other words, in the test, you often have only a couple of strides to prepare for the next movement, while during the warm up, you may be using say five strides to get to your next movements.

          If this is the case, your issue will be the submission and responsiveness of the horse to your aids, as well as your effectiveness of aids as a rider. The higher level the level you get, the more responsive your horse needs to be, and the more accurate and sensitive you nee to be as a rider. Look into these areas to find some potential holes.


          • #6
            Shoot, I'm a PRO at winning the warm up.

            It's either you specifically in the sandbox, or him. Go to a schooling show with the intent to SCHOOL (ie, punt test and MAKE THINGS HAPPEN) if necessary. Usually that gives you the answer.
            From now on, ponyfixer, i'll include foot note references.


            • #7
              How long is your warmup?

              My upper level mare has done it all enough that I give her about 5-8 minutes to warmup for a prelim test. It's all she needs; she comes out bright, soft, and "up", and if I diddle around too long (20+min) she gets a little dull. I discovered this the first time by running very late to the ring... having 3 minutes to trot/canter some circles and go, and it was one of our best tests ever.

              It may be a little difficult to adjust yourself to the idea of a 7-minute warmup... "omg not enough time! I'm rushed!" But just slow it down and think about what you have to do... my horse certainly knows how to w/t/c, circle, and shoulder in. In warmup, I might do a little leg yield on a circle, a few steps of shoulder-in, a medium canter and back, or a difficult test movement just to make sure the "buttons are there" (perhaps only in her bad direction). No need to run through elements of your test 100 times. If the horse comes out good, get on with it.

              Be aware, the ring stewards/bit checkers get freaked out when I'm so "late," but don't let their panic ("You have five minutes!! FIVE MINUTES!! On deck!!") become your panic. Smile, be chill, ride your horse and go in the ring happy (and much less sweaty than after 20+ minutes in a hot hunt coat!).

              Of course, the 5-min warmup isn't for everybody. Plenty of horses need a good 30 minutes to wear them out a little, get relaxed and focused. Green horses may need to school some movements multiple times in a new environment, to be sure you can reproduce it in the ring. And sometimes the *rider* needs multiple schooling attempts to get a movement right. Warmup is dependent on a lot of factors, but I've come to enjoy a quick in and out of the dressage area. Saves energy for xc!
              “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
              ? Albert Einstein



              • #8
                In the past I have found that my issues in the test result from either having warmed up too long or being nervous and not realizing it (or both!).

                Warm up should focus on setting up for the test and getting your horse right to the brink of their best work, then the best comes out in the ring. I see quite a few people at shows who drill, drill, drill the test movements in warm up, then they have nothing left in the ring.

                It's also amazing how calm and cool you can be in the warm up and then BAM! Your entire body tenses up completely as you pass through the opening at A. IMO the only way to combat this is miles in the show ring. You just have to get out to every show you can, schooling or recognized, until it's not such a big deal.

                One last note... And I was totally guilty of this until I started riding with my current coach... A LOT of people ride the single movements at home but they never string things together. For example, doing a half pass isn't so hard on it's own but doing a medium trot, transitioning to collected, turning up center line, and immediately moving into your half pass is a whole different ball game. I don't think it's necessary to drill the test at home but stringing movements together, improving responsiveness, and really tightening up the transitions between movements is crucial to successful tests. Moving seamlessly from one exercise to another at home rather than taking breaks in between or focusing on one thing at a time can make a huge difference at shows, it definitely has for me.


                • #9
                  My guess: either you're choking under the pressure of performance, and he's reading your body language, or you're spending too much horse in the warmup.


                  • #10
                    Why can't you carry your whip? There are no rules against it, except in championships

                    3. WHIPS. One whip no longer than 120 cm (47.2 in) including lash may be carried when riding on the flat at any time. One whip no longer than 120 cm (47.2 in) may be carried during the Dressage Test except in USEF/USEA Championships and USEA Championship divisions.


                    • #11
                      Try having someone else ride him. To be honest, there are horses who just don't do well in a show ring. And others who figure out the rider won't "make them" in the show ring. To rule "you" out of the equation, I'd ask someone else to show him and see if they run into the same problem. Then, I'd try a few schooling shows, and if necessary, go off course, use your whip, whatever it takes to set him up for a good ride in the ring, and see if you can break the pattern.

                      But - if none of that works, then you may just have one of those horses who hates showing. They are out there.


                      • #12
                        I have had more than one student who gets nervous in the ring. Short strides, choppiness and lackluster work indicate nerves on the part of the rider, at the very least in your body.

                        Your horse is actually taking care of you.

                        You tighten and he shortens so you don't fall off.

                        “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
                        ? Albert Einstein


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Big_Grey_hunter View Post
                          Why can't you carry your whip? There are no rules against it, except in championships

                          3. WHIPS. One whip no longer than 120 cm (47.2 in) including lash may be carried when riding on the flat at any time. One whip no longer than 120 cm (47.2 in) may be carried during the Dressage Test except in USEF/USEA Championships and USEA Championship divisions.
                          I believe the OP is in Canada.

                          Honestly, I had the same problem and I realized it was *all* ME. Superb warmup, superb pre-test trot around the outside of the arena...enter at A, and we're stiff as a board. It happened to us as recently as two weeks ago, and I'm sure it will happen again in the future. We went to a show Saturday and I manage to get my act together, to the tune of a 71%. And it could've been even BETTER - still plenty of room for improvement, in my mind.

                          Practice. Lots of practice at dressage schooling shows.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Heinz 57 View Post
                            I believe the OP is in Canada.
                            Ooops, sorry!


                            • #15
                              I agree that it might be you. Take a hard look at your riding between the warm up and the ring. Maybe have someone video you in both. Do you work with a coach at shows? Do they have any feedback as to what goes on?

                              I would also seriously look at your warm up strategy. Maybe you are working too long in warm up or too hard or doing too much, and he's done by the time he gets to the ring. Less time, or less stuff, or more easy, relaxed work may be in order to save his best work for the ring. I am very specific about what I school in warm up, and what I just wait to do in the ring...no one says you MUST do everything that is called for in your test in warm up. My horse doesn't need to school counter canter and doing his medium canters make him too buzzy, so we just work on the quality of his canter and his transitions. I focus a lot of time on his lateral work and getting his topline super soft and relaxed. THAT'S what he needs in warm up...he doesn't need to practice everything.

                              If you're only doing dressage at events, you may be best off going to some dressage shows or CTs where you can ride multiple tests and change up your warm up strategy. Also, at least for me, I found I could play with my warm up and practice tests at home, and get similar results at home.


                              • #16
                                A lot of it is space issues. You have a lot of space in eventing and the warm up sometimes has more room to do larger than 20 meter work so you are making everything long and stretched out/forward.

                                The horse is probably in front of the leg more and or in front of you and it feels great but once you ask for actual testing (limiting space) it all falls apart.

                                Try shrinking it way down. Do a few minutes of warm up long and loose and then go to the center and do portions of your test miniature version. If you have shoulder in pick a box of space and only do 3-4 strides of it and onto another portion. If you have 20 meter do it in 15 increase the difficulty without getting crazy. Give yourself some halt work too. Make sure you HAVE a halt and half halt.

                                A lot of the times people are just forward forward forward in warmup and they are ON! But then when the horse has to come back correctly and immediately? Nada.

                                Personally you would think energy is the issue but I BET its tension and loss of suppleness in downward transitions which lead to behind the leg which lead to loss of forward.
                                ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


                                • #17
                                  I had two horses do this to me. I swear they KNOW you can't really punish them in the ring, so they make fun of you.

                                  My trainer and I solved this by creating a mock show at home (complete with warm up at a different arena, long coats, braiding and even two friends of ours who played the judges and ring the bell). And then I demanded each one of them to do the test perfectly. We repeated this a few times. When they realised they had to behave inside the ring as well, it never happened again.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    What great feedback and ideas here. I knew you guys were up for the challenge.

                                    GoForAGallop: He is the type of guy that thrives on an audience and there always seems to be more audience around the warmup ring than the judge's ring. That said I'd never eliminate me as the cause. I am an intense person and it could be that is counter productive for him. However, it seems to only have developed since we moved up to Prelim and only just recently have we gone down hill.

                                    jdv99/Pony Fixer: I think I may take him out to several dressage schooling shows this winter and do just that. We have a winter series that is very close to our place so it shouldn't be too hard to get a few opportunities to practise the 'real deal'.

                                    SillyHorse, you are bang on. If he isn't reminded that a light leg aid is to be responded to, he dulls. Reminders in front of the judge are frowned upon. And I think he knows I'm less likely to enforce the rules in the ring.

                                    Gloria/NOMIOMI1, your replies got me thinking quite a bit. I think you may be on to something. I don't have a 20x40 or 20x60 ring. I do all my work in non regulation sized areas (even warmup at competitions). When schooling, I ask for transitions when we are set up and ready. It isn't until a week before our competition that I start practising the test (still in a larger area than 20x60) and I'm thinking this could be a key cause of my current situation. I will incorporate more rapid changes that require more submission and responsiveness and do them in a smaller area. Just because they give you a whole field doesn't mean you need to use it. Thank you.

                                    EventerAJ/Redmond Dressage/SmartAlex: I arrive at the warm up about 30 minutes before our ride time. Actual warm up is usually about 10-15 minutes, working on responsiveness, suppleness and engaging his hind end. I may experiment and see if a 5 minute warm up will suffice. 5 minutes of rapid transitions could work. We will see.

                                    Big Grey Hunter, Heinz 57 is correct. In Canada, we are penalized if we carry a whip in the dressage ring. Ask me if I agree with the rule

                                    MysticOakRanch, I may see if I can get someone else to ride him at one of the winter schooling shows. I'd be worried I wouldn't get him back if someone took him to a whole Horse Trial

                                    horsefaerie, I focus so much on my ride when in the ring, I am not sure if I breathe or not. I will consciously think about my breathing next time out.

                                    SCMSL, that's a lot of work you committed to doing to get past your challenges. With a winter dressage schooling series so close to us, I think I may yield to their schedule and leverage the schooling environment they offer. I hope we can overcome our difficulties as you have. Thanks for the inspiration!
                                    Cindy Geres

                                    Home of Foxwind SL (Cdn Trakehner and Cdn Sport Horse Approved)


                                    • #19
                                      I have struggled with this as well. My trainer says my WU is great but as soon as I enter at A it falls apart a little. I may be tense but the horse HAS to go forward and be on the bit. My job to show her she can't just fade away.

                                      I have a strong willed super talented mare--I have come to understand that every ride is a teaching moment for the horse and if I am teaching her that I won't be firm in a test--I am teaching her she can blow me off. I know I need to risk a good kick with the spurs and good half halt in one movement to save the others. But is is hard in the moment. Don't feel bad.

                                      Going to some schooling shows and just getting your horse to respect you in the competition arena without having bad scores show up on your USDF/USEF record is a great way to go. If your horse takes off in the extended canter down a long side at a schooling show--yank him to a halt and continue so he knows there are consequenses. And in a schooling show environment you may be more confident to make those types of corrections.


                                      • #20
                                        A - spend more time practicing the actual test. There is a BIG difference between making the transition at H no-mtter-what, and waiting until you have a quality moment to make the transition. Both you and he have to learn to "make it work" when it is NOT the perfect moment. And to recover instantly.

                                        B. Almost always, it is the RIDER that changes when you "enter at A". It is just a matter of figuring out WHAT you are changing, and fixing it.

                                        chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).