Thriving vs. Surviving: Critical Thinking In The Show Ring

Want this canter. All the time.
Dino and I did another little dressage schooling show last night, and while we didn't beat our score from last time, I remembered the entire test and had a bit of a revelation about the reason why my dressage performances seem to be consistently below what I know we're capable of.

We scored a 61.9% in T2, which I was a bit disappointed in. I've got no idea how we placed in the class since scoring wasn't finished up yet by the time we left, but I'd honestly be happy with 6th place with a score like that! We'll see in a few days if I get to snag another bit of satin for our collection. [We DID get a lovely 3rd place ribbon from our last show!]

Not riding with critical thinking skillz.
Dino was tense throughout the evening. While I was able to get some PHENOMENAL walk work from him in the very beginning of our warmup, it was all downhill from there - I just could not get him relaxed and over his back. When I gave the reins forward for a stretchy trot or free walk, he poked his nose out without any sort of true stretch in his back. While he was definitely feeling way better post-Pentosan injection, Dino was opting to hold himself in a false frame instead of being truly on the contact, and was sucked behind the bit AND behind my leg, even giving me some 'tude when I asked for canter in warm-up. I found myself having to shut down his tantrums a bit aggressively before they turned into foot-planting bucking fits. It was frustrating to say the least, and looking back on the way I warmed him up, I realize that schooling lots of tense canter departs was probably not the way to alleviate the issue. About two tests before our time, I opted to do some long & low stretchy work on the sloped field next to the arena, which helped unlock him a little bit. I probably should've just popped him on a 20m stretchy circle for our entire warm-up, but I HAD TO SCHOOL HIM IN A WORKING FRAME THIS IS A SHOW WE MUST DO THE DRESSAGE!! Ugh. Sometimes I hate myself.

In the test he was quite tense, despite my attempts at deep breathing and being relaxed, and our stretchy trot wasn't really there. The free walk was mildly better, with Dino coming into a good stretch by the end of the short diagonal, but he hollowed when I asked him to come back up into a working frame.

We had a couple of REALLY wonderful moments in the test, but they made up the minority of the ride, with none of our movements scoring above a 6.5. I didn't get to enjoy much of Dino's rare shining seconds of good connection for long!

The judge encouraged me to work towards more suppleness and throughness, as well as more forward, which I was expecting to hear! She also suggested that I use the ring and the movements to improve Dino's way of going - ask for more bend in the corners, use the circles to get him softer, you know, ride the movements in awareness of their purpose - to make the horse better.

This was a huge lightbulb moment for me.

Much, much better.
I'm still riding my dressage tests with the intent of getting through the movements - I'm surviving, not thriving. I'm not using any of it to my advantage, just trying to hold my pony together while muttering fervent prayers in hopes that he won't break gait in the canter.

We are so much better than that.

I still have such a hard time trusting that Dino will do what I ask in the show ring, and I need to cut out that nonsense and RIDE through our tests, not just hang on and hope things turn out okay. I ride so much better at home and in lessons because I'm not worried about keeping it together, I'm just doing whatever I think Dino needs in the moment to improve our performance. If I can take that attitude into our dressage tests, I think our scores will improve by leaps and bounds. If I can just use my critical thinking 'trainer brain' AND show at the same time, imagine how much better we would be?!

Our halts might even be square AND round!


  1. That is a great lightbulb moment to have!

  2. I totally understand this- my scores started changing pretty extravagantly when I started focusing on the movement, and not the test. It basically became our mantra on the dressage team. It's amazing how much of dressage is mental as well as physical.

    1. This gives me hope that we can improve! :)

  3. It is so easy to get into survival mode in the show ring, that is something I still struggle with!

  4. I'm also one who can get wound up or flustered in a dressage test. I find that it actually helps me to think about it like a jump course. I already know how to leave dropped rails or missed distances behind me (lots of experience there haha) so now I need to learn how to keep flowing from movement to movement without getting upset by mistakes or bad moments. Maybe one day!

  5. I definitely ran into the same thing this season as far as riding and thinking better at home than in the ring. It's hard to get yourself out of the "Well, I don't want to push the issue in my test because what if so and so happens" mindset. Something I'll be working on as well!

  6. My dressage trainer always emphasis ride the movements not the test. Coming into a new movement I am always thinking "what can I do to make this better? how can I improve this?" and it definitely helps leave bad parts of the test behind.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts