Thursday 26 July 2012

Resent Events. My favourite spelling error of the week.

As the trailer drives over from MVA to Lilliput, I thought I would take a bit of a story detour.  Because I think it is important...

It is show season!  And we know what that means - thaaaat's right.  It's time to be confused. Perhaps a little depressed.  Or even (feel free to insert your favourite "resent events" emotion here.  I like pissy, but I am sure you have some good options you could share as well).  Especially my friends, if you are reading this blog because you are following in my footsteps and working with a young horse (yes, I realize this is pure coincidence, not intentional, and you are not a creepy stalker).

I am here today to remind you of one of the life lessons oft repeated to me by my Curmudgeonly parental units:

"Nobody said life had to be fair".

(They also really had a thing for "If it was supposed to be fun, they wouldn't call it WORK").

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to showing your green horse at training level.

Dear hoarde of Adult Am readers, bringing along your first dressage horse - please repeat along with me.

If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like he is 4 - I will get a crappy score
If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like he is 4 - I will get a crappy score
If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like he is 4 - I will get a crappy score

There.  Now that we have that out of the way... let's continue on with the rationale behind this.

What!!  Curmudgeon - If a horse is going to make it to PSG by 8 or 9 - which is absolutely the norm these days - they had better be well on their way up the levels by 4 and 5!  Go read the bulletin boards ... 4 = training, 5 = first, 6 = second, 7 = third, 8 =  PSG (because who the hell shows 4th anyways?).

FOUR is the age horses SHOULD  be showing training level!  So surely the judges aren't expecting perfection. 

Yep, yep.  This seems totally logical.  And you are right - judges aren't expecting perfection.  Or anything in particular really, beyond some form of lunch, a non-wobbly chair and a scribe with neat handwriting who knows enough to shut her trap during tests.  Some sort of paycheque at the end is probably on the list too.

But is it realistic?  If you show up with your four or five year old, for their first show, and they oogle around, shy at the judge, get strong, slow down while pooing, toss their head during a transition, come off the contact at the halt, or one of the millions of other things a horse with less than a year under saddle ridden by an amateur without an impeccable leg-to-hand (or hand-to-face, depending on the skill of the pro) terminator-like death clamp on the horse.... the judge won't mind, right?  That is what they are expecting, right?  After all, the test says:

Purpose: To confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit. 

If the horse does this, oh, 70% of the time... I am going to get a 70, right?

Well, yes.  You are absolutely right.  The judge won't mind at all. While scribing, I can honestly say I have never seen a judge get annoyed by a generally well prepared, well ridden green horse doing green things.

(They do get annoyed by eyeburningly bad tests by people who haven't bothered to figure out what exactly dressage is all about, but hey, they read the test and Stormy can pull that shit off.  These people are identifiable from afar, in the warmup, long before their pierced and tattooed caller in muffin top jean cutoffs yells out AAAYYYE - ENNNNTRRRRR - EEEXXXXSS - HALLLLT - SALUTE.  For some mysterious reason I have yet to comprehend, this rider is typically wearing a purple troxell with plenty of hair puffing out, and usually riding an off breed, off the aids, off to the races, and off course (much to the obvious annoyance of the slouchy, shrugging caller), and later blames her bad score on breed bias).  

It sounds cornball, but really, judges are on your side.  In fact, in my experience, many times they are on the edge of their seat riding along with you, hoping beyond hope that none of these things happen, and saying "DOH" right along with you when they do. 

But they do. And the judges have lots of nice words for these events, like "some resistance", "hollowed", and a good dose of "unsteady in contact".  Maybe "2B rounder".  Don't forget "low in poll".  And the ever popular "more 4ward".  And since the horse is only 4, there is no shame in a "disobed" here and there now, is there? I scribed for one judge who was big on "some disturbance" which appealed to me, as made it sound like something supernatural was going on with the space-time continuum out in the dressage ring.  I kept expecting Carol Anne to drop from the sky covered in slime. 

Yes, you will get all this, and more, decorated with 5-6 and maybe a few 7's, which will all average out to a high 50, and - ta-da!  Although your coach has told you you are doing wonderfully, you are right on track, nice work, he looks will probably be dead last in your class.

What?  That is crazy Curmudgeon.  We are all in this Training level class together!  With our greenies!   Struggling with the same issues with our green horses and amateur busy life timetables and skillsets, or lack thereof?

No.  No, you are not.

Lucky for you guys, I hurt my knee this weekend and cannot do anything but sit around and feel badly for myself, which gives me lots of time to stalk things on the internet, post on a few BB's, fritter away the moments that make up the dull day.  You know.

As part of this fritterage, I decided to do some research into the age of horses being shown training level by adult amateurs at a recent Gold show.  Since it is training level, and we are all "moving up the levels" - one would expect the class to be chock full of googly greenies getting their feet wet in the ring.  (Since I was looking at Palgrave results, and every show must be accompanied by at least one torrential downpour - this part was pretty much a given).

Here is what I found - Champs of Training Level, Adult Am division:

1 - 14 yr old TBred
2 - 4 yr old WBlood
3 - 5 yr old Westfal
4 - 13 yr old Arab
5 - 10 yr old Oldenburg
6 - 11 yr old WBlood
7 - 10 yr old Friesan
8 - 5 yr old Oldenburg

Well - maybe all of those RIDERS are green - I am sure the PRO's are showing the 4 year olds...uh, maybe not.

1 - 5 yr old unknown
2 - 6 yr old Hanoverian
3 - 6 yr old Trak

You get my point.  NO ONE - with the exception of one horse - is out there strutting their stuff at the age of 4.  Even though "progression through the levels" tells us that you better damn well be working on it at home.  No, in fact, the field is being lead... by a 14 year old horse.  And I absolutely know nothing about the particular 4 year old in this class, I have no idea, I am speaking in general terms here, he may well be a droolworthy piece of dressage flesh ready to become the next Totilas,  - but the fact that he did not behave like a total ass or even a partial ass at a show at such a young age, as many horses do, might also mean that he doesn't have the reactivity to continue on up the levels.  It is too early to say.  Just because your horse flips out in the ring at 4 doesn't mean you are doomed to fail, but at the same time, just because you are a quick starter doesn't necessarily mean you are GP bound.  

(Kind of like the girl who got the big jiggling rack in grade 5 and needed to wear a bra when everyone else was still pancake flat.  Sure, maybe she turned out to be the hot playboy babe all of the prepubescent boys were envisioning... more likely the big boobs were just a sign of the big butt and big calves and big everything else on the way.  Nature is cruel sometimes).  

The good news is - there is apparently no breed bias going on here - there is a bit of everything entering the ring, and the popular kids are not all coming out on top just because of their sexy brands.  The bad news is - if you have a 4 year old, and you want to get ring time, and your horse acts like a 4 year old... let's all repeat again...

If I show my 4 year old neon green horse training level, and he behaves like a 4 year old - I will get a crappy score

Now, don't get me wrong.  I am not saying that a 14 year old horse should NOT enter training level.  Maybe that rider was very green - it could have very well been their first horse show ever, I have no idea, I don't know them at all.  I am by no means saying they have cheated, or done anything unsportsmanlike.  Because the rules are such that anyone, can show any horse, any level.  It is no one's business but their own.

I am not saying that the judges did anything wrong either.  I am not a judge, nor do I play one on this blog, but if a 14 year old horse can't smoke a 4 year old horse in the Purpose: To confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit department, something is seriously amiss.  They have to rank you all somehow, and they can't give you 70%, even if your horse was perfect 70%  of the time, and then give the 14 year old horse 117% to indicate that it is kicking the living shit out of directives designed for a horse 10 years younger in age.  

In fact, in the bizarro world of dressage scores, anything over 70% is perceived to represent stellar, which the 14 year old horse probably is not.  And so, they squeeze you all into a little 10% range, you get high 50, they get high 60... done and done.  

What I am saying is that the whole bulletin board story... the one that says you must score 65 at each level to progress, and if your scores are not 65+, you better take a long hard look at your training because it sucks, and while you are at it - fire your coach, buy a new horse, and take up curling....or worse still, make that beautiful 4 year old into a hunter... just might not be entirely accurate.  Instead, I am saying... get out there and show anyways.  Sure, a score in the 50's is depressing.  But showing a 14 year old at training level with no one to beat when you score 62 -  even more so.  Help them out, friends.   

Well it has taken me so long to write this post that my knee is now better.  I have to get out there and go running.  I was that girl in grade 5, and that big butt is waiting to sneak up on me the minute I let my guard down....


  1. As usual, SPOT ON DC!! I call them "professional TL" horses.
    I showed my 3 1/2 yr. old mare, with freakin international movement at TL, and got- 59%. Cause she was your typical greenie- lookie loo a bit, not quite sure she should be truckin along the whole arena cause that flower pot sure needed a good look!
    It would be very nice to have young horse class splits at the lower levels, but as it is, everyone shows together. Nice way to explain it without sounding so bitter!
    LOVE this blog!!

  2. Sorry about the knee, but good for us! I've put myself on stall rest due to colic, so what better way to pass the time moaning than to read insights from the Curmudgeon?

    1. Is everyone asking if you have pooed yet the way they do with horses?

      (kidding. Get well soon)

  3. I resemble these remarks! lol Horse is an ex broody having to restart in the teens after being a non-starter... Does that count? Really though its still unfair as she is quieter than a 4 year old... Life experience and screaming children and all ... She was glad to be back in the work force me thinks ! LOL

    She wants to say to all the 4 year olds "Look good out there girls... If they suck at riding you may just have to be a baby maker for the rest of your life. Make em look good!"

  4. Oh my God, as someone who is about to ride her four-year old in an Intro test- no cantering, even! - this is kind of depressing and reassuring at the same time.

    I'm quite certain she will "have a lot of feelings" as my friends put it (usually in reference to how they feel about some text message they get from a dude four tequila shots in, but I'm stealing it) about being at a busy horse show. But I guess the only way to get through hell is to keep going.

  5. love this. I'm less irritated by those showing their GP prospects at TL and crying over their score in the 50's than I am by those who linger at a level scoring in the upper 70's for years... and years.... and years...

    If you bought a $50k horse, and it's getting 9's across the board, MOVE UP. Though I shouldn't talk because if I were in their shoes I'd probably just enjoy collecting my ribbons and staring at the (training level) trophy room in my barn...

  6. I never did understand the fixation with getting absurd scores at TL.

  7. I used to get frustrated by this type of shit too when I first started showing dressage. Now I don't really care. Why? Because experience has taught me that horses with some inborn talent (doesn't have to be tons of talent) frequently struggle at the lower levels, but really seem to hit their stride around 3rd.

    It's oddly satisfying leaving the professional lower level horses (who always seem to beat us) in the dust.

  8. People riding 14 year old horses at TL are there for all kinds of reasons. In my own case... I'm kind of a crappy rider, my horse (who is, in fact, 14, and an off breed) has never been an upper level prospect and didn't show for 2 years due to an injury, and given that both of us are middle aged and not quite sound, I'll be thrilled if we make it to First Level sometime in 2013. Or 2014. (Horse just showed at First Level with my trainer up, and got 63%... horse had not shown First Level in 5 years so I am pretty happy with that!)

    With one or two exceptions (who are noted to be tough and b*tchy to almost everyone), judges have been very kind and encouraging to us. One of the best comments was from a judge who, after our ~65% test (very generously scored), told me that she thought the horse and I were well-suited for each other "unlike many other pairs I have seen today."

  9. Funny to see the other perspective, love the insight. I'm taking my 8 yr old OTTB and 20 yr old Appendix QH to their first training level schooling show in a few weeks, after months of getting the basics down. We are all just starting out and i expect a lot of reaction to being away from home, don't care about ribbons. But - no intention of being at this level by next year, if nothing else the digs from this blog will keep me focused on moving up and out.

  10. "I kept expecting Carol Anne to drop from the sky covered in slime."

    I sooo am NOT going to drop from the sky covered in slime... ewwwwww
    (my name is Carol Ann A.) LOL

    I have an off breed and have not done TL with her yet. I am doing too many other things like trail riding and this year its 'lets sit in the pasture', because mom is too busy except to throw food at us.. and we live in Olde Ex-Cowe Barn/MVA!!

    1. So did you get teased about your name just a little in the 80's?

      That's ok... so did I!

  11. international movement? I've never heard that one before. Is she a good mover . . . hell yes, she's confirmed international! I'm going to use this to refer to my BMs from here on out.

  12. My horse was a nutcase as a 4yo at TL. Not enough to do. Many scores in the low 50s. Also scores in the 70s. Now a 10yo at FEI, he manages to keep his brain about 95% of the time. If we waited to get 65's on average, we would never have moved up.

  13. My horse wasn't broke until 15... you really can't assume anything. Especially at schooling shows ;)

  14. My 10 yr old rescue POA is in Intro level...poor guy doesn't know very much, but needs the experience of going off-property often. He's SO much better now than he was when I first got him. My older guy (28 yrs old) shows Training Level. He's an ex-western horse I've had for 19 years. He needed something to help keep him fit and interested in work; Dressage was the ticket! He loves, loves, loves it. I take him to shows because he loves to go...but keep him at TL because we're only there for fun and his fitness! Sometimes, the older horses are starting new careers with new riders, or new careers with the same rider who got a wild hair one day to try something new! :)

  15. I only show my "off breed" horse a couple times a year. I attended a schooling show last weekend in the rain (complete downpour), which was less than successful. We entered a First Level class which isn't too much to ask of us in dry weather, at least, but is definitely not a picnic or a 70% in the bag (or a 65% for that matter). I was surprised at our fellow "competitors". Those horses looked Third Level at least. I actually remember seeing one of them at a schooling show about three years ago and I believe they were showing First Level at the time. What is the point of that? Are they shooting for 80%

  16. This is such a great post. I want my youngster to act age appropriate. If they aren't a little squirrely at that age I wonder if they will have the spunk to handle more complictated movements. I think you are my new favorite blogger by the way!!

  17. Yup, I'm one of those people that showed their 4 y/o who was greenbroke at 3.5 at TL (might have showed with you at one point in 2005) and then next year figured that since TL was so boring I moved my 5 y/o to 1st level, because I had 1 full year to train per level, that's a good goal right? Dead last in all classes, I think I might have broke the 60% barrier once. But we had trained, lessons twice a week, riding 6 days a week, we ran those tests over and over again! What are we doing wrong? The age of the horses we're competing against and the number of years that ammy rider has attempted that level is insignificant, right?

    Then a major injury and other health issues later, I now have an offbreed 11 y/o starting back into training with the hopes of hitting a show at 2nd level. It's a long road, grrrr. Guess I better pick up my pace.