Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When you realize your horse isn't competitive against the big boys

I realized something really important at our first USDF rated show: We are unlikely to win much of anything at these venues.

I'm sure most of you are thinking "Quit it, that was just the first one and of course you're going to get better and your scores will improve." And you're right, we WILL get better and our scores WILL improve.

But they're not going to improve that much. Not ever. Because there's a fundamental difference between Paddy and the horses that we were and will continue to be competing against, that no amount of training can overcome.

You see, the other AA horses we were up against, even at Training level, were mostly warmbloods or WBXs. Those horses are bred for dressage, for loose, long movement, for big walks, for free shoulders and lots of push from behind. Paddy, on the other hand, is basically a miniature draft horse. He's got a more upright and heavier shoulder, a more upright trot, and let's not even get started on his canter. At his very best, he overtracks a tiny bit in the walk, whereas these horses might overtrack by an entire hoof print without even trying.

The horses we were getting 8s on their free walks - because they naturally have a very nice, loose walk with lots of overstep. A free walk has a coefficient score of 2, which means it's actually worth twice as much. So our 5 or, on a really really good day, 6, is going to be 4-6 points less than anyone else we're competing against. That's an entire percentage point (or more) on the total score - on one movement.

Same thing goes for collective movements. These horses are getting 7s and 8s on their gaits, because they really are nice movers. We're getting 5s or 6s. Even on our best day ever, some day in the future when I have Paddy relaxed over his topline and pushing from behind, we'll be lucky to get a 6.5 or maybe even a 7, if the judge just loves him. Those horses that we're up against? Pushing from behind and relaxed over the topline is going to get them an 8+.

I competed against an AA whose horse wasn't really engaged, wasn't really through. It was a pleasant test, but the figures weren't terribly accurate, the horse swapped leads, the rider went off course, and also didn't post during the stretchy trot circle (posting required on the test). They ended up with a 65 and change. We got a 62 on the same test. In other words, other riders can make MULTIPLE ERRORS on their tests and STILL have a significantly better score than we do - not necessarily because they are better riders (this person got a 5 on the rider score), but because they simply have much nicer horses that are better suited for dressage.

In all fairness, I wasn't very happy with our performance at that show. We do many things better at home, and I need to ride a lot better when actually IN the sandbox.  We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, and plenty of room to improve.  But the fact is that even if we put in a stellar test, we're unlikely to get much above a 65, or maybe  68 - certainly not the 72% that won most of the Training level classes. We'll probably always be in the bottom of the field, especially in the qualifying classes. That's a little depressing if you're in it to win it.

Not blue, but it'll do.

But, the nice thing about dressage is that you don't have to win in order to get the scores you need. You see, the USDF has a number of awards programs that are based off percent scores. There's a Rider Award program at each level, which requires 4 scores over 60%, under 4 different judges. We have two of those scores already at Training level. There's also qualifications for the Regional Championship - two scores under two judges over 61% on Training 3. We have one of those scores. There are qualifying scores for Nationals (don't have any of those), and once we move up to First (you know, maybe some day when we can canter) we can qualify for Bronze Medal scores. All those awards require scores in the low 60s, which I believe is totally doable for us - especially once we get our act more together. :)

So, while we're unlikely to be bringing home any blue ribbons at a rated show, I have every hope that we can qualify for some of the USDF awards. And I'm really glad that the USDF has a program where people with less-than-amazeballs warmbloods can still play.

And who knows, maybe if we can get this kind of movement on a regular basis, we can beat a few of those Warmbloods. :)

33 comments:

  1. I think you're looking at it from the right angle in that even though it's hard to beat those horses, it doesn't mean that you can't still do well. Plus, you will end up riding more fundamentally correct and more accurate tests because you don't have some ridiculously flashy mover (not that there is anything wrong with Paddy's movement) to make up points for mistakes or bad riding. Sometimes that can be enough to beat them. In fact, I hope you do :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're exactly right - we'll have to be that much more accurate and correct to earn the same scores. Which is fine by me - I like the challenge of the precision!

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And at the end of the day, its about having fun on the journey. I had a horse with amazing gaits once, but he was a pain in the butt to ride because he didn't like working. Sure, we got 8s with out even trying for his gaits but it wasn't fun. I'll take a horse with average gaits and a great attitude any day over a fancy mover. I'm not headed to the big time; I just want to have fun (and improve and all that).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh totally agree, it's about the journey. I've also ridden amazing movers with no work ethic, and you're right, it's no fun at all. I'm with you, I'd rather take a horse that's fun to ride, like Paddy, and make progress and have a good time than fight with a horse that doesn't want to be there.

      Delete
  4. You have the best approach, work to improve what you have rather than selling out for something flashier. Think of the joy when you do get the 70% scores (you will) through perceverence, work and relationship building. You guys are gonna rock ☺

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I would NEVER sell Paddy out for something flashier. Besides, no amount of flash can compare with the Haffie Cuteness!

      Delete
  5. For me, I realized a long time ago that unfortunately some of horse showing is "pay to play." And there will ALWAYS be someone with more money to spend than me. At first, this realization to my pre-teen brain was really depressing. But as I've gotten older, I've been able to be more competitive with MYSELF instead of judging myself against others.

    And you know what, some day you and Paddy are just going to be 'on' and everyone else will just be 'off' and you'll have that moment in the spotlight. And as you know, it's worth way more when you've worked your ass off to get there than if you'd just bought that fancy WB. <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, yes, riding is definitely a pay-to-play sport. Sometimes you get lucky and find something amazing for less, but often not.

      Honestly for me it's less about winning and more about putting in a really good test - for us, for where we are in our training RIGHT NOW. But the understanding that even our best is going to fall short of another horse's "meh" is an important one to have, I think.

      Delete
  6. I loved this post. Sometimes we live in dream land but there's nothing wrong with being realistic. Our horses might not be built as well for the sport we want to do as others but that doesn't mean we can't find our own accomplishments. Winning a blue doesn't have to be the goal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol, I dream of riding a test that deserves a 70, because I know that ride would feel AMAZING. He would be light and balanced and on my aids, consistently, for the whole test. That would be incredible! And I wouldn't care what ribbon we got, because the test would rock. Hopefully someday... ;)

      Delete
  7. I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head! Unfortunately it is hard to compete with those bred for it, but I am assuming you knew it was going to be difficult with a haflinger from the start. But the real beautiful of dressage is it is really all about you. It is such a GREAT way to monitor your own progress, regardless of what anyone else does.

    As Pat Parelli always says, a blue ribbon just means you were the best of those that showed up that day. It really has no significance in a broad sense....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I didn't really plan to have a Haflinger doing dressage, but that's how it worked out! And you're right, dressage IS all about the individual pair and the progress. As for the blue ribbon, I'm not super focused on that. As long as we continue to improve and enjoy the journey, that's the most important thing!

      Delete
  8. It's so true, unfortunately. I have a friend who works for a big farm that breeds six figure dressage horses. They are BORN trotting and cantering in a way that none of my horses ever will, no matter how much they train or who rides them. You could put Charlotte Dujardin on JR, but he's never going to move like one of those horses, and quality of movement counts a LOT.

    With that said, I love dressage because you can truly compete against yourself, and see improvement and get critique for YOU and YOUR horse, regardless of who you're competing against.

    Long comment short, I love this entry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly... it will take a lot of time, effort, and work to get Paddy's gaits to even half of what some horses are born with. I'm OK with that, though, because at the end of the day I'm only trying to improve US, and I'm only competing against myself. Ribbons are nice and all, but as long as we're improving, I'm happy. :)

      Delete
  9. It's tough, I've been the person on the big fancy warmblood and I've been the person on the not-so-fancy off breed. It's frustrating when someone essentially buys their placing, but I've been in the situation where I was told that I bought my placing when I was working my ASS off at home, and that is equally as frustrating. I hated it when my friend would compare her (rather nice moving and actually quite competitive) quarter horse to Rico and claimed to be working a thousand times harder than me when I was out there day in and day out trying to get Rico under control and rideable enough for me.

    But on the other side, it's so hard to be knowing that all of your hard work is never going to put 8 gaits on your horse. It takes longer to be competitive, but it is possible. I've seen off breeds, even haflingers, who were very competitive with their AA owners to Fourth level and even one at PSG. It just takes them longer to develop the right topline since it isn't just naturally there, longer to develop the freedom in their gaits, since it isn't naturally there, etc. But a 72% is totally possible for you guys, believe me.

    You're in it for the long haul and you're working hard, you'll get there, it's just going to take a little while.

    Check out this guy. I've seen him, he's adorable but he isn't some spectacular mover. still competitive at 3rd/4th level. http://vrdressage.com/astro-champion-of-all-he-surveys/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I have no doubt that the folks with the beautiful fancy movers work just as hard as we do, but probably on dramatically different things (like, thank GOD I will never have to sit a big trot. I'd be screwed!). We all work our butts off for this horse thing. And I didn't mean to imply that the folks on their lovely movers don't also have to work and ride well - but they DO have certain advantages that Paddy doesn't. And that's totally fine, because Paddy has the advantage of being the most adorable thing ever. ;)

      Having said all that, you're right, no matter how hard we work, we're never going to have 8 gaits. That's OK, most horses don't move like Valegro anyway lol! We can make up for it in other ways, and we'll have just as much fun doing it. :)

      And there's actually a Haffie out there doing Grand Prix. I'm contemplating setting up a TV in the barn so Paddy can watch and take notes!

      Delete
  10. Lots of good advice here and I don't disagree with the content of what you're saying. You can definitely buy the horse to get the scores.

    BUT.

    Move up. At training level, there's not a hell of a lot to judge other than movement. Get to 2nd and above, and the rider has to do SO MUCH MORE. You can't outfancy them, but you can ride your ass off. ;-)

    Obviously, I mean in good time and when you're ready. You know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, moving up (when we're ready and can do it) will help, in many ways I think. Paddy gets bored and distracted with the Training level test... and yet, there are so many pieces missing before we can even CONSIDER moving up. Still... lots to look forward to, I think!

      Delete
  11. It's always best to know your horses strengths and limitations so you can look at things with the right perspective. Perspective yous gots it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perspective helps, that for sure!

      Delete
  12. i love this post! it makes me sad, kinda, but it also speaks to the personal nature of riding and working with our horses - and that our goals should reflect that, rather than comparing ourselves to others.

    i similarly don't expect to be competitive with an arab (tho most of our competitors at events are TBs not warmbloods) - but when i look at the fancy pants but spaztastic shithead Hano at our farm, i'm perfectly happy to stick with my reliable, safe and enjoyable mare

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahah yes, I'd rather take my 6 mover - who is also safe, sane, and pretty reliable - any day over an obnoxious fancy-pants. Having FUN is the most important thing, and that's one thing we can definitely do in spades!

      Delete
  13. I think you and Paddy are great (and very talented) but I feel your pain and fully agree. And it sucks!
    But like Emma said, my roommate works with some of the top dressage WBs in our state, and they are complete pychos. Total spazzes. They may be nice to ride, but they sure as heck aren't nice to handle.
    I've even found this problem to an extent with my Lippis. In the hack world they only want TBs or WBs (which is fine, I have Archie who owns in the hack ring)
    But in the low level dressage, there's not much knowledge of Lippis, and although they are bred for high school dressage, they're movement is STILL not as exciting and massive as the WBs, so they don't seem to shine until the mid levels (Elementary level and above)

    Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that the whole system is flawed to reward genetic lotteries rather than hard work, but it's still all okay:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, it's absolutely OK! I'm really not upset about it at all, just the realization that there are certain things I can't get with Paddy no matter how much work we do, like an 8 for his gaits. That's totally fine, we're good at other things. :)

      Delete
  14. I'm going to second that Training and First level reward both the career lower-level riders and the horses with fancy movement. Second level and above really separate those actually riding the test and those just mounted on nice horses.

    I think it's important to be aware of the limits of any horse you ride. Pig is a nervous beast who falls out of contact and struggles with throughness. He does have the ability for higher scores, but is never going to wow anyone with his trot work. The canter is our strong suit, and we usually play it, hard. Read the tests and look for the things you and your horse will shine in, and plan your riding to set you up to get those points. Then try not to f up the rest of the test. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, hopefully we'll eventually be able to actually ride the tests and move up. :)

      Good point on reading the tests and riding the things Paddy will shine in. Unfortunately at Training, the coefficients are on the canter circles (dammit!). Still, if I ride his trot well, we should be able to pick up more points there and have it balance out our less-than-stellar canter. Good suggestion!

      Delete
  15. Im going to be the rebel and totally disagree with you! And this is out of personal experiences and how I used to think more along the lines that you are also. I too have a small drafty breed and he is actually less athletic then most Haffies. Sure his movement isn't spectacular but it is 100% better then even just a year ago. The more engaged, through, and stronger he gets the better his gaits get.

    Sure we may have to work harder and really squeeze every single point we can out of the test versus relying more on our horses natural ability but it is very doable! I took my guy out to the nicest recognized facility last year and cleaned up at first level (and broke 70) and was in the top of the field at 2nd also.

    Instead of looking at it as "I don't have a big fancy warmblood" I try to look at it more like if I don't ride a very accurate, consistent, and correct test I will not get the score I hope. We don't have the movement and natural ability to fall back onto so we just have to be on our A game for every test! Don't get discouraged or let the fact that you are not on a warmblood be an excuse, take advantage of the qualities you get that other don't :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Goodness, I'm sorry if it came across as "I don't have a big fancy WB"... I don't WANT a big fancy WB, I'm perfectly happy with Paddy! But there are definitely differences, and areas that they will shine where we won't. And that's totally OK.

      You're right, gaits DO get better with strength and training, but even so, when you're starting with a 5 or 6 mover it's harder than with a 7 or 8 mover. That just gives me more motivation to work harder and squeeze every possible point out of our tests, as you said. :) Years ago when I competed Cash, my Paint, he had very poor gaits, yet we were still able to come in top 5 in almost every dressage phase of eventing, even against MUCH nicer horses, simply because we rode accurate tests. So I have been there before - I guess it's just been long enough to forget what it's like! And thank you for the wonderful comment and great advice. :)

      Delete
  16. This post actually really resonates with me ~ I have a Standardbred and we really struggle to get a nice trot on our best days. Not because he can't; but because training and genetics just make it hard! He's a trotter. They are bred for pulling, and that means they don't have a floaty trot. They have a ground eating, break neck speed, hollow backed, hind legs trailing race trot. NOT a "winning" dressage gait by any stretch of the imagination.

    Buuttt, I love his willing attitude, his sensible head and his athletic ability. He's so sensitive to the weight of my seat that when I ride him correctly, we just dance! This dressage is fun! So yeah, I get where you are coming from. And I'm glad that you are enjoying the journey with Paddy as I am enjoying my journey with Copper, because that's what it is about at the end of the day.

    Being realistic about your competition in the sandbox helps you to have more fun I think. :)

    bonita of A Riding Habit

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw, your Copper sounds like such a great guy! I've seen a number of Standardbreds who have done really, really well in dressage, in part because they have SUCH nice trots when they figure out the whole round-and-balanced thing. Cantering is harder for them, as I recall. Seems to be a theme with the pulling breeds, lol!

      Delete
  17. I just want to throw this out there- when I was competing a Haffie stallion in eventing, we would have been those people you want to hate. That pony could whinny through an entire test, get wrong leads, whatever- didn't matter, he'd always place, and place well. Granted that was schooling eventing shows, but don't underestimate the cuteness factor!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, we always get "cute horse" or "adorable pair" on EVERY SINGLE TEST EVER. So yeah, not above using that to our advantage!

      Delete