Friday, December 13, 2013

Riding a dressage test in your mind

We interrupt our usual Friday Haffie Math to bring you my last-minute freak-out about our schooling dressage show tomorrow. I volunteer in the morning but don't ride until mid-afternoon, so Paddy will get to hang out at the trailer with the all-you-can-eat hay buffet for most of the day. I'll be on him for an hour and a half, including warmup and our three tests - this will be our longest ride ever and I'm not sure how he'll be by the time we get around to the last test. I guess it's all a grand experiment, right?

I don't know what the rest of you guys do when you prepare for a ride, but I think about every step in our tests and what I'll be thinking/focusing on while I'm riding each movement. I picture what it will look like from the saddle, and what I expect to feel under me. I think about what it feels like when things are bad, and envision exactly what I'm going to do to correct the problem - hopefully before it escalates. That way I'm hopefully prepared for anything that will happen, and I have a good expectation of how things will go. I also mentally give us a score for each movement and think about what the judge's comments are likely to be - this helps me figure out what I need to focus on in my ride.

So for your entertainment, here's a quick window into my head for Intro B.

Intro B (because let's face it, A puts me to sleep and C has canter in it)

What I’ll be thinking
What score I expect
A – Enter working trot rising
X – Halt through medium walk. Salute – proceed working trot rising
Please stay straight. Look at the judge’s stand. Straight, think straight. Don’t let him get motoring down center line. Don’t forget to walk a few steps into the halt. Right leg on during halt to keep butt from swinging right. Head up in halt doesn’t matter. Please stay straight into trot transition.
5. Chances of staying straight during center line and halt are slim. There will be a comment about "Haunches R".
C – track left, working trot rising
Bend before C. Inside leg on. Half-halt left rein. Steady rhythm.
7 if I keep us together. Left is our good side.
E – Circle left 20 meters, working trot rising
E – straight ahead
Steady rhythm. 1-2, 1-2. Steady. Right leg in front of girth to keep from drifting toward rail on 2nd and 4th quarters of the circle. Steady rhythm, small posts.
5 if I fail to keep him steady and rhythmic, and forget my right leg. 7 if I keep my shit together.
Between K & A – Medium walk
Don’t let him motor down the long side – steady rhythm. Sit UP in the corner, core engaged for a good downward tx. Keep the bend in the corner.
6. Corner TXs are harder than they should be and it’s unlikely we’ll stay through the bridle on the TX.
F-E – free walk
Ask for stretch down. Don’t forget to go to E! E is over there! Short diagonal! Don’t let the reins get too long. STRAIGHT across the short diagonal. Please don’t choose this time to stare at another horse.
6 if we keep it together – he’s not going to overstride like ever, even if we’re perfect. 5 he’s a llama.
E-H – medium walk
Walk fingers up the reins in an attempt to keep him from llama-ing. If he’s already a llama, shorten reins quickly and ask for right bend and give. Steady rhythm, engage core so he doesn’t trot.
6, unless we break gait, then 5.
Between H&C, working trot rising
KEEP THE RIGHT BEND. Don’t let him anticipate the TX. Engage core on TX to keep TX soft and through. No motoring in trot!
6 if I keep the bend and keep him through.
B – circle right 20 meters, working trot rising
Steady rhythm. 1-2, 1-2. Steady. Left leg to help the turn. Steady rhythm, small posts. Right bend.
5 if he gets rushy and irregular. 7 if I keep my shit together.
A – down center line
X – halt through medium walk. Salute.
Balance before the corner. BEND into the turn to center line - no careening! Don’t overshoot the turn. STRAIGHT! Right leg on in down TX. Smile at last salute. Pat the cute Haffie and tell him he's awesome.
6, unless I miss centerline, we're not straight, and his haunches are out. Then a 5.

So based on my scores, we'll end up between a 55% and 60%, maybe a little better if we have some stellar moments, worse if I really mess things up. Megan, that's p > .01 in case you were wondering. ;)

Does anyone else plan their rides like this? What do you think about when you're on course being judged? I'm curious if I'm the only one, or if this is normal? 


  1. I used to plan my rides like this -- in great detail. It worked great for Equitation and Horsemanship patterns, but once I focused more on jumping I found that the obsession with details hindered my ability to ride what I had, not what I thought I was going to have.

    So now, once I get to the show, I have to think big picture. Or I crash and burn!

    1. It's funny, when I'm jumping I think a little differently. I focus on how I'm going to ride the tricky fences and the turns. But I agree, it's more big picture!

  2. I plan not to die. That's about as far as I plan. Is a medium walk a haffie walk or a full walk? That's my big question of the day.

    1. I also plan on not to die, that's sort of a given. I also plan to stay on the horse and in the arena. As for the walk, a medium haffie walk is slightly smaller than a big TB walk, but larger than a pony walk. Clear as mud, right?

  3. LOL, that's not far from what I do!

    However, I've learned that your mental "riding" can be a really powerful tool if you shape it correctly and it is far better to envision and mentally feel "correct."

    Take out all the statements that include "don't." Take out everything that includes "if." "If"s are just stories we tell ourselves of things that haven't happened yet. And after long enough with horses, we know that what we anticipate we will often turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    So keep the positive statements, get rid of the scores and ride and envision each movement step by step like it is a 10. It's HARD, but just practice and I promise, if you really focus on the positive and on really riding the horse into that 10 vision, you will get better tests!

    1. I had actually thought about all the "don'ts" when I was writing this, and wondering if I should focus more on the positive. A lot of this is to remind me what I need to do with my body to make the movement a 10, because otherwise I'll let my old habits (not turning my shoulders, allowing him to motor, not using my legs, not setting up for the turns) take over. But I will try to focus on the 10 feeling instead of the 5 feeling when I'm riding tomorrow. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I try to imagine my best test possible. If something doesn't go well in my mind, I go back and replay it with editing. Your brain doesn't know the difference between actual experience and vividly imaged experience, so it is beneficial to practice perfectly in your mind... At least according to the books. Jane Savoie writes about mental imagery and sports.

    1. I wonder, can I get Paddy to vividly imagine a perfect test? I wonder if that would help, lol!

  5. I definitely think through it like you do, but I LOVE it all written down. Especially expected score... such a reflection of where our brains/hopes/fears are!!

    You guys will do great!

  6. You guys will be fantastic, p < .01 for sure. I can't wait to read an update!

    For me I do TONS of visualization coming up to a show. I must ride my test at least 5-10 times in my head before getting in the court. If I can't visualize the test being ridden perfectly, I sure as hell won't be able to ride it anywhere near clean. GOOD LUCK tomorrow!!

    1. Thanks for the tip on visualizing perfection and the well-wishes! I'll imagine the 10 movements instead of the 5s. ;)

  7. Haha, I don't usually score myself in my head, but I definitely know what "extra" I'll need to do for each movement - "here a little extra inside bend, here a little more engagement, a tiny shoulder-fore here" etc. Good luck! Can't wait to hear how it goes :)

    1. Yep, it's more of reminding myself what I need to do where so I don't forget. Apparently I just need to visualize making the movement a 10 with my little "extra" reminders, and then we'll rock it. Fingers crossed, and thanks for the well-wishes!

  8. hmmm... too bad I didn't see this earlier. I would have added the spot factor to your training! (teach it to Cash first and have him work with Paddy while you're gone :) ) ha! Hope it went well! Looking forward to the report.