I have been embarrassingly lacking in updating my blog. Something about knowing that my writing will be posted publicly on the internet for all to see just adds to my already procrastination-prone personality when it comes to writing projects. I have neglected to write about my recent spring 2021 horse showing adventures, and it is not without good reason; the March dressage show that I was so excited for kind of ended up a bust for Nautica and me.
Last March, Nautica and I attended our first show of the spring at the Scenic Flight I/II in Cleveland, TN. Luckily for us, it was a two-show, two-judge weekend and that meant that between having two separate shows and two judges on the same weekend, surely we would be able to complete our Training Level goals of becoming qualified for the USDF All-Breed awards as well as my Training Level rider certificate. Nautica had been doing T-level for a while now, and with such success at our last show in November, we felt that we had the whole T-level thing down and could gather the 60s+ we needed. The weekend had other plans for us.
Our warmup ride Friday afternoon wasn’t great. The tractors were dragging in the covered arena which led us to need to ride up the spooky hill in the outdoor ring. It was a nippy early spring afternoon and Nautica was electric and what I call “launchy” in his gaits; not at all dressagey. We warp-sped through some of our test movements before a tractor came up to move the judge’s box at “C” of our arena down to the covered ring. Nautica’s final brain cell imploded into a black hole and I knew we had used up his attention span for the rest of the ride. Don’t get me wrong, Nautica strives to be a good boy and is always what I’d consider a very safe ride, but once his focus is gone to the outside of the arena and his back tenses up, we can forget about any dressagey concepts like relaxation and bend. It’s more irritating than anything. We skittered back down the hill to the barns.
Following torrential downpours earlier in the week, both show arenas were now to be placed under the covered arena rather than having one covered and one outdoor as had taken place at the previous fall show. It was a tight fit and I was uncomfortable that I would not be able to warm Nautica up around the outside of the ring before our test. I like to let him look at the judge’s stand and check everything out before entering the ring.
The morning of my first ride came and my anxiety was high. I was to ride with both judges that day. Everything went smoothly as I braided and tacked up Nautica and entered my warmup. That would change. Unbeknownst to me, my ride time was shifted forward by 30 minutes overnight. My typical half-hour plus, slow, meandering warmup became a frantic 8-minute warmup. This set the mood for the rest of the show.
Despite the aggressively quick warmup, Nautica put down a slightly tense but fairly accurate test for our first judge. Obviously, what little gait quality points we could typically try to scrape up on a calmer day were out the window but our geometry was there. I was feeling a little bummed about not giving the judge our best but I hadn’t written myself out just yet for Training Level. That was until I saw my score.
54%. Wow. Okay, ouch. It wasn’t great–a high 50 maybe–but a 54%? What could possibly have warranted that at Training Level?
This judge was not playing around. That’s okay. I had another judge to ride for in just a few hours. I triple-checked my ride times and got ready.
After a much more relaxed warmup, Nautica and I entered the show ring for the second time that day. I will say I was a bit more on edge. Nautica definitely picked up on that, the poor, sweet soul. A horse in the nearby ring got a whistle during their test right as Nautica was to pick up his canter. We bolted just a few strides as I silently yelled “whoa” in my head. Nautica silently played elevator music in his. We finished our test without any further added expression and got back to the barn. Nautica got his good-boy bananas; it wasn’t his fault the ride went awry. I awaited another 50%.
The scores came in. We earned a 61% with this judge. Okay, I can do this! Even with a pretty big mistake, this judge gave us points where they were due (7s on the centerlines–Nautica can rock a centerline) and it worked out in our favor! My morale was boosted slightly… just in time to find out that that was my last ride with that judge. I was to have both of my rides with the harsher judge the next day. Great.
Sunday came and I wasn’t feeling it. My anxiety was high and I kind of wanted to scratch my rides for the day. But Nautica deserved a chance and we were already here. We had already spent tons of money to get here.
Our first ride went about like Saturday’s. Another high-50% in my mind. Nautica and I just weren’t on our game this show. I cooled him out and gave him his treats, awaiting another bad score. I just wasn’t ready for how bad it would be. 50-even. Daaaamn. I might as well just quit dressage altogether if I can barely break a 50% at Training Level. Anxiety-level: DEFCON 1. Why do I horse show if it causes this much stress? Because it’s supposed to be fun right? This was not fun.
Like the very responsible adult person that I am, I went to go talk to my favorite show manager and one of Nautica’s biggest cheerleaders, Andrea, to scratch my last ride. I’m all for “quitters never win” and all of that, but this just seemed cruelly unfair. I couldn’t take another low-50%.
Also, like the very adulty adult that I am, I can’t do anything stressful without tears in my eyes. Luckily, Andrea’s show management team is the best in the world, and between all of us collaborating, we came up with the idea to let Nautica have a final ride to end on a good note without the score counting publicly. Our ride was changed to “HC” or hors concours (scores wouldn’t count.)
This was it: Our final ride! Nautica warmed up great and I was ready to stare Ms. Mean-Judge in the eye on the centerline. Unfortunately, my serotonin-lacking brain decided upon entering the show ring that this would be the perfect time for an all-inclusive panic attack, complete with tears and hyperventilation. Despite my anxiety’s truly excellent timing, Nautica and I put down the best Training-1 we had ridden yet at that show, all while I’m looking like I belong in a mental institution. We do this because it’s fun right?
Nautica and I had accomplished our goal: we ended on a good note. The unofficial score and test sheet came back: 57%. I had made the right choice to go HC; I just wasn’t going to win with this judge. I did however improve my ride by 7 percentage points in the middle of an honest-to-God panic attack, which was something of a win in itself.
I felt better after doing some research. This judge’s scores were shockingly low for everyone throughout the whole weekend. For example, Intro Level barely broke of the 40s. Come on. It’s Intro level; they literally just have to steer, stop and stay on to pull a 60. You can’t tell me that out of six plus riders, none accomplished that goal?
The show was not a complete wash. I got one of my scores toward my goal with a decent judge and I learned something: some judges are just jerks. Am I a little bitter? Maybe. Do I claim breed bias? Not really. (I might, however, claim gait bias!) Am I going to stop doing dressage over one judge’s opinion of Nautica? Never.