As I prepared to go to our first open dressage show, I asked Paula what it was like. Did people hang stall curtains like they did at Arabian shows? Did she think we could survive without a grooming stall? I wanted to save money and since I was her only student going to the show I wasn't going to be able to split the grooming stall or feed/tack stall with anyone. She laughed a little, saying that most people don't get extra stalls, since the show is only Saturday and Sunday. They just stacked the hay in the aisle and brought the tack back and forth from their car or trailer every day. So this would be the first big show that I'd been to where I had a stall for my horse but no grooming or tack stall. She said I could just groom him in the aisle, or in the crossties that she knew this barn had. It was weird, but it all worked out.
We warmed up the evening before classes classes started, and Kaswyn was tense but excited. Paula was coaching me and kept telling me that I really needed a bit more discipline with him. Her idea was that he was getting away with too much as far as inattentiveness and ignoring my half-halts. The truth was that I doubt I was giving a proper half-halt anyway, so how could I punish him for ignoring it? But more importantly Kaswyn was, at the time, very sensitive emotionally. This horse hated to be in trouble (still does) and when I would tap him with the whip he would get himself so upset that I'd have to struggle for a good 10 minutes to get him focused on working again. It's like he was thinking "Oh! There's whipping!??! Why, oh WHY does there have to be so much WHIPPING??!" The tests weren't long enough for me to be able to tap with the whip, or boot him with my heel, or even take a big hold of him and be able to recover and finish the test. He'd be so upset about being in trouble that the test would be blown.
Our first two tests were Training Level Test 1 (56.3%) and 3 (54.6%). The comments were mostly about getting him more supple both through his back and laterally through bending. I was still very ineffective with my aids and was basically just steering him around, trying not to upset him so we could make it through the test. Paula was convinced that if I would just give him one big half-halt and a smack on the rump with the whip when he blew off my half-halt that he'd come around and be obedient. I agreed to try it on the next test.
We rode into Training Level Test 2. It started badly when he rushed down the centerline and I asked for the halt. When he was slow coming to the halt, I did a big half-halt and took a firm hold of the reins. Kaswyn slammed on the brakes and took two steps backwards as I was trying to salute. Then when I asked him to trot on, he took off.
I spent the whole test trying to get his mind back in the game, while also trying to slow him down so we could at least make a feeble attempt at the movements. He was seriously tense, running through the movements, clearly upset that he was in trouble. It was awful, and our score of 48.4% reflected it. The judge wrote the following "This horse is very unhappy and confused. It is important to be patient and learn to balance horse from your legs -> supple and accept connection with softer contact. It's very important. This can be a very elegant horse!"
I handed the test to Paula. She didn't have much to say about the comments, but thought I did the right thing. I totally disagreed with her, and said that I wouldn't be doing that again. She wasn't very happy to hear that, and told me that she didn't think my scores would go up until Kaswyn could be more obedient and accepting of my half-halts. I agreed that he had more learning to do - we both did - but that the show ring was not the place to do it. He needed to learn the difference between being punished and being corrected which I knew we could make progress on at home. However, he was still five years old - just a baby as far as I was concerned.
During our warm-up for the next test, I could tell Kaswyn was trying to figure out what I was going to do. Was he in trouble? Was I going to grab his face again? Or worse? Was there to be whipping? I did my best just to reassure him that I was going to ride him as I had been doing at home, with lots of pats and praise. Thankfully, he relaxed, and I rode into Training Level Test 4 with a bit more confidence.
I thought we had a wonderful test. He was a bit tense in some areas, but once he figured out that I wasn't going to punish him we were able to work through it in our own way. Paula was mainly happy with the test, but continued to say that she thought we'd never get the brilliance and the obedience we needed if I was unwilling to correct him. I agreed to work on it at home, but for the moment I was thrilled. As we waited for my score, I wondered what the judge thought of the test. My plan of getting one qualifying score of 57% hadn't worked out yet.
To be continued...
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