Monday, July 30, 2007

The Tale of the Prince and the Pea

My dressage show on Sunday was an education. Competing in dressage always is, of course, because it is just you and your horse dancing in front of the judge, who keeps his or her eye on you at all times while dictating comments and scores to a scribe. Afterwards you get the sheet with all those scores and comments recorded for you to learn from and improve upon. But Sunday's show was more than that; it was an education about my horse Special Majesty, better known as Russell.
Russell is not "built" for dressage, being a "downhill" breeding stock Paint instead of an "uphill" warmblood. But he has a surprising amount of talent in spite of that and is very willing, so we keep working our way up the levels of difficulty. (The higher you go in dressage, the more the horse is required to show collection and impulsion, which is all about lifting the back and shoulders and using the hindquarters for maximum carrying and thrusting power.)
The warm-up for our first test test went okay, although Russell seemed difficult to motivate. The test went well, I thought. But when I got my test sheet back and saw the results for the class, I was dismayed -- we finished dead last with the lowest score we've ever earned! My instructor, who came to watch, commented that he looked tight in his back, which we've struggled with before. I told her he didn't have as much padding under the saddle as he has when I school him, and she thought that was the likely reason for his lackluster performance -- that, and a judge who simply didn't like him. (There was specific evidence for that, too, but I won't go into that.) Since my two rides were spaced nearly five hours(!) apart, I had time to work as a volunteer AND scout through the vendors' booths looking for an additional cushy pad that would work with the show pad and sheepskin half-pad I was using. I finally found something that looked like it would work, got us both "dressed" to show again, and went back to the warm-up ring.

The difference was immediately evident. Russell moved much more freely; it was plain to those with me who were watching from the sidelines as well as to me in the saddle. Although Russell broke gait once in the test and I went "off course" once (each dressage test is a combination of different movements and gaits at prescribed locations), our score was 10 percentage points higher and we placed second in the class!
Horses put up with an amazing amount of stuff from us, and usually only give subtle indications when all is not right for them. Sunday I finally learned that Russell is a lot like that princess in the fairy tale, the one who can feel a single pea through a stack of feather mattresses. I get it now, Russell; I get it. I'm sorry it took me awhile; thanks for your long-suffering and patience. You're a prince!
That's it for now about the "neigh" at . . .

9 comments:

Kathy L. said...

Could the saddle be ill-fitting for Russell too? Padding helps, but if the culprit is really the saddle, it might be worthwhile to find one that is more comfortable for him.
I know I had a devil of a time finding a good one to fit my mare when I had horses. I even had to use a heating pad and a bit of massage before riding to loosen her up. While I used a lot of padding, it was like night and day when I found a better fitting saddle for her. (It's just a thought)

Sabrina Wille Erickson said...

Hey, this is the first time I've read about Russel and Showing. You two look fantastic! Way to go on learning more about your partner and for placing so well!

shepherdchik said...

He's beautiful Michelle! Congrats and hope you had a good time too...its all about fun, right?

Lauren said...

Wow, as always I am impressed. Around these parts there is very little dressage so I have never seen it in person. Reining is king for Arizona cowboys (and girls). Thanks for the education and information.

Nancy K. said...

What an awesome pair you and Russell make! Beautiful photos. You must absolutely treasure that exquisite animal...

Sharon said...

He's gorgeous - looks like you two have good chemistry.

Allena said...

nice leg yield Michelle. I have a quarter horse, and we do some low level dressage just for fine tuning. Russell looks like he has a really nice cross over.

Candy my horse is horrible to fit, and it makes a really big difference. Its amazing what they are capable of doing however, even though they are not of that type.

I actually had Candy doing a passage at one point ROFL. Not because I wanted to mind you, but because she refused to quit trotting, to the point of trotting in place. Silly horsie.

Highland Hollow said...

You guys look GREAT!!!! I love dressage. I've never done it but I love to watch it.
Jane

I need orange said...

He's a beauty!

Second place -- way to go!!!