Horse “not ready for dressage?”

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6 August 2021
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Hi all,
Did my first ever dressage comp with my new boy today, he’s only been off the track a year and I’ve had him about 8 months now. My yard was running a tiny unaffiliated dressage competition (we aren’t a competition yard at all-it was just for everyone at the yard and a few locals), and I decided to enter because I’ve been really enjoying our flatwork sessions. He got a bit spooked by the white boards and letters, but didn’t once jump sideways or go off course. He was really tense and not at all like he usually is to ride, and I was disappointed that us being stressed made it hard for him to show off how good he is. But still, I was pleased he did everything I asked and we did both tests.
I wasn’t expecting a score in any respectable range, seeing as his head was in the air and he was wobbling around, but all the judge wrote for both our tests was “Not ready to do dressage.” I wouldn’t be so taken aback if we had entered an affiliated competition, or even a larger unaffiliated, but this was a really tiny competition, there were less than 10 people in my classes, and we only did prelim tests. I know he isn’t a dressage horse by any stretch of the imagination, and I would have understood a “not ready for affiliated” or “not ready for this level,” but it was the lowest level test at a tiny competition. The whole reason I entered it was because we’d never done a dressage test before! I wanted him to actually have competition experience. I really am gutted at that feedback, as it mostly made me feel like I’d wasted everyone’s time by entering, and took away how proud I was of my boy for trying his best in a new situation.

(Just to add-I’m not saying I “deserve” a better score or that the judge is wrong! It was a very stressed and wobbly test, I’d have been fine with the score I got without that comment, it just disappointed me that the judge was so dismissive.)
 

eggs

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I would throw the score sheets in the bin and forget about them. You were unlucky to get such an unprofessional and ignorant 'judge'. The problem with UA is that anyone can judge whereas at affiliated the judges have to be on the judge list and have undergone training. BD is very keen on judge's giving positive feedback.

You went out and did it and were proud of your horse - I would say that is a major achievement.
 

eahotson

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I would throw the score sheets in the bin and forget about them. You were unlucky to get such an unprofessional and ignorant 'judge'. The problem with UA is that anyone can judge whereas at affiliated the judges have to be on the judge list and have undergone training. BD is very keen on judge's giving positive feedback.

You went out and did it and were proud of your horse - I would say that is a major achievement.
I second that.
 

Winters100

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What does it mean to 'do dressage'? I am not at all into dressage, but have groomed for a friend at very low level competitions, and as far as I can see it is having a bit of fun, showing the horse something new, and basically riding some very simple maneuvers. If your horse was tense fine, next time he will be less tense. If he did not do everything as well as he can fine, next time will be better. You didn't have any disaster, and you gave your horse a new experience, one that you can build on. You have nothing to be ashamed of and should ignore these unkind remarks.

ETA that now I think about this I find it even funnier. When the best pros train a young horse is there a moment when they suddenly announce 'He's ready! He is doing dressage!! Hurrah!'
 
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Red-1

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I feel cross for you! What a strange comment.

Out of the day, I would take that you were pleased with your test. I would also investigate why the horse wasn't as he normally is when schooling. Is it because there were more horses around? Because he had to leave his friends in the collecting ring and go alone to the competition ring? He would have no concept of competition, so is it that you tensed up because you knew it was a competition and upset him? Was it purely the white boards? 3 out if the four are easy fixes with graduated exposure to boards and different situations. The 4th is a mind job for you, as it is for me and everyone!

I would forget the silly judge. You entered a small competition and have new information to inform your next steps. You enjoyed it and were happy with your horse. Winner, winner!
 

Cortez

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Without having seen the test it is difficult to form any sort of opinion on the judge's remarks. Perhaps they could have written something more soothing, but having judged many, many GAG (Green as Grass) classes it is difficult to be relentlessly positive in the face of rides that are not remotely related to actual dressage. The insertion of a word like so: "not yet ready for competition dressage", may have softened the blow for you perhaps. I don't feel it is the job of a judge to make you feel good; it is their job to judge what is presented to them in the ring.
 
Joined
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Wow that's really discouraging. I thought judges were supposed to give positive feedback.

What made you do prelim rather than intro?
He’s actually been schooling really gorgeously, he has a stunning canter and lovely paces overall, is always in a nice, soft contact and engaged through the back, and so I entered prelim to show his lovely canter. It was unfortunate he got so stressed (not his fault at all-I was expecting it really)! I really appreciate how kind everyone has been, it’s encouraged me to keep schooling him and trying at dressage, because we both really enjoy it :)
 

EllenJay

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I'm really sorry for you. At the level you are riding the judge should be looking for positive comments, even if it was just "sympathetic riding" with glossing over the bad points. Please don't let this put you off. My take on low level dressage is a marker in the sand of how you are progressing with your training.

Write this one off, and put on your brave pants an go out and enjoy yourself xx
 
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Without having seen the test it is difficult to form any sort of opinion on the judge's remarks. Perhaps they could have written something more soothing, but having judged many, many GAG (Green as Grass) classes it is difficult to be relentlessly positive in the face of rides that are not remotely related to actual dressage. The insertion of a word like so: "not yet ready for competition dressage", may have softened the blow for you perhaps. I don't feel it is the job of a judge to make you feel good; it is their job to judge what is presented to them in the ring.
I totally understand where you’re coming from, and like I said, this post isn’t meant to be a “wtf how dare a judge criticise my riding!!!” I would have actually really appreciated constructive criticism, because I do genuinely want to do well and improve. But like I said, I didn’t enter a large competition for horses who know dressage-there were plenty of little ones on lead ropes with us, and I thought it was so great to see everyone getting involved in dressage, and I think the general idea is that we were all there for a fun day to work on our riding. I agree that neither of us are ready for affiliated, competition dressage (or even a more serious unaffiliated show). I didn’t score below a 5 on the test, with 2 6’s, which made the comment even more surprising, as clearly my riding was at least “sufficient,” and I was totally happy with the scores, I just hoped for some more feedback.

no, I don’t believe it’s the judges “job” to make me a better rider, and I didn’t go in there hoping for a lesson. But it’s in the BD handbook for judges to be “supportive and encouraging,” and it’s accepted practice to keep and study your sheets from dressage tests as a form of constructive feedback.
 
Joined
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I feel cross for you! What a strange comment.

Out of the day, I would take that you were pleased with your test. I would also investigate why the horse wasn't as he normally is when schooling. Is it because there were more horses around? Because he had to leave his friends in the collecting ring and go alone to the competition ring? He would have no concept of competition, so is it that you tensed up because you knew it was a competition and upset him? Was it purely the white boards? 3 out if the four are easy fixes with graduated exposure to boards and different situations. The 4th is a mind job for you, as it is for me and everyone!

I would forget the silly judge. You entered a small competition and have new information to inform your next steps. You enjoyed it and were happy with your horse. Winner, winner!
I totally agree, I was disappointed but not angry at him, because I literally threw him into a brand new place and wanted him to be totally normal! It’s probably a combination of all of the above and more. He’s got very big paces, and we are not established in collection yet, so the small dressage ring probably seemed tiny to him! The boards definitely didn’t help, and we usually school on our own, so neither did all these big horses whizzing around! I’m planning on setting out the competition boards and schooling him in that size arena a few times a week to get him used to the size and the boards, and definitely am planning lots more little competitions to get us both used to the new situation!
The very kind and experienced dressage rider at the yard looked over my sheets and was very surprised at the comments, she said she would not have expected that feedback either. Onwards and upwards I guess, thank you for the encouragement though :) xx
 
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Our riding club holds a novice dressage day and we would have welcomed you! Everyone has to start somewhere and the fact you completed the test is a good start. Very mean comments IMO.
That’s so nice to hear, thank you! I was so excited to just try it out, we’ve been having so much fun getting basic lateral movements and such at home! I definitely won’t let this put me off :)
 

LeneHorse

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In those circumstances a comment like "a bit tense today but some promising moments" might have been more encouraging. I found when I did 'fun' dressage classes at the yard i would tense up as soon as I entered at A because I was nervous of the other liveries criticising my cr*p riding. This would transmit to the horse and she would play up. Somehow there was more pressure at yard shows than at RC ones.
 

palo1

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Perhaps 'not yet working at this level/ not yet consistent in his balance or frame' or a number of other comments would have been more accurate and encouraging under the circs though I understand you wanting to do the prelim test because of the canter elements! Sometimes you just have to take what you can and you won in lots of ways today; don't let the judges comments bother you overly!! At least your horse had the experience and you did the test; that is definitely a good and positive outcome. :)
 
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In those circumstances a comment like "a bit tense today but some promising moments" might have been more encouraging. I found when I did 'fun' dressage classes at the yard i would tense up as soon as I entered at A because I was nervous of the other liveries criticising my cr*p riding. This would transmit to the horse and she would play up. Somehow there was more pressure at yard shows than at RC ones.
My tension definitely wasn’t helping him! I had the same feeling it sounds like, my yard manager was watching and it just felt really intimidating! He was a good boy, but I got tense and that made him tense up and we both just wound each other up :D I’ve been told by several instructors that he has nice paces and that we both have potential to do nicely (low level obv, I’m not Carl Hester lol), so I hope next time we can settle down enough to pull off a decent test!!
 
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I'm really sorry for you. At the level you are riding the judge should be looking for positive comments, even if it was just "sympathetic riding" with glossing over the bad points. Please don't let this put you off. My take on low level dressage is a marker in the sand of how you are progressing with your training.

Write this one off, and put on your brave pants an go out and enjoy yourself xx
I really wanted it to be a training session for both of us, and when I came out of the ring I was happy because I knew we’d both learned heaps about where to improve, so I totally agree with you! I had a little pathetic cry in the stable and told my boy he did perfectly anyways and then pulled myself together and went pub :p
 

Lady Jane

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That's not a good judge. I have done some diaboloical tests and the judges have always tried to find something nice to say. I have left the arena in reverse (over the pot plants!) and chickened out of my canter entirely and never had a comment like that. Forget it and move on, be proud you went out and did it - if you managed to walk trot canter in vaguley the right places that's a reasonable result first time out. As a matter of interest what score did you get?
 

milliepops

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A win for me on the first time in a competitive dressage arena is to stay mostly inside the boards and walk and trot mostly when and where asked to.

In my book, you won today :)

Well done!.
Yeah this would be my take on it.

It's frustrating to get such limited and unconstructive comments but at unaff shows you're at the mercy of whoever the organisers have roped in to judge which can range between trained and qualified BD judges and some randomer who knows something about dressage.

So I'd ignore the test and concentrate on the feeling your horse gave you, you've had lots of feedback from him which you can build on for the next time. If he's ready to start travelling then I'd try and get to a quiet show centre where you're more likely to get a judge who will give you useful comments.
 

Red-1

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I really wanted it to be a training session for both of us, and when I came out of the ring I was happy because I knew we’d both learned heaps about where to improve, so I totally agree with you! I had a little pathetic cry in the stable and told my boy he did perfectly anyways and then pulled myself together and went pub :p
Sounds like you have a lucky horse and a good perspective!
 

Sheep

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I nearly squished the judge once and still got 'well managed' - it was a shocking test! Like others have said try and leave this one behind you.
This! I am disappointed for you that your judge wasn’t more constructive, but try and out it behind you and hopefully next time the feedback will be more useful.
I once rode a diabolical test on a slightly unhinged mare, I got 7 for my riding but overall about 45% and “very patiently ridden” 🤣
 
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