Absolutely mortified by dressage judge comment

Mary Poppins

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I have been having dressage lessons with a great instructor. My horse is not easy to ride, he has learnt many years of evasions to avoid moving forwards properly and he is fundamentally pretty lazy! My lessons have focussed on getting him moving equally from behind and into an even contact. I had/have many bad habits to correct, and one of them is that I need to avoid flapping with my legs. I used to have a terrible habit of kicking him forward into every stride and this just made him dead to the leg and ignore me.

So my instructor has got me using my whip instead of nagging with my legs. Previously I never used my whip at all, so this is a change to him and it makes him listen to me. Instead of kick, kick, kick, she has got me tapping with this whip at every 3 strides or so, especially in canter as this keeps his energy. I don't smack him, I just tap him. It's more annoying than anything, I sometimes tap my leg or boot instead and it is no harder than a touch.

Yesterday I did a dressage test at my instructors yard, my instructor watched me (as did about 10 other people) and when I came out said that I did well and she was pleased. My score on the board showed that I got 62.5% which I was pretty pleased with so I went home happy. I went back later to get my sheet and was totally and utterly mortified to find that the judge had written 'A fair test but unsettling use of the whip throughout. You need to get him working willingly from behind to help his self carriage'. Does this mean that the judge and anyone else watching thinks that I am beating my horse? Does it really look like all I do is smack him? No-one else said anything about it to me and someone told me that they had never seen him go so well. But are they all secretly thinking I overuse the whip? I am really upset to think that the judge could think I would hurt him and don't think I can bring myself to even carry one again. Nothing in the horse world has ever made me so upset than this.
 

Wally

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Maybe they thought the whip unsettled your hands or just unsettled the gait a bit. I would certainly rather see a tap with the whip on a fat lazy horse than kick kick kick.
 
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KP nut

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A whip is just a form of communication and a tap is no harsher than a kick and often less harsh. I am sure no one believes you were hurting Ben. It sounds to me like a comment on his willingness or forwardness not any other criticism. Dressage is about harmony and you aren't even allowed a whip in eventing dressage not because it's cruel but to show you don't need one.
I have to use a whip on Dylan quite a lot and sometimes I feel embarrassed and hope that no one is watching coz it feels so awful. But if he ignores my leg he needs it backing up. Having said that, I would be unhappy to use a whip that much in the longer term. It's a stage we need to go through. I still always give him a tiny squeeze first every single time in the hope that he becomes more responsive. I'm guessing the judge wants to see a horse who is willingly in front of your leg and does not need to be kept there by kicks or taps. So the comment is a suggestion that that's what you need to focus on. Which you are doing anyway so don't worry!
 

KP nut

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Eta I read the word unsettling as disruptive to Ben's rhythm in some way. NOT as worrying or disturbing!
 
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domane

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Yes.... I'm with KP nut regarding the use of the word.

I have to do the same thing as you in my lessons, MP, due to leg-nagging but my RI makes me hold a whip in each hand. I hadn't realised until I thought about it now but I'm using them less and less in each lesson.
 

Mary Poppins

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Thank you both for your kind words, I did have the chance to speak to the judge but I was worried I was going to burst into tears so I quickly left!

It is true that my rein contact suffers when I use my whip as I am quite flappy with it as I find it hard to keep my hand still and down. Maybe that is what she meant? It has taken me a huge amount of confidence to start using the whip at all because if I properly smack him, he bucks. It just feels like I never do anything right. I try and follow what my instructor tells me to do, but I always mess it up.
 

popularfurball

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I would say it also disrupted his rhythm/ routine but also encouraging you to work towards him maintaining his own pace without you having to nag (legs or whip) - without nagging he will better sustain a self carriage and work in rhythm - but it would be a long term goal :) well done and a good score!
 

Mary Poppins

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But at the moment, if I don't tap with the whip in canter he starts trotting. I can keep him cantering with lots of leg, but this is not good either. He is very hard to motivate to go forwards, he enjoys the slower pace of life.
 
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Wally

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But at the moment, if I don't tap with the whip in canter he starts trotting. I can keep him cantering with lots of leg, but this is not good either. He is very hard to motivate to go forwards, he enjoys the slower pace of life.
IN that case a reiminder with the whip is perfectly acceptable, If you were using a schooling whhip with your hand on the reins I don;t see how you could have caused him any discomfort, just a tickle to remind him of your request.
 

Wally

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We used to have a really lazy cob who , without a schooling whip just shut down, When the whip was used to remind him, his gait was disrupted, or unsettled as he used to "hurrumph" not buck, not flinch, just whinge that he was being bade to do as he was told. In a dressage test it would have been seen as an evasion or a disruption to his gait.
 
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Skib

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We have been educated to touch with whip rather than use leg (kick,touch or whatever you call it.
As I read the comment, the judge is remarking only that using the whip as you describe, every third step in canter, is not the norm and is only a step to teaching a horse to move forward as the judge put it - from behind, using its hind legs.

I do think we have a problem on the Forum that people look to it for support and comfort - as Ale said rfecently she wont network locally but she will put private thoughts here because she can rely on support. And then people who do say what they really think e.g. about KPNuts ponies and children, get reprimanded. MaryP has already rejected me on the leading, so I am going to assume she expects nothing useful from me.

Over the years I notice Mary that you are very greatly influenced by each new RI. Now it is a feature of each new RI to go back to square one and dismiss what you have done before. New brooms sweep clean. Your report starts with a catalogue of what is wrong with the way Ben goes and blaming yourself and excusing a general mess. And then being upset that your RI thought things were fine and the judge made remarks.

I dont believe any of this is necessarilly true - nor that you are responsible for having not done something in the past. You are a perfectly good rider. With long experience. Value yourself more highly.

When you read a book, you can learn stuff from it, add it to your store of knowledge without believing it is 100% correct or even 100% reliable. The same goes for riding instructors - take what you want from each. You were doing fine with previous teachers. Build up a good broad repertoire and understand that no two riding instructors nor judges will see things the same way.

Now how to get Ben moving without cuing every step? I could write an essay here on how Mark Rashid and our classical RI taught me to get a horse to go faster or slower by thinking it and feeling it rather than nagging, as you put it.I am not going to as I have other things to do today. But I will say that though sometimes - Out hacking or even in the school, I might not use my leg to nag in canter, my normal riding of canter is to feel with my leg (calves) every third stride. It isnt so much to keep the horse moving as to remind the horse that it has a rider (fewer spooks) and to steer the horse. Plus my current ride is more controllable if you ride her forward in canter, the additional impulsion (requested by me) calms her when she is over excited, lowers her head and softens her contact with my hands.

The leg is preferable to the whip once one starts canter in dressage because the horse can see the whip and may be distracted by it - just carrying a whip both in the school and the hacks is enough to remind the horse of the rider's authority. But I dont think I have ever used it in canter.
The willingness and ability of horse to go forward is built on tho things. The training they have had as young horses out hacking - learning to canter well in straight lines before bending the canter and doing counter canter in the school. And the riding style of the current rider - the feel through the seat, the understanding of the footfall one can feel through one's seat and the sympathy with the rhythm and the energy level which KPnut and I have been taught by Mark Rashid. You do it in walk and halt first, then trot and then canter.
You pay little attention to the idols of dressage - outline, collection, contact - because that all follows on from the freedom of forward movement you are allowing and creating from the back legs.
 
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carthorse

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As long as you're aware this isn't a permanent fix then I think you're reading too much into the judge's comment.

If he was mine, and I appreciate he isn't & we're all different, my bigger concern would be that I'm asking him to do a job he really isn't happy with. I know that makes me sound like a real tree hugger but I get no pleasure from working with a horse that plainly doesn't want to do the job & I'd rather find what he is good at & happy doing. Whether at that point I would compromise what I want to do in order to keep that horse or would pass him on to someone who's aims were suitable for him & find something else is a question that then needs to be asked.
 

orbvalley

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@Mary Poppins - please bear in mind with my following comment that I dont compete so my POV is not from a competing POV ;)

I do think that @carthorse 's comment may be a good point to consider in the longer term for Ben. From memory I believe he's an older horse? When I was riding my PRE in twice weekly lessons of dressage and jumping (all be it small teeny jumps) I got to the point where I was really asking too much from him. He was 17 at the time and muscularly just wasn't up to the ask. I really could go no further with him but that didn't stop my love of riding him regardless of not being able to advance. He was retired last year when he became lame and was diagnosed navicular. (he now lives a happy life bumbling around on lush green grass with his friends :) )
I'm not suggesting that you do the same with Ben nor that he's at this point. However you do seem to have advanced in your dressage and if you wish to advance further there may come a time when something needs to give.

As for the judges comments, you got a good score, this was a one off comment from one judge not a regular occurence on your test results, the best looking models get turned away for not being pretty enough but this doesn't halt their careers:p

Its clear to me that you adore Ben, don't ever doubt xx
 

Gimp

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As long as you're aware this isn't a permanent fix then I think you're reading too much into the judge's comment.

If he was mine, and I appreciate he isn't & we're all different, my bigger concern would be that I'm asking him to do a job he really isn't happy with. I know that makes me sound like a real tree hugger but I get no pleasure from working with a horse that plainly doesn't want to do the job & I'd rather find what he is good at & happy doing. Whether at that point I would compromise what I want to do in order to keep that horse or would pass him on to someone who's aims were suitable for him & find something else is a question that then needs to be asked.

this is a good point. I bought Posy to drive, she is of no use to me for anything else. If Id found once getting her going it wasnt her bag, I most probably would of sold her on. As it is she is willing and forward going to drive, to ride shes lazy and not overly enjoying herself. She comes to life in the carriage and for me thats a horse suited to its discipline I want it for.
 

Wally

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this is a good point. I bought Posy to drive, she is of no use to me for anything else. If Id found once getting her going it wasnt her bag, I most probably would of sold her on. As it is she is willing and forward going to drive, to ride shes lazy and not overly enjoying herself. She comes to life in the carriage and for me thats a horse suited to its discipline I want it for.
My pair of stallions definitely had opinions about their work, One was forward going and bouncy in harness, the other was lazy, lazy lazy, But they were totally different The forward going one was, not lazy but much more laid back, the lazy driving horse was no novice under saddle, but I used to use him to teach folk to drive.
 

KP nut

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From what I recall, MP was nervous when she first got Ben and so he learned that the expectation on him was to go slowly and calmly, and to not be overly reactive. I don;t think it's expecting too much of him to educate him that this has now changed and he needs to move off the leg more. Entry level dressage is simply about obedience and accuracy. Any horse should he able to cope with that fairly happily if they are fit and sound, I would have thought?
 

Jessey

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I wholly agree with the above comments, I think I would want to be considering this as a phase of training, if however Ben wasn't becoming more forward with this practice I wouldnt be keen to use it long term, if that were to happen I would perhaps be considering if he is getting enough energy from his grub, if there is another training method or aid that might be more effective for both of you or lastly if its the right career for him.

Having said all that, the comments on a sheet are meant to help you progress and are intended as constructive criticisms, so try not to feel to down on it as it is clearly something you are already aware of, addressing and working to improve, which is the aim of the game at the end of the day :)
 

LindaAd

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Mary P, you do tend to be quite sensitive to what you perceive as criticism - not a bad thing in itself, but can lead to unnecessary worry. A dressage judge is not like an instructor, who knows exactly what you're doing and where you are in your journey with your horse. A judge can only comment on what they see in front of them - sometimes they may be wildly wrong, like the one who said my lovely cob wasn't built for dressage when in fact it was my nerves that were holding him back, or quite perceptive, like the one who told me I did well to stay in the arena (nerves again!). It's not obvious to me what she meant by unsettling - perhaps she felt that your use of the whip affected his rhythm or balance in some way, perhaps she felt it unsettled your position (do you change hands?), or perhaps she just feels that using a whip is unsettling in general - anyway, it's for you and your instructor to work that out together and decide whether you need to do something about it, now or later. Meanwhile, just pat yourself on the back for the good score - there must have been plenty of approving comments on the sheet, weren't there?
 
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Kite_Rider

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Mary P, don't get so stressed about it. I thought competitions were supposed to be fun? After all that's why you do them isn't it? You got a decent score, you know your instructor was happy with your test and it's very obvious you adore Ben.
It's such a shame you couldn't speak to the judge for clarity, I know you were upset but at least you would have known exactly what she meant instead of worrying yourself guessing and assuming.
You did well in your test, you are working on getting the big chap more forward, forget any negative thoughts whizzing around and just concentrate on today, forget what's done and enjoy what is to come :)
 
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