A few years ago, a junior rider came up to me after an equitation class and said that her mother was her trainer and that both of them couldn’t understand why she didn’t place in the flat class. Although judges make few notes during a flat class, we do list the numbers of the riders and change their order on the page according to the performance of each rider, so I had a page I could refer to in answering her.
As I mentioned in my last blog entry, the best riders are placed in a group at the top of the page and the worst are placed at the bottom. In the middle are those whose ability lies somewhere in between. When a rider at the top makes a major error, he moves to the bottom of the page. The major errors include 1) the rider allowing the horse to pick up the wrong lead into the canter, 2) the rider allowing the horse to switch onto an incorrect lead at the canter, 3) the rider allowing the horse to break gait to either a lower or upper gait, 4) the rider posting on the wrong diagonal, 5) the rider losing one or both stirrups during the class, and 6) the rider being run away with on his horse.
I looked at my card and saw that the girl had started in the group at the top, then moved to the bottom because she had picked up the wrong lead at the canter. When this happens, I strike through the rider’s number in the top group, draw a line from the first position of the rider’s number down to the very bottom of the page, then list the rider’s number and mark “XL” beside it, so that I can recall later why I changed the placement, if need be.
I said to the girl, “You started in the top group, but you picked up the wrong lead.” She answered, “Yeah, I knew I did that. I hoped you hadn’t caught it.” This struck me as funny because she had said that neither she nor her mother—a trainer—understood why she hadn’t placed in the class.
There are some things that are basic to our sport, and everyone who is showing a horse should know these basics. The faults I listed above will take you directly to the bottom of the class, so make sure not to do these things in the show ring. Part of the reason they are penalized so severely is because they have to do with safety, balance, and obedience of the horse. They are concepts that should have been taught in the first year of riding, so they are severely penalized in even the most elementary classes.
Teaching your horse to pick up the correct lead or learning how to post on the correct diagonal are simply a matter of practice. You should keep working on them until you can feel the leads and diagonals without looking down. This issue of feel also extends to the rider’s ability to keep the horse in a steady rhythm—preventing an upward or downward break in gait—and sensing the horse’s balance so that the rider can prevent the horse from swapping leads.
The problem of losing stirrups can be prevented by strengthening the rider’s leg position (see http://annamullin.com/strengthening-the-riders-position), while the issue of a runaway horse is prevented by routinely practicing upward and downward transitions (see http://annamullin.com/downward-transitions-the-key-to-control).
If you’ve made a major error in a flat class, there is no need to ask the judge why you didn’t place. The errors mentioned above are so basic to our sport that everyone should know them, even the smallest child in his first equitation class.
Talk to you later! — AJ