This morning at 8 o’clock it was 96° with a relative humidity of about a thousand, and Maira seemed to be taking almost everything in stride except the lemon yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked at the end of the dressage arena, trunk open, doors flung wide, like a carnivorous daffodil. This monster had just consumed the judge, and me, the scribe.*
At the age of four-and-a half, Maira likes to pretend she’s cool with a lot of things. Cows, dump trucks, umbrellas. These things do not faze her. Small children and bicycles, and now apparently, yellow Volkswagens with flapping wings, are very scary things. Imagine the self-control she had to conjure to trot up the centerline and halt at X, in front of this newly-minted bogeyman.
As hard as her young rider tried, she could not prevent Maira from wobbling drunkenly first left and then right as she did what looked like a giant comical double-take before trotting off to the left to begin her 20 meter circle. It was a valiant effort! I am so proud of her.
In spite of a shocking early heat wave, The Virginia Horse Trials are in full swing, and today I was thrilled to be scribing again. I only lost concentration once, while watching the most amazingly talented rider. I missed a whole section of scores and severely tried the patience of the judge.
The thing I love about being a scribe is the opportunity to learn. It’s like sneaky backseat riding lessons. You don’t actually get up there and ride, but you learn a lot.
Among the things I’ve learned while scribing:
1. Naturally, different judges value different “directives,” or skills, such as the balance and ease of a turn or the straightness of the centerline. You can tell this by the number of times you have to write the same thing in the teeny tiny box on to the right of the score.
2. Usually, the smaller the box, the longer the judge’s comments. All the tests progressed faster than I could write. Something tells me this is the result of too much typing and not enough writing.
Today’s challenge for me involved writing the word, rhythm about three hundred times. I find this is a hard word to spell. I found myself scribbling, rhy, then moving left to fill in the score, and returning to complete the comment thm or some variation I prayed hopeful riders could read.
Often when I’ve scribed, judges will be sticklers about one thing or another. Last month, I spent a fantastic afternoon with a lady who cared a great deal about bending and straightness. To her, these form the pinnacle of dressage perfection. I wonder how many riders actually get good bending and real straightness, other than those we see in the Olympics. It’s the ideal, but that has little to do with reality at the levels where I hang around.
Two of today’s themes were those I value a lot: relaxation and rhythm. These are actually attainable for the average rider, I think. And so does the United States Equestrian Federation, I discovered today when I actually took the time to read the fine print on the back of the test I was recording: “To confirm that the horse’s muscles are supple and loose and that it moves forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit.”
This judge was looking for horses who appeared relaxed and who didn’t lean hard on the bit, or drag their riders around the ring, both of which you might expect to see at the lower levels. It’s awfully hard for a horse to relax when its rider is uptight and forgets to breathe. Even harder when both horse and rider inhale hot, viscous air instead of warm springtime breeze.
Rhythm is kind of a tough thing for both novice riders and inexperienced horses, as I know well, as Maira and I are such a pair. The moment you have rhythm, it slips away. Kind of like spelling it. You think you have it right up until you get to R.H.Y…no that doesn’t sound like English…..oh yes it is!… T.H.M…. there it goes again….poof. It’s gone. It’s particularly hard to remain relaxed and maintain rhythm when you are about to be attacked by a giant horse-eating narcissus.
After all the riders and horses had departed to cooler climes, and the judge and I sat baking in her car, I asked her a bit about my pet issue, the free walk. I tried hard to put my question delicately, but here is what I really wanted to ask: “Why aren’t horses and riders any better at the free walk?” I’m grateful that she took the time to talk with me about it.
She described the free walk as a kind of double-exposure snapshot of the horse: its present way of going superimposed over its development and early training.
The judge stressed that those riders who mistakenly believe that the free walk is a “little rest” in the routine do not understand the nature of the free walk and how horses carry themselves and the rider. Hence, the scores mostly between 3 and 7 today.**
Watching the free walk gives her most of the information she needs to know about the basic under-saddle training of a horse.
A horse who can lengthen its topline, stretch out and release those long muscles while maintaining its balance and self carriage has truly been trained to become an athlete. To move from, say, a medium walk into a free walk with no change in head carriage, level and engagement of the back muscles and hindquarters, is not a free walk at all. The pace may change, but the back, from poll to tail, is not free.
I watched Maira and her rider carefully during the free walk. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I don’t think that at her age, it’s too late. Maybe at my age it is. But if we can’t swing it on our own, I could probably bribe the scribe.
* In case you’re wondering, a scribe is the person who sits alongside a judge at a dressage test, writing down scores and comments while the judge “judges,” because they cannot do both at the same time. The word scribe literally means “one who writes documents by hand.” My bestest friend Caroline sent me this link: Scribing 101.
**Let’s get this straight–I couldn’t land a 7 if you held a gun to my head, so I’m not picking on anybody.
© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch
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