Ready for some roundabout blog post? Loads of screenshots? Way too many gifs? Here we go!
So I was unable to stream most of the USDF finals live like I wanted because well, I was showing locally myself and last time I streamed things in the RV using my cell phone it ate up all my data and I ended up having to suffer through 2G for the rest of the month. No one wants to deal with that nonsense, trust me.
One of the really good things about a desk job 40 hours a week is that it gives me the chance to listen/casually watch things online. I've used this to improve my knowledge on many topics as well as entertain myself as I work through my work day. So anytime there's an event to stream, I'm watching it. USEF Network is my jam. I don't watch a lot of the jumping, but I do watch ALL the eventing and dressage events they have on there. Sometimes more than one. I love it, but I'm really trying to learn things from it. How certain people are riding the test and how they score in proportion. So much of this sport is based on strategy and I don't feel I can learn enough about how to manage my ride to eek out those last few points on a test ever.
I even watched some of the USDF 2916 Dressage Finals last week in preparation for this years finals and my own test for the weekend.
I like to believe this is completely an over the top ambitious thing I do, but in reality, it started because I can't always be on my horse and I wanted to watch people higher than myself do the pretty things. As I became someone doing the pretty things, I studied more and more. When I started this venture in 2015, I tackled it like a PhD in dressage riding and I have lecture times (online material and reading) as well as lab time (riding and lessons). Sometimes I have other activities such as clinics as well, but believe me, I treat this like a 20 hour work load all week long, every week.
Ask my husband.
So when I tuned into the video on demand for the 2017 Finals, I was delighted to have a commentator... Kathy Connelly! OK, sure most of us have heard commentators like KOC and others that are more like sportscasters commentating on an events. While they give many pieces of knowledge, the overall mission is entertainment (in my opinion). There isn't a lot of cohesive strategy given nor really lessons that the average person can get from watching P Duddy go around cross country via the commentators in an 11 minute cut in/cut out clip while they focus on multiple riders on course.
So back to Ms. Connelly.
Kathy Connelly is a USEF “S” Judge, USDF Honorary Instructor, and a well respected international dressage rider, trainer, coach, and judge. She is known for her amicable personality and non-intimidating teaching style. She also served as the commentator for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, as well as the 2013 US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan. As a coach, Kathy has excelled with students having competed on Olympic teams, at the World Cup, the World Equestrian Games, the Pan American Games, the Canadian World Cup, and the North American Junior Young Rider Championships. - USDF Website
So that's who was the voice commenting during the rides in the AllTech arena. There was SO much helpful "that's a great attempt" "this could be fixed by X, Y, Z" and so many honest and easy to understand comments. Seriously, it's just hours and hours and hours of basically the most detailed clinic ever. Freestyles, Open riders, AA, riders, all sorts of breeds. You name it, it's on there and you can hear a high level professional guiding you helpfully through it without anecdotes, judgement, or snide comments. This is quite possibly the most helpful "strategy for showing/training dressage" that I've ever listened to and I look forward to it again and again to get more pieces of knowledge out of it.
I primarily focused on watching the freestyles (since that's my next hellish challenge) and while it can be hard to hear her at times through the music, you can readily get the gist of what she's saying throughout. The regular tests are really really helpful and easy to watch. You get to watch an entire group of "same level" riders and horses with a full commentary. Honestly, if you rode in the AllTech arena, you should find your rides and save them. It's like a personal critique for free.
So aside from the videos on demand being one of the best online resources I've seen for dressage riding and showing, I did notice some things that honestly made me really happy.
Riders come in all sizes and types at the top levels.
There were large people, small people, thin people, fat people, old(er) people, young people, seasoned veterans, rookies, old horses, green horses, draft horses, feathered horses, omg, you name it and it was on the screen. And remember, these were the FEI tests for the most part. So basically, I don't need to worry about the lingering pudge on my stomach or the butt padding I have. Just ride the damn horses and be appreciative of what your body is capable of. FEI is hard yo. Oh and eat the piece of cake. No one wants you super sore AND miserable. I'm going to constantly remind myself of this...
This was an excellent way to do some shopping and gear comparisons.
I'm not a "tack ho" in the traditional sense. I like a few items that I can count on and I like to just use those things. Unfortunately, I currently work with 13 horses so we have a lot of tack. Because of this, I am CONSTANTLY shopping. I know about all the strap goods, saddles, clothing, whatever you can imagine as best as I can so that I know a good deal when I see one. I know what can work for us and what I need to keep and eye on. Well, one thing we've been drooling over for SO LONG, are the Fair Play items, specifically the Bea and Betty coats and then the new helmets.
So when someone all clad in grey appeared (a color combination I've been considering when I start showing a certain big black feathered horse...), I naturally REALLY paid attention to her test. Granted, I'd never seen grey boots and was fascinated with that but that's neither here nor there. At the end of the test, I realized it was the Betty tailcoat and immediately started re watching the test to see how the shad "behaved" during the test. Also, the color online always looked more "blueish" grey than I'd imagined. Ordering things from overseas is tough y'all. Plus we'd only see the black short coat here at shows so yeah... stalking!
Horses of all types can do this.
We're always told this and then it's normally followed by "but warm bloods are preferred" or whatever the current phrase is based on whatever diatribe is online currently or going around the shows. Granted the nicest warm blood will always out pace the worst *insert random breed here* with natural "dressage" gaits; however, the idea is that we need to improve on all our horses gaits and that's what dressage does. Or should do. My high level warm blood requires SO.MUCH.WORK to get his gaits looking great (esp trot) and even MORE work to KEEP him there. Our paint mare will turn herself inside out to do what you want and is practically the energizer bunny so you can get MORE out of her at LESS energy/effort. Will she ever cover as much ground as him? (Probably)no. Will she ever be as fancy as him? (Probably) no. The mare we pulled out of the kill pen in July emaciated, just hit her first USDF show and scored 7s on her gaits easily with inconsistent contact from her AA rider while I worked my tail off to get 6.5s for my big guy in PSG. There are so many factors that go into what a "good" dressage horse is and honestly, heart and soul gets you SO far. Also, great training so that the horse LOVES it's job and just shows up with 110% effort. Oh and a rider that enjoys the task at hand as much. Besides, the range in warmblood "types" varied so so much too.
Coming off a weekend where we did just that and while the "goal" of "scores" wasn't exactly achieved, we had a blast and looked great giving it our all. The scores will come (and go) and there will always be another show. The relationship with these amazing animals and the village of people it takes to get you to (any) show should make you take a deep breath and realize there are much more important issues going on in the world and it is a huge huge luxury and pleasure to get to showcase our talent along with our horses. Again, eat a piece of cake, get on your pony, go make each other laugh and try hard while pushing your boundaries further and further.
Finals is the time to push it but you need to be pushing it in every ride, all the time. The hard part about this is the typical crazy dressage person that's willing to "push it" is also very Type A and wants to push ALL the things. OK, so with horses you really can't push ALL the buttons at once and expect anything good to happen. You need to take calculated risks though and highlight what your horse is best at. Add those extra tempis, add those extra piaffe steps, add those extra WHATEVER and showcase yourself and your horse's abilities. Again, it's about having FUN while pushing the boundaries. And listening to Ms. Connelly enjoy herself when this happened should further encourage you to explore the edges rather than play it safe in the boring middle.
Freestyles are changing.
I think we've all seen snippets of this happening at Dressage At Devon and other high level competitions here and there when it shows up on Facebook. Someone using vocals TOO much, someone using an entire song, someone not matching up to their music ON PURPOSE. The horror of so many different things. (sarcasm). I love where we are currently in dressage and the direction the sport is headed. As a student of patterns, data, and behavior, I find it interesting to see what excites people enough to perform a freestyle. The music that moves them, the choreography that they choose, just all the pieces. I know my worst category will be my freestyles since the idea of precision and music do not come as naturally to me as a regular test. When you see hours upon hours of National Finals footage though, you realize that it's not so much one or two wayward persons riding to VOCALS or MODERN or whatever. It was a LOT. And well, when "normal" music started, I almost groaned. Having grown up on that, it should be familiar, cozy, whatever but instead it was like meh, snooze in many cases. Granted some sounded like an "ipod on shuffle" according to Sarah's words and I can't disagree but everyone seemed proud of their music and kudos to them. You definitely can get a good view of what people are thinking as to where they want their freestyle to be now.
So now we drive this truck of a blog post BACK around to passion. At the show last weekend, my mother said she was glad I'd found my passion. I don't tend to get emotional or overly thoughtful about why I do things (especially when I can logic or use numbers to figure it out). But yes, I do believe I'm passionate about this. I can tell this when I show. I'm passionate about my horses, passionate about enjoying my performances, passionate about working my tail off, passionate about being the best I can be and pushing my boundaries, the boundaries of those that train with me, and the boundaries of what other people believe is possible.
It's good to be passionate about something (sometimes obsessive I'll concede). Now back to logic, numbers, and business junk.