On the Road Again

I judged at two completely different types of dressage shows over the past couple weekends.? First was the Youth Dressage Festival, organized by Lendon Gray, in Saugerties NY.? It felt weird to me on Sunday to be driving north to the airport in Albany, so I could fly to my new home in NC.? When I lived in Westchester County NY, Sunday would involve a cross country jaunt to avoid the always clogged NY Thruway.? If I was driving home from New England, I-95 would be jammed, and if I was driving from New Jersey, it would be a half-hour wait to get on the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Sometimes I think the NY Thruway has never really recovered from its notorious meltdown during Woodstock in 1969.? Woodstock is just over the hill from Saugerties.? it’s a beautiful part of the country.? However, I now live in different hills, at the foot of the Blue Ridge in NC, so a trip to the Hudson Valley for me now includes planes rather than trucks and horse trailers.

On Sunday at the YDF (where we had 300 kids competing in dressage at all leves, from leadline to FEI!), I got to judge a dressage trail class before my more-usual gig of judging freestyles.? Adding trail-type obstacles to a dressage test creates an interesting phenomenon ? it becomes clear which riders are good at solving problems from horseback and which don’t plan ahead for dealing with the unexpected.

Those who felt they could go with the flow found themselves in awkward situations:

–going from a halt to a flowered ground line in two strides.

–carrying a ball on a circle one-handed and then finding it’s in the wrong hand to drop it into a bucket.

–crossing the diagonal at a canter and finding they’ve picked a bad line, with rails and barrels in the way.

Those who clearly planned ahead had little trouble, even if their horses made a grab for a flake of hay, topped with carrots, on top of a barrel.

I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon with riders who use readers during a regular dressage test.? The riders who go off course are often the riders with a reader.? Even if you are going to use a reader for security from a memory lapse, you still have to know the test cold to help your horse prepare ahead for an upcoming movement.? If you rely too much on a reader you’ll find yourself in a bad spot too late to make a course correction.

Anyway, I love judging the Dressage Trail class at YDF because sooner or later a child and pony are going to get in a tug of war over those carrots and the pony is likely going to win.

Last weekend I judged at Dressage at Lexington (VA) in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.? This is a private show run by Debbie Rodriguez, and it is a huge undertaking.? She levitates her extended family, friends, clients, etc. from the Williamsburg area all the way across the state.? The show is eight rings for three days and includes a breed division and all kinds of parties, team events and a trade show.? I’m not sure, but it may be the largest privately run dressage show in the country.? The competitors love it, and they return in droves every year.

I’m now looking forward to my next out-of-town trip, waaay out of town, to London for the Olympics, where I will be covering the equestrian events for the Associated Press.? Later this week, I’ll be starting a daily blog, at least I hope it will be daily.? We’re working so hard that sometimes we don’t have time to eat or sleep.? This will be my seventh Olympics, and even though I never watch my diet over those three weeks, I’ve never come home weighing more than when I left.? On the other hand, there are those British pubs . . . .

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