My trainer Karen Brown gave me a different kind of homework during my lesson this week: "Go home, pull out your score sheets from each of Rijkens' tests ridden at shows, and carefully review the directives and then the judge's remarks."
As a team we've ridden five tests in front of four different judges over the last year. Here's the breakdown:
- Shoulder-in should be consistent in tempo, engaged and collected. The angle, bend should be maintained (not vary) and the balance must remain uphill. I have a tendency to show too wide of an angle, and often get the comment something like "slight wide beginning then improved" or "don't push haunches out in beginning." Which means I need to keep the angle less wide so Rijkens can carry weight better behind.
- Transitions should be well defined in uphill balance. I need "steadier engagement as transitions come too much on forehand" so I must be sure to keep Rijkens lighten-able and let-go-able by, well, LETTING GO of the reins often in uberstreichen! Walk to canter transitions should be clear, calm, balanced and straight. Rijkens has gotten the gamut from an 8 to a 4 on his walk to canter, which means he's quite capable if I prepare by using Jeff Moore's version of the half halt keeping Rijkens light and chest up.
- Medium and extended gaits should have consistent tempo, elasticity, suspension, uphill balance and ground cover. Comments like "needs more scope" and "tempo quickens, little ground cover" tell me I need to generate and store energy on the short side and in the corner then let some of the stored energy out into a tall and raise-able extended gait.
- Half pass should have consistent tempo, engagement, collection with alignment, bend, fluency and lateral reach. Comments like "slightly labored" or "little bend" and "show even better bend" or "haunches lag" tell me I need to increase engagement by raising Rijkens' chest and keeping what for me seems like almost too much bend.
- Typically Rijkens does fairly good or good on his flying changes, walk pirouettes, and halts. The key for me is to keep the engagement by keeping him raise-able and let-go-able. Comments like "7, clean" or "8, good" show us we are capable of flying changes, but the flying change should be engaged, collected, correct, straight, balanced and fluent. The pirouette must be active, bent, fluent and small. The halt should be straight on centerline, immobile and attentive with clear and balanced transitions in and out.
- For the halt and reinback, I must remember to halt, wait Mississippi one...Mississippi two....Mississippi three....Mississippi four, and only then ask for the rein back. And for heaven's sake remember that in third level test one you walk out of the reinback and TROT out of the reinback in all our tests above that!
- gaits need to be even freer;
- maintain activity to generate impulsion with a more active hindleg for increased and steadier engagement and uphill balance;
- transitions must be uphill with increased engagement
- medium/extended gaits need uphill balance for clarity; and
- lateral work needs steadiness of carriage.
Some helpful definitions from the USDF Glossary of Judging Terms written by Jeff Moore:
Freedom: amplitude and lack of constriction of the horse's movement
Activity: energy, vigor, liveliness-- especially that of the hindlegs
Uphill: longitudinally well balanced as a consequence of engagement of the hindquarters (elevation of the forehand) and engagement of the chest muscles to left the forehand
Engagement: increased flexion of the lumbosacral joint and the joints of the hind leg during the weight-bearing (stance) phase of the movement, thus lowering the croup relative to the forehand (lightening the forehand); engagement is carrying power
Self-Carriage: state in which the horse carries itself in balance without taking support or balancing on the rider's hand