The third weekend in February, at the Las Vegas Winter Fling II held at Cooper Ranch, I was privileged to scribe for and sit with Melissa Creswick, another very popular S judge, from Clovis, California. If you've followed my blog, you know that I've also already sat with Janet Curtis.
While the Utah Dressage Society is the organizer of this "L" Program, I live closer to the Las Vegas Chapter of the California Dressage Society. So, much of my training and showing revolved around this club. While the UDS has been amazing in hosting this program, I must say, I have been very surprised and humbled at the excitement and support shown by LVC-CDS with regard to my participation in this program. They have gone out of their way to facilitate my learning and seem genuinely enthusiastic about the prospect of having another graduate in their midst. They are doing all they can to help me prepare. I am very grateful for that!
When I sit and scribe at these shows, I am able to get insight not only into how to judge through Second level, but, through Advanced. The Prix St. George class was as big as the Training level Test 4 class. This is very important for me, in the learning process, because I am asked to watch a cross section in a single day. I am able to see the progression up the levels, and why certain things asked for at Training level through Second level really do matter if a rider wants her horse to be successful at the Advanced levels. Seeing this cross section in a single ring over a 7-8 hour period is really bringing the correlation home to me.
Melissa wanted riders to demonstrate clear transitions. Like Janet Curtis, she was not afraid to use the spectrum-as likely to give a 4 as a 9, when earned. I think this confidence is a hallmark of a well-seasoned and successful judge. She believed very strongly that a horse at Second level must be able to show a clear transition from canter to walk, or from medium to collected, if it is to be successful at the higher levels. She felt excessive reward of extravagent gaits at this level could easily doom this horse having a double bridle put on far too soon, in a misguided effort by the rider to move on to Third level too soon. What I loved about her judging style is that in everything she did, her comments, her scores, etc., she kept the future in mind for that particular horse. She was very careful to address the things most relevant. She reminded me several times to make dead sure I commented in such a way as to not send that horse home to be tortured. While Janet Foy had also discussed this in our B Session, seeing the theory in practice made a huge impression on me. She also stressed to me that comments must be framed in such a way that I do not promote hand riding. No question, she sees far more of this than she would like to see. And yet, she made certain I understood that the rider is my employer. I have to figure out a way to say what needs to be said in a way that the rider will look to herself to find a way to improve, without being unnecessarily harsh. I have found this to be my biggest challenge in this process. I want to pile all responsibility onto the rider, and in so doing, I will find it very difficult to ever give many scores of 6 or better to the rider. While it is true that the entire training process and the ride is the responsibility of the rider, nonetheless, I must take into account that each horse comes with its own set of challenges. I will need to have compassion, for the horse, as well as the rider. I found it interesting that Melissa would not remove her coat so long as the competitors were required to wear their coats.
A personal realization is also making itself known to me through this process. While I've always known, conceptually, that the judge can only judge what she/he sees in that seven minutes of time, sitting in the judge's booth is really bringing that home to me. So, to all you riders out there, and, note to self: realize that, the judge has no idea your horse has been sidelined for years, or, what your horse's breeding is, or its history and baggage. Even if she does know, she is not supposed to know, and therefore, must judge accordingly. So, if your goal is a safe and respectable 60% for the ride, be sure that you can perform all the criteria to a satisfactory degree at home nearly all the time. Also, don't get your feelings hurt if your score is not what you'd hoped. Read your tests and try to understand what the judge wants you to take from his or her comments, without any emotion. Understand that it's much more fun for the judge to be able to hand out higher scores, so, perhaps consider that in your choices. Or, if you know for sure you and your horse might never be capable of having "the look", but, you want to learn by progressing, develop a thick skin,and, try to progress in such a way as to not frighten your horse or make him feel insecure. Always take the time to prepare your horse, whether in the moment of the test situation, or, day to day in your training. Never take your horse up the levels too fast, it will only hurt their confidence at best, their bodies at worst. The judges cannot give you a gift because you've come a long way with your training, or your horse has issues to overcome. Bear this in mind, be grateful for what means progress to you, and, try very hard to understand what the judges want you to know.