Friday, February 5, 2010

USDF "L" Program

In the whirlwind of the last months, between actually studying and preparing for sessions A & B; getting my mare back to good health and the inevitable hours of research involved in making sure her diet is perfect; and keeping up with my clientele and life in general, I have not taken time to write about my experience thus far with the "L" Program.
I mentioned in a prior post months ago that I'd been fortunate to qualify for the program, and more importantly, land a spot in the current program being organized by the Utah Dressage Society. Seems there are not nearly enough programs to go around(we have candidates flying in from Ontario, Maryland, and California!), and I must again express my deepest thanks to the UDS for taking this on. It seems UDS has managed to draw more auditors than any other program.
We have now put two sessions in the books. Session A was taught by Sandy Howard, Session B by Janet Foy. Session A, hosted by The Promontory in Park City, UT, focused much of the information on the rules, conduct as a judge, judging methodology, and biomechanics. Session B, hosted by Sage Creek Equestrian in Charleston, UT, focused on judging criteria for gaits and paces, movements and figures, and discussed in detail the criteria of Training through Second level. Both sessions included the opportunity to view demonstration rides, and to practice honing not only our eyes(which frankly should be fairly honed at this stage in our learning), but also honing our ability to process visual input into a relevant comment and score to what we see, in a very short amount of time. The amount of territory these two sessions has covered is expansive. The scope of this program is impressive-I can't recommend it enough, to anyone-any aspiring trainer, judge, or amateur. The information is theoretical and practical, instantly useful. You will leave each session with enough knowledge to process for years. You do not have to be a candidate! Just audit, believe me, it is WORTH IT! The instructor judges who take on this task and agree to be a part of the education process of our judges are to be commended. This is a grueling job for them, so one can only assume they are doing this not for the money but for the betterment of the sport in our country. Our program for training judges is recognized worldwide for its thorough preparation of dressage judges.
There is no way I could do justice to the amount of information covered in this program in a single, or even daily, blog post. So, I won't attempt it. What I will do is attempt to stress to the riders I work with what the judges really want to see. The next time you think the judge has it in for you, make a point of offering to scribe at the next show. Among the requirements for this program are hours serving as a scribe, and hours "sitting" with a licensed judge. I have been able to sit with Janet Curtis already, and also served as her scribe. Trust me, folks, these judges want in the worst way to see a good ride. They want to give good scores. They do not enjoy being mean. Please don't make them work very hard just to find something nice to say. It is more often than I realized very hard for them to do this. Help yourself as a rider, help your horse, and make the judges happy, by actually reading the directives for the level at which you choose to ride. Read the definitions of the movements, it's all available for free to members on the USEF website! Know the directives for the movements, understand what the essence of each movement is, and understand the essence of the level at which you seek to ride. Know the Training Pyramid. Understand how it applies to your scores. Here's a tip: acceptance of the bridle is a requirement in dressage! Yes, even at Training level! Know where the movements begin and end. Prepare your horse for every transition and movement. Know where your horse's hind legs are. Know what your horse and you need to do, biomechanically speaking, to meet the criteria of the movements. Be honest with yourself if your horse's gaits are not clear. It really does matter! Dressage is not the movements-it's the quality...of the gaits, the connection, the riding, the execution of the criteria. Know what those numbers mean...10-Excellent; 9-very good; 8-good; 7-fairly good; 6-satisfactory; 5-marginal; 4-insufficient; 3-fairly bad; 2-bad; 1-very bad; 0-not performed. Next time you are happy with a 60%, enjoy that happiness for a moment, but when you go home, sit down and study that score sheet and really try to understand what the judge wants you to know. In the end, are you REALLY happy with just Satisfactory??? Maybe. Maybe your horse is not ideal for the sport. It is an Olympic sport afterall. Maybe you've just moved up a level. Maybe you or your horse has come back from injury or other reason to be sidelined. Maybe you don't get to train with a trainer on a regular basis. We all have our burdens to bear. Regardless of your station in life and as a dressage rider, consider this: Would it not be more noble to develop a very high quality Training level horse than to mindlessly move up the levels with no understanding of the requirements?
I challenge each of you: Pursue excellence in your riding and training. Believe me, you will not be viewed as a hero if you keep moving up the levels despite low scores. Judges would much rather see a good(80%-yes, 80% is only just "good"!) Training level ride than a marginal(50%) First level ride. When you look at it in light of this, does that 57% on Training level test 1 really seem like something to write home about? Now believe me, there is absolutely no shame in riding your average horse, and in being happy with a 57%. Like I said, we all have to start somewhere. Maybe a 57% on your horse is a 67% on another horse. And this certainly is not to say that riders should not be happy when they are consistently scoring above 60%, do not misunderstand. I am not minimizing anyone's accomplishments here, but at the same time, keep perspective. But as Janet Foy so aptly pointed out, this is an Olympic sport. The reality is, if your horse lacks the natural, God-given conformation and scope to its gaits necessary to perform the hardest movements with the greatest ease, then to expect the judge to be Santa Claus and give you 70% on a horse that doesn't even track up in the working trot or remain pure in its canter rhythm is unrealistic. There are some that will, from time to time, but do not expect this. I challenge you to be thorough and positive in your training. I also challenge you to be realistic in your expectations.
I started this program with no other goal than to learn as much as possible and make myself a more viable candidate for USDF Trainer certification. After two sessions, I now deeply desire to become a judge. I see it as an opportunity to, again as Janet Foy said so perfectly, "sell hope". Only those candidates who pass with distinction will be eligible to continue on to become a candidate for "r" designation-the right to judge through Second level at National competitions. This is no given. The last program, of ten candidates, only saw two pass with distinction. Regardless of my final evaluation by the instructors, I will leave this program deeply transformed as a trainer and rider.
I cannot thank enough the UDS, the USDF, the instructor judges, the hosting facilities, the demonstration riders(who by the way have to hear a lot of bad judging as we muddle through!), and the judges who allow candidates to sit with them. These people and groups make our education possible. They are what make our judge training program the envy of the world. I am humbled and honored to have my foot in the door.