Friday, November 1, 2013

Utah Dressage Society Double Champion!!

The results are official. Frisco and I earned the title of Champion in the Open Training  and Open First Level divisions with the Utah Dressage Society. 2013 was a very interesting and educational show season for us. I gave Frisco seven weeks off in the summer of 2012. Our 2013 show season started off with the Region 5 USDF/GAIG Championships in October, 2012, in Heber City, UT. Frisco and I had only been back to work for six weeks, and his last show was in May. We started out the three day weekend a little rusty and didn't have our best performances on Friday and Saturday. By Sunday, he had settled back into the routine and we had two very lovely rides, a Training Level Test 3 ride for a 70.4%, and, the USEF 4 Year Old Test for a 70.6%. We then went on to have a super show a month later at Cooper Ranch, with Hilda Gurney never scoring us lower than a 71% on our Training Level tests. The highlight of that weekend was the USEF 4 Year Old Test, where we earned a 77.2%. The trouble with showing a young horse, though, is waiting for their bodies. Frisco actually grew and developed more from 4.5 yrs. to 5.5 yrs. than I expected he would. We would have days when he felt balanced and we could school Second level. Then other days, that body would get away from him and he cantered on his nose. So we tip toed our way into First level throughout the show season, with minimal expectations. Sometimes we would get high 60s, sometimes, we'd struggle, whenever that canter got unbalanced. By the time we participated in our last show of the season, his canter was finally regaining its balance and quality, his hind end had gotten stronger, and he'd developed a much more sophisticated response to my rebalancing aids. We won a large First Level Test 3 class across all divisions at the August Millbrook Farms show. I decided to skip the Region 5 Championships in Parker, CO, in favor of attending a friend's wedding. I don't regret it, missing the opportunity to compete. The wedding was beautiful and my friends, while they would have understood my absence, appreciated my presence. Frisco appreciated the downtime, and as though to reward my patience, he is now solidly Second level and starting to school Third level. I think putting his  mind and body through the rigors of a twelve hour one way haul and a very intensive show just when he was starting to get himself organized would have only made him sore and tired.
This year-which starts in just two short weeks!-we'll start the show season with a First Level Freestyle and Second Level Test 1. I'd like to earn my USDF Freestyle Bronze Bar with Frisco, to go along with the USDF Bronze Medal Charisma helped me earn. So, I plan to continue the freestyles through the levels with Frisco. It will be a fun, new adventure for us. He really likes working to music, and so do I. I ride so much better, and he clearly appreciates it.
I'm so proud of Frisco, and thankful for the support of my husband, family and friends in this compulsive endeavor of Dressage.
Here's a picture of Frisco's papa, Fidertanz. Who does this remind you of?!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Frisco Finished off the 2013 Show Season with a Bang!

Frisco and I attended the August Millbrook Farms show to finish off our season. It was touch and go whether or not I would even be able to attend, since I'd seriously injured my ankle just four weeks prior to the show when Frisco startled during a sudden hailstorm and dinged me with his hoof by accident. We had a great time, enjoying Brenda and Cookie's company and visiting with the Utah gang. We showed First Level Test 3 both days. The first day our canter work left much to be desired...he'd gotten out of balance again during yet another growth spurt. When this happens, he needs to be very attentive to my seat and half halts in order to not fall on his head in the canter from all the power that big hind end generates, and sometimes the excitement of a show can get in the way of our ability to communicate. So on Saturday, we didn't have a great showing in terms of quality of the work. He was obedient, and we had no mistakes, so, that saved us and it was still a respectable 61+%. The high quality in the connection we've been developing was also evident to the judge, earning us an 8 on our trot stretchdown and an 8 on our walk/trot/canter sequence, which requires a pretty sophisticated acceptance of the connecting aids in order for the horse to make this happen seemlessly in a short distance. So in spite of the problems, there was plenty to like about the ride.

On Sunday, he was much more on my aids. I only planned for a 30 minute warmup, and that included our normal 10-15 minutes of free walk first. I still had more time than horse, so, I played it carefully, remembering how I'd overwarmed him at the July show, and managed to save the last bit of fumes he had for the test. He brought it for me...and under Gary Rockwell, we presented a much higher quality in the gaits, impulsion and submission, as well as the execution of the movements. Mr. Rockwell also recognized the good connection and again scored us an 8 on that walk/trot/canter sequence. So even with one mistaken wrong lead, we still easily pulled down a 68.226%, which gave us the WIN over the entire class, across all divisions. It was nice to know we did that well and yet there is still room for improvement. As you can see from the pictures, Frisco's uphill balance and cadence in the trot work is getting pretty sharp. As I type this, a few short weeks after the show, he has regained his balance and his canter is now once again starting to match that trot. I always had the feeling that once he got done growing, he was going to very easy to ride and have a very easy time with more advanced work. My instincts were right and he has been easily working all of the Second level movements and transitions, and we will continue to develop his strength, power, balance, collection, cadence, scope and connection in the hopes of debuting at Second level in November. He has become a blast to ride, with an excellent work ethic. I'm a very lucky girl indeed.
At the tender age of five, Frisco has earned his Training and First Level Horse Performance Awards, has qualified for USDF Regional Championships as well as the California Dressage Society Championships at both Training and First Level, and is currently the Number Two Westfalen in the country at both Training Level and First Level. Frisco comports himself at shows with a poise and sensibility that belies his young age, and has a real presence in the ring. He is a credit to his parentage and I am honored and humbled to share my career and heart with him.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Top of the Class!

Frisco and I just returned on Monday from attending our first show at the lovely Millbrook Farms in Fairfield, UT. We were demonstration riders in a Through the Levels Symposium at Millbrook back in November but at that time everything was under snow. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the green grass and perfect footing. Frisco's favorite thing, besides being able to graze, was having automatic waterers. I was told once that he is "fire", in terms of the feng shui elements: fire, water, earth, metal, wood. I was advised to make sure he always had access to very fresh water, so he gets his water trough scrubbed and filled with fresh water every Sunday. He loves to drink straight from the water hose. So needless to say he drank constantly, so thankful to have his very own water fountain!

The venue suited him, and he was 100% honest and consistent in his Training Level Test 3 classes, earning a 74.6 and 71.2. We won that huge class both days-17 horses on Saturday and 14 horses on Sunday-across all divisions. Open riders do tend to get scored a little more stringently, whether judges like to admit they do this or not. There were many lovely 5 year olds at this show, many trained by riders who had had the opportunity to bring more young horses along than I have thus far in my career, one even trained by a German bereiter. So while Frisco may have had more show experience than most of the other young horses, his rider is far less experienced than the other young horses' riders, and he had to travel much farther. I am learning so much with him, as I have with the others. I am learning how to be there for my horse at all times. This is something you have to learn, you have to learn how to set aside all your fears and doubts and show your horse confidence, to lead him. You have to be willing to be humble and vulnerable, and keep trying to improve. I am getting better at this, and it is starting to bear fruit. Our results in the Training Level class showed this. On Saturday we earned the High Point Hundred Bucks award, donated by Sage Creek Equestrian, which is owned by Jim and Donette Hicks, Heber City, UT. We also received lovely stemless wine glasses with the Millbrook logo for our first place wins.

Frisco and I also showed First Level Test 3 both days. This needs some work. We've been doing a bit too much Second level work in our schooling lately, and not focusing enough on preparing specifically for that test. So I think Frisco was confused, and trying too hard, which is never a bad thing. We had a few miscommunications, and while we got plenty of 8s in those tests, we also got a few too many 4s. The tension from the miscues also resulted in less than elastic free walk and trot stretching, which is normally a highlight for Frisco, who inherited his mother's fantastic walk and his father's fantastic elasticity. I am encouraged, because I know that when he is more secure in the differences between the aids for simple changes versus changing lead through the trot, among other things, we'll be getting very nice scores at First Level as well, more in keeping with our Training level scores. As it was, we still managed a 62 and a 64. I am looking forward to the second Millbrook show in August, always a treat. I am very grateful to the entire Lawrence family for their hospitality, it was a wonderful showing experience. They thought of everything: ice cold cloths to cool us and our horses down after our classes; pizza and beer one night; lasagna the other night-and they remembered to provide veggie pizza and veggie lasasgna!!; and even movie night in the indoor arena Saturday night. I will not miss their shows if I can help it, it is well worth the ten hour round trips. It was also a real treat to have my husband there, I love it when he comes to shows with me. I'm pretty sure he's the hottest groom around.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dressage: The Art and the Sport of It

Is Dressage sport, or is it art? I believe there are two sides to it, and, they do not have to be in opposition. They can work to benefit one another. My definition of Dressage is that it is the art of systematic gymnastic development of a horse's body, as well as, developing a deep communication and oneness with the horse. Showing seems at first glance to be a contradiction to this pursuit. For me, this is what showing is about: 1. fun and bonding with my horse; 2. to prove that I can keep my horse on my aids, and that I can continue to ride well, in a pressure situation; and lastly, 3. feedback from various judges, which I take into context with my system of training and where my horse is...i.e. if the judge says I need more lengthening but I know that my horse is offering all he can at this moment in time-accept the lower scores and continue to work on the things at home that will improve the lenthening, figuring out WHY they aren't there yet, rather than forcing them to be there because a judge said they needed to be. No different than with the stretchdowns...Frisco stretched when he was physically able. Many horses will allow themselves to be trick ridden into a stretch-just go watch on the sidelines and notice how many do a gravity stretch with riders jiggling the bit back and forth and the reins slack.  Once Frisco was physically prepared to stretch and honestly connected, we now have that as a highlight, often getting 8s on it where it used to be a 5. With the lengthenings, rather than panicking and chasing my horse off his feet, I started analyzing him-watching video and lunging. Do you know what I realized? His natural stride is already the distance of most horse's lengthened stride. Of course he couldn't lengthen any more, he was already very long strided and not yet srong enough for extended trot, which with his trot stride length is the next step on the continuum. I was basically asking my not even five year old for extended trot!!! So how do I fix this? I have to develop his collectability. Janet Foy said it multiple times in the symposium I rode in back in November, and as well in her book, Dressage for the Not So Perfect Horse: you can only have as much extension as you  have collection, you have to develop the pendulum of the hind leg incrementally. I have to make his working trot shorter and more elevated. Then I will have a lenghtening. These two examples are just what showing means to is not about the movements or the test patterns. Showing is not dressage per se, it is what I said above, to me. The test patterns are simply a structured way of accomplishing those three things. Showing is a sport, an opportunity to publicly display the fruits of your artistic endeavors. It is what an art show is to an artist. Properly preparing your horse at home prior the show, taking the time to develop the spectacular moving sculpture that is a properly developed and muscled dressage horse, will set you up for a fun and successful show. Having a strong base of communication will bring artistry and beauty to a technical endeavor. Take the criticsims and the praise-the reviews-and go home and continue to hone your craft and further your relationship with your horse. Let the two serve to further one another.
Photo Courtesy Scott Hallenberg


I'd like to introduce Champ.  He's a 2007, 17.2 hand pinto Old/Han gelding by Sempatico, and is owned by Mary Lou Pazik of Henderson, NV. Champ was sent to me at the end of October, 2012, for basic training. He had been taught to lunge correctly, and, was backed and ridden out onto trails by a cowboy, when he was younger. He was sent to Texas for a year to live with Mary Lou's daughter, Stephanie, where he was ridden some. Stephanie unfortunately sustained a serious injury to her foot and was then unable to walk, much less ride, for quite some time. Champ was moved to a facility that in the end did not take very good care of him. When he arrived at Lava Bluffs, he was about 200 lbs underweight and his hooves were platters.

I started him out lunging. In the beginning, he could not start to the left-I had to start his lunging to the right track. Also, he could not pick up the right canter. Boy did we have a long way to go. His size made balancing a real challenge for him, even without a rider. After a couple of weeks of just lunging, I felt his fitness was improving and began riding him a little bit after each session. By the end of Champ's time with me, five months, he had really come a very long way in his strength, health, and training. He still needs to continue working on his strength, topline, hind end, and his transitions, but he has a good start. He has a super mind, a very gentle soul, enormous gaits, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with him.

I did think it was cute that I had two gigantic black and white horses to ride for a while there!! Here's a couple of photos with me holding Champ and Tanner. Champ is on the left and Tanner is on the right. Tanner is a 12 yr old, 17 hand Percheron/Paint gelding. Also below is a link to video of me riding Champ after exactly five months of training. I hope Mary Lou has fun with her horse, and I hope he comes back to me for more training later!

Photos courtesy Karen Martz

Tanner on the right, owned by Karen Martz, and Champ on the left, owned by Mary Lou Pazik

Easter Weekend Clinic with Alfredo Hernandez

Frisco and I participated in our fifth clinic with Alfredo Hernandez this weekend. This time, Brenda and Cookie also attended, their first. It was as usual a wonderful clinic. We covered a lot of territory with Frisco, working on travers, renvers, shoulder in, leg yield, reaction time, and transtions. The biggest key to all of this is Frisco's reaction time to my aids. Alfredo wanted a much more prompt reaction to any and every aid I used. He had me carry the whip flat in both hands in order to require me to keep my hands lower, and to be more effective in the use of my leg and seat, versus relying too much on neck flexion to get things done. We worked extremely hard on Saturday with all of these things, and on Sunday I can honestly say that we had the most lovely shoulder ins yet. Alfredo had me really concentrating-I need to get a reaction to my aids, and, I must prepare Frisco much more carefully. A very simple exercise of 20 meter figure eights in trot, focusing on the preparation and change of bend, was the set up for the shoulder ins. It could not have been more seamless.
Alfredo was very happy to see Frisco's continued muscular development, and he could clearly see that we had been working hard. He wants to see me do many more transitions, in and out of the gaits and within the gaits. As well, he wants to see many transitions from one lateral movement to straightness to another lateral movement, not staying in any one movement for too long. He stressed the importance of keeping the quality of the gaits when I work on the lateral work-riding straight and forward any time I lose rhythm or tempo. He also stressed the importance that the horse reach into the contact and maintain the connection in all the work but especially in the trot stretch.
Cookie's introduction to the work was an exciting undertaking. I expect to see greatly improved acceptance of the connection in her as we continue these clinics. I am overjoyed that Brenda is putting her time, money and energy into furthering her education versus showing right now. Cookie is very talented, but it is a big leap to dressage from other disciplines for a rider. After a very successful first year at Training level, this time Brenda is taking to really deepen her understanding of this very intricate discipline will be time well spent. Alfredo loved Cookie, and spent a little time working her in piaffe. She will be a piaffing machine. Alfredo said she has very clear talent for piaffe, passage, and flying changes. What else do you need in a Grand Prix horse?! How exciting for Brenda!
Here are some pictures of Frisco and I, courtesy of Scott Hallenberg. Thanks Susan for sharing your husband's photography skills with us!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Balancing Act by Gerd Heuschmann

I have just read this book twice through, and I have to say, this is an absolute treatise on developing a young horse or retraining a rehab horse. While I did read his previous book, Tug of War, I felt it was more of a soapbox statement and didn't offer much help for riders and trainers. Balancing Act, on the other hand, is my new dressage bible.

I put its theories to the test this past weekend at the Las Vegas Spring Fling I. On Saturday, Frisco's classes were back to back. It was the hottest day so far this year, and we both got too hot. I was on him for well over an hour, during the hottest part of the day. He gave me all he had, and we scored very well on our Training level tests, a 69.464 and a 71.8. So on Sunday, we were both pretty tired and pretty sore for our First level test 1 ride. I gave him plenty of time at a walk on a loose rein around the grounds before entering the warmup ring, and even once entering, I spent a lot of time going from medium walk to free walk. This is described in Balancing Act as a very effective tool for preparing the horse's back. In trot and canter, I allowed Frisco to work mostly in a stretched position, especially during changes of bend. His back was so tight that he was going irregular in the changes of bend at the beginning. He was also tending to stay behind the vertical in the stretch at the beginning. Frisco is naturally a very uphill horse, with a well set on and well shaped neck that tends to the short side. He also has a very supple poll and jaw, and tends to overbridle. Teaching him the stretched position and to reach out to the contact has been a process of long term correct riding from the hind leg to the contact over the course of the last couple of years. In the beginning, he would not stretch, AT ALL. He did not think it possible or necessary. Now that he has developed the muscular strength to stretch correctly, he loves to stretch and seems to understand how beneficial it is for him. Dr. Heuschmann discusses the importance of waiting for your horse during this process. Until the horse is strong enough in the right way, it will often not be able to stay stretched to the hand at all times, and he repeatedly stresses that the correct basic training of a young horse usually takes a minimum of two years. It is so important not to rush, even when judges are giving you poor scores. Wait for the training to develop your horse properly, instead of forcing things to happen for the sake of a good score. In the long run, it will be the much faster road.

While I know how important it is to begin developing an uphill balance in the horse sooner rather than later, it is pointless to force a fake uphill outline when the horse's back is tight. So, we worked in a stretched position for the vast majority of his thirty-five minute warm up, even in the canter. I chose sound biomechanical theory and patience over forcing false activity and elevation onto a horse that was already too tight. The result was a solid score of 67%, including a 7 on the 10M half circle left/10M half circle right, and an 8 on the trot stretch circle. I was unable to get his back loose enough for the lengthenings to be available, and, the tempo stayed too quick, but, I am happy with the final score in light of how the warmup began. He is very easy to bring up into the correct outline when it is time, so my patience in the warmup that allowed him the time to loosen up kept him calm and forward thinking, and he was a very good sport during our test. Below are some photos to illustrate the stretching, and the later more polished product just as we prepared to trot up centerline for the test. Stretching done correctly does not put the horse on the forehand. On the contrary, it prepares the hind leg, abdominal and trunk muscles, long back muscles, thoracic sling, neck muscles, the jaw, the mouth & tongue, and the poll-in that classically and biomechanically correct order-properly for a relaxed, uphill balance with an honest reach to the hand. I can't thank my wonderful husband enough for the beautiful photos he took on a beautiful morning so that I could illustrate these concepts for you. He was by far the most handsome groom at the show :) Between he and Frisco and our grandson Cooper, I am surrounded by some very handsome men and am one lucky girl indeed!

Stretching in Trot

Starting to develop some bend while continuing to allow a stretched trot frame

Stretching in walk-look how long his neck looks!! And how short his back looks!! Long neck=short back=CORRECT BIOMECHANICS

Absolutely no problem to bring the horse up into a peppy, square halt with a neck that reaches for the hand

Which results in a balanced, uphill strikeoff to trot
And a nicely uphill canter, still fully stretched to the hand from tail to poll.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Show Riding versus Riding for Future Training

Frisco and I are back home and unwinding after the Las Vegas Winter Fling this past weekend. We had a great time at the show: the weather was beautiful, and we both learned a lot and enjoyed each other's company. We showed Training level tests 2 and 3 on Saturday, and on Sunday we made our show ring debut at First level, with test 1. Frisco's growth has been interfering in our canter work off and on for pretty much his entire time under saddle. Last year, as a three year old, he actually was more balanced and our canter work generally scored higher than our trot work. But believe it or not, he's grown more as a four year old than he did as a three year old, and it has been a challenge for him to figure out what to do with his body. Thanks to all our work with Alfredo Hernandez, he has learned how to carry himself in the trot work, and I know that his understanding will transfer to the canter work eventually. His trot work has become the highlight by all judges' accounts, and on Saturday, nearly every trot movement in both tests scored 7.5 or even 8, from Judge David Schmutz, who isn't known for giving out very many 8s...8 8s in two tests!! And two more 8s on Sunday!! In the first class, test 3, Frisco got playful in the right canter and rolled a few bucks. Here is where I had to put on my best acting job, and it was worthy of an Oscar. I rode those three bucks, then calmly turned him onto the 20M circle, and pretended it never happened. I didn't touch his mouth(THANK YOU LOIS YUKINS).  I just followed his neck, and used my seat to turn him. The judge very much appreciated my tactful riding and also chose to pretend he didn't see that :) Not a great score on the movement, a 6, but, I think he really appreciated that I didn't make it into a whole big thing. That would have served no purpose in the grand scheme of Frisco's training whatsoever. We came away with a 69.8 even with the small problem in that canter. Then we rode our second class, which was actually the easier test 2. As I rode through the trot work with Frisco, I felt like I was riding in heaven, and the judge agreed. 8s on everything. But, that right canter, which is his least balanced work right now, came back to haunt me. Actually Frisco started to take the right lead, but the  monkey knows the test and tried to canter very early. Anyone who has ever taken a horse up the levels knows...this is a habit you want to nip in the bud sooner rather than later, otherwise, you will be hung come time for flying changes, they'll start flipping changes whenever and wherever. It isn't like it was his first show season, where I'm just thrilled he canters sometime in the general vicinity of when I asked! It's his second show season, time for him to stay on the aids. So I didn't let the canter happen when he tried. That flustered the overthinker a little bit, and he got tight which put him against my inside leg and  no longer listening to my seat, and then he could not canter right to save his life. By that time, two movements were sacrificed, so, I chose to circle back to C, get a few half halts through, get him listening to my seat and making space for my inside leg, and he then took a beautiful right canter depart. Two poor scores and an error...shot that pending 75+ score right out of the water. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. We still managed a 67.1 because so much of the work prior to that went so well. In one day, I had two scenarios arise: one in which my horse just felt exhuberant; and one in which my horse was about to take me down a road I have seen the end of and knew I didn't want to go there again. He didn't get in trouble, I didn't make a fuss, I just simply chose to regroup, and make myself crystal clear...these are the aids, and you have to stay on and white. I could have just let him take the canter early and faked it, but the problem is, he's done this before, more than once. He's not going to stop doing it, unless I stop him from doing it. If I'd have chosen to just be a show rider, gotten greedy and went for the really fat score because I'm quite sure the judge would have kindly overlooked the early depart just as he did the little buckaroo, I would not have set myself up properly for the next ride, the next show, the next show season....and ultimately flying changes at C after the half pirouettes in the PSG test, when every horse under the sun wants to change at H or M instead of waiting until C. You have to decide, in a split second usually, whether you are riding for the show today, or, the training down the road. It was obvious, the bucking was a one time thing, not something he normally does, and he was feeling his oats. Young horses will do that, and since he's generally a pretty laid back kid, I don't get too upset with any show of energy from him, even if it isn't always quite directed where I was wanting to go with it! So I chose to be a show rider and ride on like it never happened. But when he chose to leave me behind and try to canter without me, yet again, I headed it off. While I had to take a short term sacrifice, I believe one hundred percent that it set me up for a SUPER First level debut the next day, where Frisco has to go from free walk, to medium walk, to working trot, to working canter RIGHT(our current nemesis), within the very tight space of P-F-A. WE NAILED IT. I guarantee...that if I had not, the day before, reminded him that I will always set him up, and then give him the aid, there is no doubt in my mind we would have had at best a depart that was hollow and against my inside leg,  but at worst and far more likely, a wrong lead and more hysteria. Frisco would have lost all confidence in me as his guide, and in his ability to take the correct lead. Instead, he waited for the set up, allowed the set up, waited for the aid, and allowed that aid. Absolute throughness. It was a canter depart straight from the dressage Gods. I could have cared less what the final score on the test was!! As it was, we earned a 69.655. I was blown away by his total rideability throughout the test, in spite of the fact that I was tight and sore, and he was tired, and probably also tight and sore. What we lacked in power and brilliance, we made up for in total harmony and ease of the movements. We had a training breakthrough, a breakthrough only gained by actually showing, and choosing the right moments to let slide-to be a show rider, and the right moments to address-to be a trainer. It is easy to get the work done at  home, when no one is watching, and you don't have to get it all done within a specified time and space. At home I can wait until he's set up, I can wait until he's on my aids, and I don't have to ask until all the stars are aligned. But I don't own the ride until he is willing to stay on my aids for the entire six minute duration of a test, with all the world watching. I absolutely love this horse, he is going to make me a very good rider. He is teaching me patience, and how to have fun. I've never enjoyed showing so much!
I can't thank Brenda and Dow enough for being my helpers, it made the show easy and fun. And Frisco thanks Toby for giving up his stall at every show...the best seat in the house honestly!
Here is a link to that First level ride, which Dow was kind enough to record for me.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Absolute Versus Relative Elevation
I would like to highly recommend this article in particular, and this website in general, as a source for Dressage education. I am going to quote directly from the article here:

"Held Up with Force
Some people think that I rant about rollkur riding and overbent necks. But if there's one thing I really really hate, it's when strong riders with a double bridle habitually pull the neck as far up and back as they can, in the name of collection. This is the most detrimental posture a horse can take with a rider on his back. "
I choose this quote from the article, because it is long and detailed and not all will want to read it. But this quote says it ALL. If you see a horse that is being ridden this way, the "tell" will be this: watch them in their "collected" canter-the horse's mouth will gape at every downbeat of the stride as the poor thing pivots off the 100 lbs of pressure the rider is holding on their mouth. Their jaw is doing the work their hindlegs should be doing. Sometimes the horses will almost offer this arrangement because their hindlegs are not strong enough to perform what it is their rider is asking of them. A wise rider will recognize this evasion as the horse screaming that he is simply not yet strong enough, and, take the time to carefully strengthen the horse's hind legs in the classical way. Or, have the vet out to check for problems, if it is a new evasion from a horse that does already know how to carry the collection correctly behind. If the riders don't care that they can't feel their fingers when they are done riding, then, reading this MIGHT make them care about what it is they are doing to their horses. Or, maybe they won't care. Rarely will judges be able to see this, or probably more likely rarely will they realize how big a problem it really is and instead reward the high poll and flashy front legs, and these horses  usually score well, high 60s even low 70s at times. But when a REAL judge comes along, who absolutely know what absolute elevation looks like, and scores them lower, the rider will simply chalk it up to the judge being "grouchy".
It is important we as riders learn to recognize what is correct and what is not. We have to be very disciplined with ourselves and not be seduced by the siren song of advancing up the levels before we, and our horses, are ready. Below are photo examples of a correctly balanced canter where the horses are not pivoting off the bit for balance, one more collected, one less collected, but both in the correct balance for their development. Both horses are in, or approaching, the downbeat of the canter. Neither horse is gaping its mouth, nor is the rider carrying her hands in an artificially high manner with excessively short reins in order to force the poll to remain the highest point. The poll is the highest point correctly, because the hind legs have lowered to accept the weight and lighten the forehand. No doubt we all have our bad moments as riders, and not every photo will portray you and your horse in the best light, but if most of  your photos look correct most of the time, you can probably bet that for the most part, your horse is working in the correct way. It is not easy to ride correctly, progress will be slower sometimes as you wait for your horse to gain the necessary strength, but it will be worth the wait. I promise.