Levi’s Training Dressage Debut

While Levi certainly needs actual lessons and training in dressage (which is something I’m also working on fixing), one of the things that hurt us at Camelot was his reaction to being in at a new and stressful show environment. Levi is such a generally easy going horse that I’ve been slack about working on exposure. I just sort of take him places and expect him to be fine.

I took this Mustang to his first show less than 1 month after buying him at auction

And he usually is fine. But he’s not perfect. I haven’t even owned him a full year and he’s only been under saddle for a little over a year. After Camelot I realized that I A) need to actually take lessons if I want to ask him to be a show horse and B) I need to take him to more shows so he gets exposure. Especially dressage shows.

We’ve been to the JK Presents shows a few times before. Levi has even been there before. Although I’d love to try a new venue, this one is really conveniently located and their dressage judges are always very nice and accepting of people being there to school. Unfortunately, they don’t offer the eventing test so we had to sign up for actual dressage tests. Training 1 is pretty similar to BN, but Training 2 steps it up a notch. A notch I didn’t think we were really ready for, but, hey, it’s a schooling show and we were going for exposure. I was fully prepared to completely embarrass myself. It’s not like that would be a new experience for me.

My training 1 test was at 11:22, which meant we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to go to a horse show. What a lovely concept. Unfortunately, it meant we missed the cooler morning temperatures. My plan was to be on at 10:45 and have lots of time for warm up. Then I got on and it was so freaking hot, I completely gave up any ambition of riding for 30 minutes before my test. I brought my jacket up to the ring with me and didn’t even bother putting it on; I was just too hot. They were running ahead and the in gate volunteer told me I could go early if I wanted to. It was like 11:08 and we’d only warmed up for a few minutes, but I was so hot, I agreed to go early.

When I checked in with the judge, she was really nice. She reminded me that I had more time if I needed it and asked me to let her know when I was ready to go in and she’d ring the bell. All the dressage judges I’ve met at this show series have always been very helpful. It’s really a great place to school.

Chatting with the judge

Because Levi was being a bit jiggy and energetic in the show environment, I did take a moment after the bell rang as we trotted around towards A to halt him and remind him that he was still expected to listen to me even if shows are exciting.

Levi: “Look at that thing over there”

Our first halt wasn’t perfectly square, but it was a real halt with immobility unlike Camelot’s never-ending shuffle of nervous energy.

1. A: Enter working trot X: Halt, salute Proceed working trot
6.5: Fairly straight entry some loss of balance into halt

He’s not moving, so I’ll take it

2. C: E Track left Circle left 20m
6.5 (x2): steady rhythm, needs better bending and stretch to contact

contact, what contact?

3. A: Circle left 20m developing left lead canter in first quarter of circle
6.0: Hollow into depart unbalanced in circle

just a *little* hollow

4. A-F-B: Working canter
6.0: rather crooked

he really wanted to break and my solution was to creep my leg back like that because I am awesome at this

5. Between B & M: Working trot
6.5: Nicely forward

Sadly, no picture
6. C: Medium walk
7.0: slight tension by H

I’ll take a 7!

7. E-F: Change rein, free walk F: Medium walk
5.5 (x2): “pulls against hand causing irregular steps”

From E-F try to itch your legs with your teeth

8. A: Working trot
7.0: “fairly prompt and balanced”

He’s so cute

9. E: Circle right 20m
6.0 (x2): “A bit fussy, thus losing balance and bend”

actual rope of drool escaping

10. C: Circle right 20m developing right lead canter in first quarter of circle
4.0: “wrong lead, uncorrected”

to be fair, I tried twice to correct the lead and then gave up

11. C-M-B: Working canter
3.0: “no comment”

right lead canter has generally been difficult for us, but he nailed it in the warm up

12. Between B & F: Working trot
6.0: “unbalanced”

I actually think he looks pretty good

13. A: Down centerline X: Halt, salute
6.5: (no comment)

it’s better than the first halt

6.5: “Tense??”
6.0: “Often Fussy to contact and thus out of balance”
5.0: (combined comment with above)
6.0: “try not to look down, keep bend in elbows and fingers closed on reins”
6.0: (combined comment with above)
Final comment: ” A very capable horse but seemed tense this test and fussy to contact. needs to stretch into bit with relaxation.”

Final Score: 58.70%

My thoughts: this wasn’t the worst test I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t great. I didn’t do enough practice or prep. I really just wanted to do the show for exposure and wasn’t very concerned about the actual dressage. However, I do really appreciate the judge’s comments. She did a great job of providing constructive criticism with actual advice for how to improve. She was generous in scoring, but it was a schooling show. Takeaways: The right lead thing is clearly more of an issue than I thought. He tricked me by getting it right twice during the warm up, but he has been very sticky about that lead at home and we definitely need to address it. The loss of points for the free walk doesn’t worry me. He’s usually pretty good at free walk and he just thought this was an opportunity to itch. It’s unfortunate, but he’s a green horse and he’s very itchy (like actually very itchy – I need to do a whole post on that).

so itchy

We had a pretty long break between Training 1 and 2 so we went off to do some hunter over fences classes and then came back for our second test. In the meantime, we managed to leave the camera in the trailer so the rest of the pictures are cell phone shots. Which really sucks because Training 2 went much better. I once again went early. The judge asked me if I was ready and I said as ready as we’d ever be given we’d never practiced this test. She asked if I wanted more time and I said no, more time wasn’t going to help at this point. Then she asked if I needed a reader. I told her I’d probably be fine. I really like this judge though. She was very considerate and helpful.

1. A: Enter working trot
X: Halt, salute Proceed working trot
7.0: “straight entry, halt almost square”

Not sure why I am saluting so dramatically

2. C: Track right
B: Circle right 20m
6.0: “steady rhythm needs stretch + bend”


3. K-X-M: Change rein
6.5: “Nicely forward. Needs bend in corners”

4. Between C & H: Working canter left lead
7.0: Prompt
No picture

5. E: Circle left 20m
6.0 (x2): “Canter needs bend + balance. Hectic”

We are in a race

6. Between E & K: Working trot
6.0: “Quite hollow”

This actually isn’t the most hollow we were in this test.

7. A: Circle left 20m rising trot, allowing the horse to stretch forward and downward.
Before A: Shorten the reins
A: Working trot
4.0: “No stretch shown”

100% accurate. This is exactly what my comment would be

8. Between A & F F-E Medium walk Change rein, medium walk
6.5: “abrupt + above the bit. Medium-OK”

Didn’t get a picture of the transition.

9. E-M: Change rein, free walk
M: Medium walk
7.0 (x2): “Fair stretch + activity”
No picture sadly, but this felt really good.

10. C: Working trot
7.0: “Quite prompt”
No picture

11. E: Circle left 20m
6.5: “Fairly steady. Needs better left bend + stretch”

This is really as good as bend gets for us right now

12. F-X-H: Change rein
6.5: (no comment)

Looks pretty good to me. At least he’s forward

13. Between C & M :Working canter right lead
6.0: “falls in for the depart”

Oh man, we are so good at dressage

14. B: Circle right 20m
6.0: “needs better bend + balance”

who needs bend when you can lean instead

15. Between B & F: Working trot
6.0: (no comment)

Not the best, not the worst

16. A: Down centerline
X: Halt, salute
6.5: “Needs bend at A. Halt not quite square”

The shot is a little off center, but he’s stepping forward nicely

6.5: “Canter hectic at times”
Final comment: ” The stretchy circle is your homework – think of how softly he reaches in free walk and try to create that in trot will improve everything.”

Final Score: 62.88%

My thoughts: This test felt a lot better. He was much less distracted and more steady. We had zero stretchy trot, but I fully anticipated that. Stretch trot really isn’t going to be my homework either. His lack of stretchy trot is a symptom of not being truly on the bit. We just need to work on that engagement and the stretchy trot will come. I don’t know if he was better because he was tired (it was broiling hot out and we had done warm up and then a round of 2’6″ hunters before this test. It’s also possible the first test helped him get over his excitement/anxiety and that’s why the second test went so much better. I need to figure out what caused the change so I can use it in the future.

While the judge was certainly being generous with her scores, she was generous all around and we ended up getting 5th out of 9 for Training 2. Given that I thought we’d be last, I was really happy to take home a pretty pink ribbon instead. I was really impressed with Levi’s behavior at this show, especially given the lack or practice I provided him with prior to this show. He tried very hard for me. I think part of our success might be that he’s been to this venue before and we’ll need to search out some new dressage venues to practice at.

30 thoughts on “Levi’s Training Dressage Debut

  1. martidoll123

    great job!! i think that was a very successful outing and i can see the diff in the 2nd test compared to the 1st so hopefully Levi will keep on improving. I find the smaller arena to be so difficult for a green horse (Ahem my 14 year old Remus still qualifies as Green in the dressage arena ha). And at least Levi didnt stop dead in his free walk to scratch both legs he kept walking (yeah we did that i was like oh Remus what a lovely walk and bam, stopped dead and scratched. Ummm no? HA

    Great job and great photos. Glad you got a ribbon too!! YAY.

    I still think Levi is so adorable i see great things ahead with him.

  2. Teresa

    I think it’s great that you took him there. He will get better with lessons and when he understands some of the concepts. he looks to me like he good do quite well in dressage.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I think he’s got some potential. I wish I could afford some full training for him. I think he’d progress better without me.

  3. Nicku

    The schooling shows at dressage in the almonds/marval are nice..and Lodi=wine so there’s that. Hopefully the lessons will help you help him feel more comfortable with connecting all his different body parts from back to front to achieve more suppleness and relaxation. He seems like such a lovely, versatile guy.

  4. emma

    “canter hectic at times” –> i feel like this accurately summarizes my entire experience with dressage lol!

    seems like a great day of exposure for Levi, some of those pictures are really nice too!

  5. Appydoesdressage

    Good job! Are you able to haul out to local farms and rent their arena? Make him think it is a show without the expense of a show? Mileage and experience and it will come together.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I don’t think that’s really a thing here. I’m sure I could arrange something with a trainer, but not just a day use thing. The horse park has that, but we’ve been there.

  6. lifeisbetterthere

    My mustang also has extremely itchy legs. He would probably even try itching them at the working trot. Good on Levi for containing himself enough to only submit to the desire during free walk.

  7. Stacie Seidman

    That’s so funny that he’s so itchy… My yellow horse is the itchiest horse ever. To the point that he breaks his paddock fence at least once a week just from itching. We did all the allergy tests, and he’s not actually allergic to much. I think he just likes itching. We’re trying him on Zyrtek now though and it seems to be helping somewhat. Look forward to your itchy post if you have any suggestions!
    Congrats on a great learning day! That Levi is definitely a special one. He really seems like he wants to do the right things for you.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I have no suggestions. Sadly, it looks like Levi has developed Sweet itch, which is an allergic reaction to midges. So while I know what it is there isn’t a cure and no good treatments outside of moving him to the desert or buying him special sweet itch sheets that he would destroy. My vet has said that palominos tend to be more sensitive and have more skin issues. So annoying since I own 2 of them.

        1. Olivia Post author

          I think that’s actually going to be worse for him poor boy. Apparently if you know about it in advance and pre-treat before he’s starts itching in the spring, it won’t get so bad.

  8. Liz

    Looks like some big improvements from T1 to T2 and so many nice moments! I’m still giggling at the “scratch legs with teeth” photo – definitely the humor I needed in my morning =)

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