By Kristina Huff
When I first heard about the new USDF Regional Adult Amateur Equitation Program, I instantly knew I would make competing in a final class one of my goals for the 2018 show season. The Dressage Seat Equitation classes only judge the rider, and are designed to promote correct seat, position, and use of the aids in dressage.
When I brought up the idea with my trainer, Christine Stephenson, she thought it was a great opportunity. She had previously described the Dressage Seat Equitation classes to me as a mini clinic, where the judge would have a discussion with you about what you did well and what you should work on in the future. She also said that it was particularly helpful because you could take the tips the judge gave you in the equitation class and apply them to your tests, to help you achieve a better score. I love taking advantage of any opportunity to learn, and I had honestly been a little jealous of the youth because, up until now, they were the only ones that got to the opportunity to learn straight from the judges at competitions.
For the first show of our season, I made sure to pick one that offered an Adult Amateur Equitation Class. It ended up being the very last class of the day, which I was secretly grateful for because I can get a little nervous trying something new in front of an audience. It was just me and one other woman in the class, so the judge had us use only half of the ring, while she watched us from C. The judge had us walk, trot (both sitting and rising), and canter both directions; it reminded me a lot of the Equitation on the Flat classes I had done as a junior during my years in Hunter/Jumper land. As we went around, I focused on keeping my leg at the girth and my shoulders back. My muscle memory also remembered our time in Hunter/Jumper land, so I often gave in to the urge to lean forward for the canter transitions, rather than sitting back and staying out of my horse’s way.
When the judge called us into the middle to talk, I held my breath. She hadn’t made many comments on my position on my previous tests, so I wasn’t sure what she was thinking about me now. The first thing she did was give both of us the comments she had. She told me that I had great following hips in the trot and canter, but I needed to follow better in the walk. She then told the other woman in the class that she had good basics, but she needed to work on being more relaxed when her horse got tense, to help her horse work through the tension. She then placed the class, placing myself in first and the other woman in second.
It was nice to get different comments than ones I usually got on dressage tests, as this class gave the judge the opportunity to focus more on my riding, as the standards for the class dictate that the judges only consider the performance of the horse as it relates to the rider’s seat and aids. However, I was still nervous because the judge didn’t tell us our scores in the ring. I would have to wait until they were posted to see if I had earned a qualifying score of 70% or higher. I was thrilled to find out I had scored a 73% and would be eligible to compete in the USDF Adult Amateur Equitation Regional Final Class.
On my dressage journey, my equitation has always been something I focused on; not just because I want to be a pretty rider, but because my horse Maxwell is a draft cross. This means that, even though he tries his
hardest, he cannot cover up my short comings with flashy gaits. If I want to get a good score on a movement, I have to be there to support him with a correct seat, position, and use of my aids. He would never be able to collect the canter enough to execute the serpentine from the third test from Second Level, if I was still riding with my hands so low I could hit my knee. Therefore, I am super excited that USDF has given us an opportunity to be recognized for working to be the best possible partners for our horses, through the Regional Adult Amateur Equitation Program. I hope to see you all there!