By Mary Robinson
I started showing at First Level at the end of 2017, so I jumped at the opportunity to try a Dressage Seat Equitation class this year. I’m the epitome of what being an adult amateur means, and didn’t even know what dressage was a decade ago, when I started taking lessons. Riding with my various body parts in the correct position takes concentration on my part, pretty much all of the time. No sooner do I get one body part wrangled into place, then another ends up askew. I know that any seat or body position flaws I have will impact my ability to perform well at the higher levels, even if my mare and I can compensate for them at Training and First Level. I’m truly interested in having any problem areas identified and had already asked my trainer, Erika-West Danque Nece, to be picky about my position during my lessons. It is a really good thing that I don’t owe her a nickel for every time she has to remind me where my knees should be, otherwise she would be rich enough to retire from giving lessons!
The Dressage Seat Equitation Program came along at a good time for me, and I’m truly glad that it’s now open to adult amateurs. It may feel daunting to be in the ring without knowing exactly what you’re going to have to do, whether you are in the class alone (which I’ve seen more often than not) or if you actually have another rider or two in there with you. I tried to imagine that I was in a lesson, rather than showing.
When I went into the ring for my first Adult Amateur Dressage Seat Equitation class, I didn’t feel nervous the way I normally do when trying something for the first time. Instead, I felt relieved – relieved that after doing two other tests that day, I didn’t have to remember a test pattern! Being a bit “Type A,” I typically review the test I’m riding over and over again in my mind, even if I know I’ll have a caller. I had searched the web for what the judge might ask me to do, and thought that I had everything covered. Two factors allowed me to take a deep breath and relax in the moment: I had already shown a couple of times that day, plus I was doing the class to learn what the judges were really thinking when they saw me ride, not to obtain a particular score.
I went into the ring and started following the judge’s instructions. Medium walk in both directions, got it. Rising trot, no problem. Sitting trot across the diagonal? Hmmm, I don’t do much sitting trot yet, but figured my mare, CSF Micaela (Lola), was a bit tired from the day’s showing and would do a nice little working trot, only to be surprised when she picked up a lovely medium trot, with me bouncing along on her back. I found out later that my trainer had been working on this very thing with Lola during her training rides. We had a good laugh over how much Lola had taken her lessons to heart!
Throughout the ride, Erika’s voice played in my head, “Check where your knees are every couple of strides,” and “Sit up tall in the transition from canter to trot,” which got me through the class. I had a smile on my face the entire time because I was enjoying the experience! I was one of the last, if not the last, to ride that night and my entire team was able to watch and cheer me on. Aside from our little trotting blip, Lola and I had a good ride and ended up qualifying for the new USDF Adult Amateur Equitation Regional Final Class, with a score of 71%.
The judge was straightforward with her comments, but also kind in the way that she spoke to me. I felt that I had gained some good insight about how I have been presenting myself to the judges, in addition to what I have already been working on to make that picture better. As I haven’t been involved in show management or scribing, I don’t get the chance to speak directly to the judges. Participating in the Dressage Seat Equitation class went a long way toward de-mystifying the judge’s thought process for me.
If another adult amateur mentions to me that they are on the fence about doing a Dressage Seat Equitation class, I would tell them how it benefitted me and definitely encourage them to give it a try. You get to hear comments directly from the judge. The movements called for in the class align nicely with the purposes of both Training and First Level tests. You may even get a bit of a challenge if you are asked to do a movement that you don’t practice often. Now, with that in mind, I’m off to practice my sitting trot!