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Tension in dressage tests! Advice please

8 replies

FluffingMarvellous · 16/07/2022 10:18

Would appreciate any perspective/ advice please.

My horse schools really nicely, generally in a good soft, relaxed contact (when I'm not slipping my reins. I've got another thread about that). She works in a good rhythm, nicely over her back. Does have a tendency to be a bit sharp at times and rush. She has a varied routine, lots of hacking, bit of jumping etc.

We don't often go out to dressage competitions as I don't have transport but we do a lot of online dressage.

My problem = She can be schooling beautifully. Then the moment that camera is on her, or she hears the intro wording, or we come down a centre line, the tension is unbelievable. Her head snaps up, she's tense, rushing, opening her mouth, running into canter, pre-empting every move.

I've tried getting someone else to say the intro. I've tried circling her before turning down the line to fool her. Nothing seems to work. I don't THINK she's feeling tension from me because I'm truly pretty chilled about the whole thing, although by Take 2 or 3 I probably am frustrated. I've never shouted at her or smacked her for doing badly. So I just don't get why she's like this.

It's like she really hates it. The worst thing is I'm not allowed to use my voice during the test to reassure her and calm her down..she just gets more and more strung out throughout the test. Any tests with stretchy work in them are a write off and canter can be full on explosive. All of which is ridiculous as, turn off the phone pointing at her, and she's an angel.

Oh and to make it weirder...she's not scared of being filmed. People film me riding all the time when it's not a test and she's totally fine.

All ideas gratefully appreciated!

OP posts:
Lastqueenofscotland2 · 16/07/2022 17:38

I suspect as much as you think it’s not it’s likely you anticipating the behaviour that’s making her tense. Could an experienced friend who’s not going to get rattled by a bit of sharpness gave a go for you? If you think it could be yhe intro ear plugs could be worth a go, all racing saddlers sell them.

Sprig1 · 16/07/2022 17:49

Another vote for it probably being you, but either way the answer is probably just to get out LOTS until it is really boring.

Lolabalola · 16/07/2022 17:58

Honestly think this must be you , not sure how she could tell the difference between being filmed and being filmed for a test otherwise.
I know you say you don't get stressed but I think you probably do ride differently. I know I do though I think I don't.
The test starts and the mindset is right , let's get this done and I suspect you tense up or make the contact a bit more rigid or just some tiny little sign.
Do you practice turning down the centre line just randomly ? I would do loads of centre lines, with lots of transitions down them or leg yields either way , plus Chuck in plain ones so she doesn't know what to expect.
Have you got a willing assistant that could just film a test every day, that's not for sending off, so you might have a different mindset?
Good luck. I feel your pain. I have one that is lovely at home but out she goes inwards and loses her energy, and one that when she goes out picks some area of the arena that's terrifying and spooks like a lunatic. Super frustrating Grin

FluffingMarvellous · 16/07/2022 18:06

Thanks all....I know it being me is the logical answer but I'm not convinced it is, I can be practically half asleep bored stupid and she still does the same, but perhaps it is the "let's go" mentality. It seems to be that she takes a cue from the moment she hears an intro, so ear plugs may well be worth a try, as could doing lots of going down centre line while somebody intros.

The only other thing I can think is she hates the repetition. With it being online dressage we often do 2 or 3 takes and maybe she finds that frustrating so gets tense when she knows it's starting. I could try to restrict myself to one shot and stop, like in the wild dressage.

OP posts:
maxelly · 19/07/2022 14:29

Whether it's you or her is almost immaterial, I think the answer is the same, practice practice practice. Ride loads of tests, all the time, not just when it's a competition, until it becomes not an exciting or scary thing any more. I had a terrible problem with my old girl anticipating in tests so our accuracy points were always way off (important as she was a cob with not naturally great paces so needed to pick up marks where we could and she was actually very obedient so it was likely me giving her tiny signals about what was coming up next and her being over eager to respond) - the only way to fix it was to have the white boards and letters out all the time at home and doing arena hires, plus a few 'real' unaffiliated competitions that I just wrote off as I freely schooled her around, using my voice, repeating movements or transitions if she hadn't listened etc., circling around and starting again if I needed to - all the things you can't do if you are actually trying to win! So any time you can get someone to call for you do so, but feel free to do whatever you need to do to remind her of what she's actually meant to be doing. Use as many different tests as you can to prevent boredom or anticipation - obviously with my mare I tried not to do the same test twice as didn't want to teach her we always cantered at A or whatever so went through PC, BE, international tests as well as BD, and sometimes I did a test from a higher level and just subbed my own movements so e.g. did working trot instead of collected or whatever to keep things varied.

Also, do you have to have a caller for the online dressage (or if you do can you add it as a separate audio later, or is that cheating?). Personally I hate having my tests called for me, takes me out of the zone especially if the caller gets a bit ahead or behind me (looking at you DH!) so although it's a bit of a pain memorising them I always do my tests without now...

Pleasedontdothat · 19/07/2022 18:50

It’s really common for horses to be happily schooling the same movements in a beautifully relaxed fashion only for it all to fall apart during a competition. If it was happening at a real life competition then it could be a combination of both of you being a bit excited/nervous/on your respective hooves/toes but as it’s happening at home then it must be something very subtle that you’re doing.

As @maxelly says the ’cure’ is the same, no matter what the cause. You need to do as many tests as possible, just keep on doing it until it becomes completely ordinary for both of you.

My daughter is currently working on making dressage mundane and every day for her event mare. They both love the jumping phases so despite being able to do a beautiful sub-30 standard test at home or at clinics, when they get to events her mare is buzzing with excitement which translates into tension and over-exuberant canter transitions. So she’s doing lots of little unaffiliated dressage comps so her horse doesn’t immediately start anticipating the jumping phases when she sees the white boards and my daughter is giving herself a couple of ‘process’ goals per test and forgetting about placing etc as that helps her relax when she’s concentrating on doing a really good transition or making sure her shapes are accurate etc

FluffingMarvellous · 20/07/2022 12:54

Thanks both, you're right that I don't ride full tests to practice, only movements so I will definitely try that! @mamaxelly we don't use a caller....but for online dressage you have to introduce yourself and your horse on the video at the start (or get someone else to) so there's a very obvious cue to her that it's starting.

OP posts:
horseymum · 22/07/2022 19:26

Can you build in some ' breath' points so that you consciously relax and remember to breathe. Or talk under your breath all the time. Also smile, it really helps! When you hear what goes through a head level riders voice during a test, they gave every stride napped out so know when they plan to ask more, when they might soften slightly ( obviously ready to change if necessary). You could do one of the training tests on dressage anywhere, they cost a bit more but you get more detailed feedback.

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