– Showing Dressage in the USA #1


Kim Cox and Roderick training in San Diego
Training in San Diego

The process of showing Dressage is a multi stage process. Riding in the equivalent of our recognized shows, riders must have all memberships to the USDF, USEF and the local state NGO.  Riders also need a horse license number for your horse, USDF and USEF membership numbers for your coach or trainer and the owner of the horse.  If you ride your own horse as an adult amateur, then your own membership numbers will be used on the entry forms.

I chose the shows I wanted to compete in, based on the time frame I had planned to travel to California, and the time my coach was available.  The internet has made it so easy to access show schedules, download entries, and even now there are fee for service on-line entry sites for recognized shows in all disciplines in the US.

Planning and teamwork are a big part of showing success this far from home.  Plan well ahead to find a “base camp” for you and your horse. I recommend you or your coach, visit the area you plan to show in,  before you decide to proceed.  Meet people involved with the sport through trainer contacts, friends or the internet.  Make arrangements with the facility you decide to board at.  Most horse facilities in the US require copies of your equine insurance records and require signed boarding agreements.  You will probably need to leave a damage deposit equivalent to ine month’s boarding fee and pay for a month in advance.  Pay attention to what the boarding facility offers for their fee.  Many facilities provide hay only and you buy your own feed.  Feeding supplements, blanketing and turnout may be an extra charge. Barn help may be willing to do this for you, but expect to be paid directly for this service.

Once you have a place to ride and train settled upon, then decide on how to transport your horse. Choices include professional transport or trailering yourself. You need to decide which option you are most comfortable with and which suits your show plans better.  If you show in Southern California during the season, there are several excellent transport companies  making the run to and from Calgary on a regular basis.  Going to recognized shows does not seem to be a problem either, as horse transport here is a big business.  The issue comes when you ship your horse and can’t be there to unload it and make sure things are alright. This is when you have to rely on team members or a staffer to help out.  If you trailer your own horse this problem goes away.

This gets you to your training destination and the beginning of your journey is yet to come.


CalgaryDressage…Location, Location, Location

We have parked our RV at the county run RV park adjacent to the historic Del-Mar Fair grounds and race track.  When racing season is on. this park is for the exclusive use of the Thoroughbred Club here in Del-Mar. The location is excellent for ammenities, or if you have non-riders in the family.  It’s next to the Noonan Family Swim Center, Tennis and Volleyball, batting cages and a driving range.

I found out that the Del-Mar Horse Park is the venue for the show, and that it is located next to the San Diego Polo Grounds.  It’s conveniently located with a Mary’s Tack and Feed on the same property. The Horse Park is a mile east of the RV park on Via del la Valle.


CalgaryDressage… Stress in Paradise

You would think that the oportunity to ride and train in paradise with other motivated riders and a great coach would be stress free. Yet, if something adverse happens before my ride, I spend more time wondering if I handled it properly, did the right thing, or what the repercussions might be.

Yesterday, while walking Roderick and preparing for my lesson, a man in a fancy car appeared at the gate.  We are training in a private facility, and no one is allowed in without a gate code. He took me by surprise, because I was focused, believe it or not , on my horse, he yelled at me to give him the code. I was not about to do that. I told him that I would let the barn manager know that he was at the gate and trotted off to the barn.

It was the right thing to do in terms of barn procedure, but it totally blew my focus and concentration.I was preparing for my lesson as if it was a test. This interuption in my warm-up amd thought process showed me how fragile we can become and how important focus and emotional fitness is to riding consistently. This is not the first time a similar situation has interfered with my riding focus, and most certainly not likely to be the last.

I’m glad it happened in training.  It showed me an aspect of my training that is lacking.  Total focus and concentration. Support your horse. Focus on your goals and for a few minutes, let the universe take care of itself.

CalgaryDressage…Help in Half Pass

I’m preparing for my first show of the season here in Thermal. My coach, Jewels Vysniauskas, has been so very patient with us. I don’t know how many times she has had to say “Kim, widen your hands” or “Kim you need to ride with more leg”. I have a degree in Kinesiololgy and also a degree in Education and she needs to remind me of basics day in day out.  I told Jewels that she is a saint for being so patient with her students.

I coach Academy students at home and I realize we all need help. Dressage is a dynamic, cooperative process between horse and rider. I tend to think so hard about what I’m doing from a technical aspect, that it can block out the feel you have from the horse. This is like riding blind. There is no feedback.  When there is no feedback, we just try harder, get stiff and carry on, even though the horse is saying “Wait….way too much information”. The horse goes into “fight or flight mode” and you have difficulties with stiffness or resistance. Usually the horse gets blamed for this, even though the rider causes it in the first place.

My half pass experience yesterday began like this. Jewels set us up beautifully with exercises to make the half pass flow. My horse is not a big lateral mover, but he is quite capable when I don’t over ride. I finally found “the sweet spot” for correct flexion. I found the correct mix of leg and hand, if only for a moment.  A moment in time is good enough to achieve the feeling and to be able to mind map it as a way point in my brain’s GPS.  I know I can go back to that feel tomorrow or the next day of training.

We pack up for the Del Mar show on Sunday and will train in San Diego for the week before the show. – “California Dreamin is ‘comin a reality”

Here at last.  I’m a flyer, not a driver.

Big thanks to my husband Bob and buddy Robbie Broatch for getting me here and setting me up in our RV.

I can see this is a group effort.  You would be hard pressed to do this all by yourself. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but many hands make light work. Barn mates help each other out, that is a code I live by. I am so fortunate that others at the barn feel the same way too.

I approached yesterday’s first training ride as if Roderick was someone elses’s horse. I thought if I ride him like a “new to me” horse, then I can begin with more or less a clean slate and not fall back into my tighter, tougher self.  This was a good idea. Jewels kept my lesson simple. “No tricks, no shoulder in no leg yield, just soft and circles”, It tried my patience to ride through.  I watched my self in the expanse of mirrors on each short side of the arena. I was not impressed. Gawd, I looked ineffective and even dumpy.  I must lift my sternum, keep my legs effective, think leg yield out on every corner. Jewels showed my a way to hold my hands, so that I can decrease my “monkey paw” grip and keep my hands wider with less tension.  I will try that today.  I find I try to ride so damn correctly, that I can be tight and that correctness adds to my tension.  It’s time to allow my body to fit in where it can and work with what I’ve got.  This doesn’t mean giving up on the ideal, but modifying the standards for optimum effectiveness in Roderick and my case.

Today, Tuesday Jan. 29th..The plan is to finish Roddies clip, lesson not tension (I like the rhyme), get entries in for Cornerstone at Burbank (Fe. 22 -24), clean tack and tack stall, help out Jewels and maybe find the hot tub at the end of the day.

Calgary Dressage……California Blogging


Stay tuned for information and updates on how to “go large” on the southern California dressage circuit.  I will be shipping my third level horse to Thermal Ca. next week.  Watch for tips and informantion on “how to” for the adult amateur rider who may want to add this experience to their bucket list.

You need to go to the USDF and the USET websites and aquire the appropriate memberships that allow you to attend rated shows in the States.  You also need to join the California Dressage Society to show at certain levels in California.  The process to get all  certification in order takes some snail mail time. I encourage you to begin this process in early December prior to a January departure.

I have my own horse trailer, but opted to have my horse professionally shipped this time.  I contacted Foothills Horse Transport and chatted with Michael Kits.  He was very helpful and provided me with all the information I needed to aquire the health, vaccination, export paper work etc. needed to cross the border. My veterinary service did the tests and vaccinations in a timely manner and now we’re ready to go south.

I am following my horse down in a large RV with horse trailer attached, even though I am not hauling my own horse. You never know when you may find the horse of the century and I want to be prepared to bring it home.  I plan to follow Roderick down after he has a week of post travel recovery at a facility that was previously scouted out by my coach.  It really is important to have connections with a facility in the area where you are showing.  If you don’t have any link to the area, find a coach with these connections and see if they will take you on as a student.  It will make you experience so much less stressful.

If you ship your horse, please make sure you have a responsible party ready on the other end to receive him. This may sound crazy, but I would never let my horse go to a new barn without someone I trussted to keep a watchful eye on him until I could be there.

So as of the week prior to shipping:

  • Transport is booked
  • Veterinary certificates in hand
  • Pack tack trunk for shipping (This is its own topic)
  • arrange to deliver your horse to the departure site for shipping
  • clip horse, arranage for farrier if necessary before departure

So far so good.



Calgary Dressage…Riding Dressage Tests – Preparation

Haflingers rule
Think ahead of your horse.

At a recent clinic on general horsemanship, the clinician repeated over and over again he was “getting the horse ready” to move or complete a task.  He was preparing the horse to choose the correct way to move based on his preparation.  This took me a moment to realize that this is what we as dressagers must do in order to succeed at the number of transitions we ride during a Dressage test.

It occurs to me that it is not so much the trot lengthening that we show that earns us our mark, but how we prepare for that diagonal line.  It is how we set up the horse on the short side and the turn onto that diagonal that sets the score.

This is a difficult mental task for some amateur riders who may be dealing with show nerves. Some riders are a little tight themselves during a test.  I think we could turn this around by not focusing on riding the movement (the diagonalfor example), but breaking down how we need to set up the horse. s  Any time you can focus on small things that can set your horse up and allow the horse to perform, it helps with show nerves.  If you are focused on preparation, the horse can then do his job.  Setting the horse up is proactive.  Trying to fix a bad line is reactive, and a futile attempt at best.

Sometimes that means riding a letter ahead.  I used to think I had to ride to the letter. This made me “late” in my transitions and behind in my thinking. Also when things didn’t work out the way I had planned, my nerves would increase and I would get tight.  Now I try to not ride the test, but prepare my horse for the upcoming transition. We still end up at or close to the letter, but my thinking has changed.

My thinking ahead of my horse has helped him become calmer and more willing to do his job.  After all I am suppoed to be the benevolent leader and then allow him to perform.  It has taken me awhile that making him do a transition is not as effective or asthetic as seting him up and allowing him to follow through.

I hope this insight helps other dressagers out there.


Calgary Dressage..Tough training questions for amateurs, are there easy answers?

You're a winner
Winning resolutions

What is holding you back in your progress?  What if you are not moving ahead in a particular area of your horse’s training or your riding ability?  When is waiting for things to develop patiently not working for you?

It can be tough to be honest with yourself, and your horse.  This is where your coach steps in and gives you the pearl of wisdom that changes everything instantly.  This does happen, it’s happened to me and it can be a “wow” moment, a breakthrough in technique that fixes whatever ails you.

More often, you get the pearl of wisdom from your coach, realize that it could be that “wow” moment, but need the time and dedication it takes to keep your leg on for that split second or feel the opportunity to release, to allow the horse to move forward.  It is the cognitive ability to recognize the need for change, but not having the affective wherewithall to achieve it “in the moment”.  Such is the fate of many developing amateur riders.

This is where the poop hits the fork.  Now is the time for critical self analysis. This is best done quickly and not the time for self pity or doubt.

The tough question remains…What is holdidng you back?

Your coach can see it,  you can feel it.

The best plan, moving forward is to break down what is or isn’t happening into it’s smallest parts.  Great coaches can do this for you,  great riders can do this on their own.

The tough questions are best answered by learning to ask questions that are easier to answer.

For instance:

  • If I am weaker on my left than my right leg, what do I need to do to even out my strength?
  • If I need to ride more forward how can I get used to the new pace without fear?
  • If I’m holding half halts too long and hard, how do I trust myself to give sooner?
  • I’m gripping with my thighs and blocking my horse…how can I trust my seat?

Most of the tough challenges I’ve  faced have been strength issues, timing issues, or fear/trust issues.  There is a positive solution to each of these tough rider training issues.  Once you can identify what is holding you back, break  that down into fear/trust, timing or physical (strength/balance) issuses, The tough questions are easier to answer. The fixes are a logical progression and you can successfully make the changes that you need to in your riding that will move your forward.

The best of your riding is yet to come.






Calgary Dressage..New Year’s resolutions for dressagers

You're a winner
Winning resolutions

2012 is fast approaching

Have you thought of ways to improve your riding in the New Year?

Goal setting is important for achievement in sport. My resolutions are “soft” or subjective.  My “hard” or objective goals are to train for a competitive half pass and achieve single flying changes needed to compete at third level.



Here are my top 10 New Year’s resolutions for dressage training in 2012:
  1. “Get my horse in front of my leg” This means ride forward first, then ride into the frame.
  2. “Try to keep my shoulders back and ride with a classical posture”  Forget that old hunt seat stuff, it has no place in the dressage ring.
  3. “Let my legs breathe on the side of my horse”  Death grips on saddle flaps are so passe.
  4. “It’s okay to bounce, really” Don’t be afraid to keep in true rhythm with the horse.
  5. “Let my horse figure it out” It’s great to be there for your horse but don’t be a fifth leg.
  6. “Perfect practice makes perfect”  Well said.
  7. If something is not working out, have the courage to change and try a new way of riding.
  8. Focus, focus, focus…
  9. Feel, feel, feel….
  10. Enjoy every moment I have at the barn and on my horse.


Riding Forward……

Joni Lynn Peters and Travolta
Ride Forward

It is a good idea to work with many different coaches throughout ones journey in dressage. I’ve been very fortunate to work with great teachers. There are times when you need to slow things down to master technique. There are times when you ned to focus on your horse and times when you need to focus on your own equitation and how you express your aids.

There is a time when you have to push your limits and ride forward like a pro.  There is a time to risk pushing yourself and your horse forward.  Through forward, and I mean forward, you can achieve the cadence and mesmerizing presence of horse and rider in our sport.

Its really tough to be so disciplined to train this way.  We all get a little lazy riding on our own.  Forward is round in frame and allowing the horse to swing over the back.  If you aren’t there yet, then you need to go back to basics and work through the stiffness, or improve your own seat through work on the lunge.

Forward is a huge step to moving up. Lateral work and changes are just more difficult without it. I’ve learned that my medium trot is what is expected of a working trot.  It really ramps up the expectation of self and horse.  The good thing is, working this way will improve your fitness as well as that of your horse.  Remember that a dresssage test can be broken down into timed segments of trot, walk and canter work.  You can practice them at speed and walk and supple the horse inbetween. Think interval training.

I thought that I was in better aerobic condition, however I find myself sucking air after 2 minutes of forward trot.  It shows how tough our sport is, and we as athletes need to train to improve aerobic capacity, recovery time, flexibility, strength as well as improve our communication with our equine partner.