Got Chocolate Chip cookies? Make Lemonade!

Lemonade at CThis weekend did not turn out as I had expected. My blog post A Chocolate Chip Cookie Weekend took a look at why we do what we do in colleges with equine studies programs and intercollegiate dressage teams. During that discussion I thought I had outlined most of the outcomes, and the benefits and rewards of collegiate equestrian programs. I even went as far as to suggest that some of the learning may not be easy and could be a little awkward.  Not even close! I failed to consider the possibility of no clinic!

Thursday evening after a dinner with a couple of my colleagues from the university, I came home, showered and settled into cuddle with my cat and dog and chat online with my long distance significant other. I sent a “How was your day?” and while waiting for his response pulled up email to see if there was anything that needed immediate attention. That was the end of that evening’s chat.

Poor Gwyneth had to cancel her trip due to family illness. My first reaction was, “for real? Less than 24 hours before I am picking you up from the airport?” As I reread her note, I realized she was dealing with a lot of circumstances out of her control and it was “one of those things”. The next couple of hours was spent calling, texting and emailing folks to let them know that the plans had changed. Participants, Equestrian Staff, Pebbles who was serving as the caterer for the weekend, our maintenance crew, and then cancelling hotel rooms and flights – thank goodness I bought insurance on those tickets!

I knew my team riders would be disappointed at the cancellation of the clinic. Several of them had returned early for the spring semester to start hacking the horses. They all had pulled manes, trimmed whiskers, bathed when it was warm, (even our gray draft mare’s bushy tail was starting to sparkle having been washed several times). They had completed some low trace clips and generally worked to prepare the horses for a January clinic. They were excited and ready to welcome our visitors to St. Andrews. What to do?

Watching them ride dressage tests seemed lame after what I had originally promised. Yet we needed to prepare for our spring Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) shows. Visit IDA at What about a mock show? Hmmmm how to make it real? How many riders did I have? How many horses? Looked like nine team members could ride and I had twelve horse that needed to be ridden.

Modifying the Intercollegiate Dressage Show Format
Sarah and Mousse
Sarah and Mousse on another occasion

Three of my first level riders became team captains. I designated the remaining riders at upper training and lower training and skipped the Intro level. Everyone would get to canter at the mock show! Riding for Braggin’ Rights was ready to roll!

Friday at practice the team captains drew for who would be on their team. Once the teams were decided we put the first level horses in a bucket and they drew their first level horse. Next up the upper training horses followed by the lower training horses. The final draw was their wild card horse. These three horses were the ones that some people enjoy and others cringe when they see their name by them on the horse assignment list. However, if you had that rider that loved one of the wild cards you probably would have been happy with the selection. The horse not showing had to be hacked by someone during the day.

When I announced what we were doing there was immediate excitement. The excitement level increased as the draw progressed. The three teams pulled together throwing out suggestions as to who should ride which horse and using critical analysis to support their thinking. In IDA competition there is certainly an element of the luck of the draw. A rider might draw the weakest horse in their group or a horse that they simply don’t get along with. In a ten minute warm up you can only do so much to figure out how a horse likes to be ridden.

I restricted one horse to no higher than upper training due to his fitness level, but apart from that the horses could go at whatever level the teams felt they would do best at. The draw led to what we all thought was one very strong horse group one fairly strong group and one weaker group. In IDA competition you would like your horse groups to be as even as possible but for this fun event it did not matter.

With horses and riders decided the team captains started asking about strategy for horse assignments. Would one rider be stronger on the sensitive horse or would she be better on the horse assigned to her level? I helped with suggestions and left them to develop their strategies.

Intercollegiate Dressage
Intercollegiate Dressage

We agreed on a format where each rider had a maximum of 20 minutes to warm up with help from their team members. IDA competition gives riders 10 minutes to warm up. The horses are warmed up prior to the competitors mounting so stretching and loosening has already been done before riders mount. I thought 20 minutes was fair before doing a test. After their test I would spend 10 – 15 minutes with each rider working on one thing. This format worked out very well. As one rider entered for their test the next rider was getting started with their warm up.

Those that were not riding or helping their team mates sat with me at C to watch tests from the judge’s point of view. They took it in turns scribing which was a new experience for some.

A Modified Intercollegiate Dressage Competition

At 9:30 Saturday morning the Alex and Frampton came down the center line and laid down a beautiful test. While I was working with Alex on being bolder in the trot and canter lengthenings by suppling Frampton with a more active inside leg, the riders at C scored her test. Next up was Gaby with Mousse who usually does upper training. Gaby had drawn the weakest group of horses and elected to ride Mousse at first level herself rather than Maggie who Pam, riding at lower training, usually did well with.

I think this was a smart decision on Gaby’s part as Mousse likes to test his rider’s connection and outside aids. If you weaken even a little he will happily step over the rail and exit the ring – a problem we are working to resolve. I told Gaby that if Mousse left the arena we would not eliminate her. Fortunately we did not need to make this exception to U.S. Equestrian rules as Gaby rode Mousse beautifully. The lengthenings are not there, the leg yield lost impulsion, but the test was connected, balanced and accurate.

Gaby could not stop patting Mousse for his efforts. “What are we going to work on?” she laughed. We elected to do a short school on canter departs which are sticky, however we cut her session short as Mousse had given his best during the test.

Each of my riders had their turn in the ring, their opportunity to perform, and a time to reflect upon their performance. I enjoyed watching the overall improvement of each horse and rider pair as we tweaked the overall quality of their ride. Team members practiced coaching, scribing and scoring as well as adding a little more to their riding and competing skill set. We dug into the equestrian program ribbon stash for suitable ribbons and the winning team were awarded prizes for their efforts from our miscellaneous prize collection.

St. Andrews and the other schools who planned to attend were disappointed that the clinic was cancelled, although everyone realized that sometimes things happen that are simply out of anyone’s control. The intercollegiate dressage team turned the disappointment into a learning opportunity that turned out to be a fun and educational competitive event. Team members are asking when we will do it again – always good feedback to receive!

St. Andrews Equestrian Program is dedicated to the development of future leaders in the equine industry. The program is home to the 2016 and 2017 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) National Champions in Western Horsemanship. The Hunter Seat team is regularly represented at IHSA Nationals and the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) team has sent riders to the National Championships nearly every year since 2002. Students also ride at USHJA and USEF rated shows as well as attending schooling shows.

A small liberal arts and sciences university, St. Andrews majors include Business, Biology and Therapeutic Horsemanship.

Click here to request more information about St. Andrews University and the Equestrian program.

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