How to Handle a Poor Dressage Score
The dressage competition is over, and you didn’t get the result you were hoping for. So, what do you do next?
Here’s some practical advice on how to use the experience to improve your performance next time you ride down the center line!
On the journey home
Try not to pore over your dressage sheet during the journey home, especially if you had a bad score.
Immediately following a competition, you’ll probably be suffering from the post-event downer that affects everyone.
During the build-up to the competition, your body produces adrenaline in copious quantities as a reaction to your body’s natural “fight or flight” response. That’s what makes you feel nervous and jittery before you even arrive at the venue!
Once the stress of competition is over, you’ll experience an adrenaline crash, leaving you feeling drained and mentally exhausted.
Now is not the time to review the judge’s comments and your score sheet, especially if you didn’t do very well!
Instead, think about everything that did go as well as you’d hoped. For example, remember how well your horse coped with the crowded working-in area or how much better the downward transitions felt.
Even if you think that your test was a disaster, there will always be a surprising number of positives to take away if you look hard enough!
Time for reflection
In the days following the competition, take time out to reflect on how things went.
It can be a very productive and helpful exercise to write down everything that happened, making a list of the good, the bad, and the ugly. That way, you can more easily identify areas that need work.
Now, divide your list into two. One list should contain comments about your performance in the arena, while the other reviews the day itself.
Use your lists to isolate easy fixes. For example, perhaps setting off half an hour earlier will allow you more time to orientate yourself with the venue and prepare your horse, rather than having to rush, leaving you feeling flustered and panicky.
Obviously, faults in your horse’s way of going can’t be corrected overnight. But unnecessary bloopers in the arena can! So, if you were so nervous that you forgot your test half way through, next time ask someone to call it for you. There are always plenty of spectators and other riders at competitions who will happily call your test for you, allowing you to concentrate on riding, without worrying that you might forget where you’re going.
Review your test and scoresheet
If possible, always have your tests videoed, even if it’s just on someone’s iPhone or tablet.
Sit down with your video and your scoresheet, and watch your test over again, trying to see it from the judge’s point of view.
Look critically at each movement, applying the marking scale that the judge uses.
Self-marking your test can be a very interesting exercise that often results in a healthy dose of realism and a clearer understanding of why you got the mark you did!
For example, if that canter transition you were so pleased with doesn’t look quite as smooth as you’d hoped and the horse did hollow slightly, would you say it was “good” or just “satisfactory”?
Most likely the judge thought it was satisfactory, hence the mark of 6.0 you were awarded and not the 8.0 you were expecting!
What needs work?
As you read through your scoresheet, a theme in the judge’s comments should develop.
For example, if you look down the remarks column and see the comment, “on the forehand,” used repeatedly, you’ll know that your horse needs more engagement to lift his shoulders. Now you can incorporate exercises into your schooling sessions that will gradually address this area and improve it through systematic training.
It’s important to understand that you can’t fix problems in the horse’s overall way of going overnight. Patience and thoughtful training in line with the Scales of Training are essential to ensure that your horse progresses smoothly through the levels.
Over time, you should notice that the judge’s comments change to reflect the improvement in your horse’s way of going.
Then, one day you’ll have a sheet that says, “nicely uphill,” instead of “on the forehand”!
Accuracy for extra marks!
One straightforward fix you can apply to your performance is to ride the test as accurately as possible.
Being accurate not only allows you to use the maximum space available between the boards, but it also assures you of extra marks.
For example, if the test asks for a 15-meter circle at ‘A,’ work out where you should place the circle so that it’s the right size, and be sure you start riding the exercise from the specified marker. That way, you won’t get comments on your scoresheet such as “circle not centered at ‘A’ or “circle too big,” both of which will lose you marks unnecessarily.
The same applies to riding center lines. So many riders lose marks through turning onto the center line too late or too early, and halting early or late. There’s no excuse for this, and it’s an easy fix that you can apply with more practice at home.
Keep your scoresheets for future reference
Although you may feel like consigning a poor scoresheet to the bin, don’t! Keep all your sheets for future reference. That way, months down the line you can look back on your very first forays into the dressage arena and see how much you’ve improved.
Now, that’s a very motivational exercise!
Competing can be a stressful experience, and you won’t always get the excellent result you were hoping for. However, there are always positives to take away.
Use your scoresheets as a tool to improve your performance.
On days when you feel like you’ve had a nightmare between the boards, look back to your very first scoresheet and see how much you’ve improved, even on the worst of days.
What techniques do you use to cope when you’ve had a poor score or when things haven’t gone your way? Share your experiences and tips with other readers in the comments section below!
- How to Become a Dressage Judge (British Dressage)
- How is Dressage Scored?
- Why ALL Dressage Riders Need to Know The Scales of Training
- How to Manage Competition Nerves