Your first schooling show. If things don’t go perfectly, here’s what to do:

Dale Forbes:

Dear Riders,

It’s Saturday night before the big (schooling) show.  I had a moment, and thought of some things you might not know.   I’ve made a “hope for the best, be prepared for the worst” list for you.

Nothing dire, but as mistakes ALWAYS happen, it’s a good idea to know what to do.  We’ll assume it’s a recognized show with all the rules intact; though your schooling show may be a good bit less formal, you might as well practice for the real thing.

1. You’re leading The Beast out and remember you’ve forgotten your number.
What do you do?
Go back and get it. Even if someone is leading the beast on a halter, it must have its number on.

2. You go to the warm up arena and The Beast looks like it’s going to buck you off.
Can you longe?
Yes.  But only with straight side reins, unmounted.  No other artificial aids allowed (no running reins, martingales, V-shaped item) and nothing when you are up. Be careful Your Beast is not upsetting Betty’s Beast.

3. When you are longing The Beast you like to have as many boots as possible on it; is that okay?
Yes, as long as they are not the kind with tacks.  Remember, you can’t have ANYTHING on the legs when you go in the ring.
Have your groom take them off.

4. The Beast still looks too frightening; can you ask your local cowboy to buck her out a bit?
No.  John Wayne is only allowed to ride on long reins (as in your groom getting from place to place). If he is not signed in as your coach or trainer, he can’t school the horse.

5. You’re showing second level but you’d like to warm up in the double, as The Beast has a nasty habit of romping about in a new place.  Can you do this?
Yes, with caution.  (Generally yes, but it is up to the discretion of the TD (Technical Delegate).  Not advised if you are showing training level. . . Double bridles are officially allowed at third level.

6. You’re ready to get on–can you use spurs and whips?
Yes, except no whips in some qualifiers or international competitions.  But be aware there is always a maximum length for each. (Whips are currently allowed up to 120 cm, 47.2 inches, including lash. Shorter is okay if you want.)  You are not allowed to use two whips in the arena. (!!)

7. You go down the center line to salute and The Beast halts crooked or steps back. Do you make a correction?
Not generally.  Get it over fast and go on, remembering to work on it at home.

8. You go down the center line to salute and The Beast gets stage fright and tries to exit. Do you make a correction?
By all means. As long as it is done kindly and without temper.

9. You go left instead of right and remember you have gone off course before the judge realizes it. What do you do?
Turn around, make eye contact, and say, “I’m off course.”  Correct your error and go on.  (-2 points, no big deal.)

10. You think something funny is going on but can’t quite place it and suddenly you hear a whistle/bell. What do you do?
Stop.  The judge has alerted you that you’re off course: you either nod and smile if you remember where to go, or promptly (a quick trot)  go back to him/her and say: “I’m lost.”  He/she will explain your error and new starting point and send you on your way.(-2 points, also no big deal.)

11. The Beast attempts to buck you off. What do you do?
Stay on! (Then smile and navigate.) Get back on course as soon as possible. Judges have ridden Beasts too.  They have sympathy for this kind of thing. (-2 and we’re all glad you stayed on.)

12.  The Beast leaps (or steps) out of the arena. What happens?
You’re eliminated.  You make plans for the Grand Nationals (jumping steeplechase).

13.  Despite your good work and good hopes, The Beast really does not want to play the same game as you today and has shown it at every move.  You fear for your life.  What do you do?
You are allowed to leave early, but will get no score. Turn down the center line, stop in any place you can and salute, uttering the words after doing so,  “Please excuse me.”

Except for the last, I have done every one of these.   And several times in tests that I actually did well in.

Always remember: if one thing does not go perfectly, the next might be better.
Be on time, look your best, RIDE!!!!

I’ll be there.  D

The dressage whip. What it is for and how to use it.

Dale Forbes:

Under “tools of the trade” I have given you my favorite dressage whip and where to get one.  It comes in various lengths and sometimes (most commonly in the past)  has a white handle.  It is the Fleck Schultheis model and is distinguished by its good balance, stiffness, and humane end–which, when the whip is near the end of life, will often fray.  Time for a new one–the flexibility in the contact part is important.


The other end looks like this once you have added the Peacock rubber band, which you must buy separately.IMG_0165

I am going to illustrate this post with a group of winter photos, mostly taken on the first day it got above 25 degrees in three weeks here in Spokane.  Yes, it snows here, sometimes quite a lot:


This is a photo from four years ago with record snows when the Sport Horse arena collapsed.  Fortunately no one was in it at the time, and the very gutsy owner declared, “It’s just money,” made plans to rebuild, and went back to her job, where she works for every penny she gets.  (Round of applause from the local crowd.)


Here is the new and improved version, on a balmy day of January after they had given us a path from the manure spreader to assist in not breaking our necks on the ice floe.  Not all barns are that considerate!

But, back to the whips and the former by way of apology that our horses do not look so beautifully turned out just now.  And we are all dressed like snow people–the layered look, if you will.  But June will come.  We are hoping, anyway.

The purpose of your dressage whip is to quicken the hind leg–specifically to ask the horse to slightly abbreviate the backward swing of the leg and bring it up faster.  While it can be used as a quick reprimand in a tight situation, it is NOT meant to make the horse go faster, or “get in front of your leg.”  That is a more common use for a jumping whip, which is mostly held differently.  The purpose of the “tic with the whip” is to work on the timing of the legs.

(After note–re timing of the leg: it is obviously important to work on your timing which is precise, though not complex, and can be managed by the feel of your whip over the thigh.  If this is not clear, you might need to write and ask me on this one.)

But anyway, you are best to hold the whip in a way that you can use it lightly at a moment’s notice–over your thigh and slightly braced between your forefingers, the heel of your hand, and that same thigh.


Above, I am holding the reins in one hand and my iPhone in the other, riding the darling four-year-old Hannoverian Rosie (from Rotspon) who is accommodating the snow coming off the roof (THUMP!) with only minor leaping. You will see (if you look closely) that the whip runs through my hand, with at least a couple of inches of handle showing at the top (balance issue) on the upper side of the rein, with my wrist slightly turned to point the tail of it over my thigh, below.  I am wearing full chaps since, as mentioned before, it is frigging COLD up here.


Also below I have momentarily removed my glove so you can see the purpose and placement of the Peacock rubber band inside the palm of my hand (which would normally be closed around the rein/whip combination).  You will also see that my rein–a simple snaffle with this four-year-old–has been run between my pinkie finger and my ring finger.  This is not a must, but for me it makes it easier to support the whip upward with the small finger unrelated to the feel of the rein, which is obviously coming in the other direction.


Above all else, according to Rudolf, TAKE YOUR THUMB FROM THE WHIP!  If I had a nickle for every time he said that to me in the first season I was there, I would be able to go to lunch.  Yet another reason to feel dumb in the hands of a great trainer, but a good example of how much persistence it takes to weed out a bad habit once firmly established.

The thumb is for stabilizing the reins so they do not run through your hand all the time, not for balancing the whip.

So now, you might logically ask, with your hands in front of you and the whip over your thigh pointing a bit out as it must to come over the thigh, how do you actually USE the darned thing?

I was at first unwilling to hold the reins in one hand, the Iphone in the other, listening to the snow come off the roof and tap, tap, tap little Rosie to demonstrate this.  Instead we galloped around for a bit until she was happy and more relaxed, and then I went and picked up a draw rein in case of real snow crashes and gave it a try.

If you have a fast connection you may be able to look at this.  Apologies for the quality–this was not easy to organize.  The annoying little noise is the semi-half-humm I usually do when I am riding–particularly when there is snow falling off the roof.  What I am attempting to demonstrate–without actually hitting the poor creature–is the rotation of the hand and slight outward movement that brings the whip around your thigh.  Some folks describe this as like opening a door handle.  Indeed it is, as long as the whip is carried on your right side.  You should know how to do both, but you’ll probably always be better at one.

This obviously takes practice.

Getting tape of it while mounted obviously does as well . . .

If you want to note the slightly forward press of the hand in almost all situations, that is up to you, but it also came from a much-repeated “FORWARD THE HAND” comment from You Know Who. . .

And here is the view of Miss Rosie walking out after her big photo op.  Next time she wants a hair dresser–but she IS a bit of a Sorority girl at heart.


(Anyone in AZ looking for a beautiful gray mare, she asks?)

She wanted me to post a summer shot so you don’t get the wrong idea. . .


(Photo by her good friend Melynnda Thiessen)