Have you ever had the experience of riding up centerline and suddenly having the entire test fly out of your brain? You are approaching “C” at a good clip and cannot remember whether to turn left or right. Your face goes pale and that smile you were trying so hard to maintain turns into something resembling more of a grimace. Most of us have been in that position. Personally, I get terrible dry mouth. I have it in no other place other than that seven minutes in front of the judge, but during that time my mouth is a parched desert. But whatever your symptoms, beating heart, clammy palms, shaking, being unable to breathe… these symptoms don’t have to detract from the overall confidence of your presentation.
The first step is to adjust our mindset as to what showing actually is within dressage. We ride “tests”, correct? Therefore we should ride tests studiously and just like we do at home. NO! Any successful, experienced show veteran will tell you that the show ring is for that extra element of flash and zip. It would be incorrect to ride any horse as spectacularly every day like you would in the show ring. Especially at the higher levels, the horses would quickly break down, which is the last thing we want. You want to have a solid handle of the basics at home, to be riding all of the movements comfortably, to be able to experiment with some of the more spectacular buttons on your horse without having everything go to hell in a hand basket. While it is not incorrect to ride a studious test within the discipline of dressage, you are missing the other aspect of dressage. The “show” half of the pie chart. This is where you come in and perform, like you are stepping onto the stage. You then attempt to mask any messy points, gloss over any bobbles and move forward with a confidence bordering on arrogance. If all of this is happening while you happen to have sweaty palms then so be it.
So now how do we combine the theatrical mindset within a judged environment? The audition. Where an actor climbs up onstage and performs in front of a panel of people who have seen a hundred other monologues that day, and tries to shine beyond the rest. There are truly more similarities than differences within an audition environment. So from now on, you are going to treat every test you ride like an audition. You perform and your performance is judged. The only difference is you get feedback in dressage via your test.
Now we are going to break down common tips for improving your audition performance in the world of theater and apply it to dressage shows (to read the original article click here):
One: Act. Don’t Just Read
In any forum, whether it be on stage or in the show ring, it is necessary to make an impression. There is an adage in acting – “make a choice”. Whether it is making a choice on how you are going to read a particular line (or perform a particular movement), or how you are going to build a character (or what the overall tone of the test should be), making any choice is better than none.
Two: Know The Play You Are Auditioning For
How many times have riders gone into the dressage ring at a level they are not comfortable? If you feel in your heart of hearts that you are at the level of Mary Poppins, then think twice before tackling Lady Macbeth. You need to climb the levels and prepare before each new test. As your skills improve you will be able to tackle more and more.
Three: Take The Time You Need To Prepare
This starts before you even get on the horse. Have your tack in order, your boots shined, your stock pin ready. Have all of the pieces arranged and then you don’t clutter your mind with superfluous details. This also goes for the warm up. Give yourself enough time to warm up that you have walk breaks, time to correct if necessary and get your mind in the game. If the ring steward says that they are ready for you early, it is okay to not be ready for them. Take the time you need.
Four: Slow Down and Enunciate Every Word
Just as in the acting world, people tend to rush and stumble over their words when they are nervous, in the dressage world it is the same. Riders will blow through their movements, blur one movement with another (for example vague transitions through extensions and medium gates, and fading in the lateral work). Slow down in the test and allow yourself to really ride the beginning and end of each movement clearly, without urgency. Enunciate your test movements, as it were.
Five: If You Make A Mistake, Battle Through It
There is nothing worse in an audition to stumble through your lines, realize it, break character and apologize. Through there is no verbal apology in a dressage test, yet this is constantly happening. A particular movement goes wrong and the rider “breaks character”. They pop their performance bubble and lose concentration. Maintain your poise. If you were onstage, would the director and producer notice you falter and break? Or would you so seemlessly gather yourself together that they would soon forget?
Six: Audition Often
Just like any skill, the more you perform the better you will be at performance. So the more you ride in front of a judge, the more adept you will be at honing your skills to the maximum. You will be able to take the anxiety or fear and turn it into excitement. Excitement you can work with and turn into an amazing performance, anxiety can be crippling.
Seven: If You Don’t Get The Part, Don’t Argue About It
You need to be able to judge yourself against yourself and realize what is better and what is worse without ribbon color being your guide. This is because dressage judging, though subject to a set standard, is still subjective. You also do not know who you were competing against that particular day and if they were truly superior.
So think about your performance as a dressage competitor and how you could mentally improve yourself using these tools. Perhaps you can get yourself into the correct mindset by practicing some simple monologues in the mirror at home. Perhaps you can enroll in a beginning acting course at your local community theater or college? Or perhaps you can find some aspect of your life where you have had to tap into these skills, whether it be public speaking that you have done in the past, singing or instrumental recitals in which you have participated or even sports tournaments.
Lastly on a lighter note, watch the video below and ask yourself; are you Gene Wilder or are you the Monster?
- In Memorium: Alexsandra “Sandy” Howard (dressagedifferent.com)
- Why The Instructor Certification Program Is Important (dressagedifferent.com)