Our next rider is Beckie Samuels, riding Gratitude at Training Level. The pair is well turned out, and they are a good match in build and size. I don’t know anything about her, but I recognize her as representative of many adult amateurs around the country who are competing at the lower levels.
Although the photo was taken at the most upward phase of the canter stride, Gratitude shows a little bit of a downhill tendency. Beckie might be able to correct this by stretching her legs down and rotating them so that the inside of her calf hangs parallel to the horse. Right now, she has drawn up her knee and pointed it outward, gripping the horse with the back of her calf. This has made her seat less secure and resulted in too much contact with only the spur. In response to a spur used in this way, horses often shorten their stride and become less cooperative. I would also like to see a little more stretch through her diaphragm. Allowing her shoulders to drop down and back would improve her posture, leverage and ability to influence Gratitude’s balance. Overall, she should try visualizing herself as being six inches taller than she actually is. Her line from elbow to bit is perfect, however, Gratitude has opened her mouth slightly. This may be indicative of a too-strong contact on the inside rein, or she could just be flapping her lip. We’ll have to watch the video to see which it is.
The video shows Beckie and Gratitude in Training Level, Test 2. Beckie is doing a good job. She has been paying attention to her geometry: Her circles are round and her diagonals are straight and precisely letter to letter. Her trot stretchy circle needs some practice, as the horse tries to dive down rather than stretch forward and downward. Gratitude shows obedient canter departs, but the canter itself could use more “jump” with each stride. Be sure to practice centerlines and halts: The entry is the judge’s first impression of you. Remember that right after your last halt, the judge has to assess 80 additional points for the Collective Marks, so make that last halt and salute count. With a little bit more supportive leg position, as we discussed in the still photo, the horse will be more responsive to the leg and will generate more forward energy. Overall, this was a very steady test and it appeared to be enjoyable for both horse and rider.
Turnout: Beckie and Gratitude are beautifully turned out with a well-fitting bridle and clothing, neat braids and polished boots. The contoured pad fits the saddle so well that I might consider using only that one unless the square pad was needed for saddle fit. Photographically, the photo is sharp and is taken at the most uphill moment of the canter stride. The background of trailers is distracting, and my eye keeps going to the red jacket of the person “under” the horse. Try to assess your background before you choose your photography position.
Axel Steiner critiques your photo and video. He is a Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) “O” (now called a 5*) judge, a founding member of the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) and a popular teacher and clinician. He attended the Reitinstitut von Neindorff and the national school in Warendorf. In 1961, he immigrated to Texas, joined the U.S. Air Force and taught dressage while competing on the horses of the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Team. In 1968, Steiner received his first judging credentials and his current 5* status (since 1988) is the highest level of international judging. He has officiated at Olympics, World Cup Finals, Pan American Games and many more elite competitions throughout the world. He is a member of the USDF “L” Education Program faculty and a longtime member of the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Dressage Committee.
Terri Miller critiques the turnout of each horse and rider. She has photographed and painted the equestrian world for more than 30 years, since her days at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Miller’s photos and paintings often appear in and on the cover of a host of magazines, including Dressage Today, and she has been the official photographer for the most prestigious dressage shows in the country. Miller and Steiner have been married since 2000 and live in California near San Diego.