Remember to Smile: Ready to Show?

Ready to show? If so, no whining or excuses allowed!

A lifelong horsewoman, Pam Stone was a television actor and stand-up comedian before committing to dressage full time and earning her U.S. Dressage Federation bronze and silver medals. She teaches and trains from her Stone’s Throw Farm near Landrum, S.C., and she hosts The Satisfied Life online at

As the competition year moves into full swing, many dressage riders are filled with high hopes and steely resolve. Yet, I am also hearing a growing chorus: “What’s the point of showing? No matter how well my horse does, he’ll be beaten by some 20-hand warmblood with fancy gaits.”

Now, just knock that off!

I don’t know who all these supposed judges are that look down their noses at non-warmbloods. Honestly, I haven’t met them. All I know is that almost every judge I’ve ever ridden under is dying, just dying, for each ride that comes down centerline to blow them out of their less-than-comfortable booths. They sit for the duration of the day, or days, in a flimsy hut deemed inhumane by Amnesty International, choking on dust, focusing intently on each aspect of each movement of each test. And, let’s be honest, large numbers of rides are less than stellar, and some are downright poor. How refreshing it is when a well-turned-out combination enters and turns in a well-ridden test. If you’re up against international champions like Parzival or Totilas, then–yes, Virginia–you will get pounded in the score department, but guess what? So will every other horse on the planet.

The point is that the “Cinderella” horse can do well. As a horse is absolutely given a score for gaits, then, yes, poor gaits will affect your score somewhat, but a reasonable and soundly moving animal can be successful. I know. On taking a 4-year-old draft cross to his first show, we handily won a lower-level class. Upon the final salute, I was told by a respected judge, “That was the nicest horse I’ve seen all day.”

On the other hand, I have also competed very nice moving horses that were beaten by far plainer entries. I remember one time in particular. I had focused far too much on the tempis and not the extensions, which I took for granted would be there but weren’t. In other words, pilot error.

I know of a Welsh Cob in Arizona that took home a 62 percent score at his first Prix St Georges outing. Big deal, you say? Well, the fact is that his croup is a full hand taller than his withers, and he is built like an ottoman. Yes, it is a big deal. The fact that his rider deals with a physical issue makes it all the more impressive. So stop the whining, put on your “Big Girl” panties and just ride!

This article is reprinted from the May 2010 issue of Dressage Today magazine.