Before You Judge

We all know dressage is not easy. If you think about it, as riders, we get on a 1200+ pound animal and expect to have control of all four feet at all times. I mean, a mere inch of the left hind in the wrong direction can mean the difference of a score of 8 or 6, maybe even more, depending on the judge. We work day in and day out to make sure our horses are in tune with our aids just so we can dress up and let everyone judge our work from a single ride lasting less than 10 minutes.

Basically, we put in all our time, effort, and money, just to be judged. We signed up for this right?

Well, technically, we asked to be judged by a certified professional.

Not the peanut gallery standing on the sidelines who wasn’t brave enough to enter themselves, but came to watch and criticize all the horses and riders because it makes them feel like they actually know something.

Not the professionals who think they could ride the horse better because they have no idea what your horse was like when you started working with it, and don’t know that your horse probably wouldn’t move a hoof if they stepped foot in the stirrups.

Not the armchair equestrians who have never even sat on a real dressage horse, watching a YouTube video from home – made by some narcassistic sociopath with a facebook page and a vendetta against any rider who decided they weren’t going to put up with her immature delusions.

And worst of all, not the experienced rider making jokes about the beginner amatuer, who maybe harbors a little more fear than the average horseman, who is just trying their best to get a little better.

Dressage is a sport to be judged. And I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of blindly criticizing, but I will usually catch myself and try my best to put myself in the riders boots. Because I know what it feels like to work so hard, and feel like you’re ready, only to show up and have everything fall apart at the seams underneath you. And at that point, all you can do is try your best to hold it together, pat yourself on the back for trying, and hope to learn something from your experience.

I think the time that you spend criticizing others says something about your own ego and insecurities, but I also think it’s a learned behavior. Amateurs may hear their own trainers judging someone else. One rider may make a comment, which can turn into a 30 minute slam session between peers about the current rider in the ring. And these days, we have social media adding fuel to the fire with people who’s only claim to fame comes from spreading negativity across the globe with the click of a POST button. And if no one ever steps up and says “Hey! We all have our bad days, lets focus on our own flaws”, then the cycle will continue.

Life is hard enough. Dressage is even harder. And no matter what you think, YOU DON’T KNOW THE WHOLE STORY.

18 thoughts on “Before You Judge

  1. Amen. I have such show fears that it’s a Herculean effort to psych myself up enough to even enter a show. I leave the entry for the final day possible because, after that, there’s no sleeping for me until the show is over. I wish the peanut gallery would think about what people have overcome just to get into the show arena.

    1. Thats so unfortunate! Its hard enough to show without the anxiety of what people think! But you are there for you and your horse. Keep your head down and stay on that track and one day you will be leaps ahead of the ones who are too focused on others to fix their own errors!

    2. I hate that feeling. It shouldn’t be that way. I’ve gotten a lot better about it continuously telling myself that the most important thing out of a show is to make sure that is a pleasant and fun experience for my horse. We forget and get so wrapped up in the competition and nerves of being judged and playing horror movies in our own heads that we end up being a stiff and no fun to be around for our horse! Forget what the peanut gallery thinks. What your horse thinks is most important 🙂

  2. All you can do is ride your ride! People will say whatever, and all you have control over is how you react to it. Keep your head up, trust your horse, learn from your mistakes, be humble in your accomplishments, and keep on keeping on!

  3. Love this!! I’m a runner and a rider. The running community is SO supportive. We cheer each other on. Professional athletes train together, race against each other and constantly praise their competition. The running community doesn’t judge how fast you are, what size you are or what you wear. If you are out there giving it a go, we support and cheer you on. The equestrian community could learn a lot from the running community!!!

    1. I agree 100%! I too have experienced the support from my gym community and wonder why it cant spread to the horse world.

  4. I agree with you 100% that no rider should be judged based on a single performance, except by the judge. However, like you say that unless someone stands up to say “enough” in regards to judgement that is unfair- in my opinion it is even more important for someone to speak up for the horses. It is unfortunate that so many (hopefully not the majority) ride their dressage horses in an unfair way which has nothing to do with the principles of dressage which build up the horse to be a willing & long lasting partner. I am DEFINITELY guilty of criticizing & I have trained my students to be critical too. They must have a critical EYE, that is to train themselves to recognize correct dressage, even if it is not spectacular. I do believe that riders only do what they are taught & trainers only teach what they know. Before being critical of anyone, we had all better have our theoretical knowledge straight.

    1. I agree, its unfortunate to see some riding, but again, I try not to judge others for their flaws. I think MOST riders are trying to the right thing, but they dont jnow any better. I dont think any form if hatred is going to solve this. Understanding where people are coming from is the first step to change. Empathy first.

    2. I agree with you – there is a difference between being nasty but there is a lot wrong with dressage today that unfortunately riders are unaware of – I know many top sports people in the dressage arena who critique and those who have studied extensively and are called “armchair riders” and “keyboard warriors” with no basis, when challenged to discuss the people slinging these comments can’t. What’s most important is being correct – take the emotion out of it – too many people have been sold expensive equestrian educations which are quite frankly bogus…being right is best for the horse and for the rider. Unfortunately lots of people don’t have their theoretical knowledge straight to don’t know it at all…let’s all study a bit more – learn a bit more – question a bit more and don’t be afraid to discuss – if you believe someone is judging you question them – interrogate what the issue is – don’t sling mud – “keyboard warrior” phrases smack of someone who can’t discuss IMHO

      1. IMHO, if you really have an education, you know that always ‘being correct’ isnt really possible, especially from behind a screen when you don’t know how you have been manipulated. I think if you are not always questioning what you REALLY know then, perhaps your pride and ego have taken charge. And why not take those extensive studies and apply them to your own horses or students, rather than adding to an entire thread of negativity towards people who have deticated their heart and soul for years, all over a picture or video of a single moment where things got ugly. And lets face it, its usually a seasoned pro who really doesnt care what anyone sitting behind their computers thinks. But the ones who do care are the amatuers reading it who either decide that wasting time critiquing a ride they know nothing about is cool, or they have their already bubbling anxiety about themselves bloated which just adds to the tension created when they get in the saddle.
        Be a positive example, because you may help someone. Critiquing only boasts your own ego.

  5. Yes dressage is hard. Training a horse for beauty and longevity is almost a lost art. I find these days the only people whose opinion I respect are a few expert individuals to be found in your internet peanut gallery. When I show, purely to test my training, I video the ride to bring home and analyse with these experts. It is now 30 years since we have seen a correctly trained up and open horse rewarded at the highest level. Most current judges only know how to judge the results of LDR or rollkur. Marzog or Alerich would get slammed these days. So be careful who you dismiss.

    1. This is exactly why I wrote this blog. The internet is so full of negative neighsayers that people ACTUALLY believe that ‘training a horse for beauty and longevity is almost a lost art.’ I know PLENTY of riders who are correct and are being rewarded for it. Are there riders being rewarded for ‘non-classical’ riding? Of course, and if that is where your focus lies, then that is mostly what you will find. Especially on the cess pool of negativity and resentment we call the internet, where people talk the talk and that is all.
      I did not write this blog to argue the lost art of classical training, nor did I write it regarding the judgements placed upon me. I wrote it for the honest, hard working riders – who put their horses welfare first – being slammed for the different reasons I mentioned. I wrote it for a differrnt way of thinking, not to spark a discussion about all that is wrong with dressage – which in my opinion, does nothing for our sport but make us all look like a bunch of self righteous dressage queens. If you want to be the change, make an example of your own classical training with videos of yourself riding. Put more positive examples up and dont even give publicity to the incorrect riders. Use positive reinforcement.

      1. Doing all that and more sweetie. Riding, training my horses, blogging, and helping my friends. I’m lucky yo have a good community locally, and a great group of internet friends, who are practising art. None of us compete expecting to win anymore though, and when horribly contorted horses are posted on the internet as wonderful examples of classical riding, the kindest thing is not to say how lovely, but to point out the flaws in a kind way. No one sets out to ride badly, but many people get rewarded for doing so and thus the cycle continues.

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