Digital Age – Online Horse Showing

Last week, Nautica and I entered our first online schooling show. My goal for us this year was to confidently step-up into training level and, pandemic or not, by God, we were going to do it.

An online dressage schooling show is composed of a video entry of your ridden test taken from the perspective of “C” and requires a measured, dressage-legal arena (small or large) with all letter markers visible. Theoretically, the judge will be able to score and place your test based on what they see in the video. Certainly, there are both pros and cons to this format.

Considering it’s not looking like there’s an end in sight for the nationwide lockdown, I figured what do I have to lose by entering an online horse show? I’m staring down the barrel of shoulder surgery and a half-year projected recovery period, so I might as well do all the riding and showing that I can now.

Pros:

  • You get as many takes as you need to get it right… within reason – Didn’t like your centerline? Didn’t get that lead at the letter? That’s okay, stop and redo the test. Obviously, you don’t want to drill or punish your horse by repeating a particular movement ten times, but there is some wiggle room in a video format for fixing minor issues. That being said, if you don’t have a certain component of your test solid yet, you’re probably not going to fix it in two or three tries. At some point, you treat your ride like a real horse show and just keep going.
  • You’re at home – I know for me, traveling to show locations is going to add a whole other level of complication to competitions. Nautica hasn’t been off-property since the last time he went to a horse show—a saddle seat horse show. Dressage shows and saddle seat shows have entirely different expectations in terms of appropriate show ring behavior from horses. Saddle seat horses are expected and encouraged to use the energy of the arena to appear bright and alert. Dressage horses need to be focused, relaxed and methodical. I anticipate Nautica’s first few shows will either be non-showing field trips to learn to settle into this mindset at away locations or possibly an HC class or two as he learns what is now expected of him. For this online show, it was an excellent opportunity to get to “compete” at home without the added stress of travel.
  • Cost – No stall, shavings, or office fees? Count me in!

Cons

  • You miss out on any immediate feedback from the judge – Typically, dressage scores are posted within hours of a test. Sometimes, especially at ride-a-tests and some low-key schooling shows, the judge can offer brief, immediate feedback directly after your ride. You miss out on this interaction with a video format. With some online shows, video judges may offer advice beyond the general comments section at the end of your test paper, but with video entries being posted days or weeks before judging, you’re going to have to wait a bit for any feedback.
  • Your scores are probably not going to be an accurate representation of what they would be if judged in-person – There’s a lot that can be missed in a video. Contrastingly, unlike a real-time in-person test, a recording allows for a judge to pause, rewind and potentially fixate on a mistake. Scores may vary from generous to overly-critical depending on the judge.
  • You don’t get the horse show community atmosphere with your fellow competitors that you have at a real horse show – We all go to shows to improve our riding and to seek feedback in the form of scores and ribbons. Equally as important are the memories made and friendships formed at these events. I feel that the latter aspect is a huge part of why I love horse showing so much.

So Nautica and I entered our online dressage schooling show. Typically, here is where I would pick apart my entire ride. Lord knows a video format only feeds that obsession. But I think I will keep my feelings to myself until after my test is judged on April 26th! I will post my video, score and placing at that time.

Lastly, I will add some tips I found helpful for the online horse showing process. These are some helpful hints I’ve found based on my experiences. Feel free to add your tips or experiences with online horse showing in the comments below!

Tips

  • Keep your video centered – Have your videographer stand directly at “C” and keep you as centered in the frame as possible, especially during your centerlines. The judge wants to see that you have a straight centerline and halt. Don’t lose valuable points by letting the angle of the video make you appear off-center.
  • Do your bit check – Some shows require bit checks. Not all do, but it helps to get in the habit of having your videographer do a brief ring steward-esque check directly after your final salute, without stopping the recording. By going directly into the bit check after your test there is no suspicion of post-production editing of equipment. The bit check includes a close-up view of the bridle, bit, ears, spurs and whip (have a tape measure handy in the case of a whip), just like at a real, in-person show.
  • Turnout is everything – This goes for online and at-location horse shows! I know that this is just a schooling show, but never underestimate the importance of dressing professionally. They say showing up is half the battle; I say dressing up is at least the next quarter of the battle. If you’re like me, you go all-out. (“Hell yeah, I’m here with my Saddlebred in my most formal white breeches and sparkly browband. We’re here to do the most serious Training-1 anyone has ever seen.”) You don’t have to be like me, though. A neat appearance with clean boots, hair pulled up in a hairnet, a tucked-in collared shirt with a belt, and a braided or a neatly pulled mane can make all the difference in first impressions. Do it! Be proud of your horse. A professional appearance gives the illusion of confidence. As riders, we can always use more of that.
  • Have fun! – This is one of those “duh” things, but don’t let the idea of a horse show or videoing your ride cause you to become nervous. This is just another test practice at home that you’re happening to video. Smile and breathe!

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