Second Level work is H-A-R-D. There, I said it. It was such a thrill last year when I rode my first Second Level test ever. It was a bigger thrill to earn my two Second Level scores for my USDF Bronze Medal. The biggest thrill is that we are only one score away from Ike earning his Second Level USDF Horse Performance Certificate. So why after all of these milestones do I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of being an accomplished dressage rider at this level? Well, it is because I came to the realization that we are not yet proficient or consistent in our Second Level work.
Merriam-Webster defines the word consistent as, “always acting or behaving in the same way, ” or “of the same quality; especially: good each time.” You can look at either our marks for the individual movements or even the array of ribbon colors from the shows this year to know that we are still lacking in a consistent performance in our Second Level tests.
Overall, I am pleased with our work at the shows this year. After our latest show, we came home with a blue, 2 reds, and a yellow. And while it is nice to have the ribbons to show for our efforts, it is the score sheets and comments from the judges that are the most meaningful in our quest for consistency. All four of our latest scores were in the 60th percentile. For us, that is a huge accomplishment at Second Level.
Both of our Test 2 scores hit at or close to the 65% mark. That is a huge improvement from last year. Our marks for the two 10-meter half circles are improving, but I still need to figure out how to show more bend in Ike’s midsection as we ride our half circles. I am finding it challenging to show the correct bend without over-bending the giraffe neck. We are also successfully holding our countercanter in both directions in Test 2. These two scores were confidence builders and I feel much more prepared to ride this test at the Region 1 CBLM Championship show in October.
Our marks for the dreaded turn on the haunches are also going up…except for the one when (yet again) the rider turned the WRONG WAY. Seriously, what the eff is wrong with me?! I have no doubt that the judge before my next ride chuckled as my husband yelled, “the left hand makes the L, Al” as I trotted around waiting for the bell to ring. It really does help your overall score when you can get a 6.5 or a 7 rather than a 4 for these turns. I have learned that the judge would rather see your turns be a little larger with active hind legs rather than your horse’s hind leg getting stuck and pivoting around that leg. They might like that in the quarter horse world, but pivoting is frowned upon in dressage world. I am also doing better at maintaining my weight on the inside rather than getting left behind as Ike makes the turn. Hmm, funny how when the rider finally rides the movement rather than coasting along how the scores go up…
And while there is much improved with our Second Level work, there is still work to be done. The left lead serpentine of Test 3 is our current arch nemesis. We are holding the countercanter on the second loop, but it sure isn’t pretty. I also struggle to get the correct angle for my shoulder in and haunches in – “too much angle,” “stiff movement,” and “too little angle shown” are common comments. The best way to get those scores higher? Practice, practice, practice.
Just like with anything you want to master – repetition of the skill is necessary in order to achieve proficiency and consistency. A baker makes thousands of cookies in order to master a recipe. A chef will slice and dice hundreds of vegetables to hone his/her knife skills. An archer will shoot arrow after arrow to improve their accuracy. And so a rider must spend hours upon hours in the saddle to master each skill necessary to move up the levels.
And while it would be easy to say it is time for Third Level, the perfectionist in me reminds me to slow down and hone our Second Level skills for a little longer. Be consistent in our angle, be proficient at countercanter, be stable in our collected trot. It only gets harder from here, so slow down and enjoy the ride.