"That Triangle Thing" by Cathi Jensen
Gather your reins, let's go for a walk. This month we're focusing on giving you the knowledge and confidence to show your youngsters with us on the Triangle at the DSHB shows this summer. Are you sitting around twiddling your thumbs wondering how in the world they do that Triangle Thing?! Well this is your extremely lucky day because we're going to go through this together step by lofty step.
Let's start from the very beginning. The young "dressage prospects" are shown in the arena on what we call the "Triangle". Basically, it's a set course of cones & flower boxes that is there to guide us on a the course to show our horses at a walk and trot only. No cantering people, no cantering. There is a judge standing in the ring and a scribe with a clip board and they're placed in a specific spot along the triangle. Sometimes it's hard to tell who is who when you walk in, so just say, "good morning" or "hello" to the both of them.
When you enter the ring from the holding area, lead your horse purposefully at a walk toward the judge and you'll turn your horse to face the outgate. (9 times out of 10 the horses will want to stand easier if they're facing the other horses). There is a ground pole a safe distance in front of the judge that is there to guide you as to where to stand your horse. Make sure you are always safety conscious toward your judge, and if your horse is jumping around somewhat, or about to, stay a bit further from the pole, and I would say to the judge to give your horse a bit more space. The judges will appreciate this as it's not the safest job in the world walking around the back end of a 2 year old!
The judge needs to see your horse from the side in an "open stance" so she can see all 4 legs from the one side. This means you will need to stand your horse in such a way so that they are not "square", rather "unsquare" if that helps. What I do is this: When you stop your horse, quickly move directly in front of your horse. Immediately with the reins or lead, step your horse 1 step either back or forward depending on which legs you want to move into the open stance. Personally I like to back my horse a step so they know not to move into my space right when they walk into the ring. And I like the first look that the judge takes of my horse from the side to be his best position, which means if the judge is on the horse's left side, I want that left front leg to be straight down from the shoulder, and his hind leg to be straight down from the croup. The hind leg should show the angles of the hip joints and stifle, hock, on down and I want that first look to be correct in the judge's mind. The other side of your horse can remain open, with the front leg more forward or back of the left side. And the hind leg is usually best if it's more under the horse and slightly in front of the left hind leg.
One thing judge's dislike is when you, the handler, are so busy maneuvering your horse that she never gets a good look at what she is supposed to be judging. That's why I say step in front of your horse quickly, and then quickly set up your horse. Don't make a huge deal of it, she will see what she sees, and if you keep moving your horse the judges will lower your score for "immobility" as they cannot see their angles of shoulders, hips, etc. when the horse is always in motion. If you don't get a good stance the first time, you will have a second chance after the trot phase of the Triangle to stand them up again.
Ok, the judge has given comments about your horse to the scribe from the side, and now she moves in front of your horse. Do step to the side slightly so the judge gets a good look at those front legs. Then once the judge moves to the other side, keep an eye on the judge, & step once again to the front of your horse. You are allowed to keep a hand on your horse's shoulder or chest to keep them still. Glance at your horse's hind legs to make sure they're not resting or out of position. If they are, move them back into position quietly & gently.
A word on foals--since they're a bit scared typically, you will most likely be standing right next to their shoulder, with them pressed up against you, so they remain immobile for the judge to see them. Keep their attention by scratching their withers, talking to them, it's totally ok to be engaged with a foal. And keep a soft rope or rein around their neck or rump for the walk and trot so you don't ever pull on the lead. They just don't have enough time to be trained when they're foals!
The judge is finished with her initial conformation look at your horse. She will usually nod to you or say, "ok, go ahead and walk please". At this point, your reins are gathered, and you turn and step next to your horse's left shoulder, and go for a walk. The walk is a most important gait as it can make or break your horse's score sheet! Walk briskly, with purpose, and SHOW THAT WALK! The judges are looking for swing through the back and a clear rhythm with some overstep. I will lower my hand as well (and all good pros know to keep that lead hand low as to encourage the neck to relax which allows the back to show more swing), under the neck just a bit but still up enough so the horse will be able to see my right hand if I need it to turn my horse. We'll get to that in a sec. One thing that drives me crazy is when the handler puts some rein in the right hand, and the remainder in the left. It all goes in your right hand, one hand on the reins. The left hand is for turning and to carry a whip if you want it for guidance. If you need extra umph in your steering through a turn, then your right hand comes up into your horse's eye view and they'll turn their heads away from that right hand. But mainly use your left hand, lifted up so your horse can see it.
A bit more on the walk. Hoof it, people! Don't dally, don't look at your horse (although I do train my handler to keep an eye on the horse, but that's more advanced), just look ahead, get goin' , and MOVE! I will say to my students, "swoop" the neck along, and you'll get a bit more swing. Don't let the head droop down below the withers too much or the horse will drag out its hind legs. MARCH that horse down the line, keep the rhythm clear and the same throughout the turns (you'd be so surprised to learn what lowers the score). It's not always about the biggest walk, but about clear rhythm and keeping it all the way around the small triangle. You do need to be somewhat fit to show in-hand because it's a work out in that sand footing!
Now, you're approaching the judge once again after your walk triangle. Still walking, I will look the judge in the eye for a second, and then as long as the judge doesn't say I'm excused or anything from an unruly horse situation, I will go directly into the trot. Now you go to the big trot triangle.
Signal your horse to trot by gathering your reins, lifting your hand to lift their head a bit, say trot if you need to, but wake that horse up and RUN! Right away you are starting your first turn, and sometimes if the arena is tight, I'll make sure my left hand is up already and I'm starting the turn when I make the transition to trot. What you want to show besides good movement for dressage, is the lift and push your horse makes in the transition. Excitement is good, but this is not a "breed inspection" remember, and for USDF DSHB we don't want them over animated like at the inspections. Control is important. Keep your horse under control while showing the maximum amount of "big trot" your horse will do. Just look ahead, run like a track star, don't worry about keeping in step with your horse as that doesn't matter to the judge's eye really. We used to do that in the olden days, but seriously, when you're running a yearling or 2 year old, that's the furthest thing from your mind. Just show that horse's movement off and keep up! Use the ENTIRE ARENA. The cones are there for guidance, so when you hit that long side, go most of the way to the end of the arena, don't turn right at the cones necessarily. GO! If you pull the horse back to you, they'll turn sideways, then the judge cannot see correctness in your horse. Also, DO NOT USE THE WHIP to ask for trot when you're showing or practicing at home. This creates a sideways horse as he's evading your whip, and he won't track straight. I see so many handlers using a whip to ask for the trot and it just sinks their scores right there. Keep the horse straight, teach them to trot on command. And GO! Don't look at your horse, this creates evasion in them as well. You can use the entire arena space, you don't have to turn at the cones, and do run past the judge at the end, as most horses will show their best trot when they think you're running them out the gate back to their friends! But don't go out the gate, stop & turn them quickly around, come back to your judge's ground pole, and stand up your horse once more QUICKLY so the judge can take a second look! Then you're done! You can praise your horse & quietly exit the arena. Job well done.
A word about whip handlers. Best left to the pros. I hear more judges that just are so tired of our (USA's) version of whip handling. The whip handler is who runs behind the horse to make sure it doesn't balk or stop. They're not supposed to add excitement or get the horse into a frenzy trot as this stiffens the horse's back when the head shoots up and the judge cannot see the looseness in the back. The whip handler is supposed to run directly behind the horse ALL THE WAY around the triangle at an even pace with the horse & handler, and initiate the whip just in case the horse stops. They're not to stand in the middle of the ring swinging the lunge whip around, or yell at the horse, as this is quite frowned upon. If your whip handler can't run around the triangle, don't use 'em.
Let me address rein holding here. For the correct hold, start with this little trick: Allow your reins to fall straight down, and make a "peace sign", with your thumb out to the side. Place your index finger between your reins, about 12" down from the bit. The middle finger & thumb are on the outside of the reins. Then begin to fold over the rest of your reins in about 6" increments. Hold the remainder of your folded reins in your right hand. That's it. With any stallion, you must also unbuckle the reins so that if he rears (a quite normal movement for a stallion) he will not catch his leg in the reins. There are a few advanced rein holds, just email for those. When you use a chain over a yearling's nose, the best method is to go in from the left side of the halter, over the nose & in the right ring of the halter, then under the jaw & snap the chain's end to the left ring in the throat latch. This keeps the chain from pulling the halter to the side & poking your horse in the right eye. It is frowned upon to wrap the chain around the noseband of the halter. Bridles are mandatory on any horse, broodmare, gelding, or stallion who is 2 years of age and older regardless if it's a companion horse, accompanied by a foal. Nosebands are optional. And you cannot show a yearling in a bridle, he must go in a halter.
I have a great video of Jessica Wisdom, one of the best handlers in this country, doing a splendid dive over the top of my stallion's leg when he was on his way down from a rear, and she grabbed those reins quicker than he knew what happened! The stallion was so shocked that he simply stood perfectly still without so much as a twitch the rest of that class. Note to self, hand over your stallions now to a professional if you even THINK you're going to raise a stallion prospect. Nothing ruins a stallion faster than getting away with murder in the ring. And unruly behavior even at a young age, like 2, can stick in people's minds forever. I raise stallions, I train them at home, but when it's time for showing, send them to the pro. And people, pros included, please wear helmets this year with those young stallions.
NWSHBA is here to help anyone thinking of showing at these Breed shows. Please just email or call us anytime with even the slightest question, as we love to share our knowledge. We want everyone to succeed in this endeavor.
See you at the shows, Cathi NW Sport Horse Breeders Association
Flora Rouge WF: 2012 Hanoverian Filly by very Important Hanoverian Stallion, Falsterbo (Fidermark/ Brentano II) who was imported in '10 and still showing GP w/ David Blake in San Diego. I absolutely love the Fidermarks, and Florestan line, and really wanted a super foal this year from Feines, our Imported Hanoverian mare by Fabriano. Feines is now owned by Florence Fleming in Carnation, WA, but I've known Feines since my friend was showing her to PSG! Deecie Denison was her owner & rider for many years here in the states, and Feines was imported by none other than Verne Batchelder of FL& NH. Feines is an amazing mover, huge lofty gaits, 16.2h dapple BAY w/ white. She literally scored a 10 on her head! And this Flora filly has her head!!! She's just gorgeous, dark liver chestnut w/ a star. HUGE mover, very showy, leggy, w/ an ass as big as a full grown QH. Oy! Let's see how she turns out. $5000 at this time, going to inspection and will be branded in September.
De WILD FALCON WF: