Friday, July 11, 2014

Turnout Critique #14

This week's featured rider is competing in a schooling dressage show, which is not something that every reader of this blog will do, but there is still plenty that can be applied to the turnout of a hunter or jumper.

The very first thing that jumps out at me is something that I see on a large proportion of the horses at any given horse show, and that is a saddle pad whose edge is sitting under the saddle. I'm glad to be able to show an example of this because most riders seem unaware of what this could mean for the horse. The edge of a saddle pad is almost always thicker than the rest of the pad thanks to the layering of finishing materials (and even if it wasn't, there is still a difference in height between the pad and the horse's back). If the saddle is placed over this ridge, it creates a pressure point so that rather than having the saddle evenly disperse pressure across the back, this ridge will dig deeper into the back. While I have never seen a study linking back pain to this type of saddle pad arrangement, it's easy to imagine that it mustn't feel as good as it could for the horse.

For this reason, care should be taken when tacking up to keep an inch of two of saddle pad behind the back of the saddle. If the saddle tends to slip back during the ride while the saddle pad stays in place, a non-stick pad can be created very simply by sewing pieces of grippy non-stick shelf liner to the top of the saddle pad, or by cutting out a pad shape from the shelf liner and placing it carefully where it is needed. The girth tightness should also be checked throughout the ride because this can also be a cause of shifting. I do like the way that the black edging on this pad sharpens the outline on this colour of horse.

I like how neat and tidy this pair look for a schooling show. While I would recommend braiding even for a schooling show when it comes to dressage (and because any kind of braiding is acceptable for dressage, it doesn't have to be time-consuming), the horse is clean and well-brushed, as evidenced by the flow of the tail. It is difficult with some cameras to detect shine indoors, so I will give this pair the benefit of the doubt as the horse appears to be in good condition.

This horse's feathers could be trimmed to present an even cleaner look, which would also help to minimize wet sand from the warm-up ring sticking to the legs as it has here. This is one reason why I like to keep a stiff brush in the ring kit for last-minute leg cleaning. If this were a hunter or jumper show, I would recommend hoof polish to complete the clean picture, although this is a less common practice in dressage.

The tack looks to be clean and well-fitted. An all-purpose saddle like this one is perfectly acceptable for the lower levels of dressage, as would be a jumping saddle for anyone looking to try their hand at it. The bit looks a little bit high, but I suspect that it is just being lifted by the rein contact judging by the movement in the cheek piece.

The rider has presented herself very cleanly and with very well-fitted clothing. My preference, even for a schooling show, is for the rider to wear light (in this case white or beige) breeches, but the black breeches here are spotless. The white polo shirt is very appropriate for an informal schooling show. This rider's field boots are beautifully fitted, coming as far up to the knee as possible and fitting snugly through the leg. They appear to be polished, but the bottoms could still benefit from a towelling just before entering the show ring.

This rider's hair is neatly contained and her helmet appears to be well-fitted, with its strap secured in the keepers where it belongs. Black gloves such as the ones seen here are a good choice for the lower levels of dressage because they help to make hand movements less conspicuous.

The rider appears to be carrying an ordinary crop, which would be acceptable for a hunter or jumper class but will not be very useful in this case. There is no point during a dressage test when it would be appropriate to put the reins in one hand in order to use a crop behind the leg, and hitting on the shoulder is not appropriate in the dressage ring. Riding without a crop or using a dressage whip that can be applied behind the leg without taking a hand off the reins would be more correct.

Overall, for an informal schooling show, this horse and rider look very tidy and most of the changes that I recommend come down to personal preference. I commend them for broadening their horizons beyond the hunter/jumper world.

Riders interested in being featured in future turnout critiques can e-mail their photo(s) to


  1. Thank you for this critique of a dressage schooling show. It is exactly what I need. :-)

  2. this is great! it's nice to see a critique outside of jumpers.