The Fringe Eventer Blog Post # 10

Timing: noun a. placement or occurrence in time b. the ability to select the precise moment for doing something for optimum effect

Accuracy: noun a. freedom from mistake or error: the quality or state of being accurate

I’ve noticed that riding terms can be vague and allude to ideas rather than create concise and clear images in my grey matter. Perhaps it is the same for you?

Take for example, the phrase “on the bit.” This phrase can be very vague and oft times misleading. Firstly, the only proper way for a horse to truly be “on the bit” is for it to be standing on my very nice bridle, which I can tell you would never happen especially since I am neurotic careful about making my tack last. After all, I am horse poor. 

In all seriousness, if you were to ask 10 riders what “on the bit” means you would no doubt receive 7 different answers, although if I were a betting woman I would say the number would be much higher, say 10 out of 10. And yet everybody talks about being “on the bit”. In reality this can be a difficult scenario to describe to a rider.


I have been working hard to make my lessons, money, and time in the saddle count. Right now, especially with the holiday season upon nearly behind us I am counting my nickels. After talking about goals, both realistic and those reminiscent of a Hallmark Channel movie, my dressage instructor Maureen has raised the bar. She has been hurling two words in particular, at me in every lesson lately; accuracy, and timing.

We started with a simple exercise in the sandbox. At the canter I was asked to ride a 20 m circle beginning at B. Inside of this first circle I was to ride a 15 m circle, starting at B as well. The final circle would be a 10 m circle. Sounds simple right? Three concentric circles each beginning and ending at the same point should have been a snap. Surely any fool could accomplish such a mundane task. (Hang on while I go get my Dunce Cap.)

No doubt it would have been an easy task if she hadn’t been trying to prove a point. She can go all George Morris on me at times and it is usually when I least expect it. 

Apparently “starting at B” meant, well um…start at B! In other words to correctly ride a 20 m circle precisely at B I needed to already have started my turn a stride before the letter B. Two strides beyond and my circle was not symmetrical. Likewise, two strides early would throw off the shape as well. Did I mention that I excel at the oval? 

As I approached B again I had to have a plan since my circle was going to get smaller and the letter B would come up faster, once again a stride before B, I started my 15 meter circle. A stride past B and it would be a 17 meter egg. 

Point taken and lesson learned. Apparently I have no idea how to plan and then execute a proper circle, 10, 15, or 20 meters, it didn’t matter. Maureen was making herself heard loud and clear. I needed a plan. My concept of a plan needed updating. Movements are starting to come up faster as we move up the levels in dressage and accuracy is going to play a very important role.

When riding a dressage test in a show we are required to do one circle. For example, we may be asked to make a 20 meter circle at E in the Beginner Novice Test A, or a 15 meter circle at A in First Level Test Three. Either way, we make one circle and then ride on. Sure we want to be accurate, but in reality it is really hard to completely destroy one circle, especially when you have the luxury of leaving it behind you and continuing your test.  This new exercise forced me to really plan ahead and ride each stride, it required both accuracy –leaving the rail precisely at B and timing – selecting the precise moment her canter stride would reach B. Great, let’s just cram more stuff into my already overloaded brain! 

Let’s face it, we all have busy lives and few of us AA’s just ride and play with horses all day long while dinner cooks itself, the kids magically make it home from baseball practice, and Amazon delivers our groceries by drone (don’t laugh it will be here before you know it). I’ll be the first to admit that my mind is not zoomed in on my riding every time I swing into the saddle after a hellacious day at work. Timing and accuracy are the furthest things from my mind. This apparently has to change.

“As you move up the levels timing and accuracy become critical. Everything happens faster. Each dressage movement comes up quicker in your test and must be ridden with greater precision. The jump questions are more complex, the jumps themselves, larger in size. If you don’t have a plan you will be screwed.”

Our next lesson was a jump lesson with grid work. We were sent down a line consisting of three small bounces and a one stride to a vertical. Easy peasy right? To prove yet another point – and yes she set us up for this one as well - Maureen shortened the distance between jumps number 2 and 3. With very small jumps she managed to up the ante and both Timing and Accuracy showed up to party.

It took a few trips through, but we nailed it. By putting my mare in correctly at the first element (timing) I was able to manage and balance (accuracy) the rest of her strides, thus preparing her for the shorter distance that lay ahead. 

Timing and accuracy be thy name!

I’ve had a Shazam moment that I hope will help my fellow penny-pinching, over 30 (cough!) AA’s as well. Are you ready? 

If you want to save money on lessons while progressing more quickly then get serious about both timing and accuracy. If you make yourself more aware of each footfall and have a plan while you ride, then each successive ride can’t help but be better than the last. You and your horse will be more aware of where you are going, what you expect to do when you get there, and where you will be going next.  

Also, keep in mind that timing and accuracy are at times interchangeable in how they relate to your riding. For example, my sentence could have easily read: 

By putting my mare in correctly at the first element (accuracy) I was able to manage and balance (timing) the rest of her strides, thus preparing her for the shorter distance that lay ahead.

Our latest adventure took us to the Florida Horse Park for a 3 phase schooling show. We owned the dressage arena with a score of 32.63. There were more than 5 points separating us from our nearest competitor. Life was good.

We had walked the stadium course in the fading light the night before. Oh, heck who am I kidding, it was nearly dark and I swear there were 10 fences. Our warm-up was awesome and Hilda sent us into the arena feeling good. Our round was passable and within the time allowed until…

We tried to exit the arena and were met with a line of folks blocking the entrance and madly motioning for us to go back into the arena. Apparently there was a fence #11 and I cantered around like an idiot laughing until we found it. An exuberant fist pump after crossing the finish line and I even had the jump judge laughing. We added 20 time faults. (sigh!)

Once again we warmed up fabulously and headed out, this time, on the cross country course. Fence #5 gave us a run out, which we fixed nicely. Fence #6 was a stop and then with a little encouragement we moved on to the next fence. Unfortunately I was riding defensively with one simple goal in mind – survive. 

Finally after fence #8 two words filtered through the fear and we turned things around quickly. The entire rest of the course rode like a dream. I had a plan! I rode each fence with a plan. I set her up for the fences rather than throwing her at them hoping she would clear them and I could simply follow. I wanted to shout from the nearest rooftop. We had a plan!

In the end we managed to turn a 1st place spot with a score of 32.63 into a 4th place with a score of 92.63 and the crazy thing was…I couldn’t have been happier!

So my fellow horse poor, over 30 AA’s if you learn anything today let it be to have a plan. Timing and accuracy can be your best friends, but only if you learn how to use them.


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