Grace Owsley is a professional dressage trainer, competitor, and USDF "L" graduate. She uses her knowledge and experience to help riders and their horses through in-person and remote coaching and training, plus she has an awesome blog of her own on GraceOwsleyDressage.com. During the pandemic, Grace found herself and her students staying tuned up in the show ring with virtual horse shows. Read on to hear her pointers on delving into the world of online showing!
Last year has been an irregular one, to say the least. People worldwide have had to embrace a new normal, with life events put on hold or canceled entirely. Many equestrians have faced disappointments in the canceling of horse shows and championships. To keep everyone’s safety at the forefront, it has been for the best. A few good things have come from the inability to compete in person. I know many equestrians who have embraced the opportunity to extend their time training at home, deepening their relationship with their horse, and finding opportunities for remote education through webinars and other sources. Another positive outcome has been the rise of virtual horse shows. These online competitions have existed in the past, but they were very few and far between. Now, their popularity has grown to the extent that you probably know at least one person who has taken part.
Over the last year, I have participated in a few myself. I have competed in both traditional dressage and western dressage on client-owned horses through different online show platforms. I have coached and filmed my students so they could compete as well, and I have even judged a few dressage classes for an online show.
There are a lot of benefits to showing online. There is a variety available, so you can pick and choose which fits you and your schedule better. There is a date range for filming, so you aren’t stuck with committing to one particular day. You have the option of filming in your own space or one that is familiar to you and on your own time, which can be much more convenient and comfortable for many horses and riders. You’re also able to “redo” a performance and re-film if your ride doesn’t turn out how you like. Considering conditions related to the pandemic, it can be a safer option than in-person shows.
In this article, I’m going to give you a few pointers to consider if you are interested in getting involved in virtual horse shows.
#1: Where to Find an Online/Virtual Competition
The first step in your virtual horse show journey is to find a competition that works for you. This can be as easy as a simple Internet search. Pick your favorite web browser and type in ‘online horse show’ or ‘virtual horse show’ and include your discipline of choice, such as dressage, hunter/jumper, etc. You could also search social media platforms such as Facebook. Some online horse show hosts have posted competitions as Facebook events. Another way to search for virtual competitions is to refer to your national discipline’s official governing association website. For example, if your sport is western dressage, the Western Dressage Association of America has a search tool on their website for WDAA recognized events. When I searched the site today, the majority of competitions offered were online shows and were labeled clearly as so. There are also several online sites that function specifically to offer online horse shows. One such website is www.betterdressagescores.com. Websites like these specialize in virtual shows and have multiple competitions available at a time or one after the other.
#2: Read the Rules Clearly
Every online horse show has its own individual set of rules and requirements. Not every show is created equal with the same set of standards and expectations. Be sure you clearly understand the date range for filming and submitting your rides. The show rules should clearly state what kind of arena and setup is required. They will also have filming rules, such as filming in landscape (wide) instead of portrait, making sure the sound stays on, filming nonstop without cuts or edits, how much to zoom in and out, and what must be captured/performed, etc. Those are just a few examples. Be sure to clearly read all of the rules and requirements so that you don’t put in all the effort and become disappointed with a disqualification due to missing something important. Some virtual shows are more particular than others when it comes to arena setup, apparel, etc. Be sure to ask questions if you are not sure about the rules. One of the traditional dressage shows we participated in required clear letters and a measured ring, but the space available to us couldn’t accommodate a standard 20 x 60 m ring. After asking show management, they were OK with tests being performed in a short ring at 20 x 40 m. Not all competitions will be that accommodating, so be sure you ask specific questions.
Be sure that you understand the rules for the show you are entering, including attire, arena setup, and filming rules.
#3: Filming Your Performances
Once you have read all the requirements for the show you have chosen, it’s time to figure out how and when to film your rides. I highly recommend you have a designated filming person. There are a lot of really handy robot cameras and tripods out there, but the best option is to have somebody else there to film for you and that should be their only job. If you need a caller for a dressage test, for example, your filming person should not be your caller and your videographer. Make sure your filming person is filled in on all the rules and your expectations. I highly recommend you have them film you for a minute or so while warming up in the ring where you will be showing. Have them practice zooming in and out as is appropriate from where they are supposed to be standing and filming according to the rules. Review the footage and make sure they are standing in the right place at the right angle, and capturing and zooming the way you need them to before filming your official submission rides. Try to film in a place where other people aren’t riding and there aren’t many distractions and loud noises.
#4: Don’t Get Hung Up on Perfection and Do-Overs
Virtual shows are so convenient in that you can pick your own date and time to film. You may be tempted as you perform your official submissions to strive for perfection. You do have the luxury of “do-overs,” so if something goes wrong, such as forgetting a dressage movement or knocking over a jump fence, you can start your ride over and film again as if nothing ever happened. This can be a big advantage and I encourage you to do this if you’ve made a big error in your ride. However, what I don’t suggest is an aim for perfection that causes you to film over and over, hoping to capture the best performance you could offer. This ideal can be frustrating and exhausting for both you and your horse. Unless you are making very obvious errors or you feel like you’re having a “bad ride” compared to a normal day, try to go with the performance you and your horse offer that day.
I’ll give some personal examples here. One day we were filming traditional dressage tests for a virtual show on DJ the Arabian. I completely spaced out my third movement in a test and had to delete that video and start all over. In that instance, it made sense to scrap the video and try again. That same day, we had already been filming a test or two and were filming another when I did a late transition to canter that wasn’t the prettiest. Instead of deciding to start all the way over when we were so deep into the test to try and make it better, I went with it and continued on. I felt it would be too tiring for the horse to start over, and I wasn’t up for dedicating another day to filming. I ended up submitting that test. It was only one movement that we messed up; the rest of the test was fairly solid, and we ended up with a good score and first place.
#5: Treat It Like a Real Show
Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it like an in-person show in a few ways. Some shows will have clear requirements for riding attire and tack. Be sure to read and understand those clearly, or read the national rules for your particular discipline to make sure you are meeting requirements. Even if the show standards are not high, I recommend dressing up like you would for an in-person show. This is a great opportunity to practice braiding or try out that fancy new show outfit you planned to wear last year but never got to. Groom your horse well and give your tack a cleaning. It’s not only great practice and good turnout etiquette, but it could be a fun way to make the event special. If you are able to safely do so, invite a few friends or barn mates to take part in a filming day together, where all can safely and responsibly come together to perform and film their submissions. Cheer each other on while social distancing. This could be a safer way to come together and feel the camaraderie that you do at a real event.
Treat the virtual show like a real show by dressing in your show clothes, cleaning up your horse, and practicing good turnout and etiquette.
#6: Have Fun and Share Your Experience
The most important of all is for you and your horse to enjoy your time together while participating in the virtual show of your choice. Share your experiences with other people if you decide to show online. Many equestrians out there have become more aware of virtual shows, but several others do not even know where to start.
As we hopefully return to something closer to “pre-pandemic normal,” I do hope that virtual horse shows stay popular and stick around. How exciting and convenient to have more options out there for potential competitors! I hope you all stay safe and get to try out a virtual show sometime this year.
For all of your virtual horse show needs and more, visit RidingWarehouse.com!