Wednesday, February 6, 2013

No such thing as a good read: Why readers are a bad idea

I suppose the phrase "to each his own" applies here, but I tried readers early in my dressage career, and discarded them quickly.  If you like to use a reader, here are some things to consider:
  •  Memory. Everyone is capable of remembering a training and first level test, and probably more.
  • Confidence. Knowing your test will give you confidence. 
  • Preparation (lack of). If your argument is that you are too nervous to remember a test, I would counter that you are nervous because you have not adequately prepared. My goodness, with all of the money and time we invest in horses, you can spend a half hour learning your test?
  • Focus. Knowing your test will help you focus on your horse totally, not the voice by the side of the ring. 
  • Windy days and other noise. Wind, planes overhead, loudspeakers, and other noise could wreck your test.
  • Impression. Maybe all judges are so perfect and fair that they don't form an impression when a 35 year-old woman cannot be bothered to memorize a test. But I believe, at a subconcious level, distractions like readers, dirty tack, a horse in poor weight, or tacky clothing could result in a lower rating/score. I'm not saying it's intentional, or likely. But it is possible.
Do you feel differently? The same? Tell me why!


  1. I disagree. Not everyone is a good memorizer.

    I personally memorize all my tests. But there have been moments where I have completely blanked - ESPECIALLY when showing more than one test and on more than one horse for the day.

    I read for many of my friends (there was one show in Raleigh, that's all I seemed to do all weekend) because I have a BIG mouth. I've found that having that "cheerleader" at B or E makes many beginners feel less alone in the ring. Its not unlike having your trainer in your ear while you ride - it adds something.

    Now, I'm not saying you need a reader at 3rd level, but more often than not, I'm a "just in case" reader for many people who already know their tests.

    Also, there is a big difference between a good reader and a bad reader. It takes volume, it takes tone, and most importantly, it takes TIMING.

    I've scribed this year for many "S" judges, and I can say adamantly, they do not penalize for having a reader. In fact, they would PREFER you have a reader if there's a chance you might go off course. Hilda, especially. None of them want to give the -2, and if a reader helps, then get one! One judge actually likes it because if the tests are changing every ride or so, it helps keep him focused on the rider and not looking down to double check the movement.

    In addition, if you have a squirrely horse, having a person, "speaking" to the horse while you ride, often settles them.

    Again, there are MANY pros to having a reader. Not everyone needs them. And I really do not think less of anyone who uses them. People are different, circumstances are different, and many people, while like you, find "preparation, preparation, preparation" to help in confidence building. Many others find "just in case" to help in their confidence.

    Shrug. Its just great we have the option because we may need different things. :)

  2. 'Suzi' said most everything I was thinking! I have went both ways, used a reader and not used a reader, and while I already know the test, I find it settles my horse and myself.

    My trainer is the best reader I have ever heard - her timing is impeccable as is her volume and tone!

  3. Written by someone for whom memorization is not a challenge!
    I have always had a terrible time with memorization of anything. In first grade I was punished for having trouble with the math worksheets we had to do because I took too long despite knowing how to do all the work. It was merely that I had a hard time memorizing what 3+5 and 6+7 were, not because I didn't try or didn't get it. I find memorizing a test is the same way. I can do it, but I laugh at the suggestions it is a 1/2 hour thing. I take closer to 5 of recitation, practive, "riding" it in the living room hours to memorize a test, and I still won't remember it the following week, and don't count practicing the components of it on my horse.
    I have had every test I've ridden memorized when I went in the ring, but I have also been too focused on dealing with my horse's acrobatics to stop and try to step myself through the test mentally to figure out where I am. In that case, a read is VERY helpful. I still know where I'm going, basically, and have stayed on course when my reader goofed because of the hours of studying the test - but having a reader most definitely makes it easier for me to focus on my horse.

    I think if you can multitask well a reader is not distracting, but if you can't they're typically a terrible option. Just how lessons go can help someone figure out which way they will be - if you're the type who keeps working on figuring out your diagonal/lead/angle for your haunches in as your instructor is telling you to canter/trot/half pass because you can't adapt to words while trying to figure out something in your riding, chances are a reader would be a very bad option for you.

  4. I second everyone above - having a reader is a safeguard for when for whatever reason, your mind goes blank, your horse spazs, or you just need that reassuring voice. I don't think I've ever known a judge to dock you for that or judge you like they would if you had dirty tack, unkempt horse, or tacky clothes. Though, were I a professional rider, I'd probably have a coach specifically for memorizing tests. I don't think to every judge anyone who has a reader, regardless of their level.

  5. I don't like using a reader the first time that I did a test I used a reader but ended up blanking them out because I knew the test already and didn't want to be focusing on anything but my riding. The second time that I did a test also used a reader because we literally got told 10 minutes before we did it your doing a dressage test and I had no clue, and using a reader made me really really nervous, cause i was trying to anticipate what was next and just wasn't able to!

  6. Dressage riders have it easy in many ways. They know what test they're taking before going into it. Jumper riders have to memorize multiple jumping courses, with 8-12 jumps, many with nonsensical turns, minutes before going into the ring. And there is no option for a reader. Yes, Dressage tests are longer, but there is much more certainty involved, and much more time for memorization. However, memorizing courses/patterns is a skill that must be acquired as a rider, regardless of discipline.

  7. This comment comes with the caveat that I'm new to dressage and have only done very basic tests at schooling shows. That said, I absolutely agree that we're all capable of memorizing tests. I also think it's important for any rider to memorize and practice each test without a reader, when preparing for a show. But I don't think there's any harm in having a reader present, especially when you're just starting off. Speaking for myself, having a reader for my first few schooling show tests really helped me to feel comfortable and prepared.

    For most of my tests so far, the reader has just been there as a back up. At my barn we practice a lot before a show, and I've gotten a lot out of mental preparation and rehearsal as well. That said, right as the bell rang for one of my tests, there was a loud noise and the horse I was on gave a big spook. It was really comforting to have a reader for that test!

  8. Well I'm with you, Stacey. I don't use a caller and find a caller in the next ring annoying (rather than distracting.)

    I do think it has a place for the occasional low level competitor, but I see people who compete on a regular basis using callers and wonder why they don't bother to learn the test properly. I don't find it easy to learn multiple tests (one is easy!) but I make the effort of learning it and riding the tests at home. Preparation is important, otherwise how else would you know some of the little quirks of the test where you may have to use some ring craft?

    One thing that may be a little different between where I live and the states is that we have two different associations. One has 6 tests per level, the other has 4 (the previous tests used in America.) So for many of us who compete in both associations, that's 10 tests per level, more if you compete over two levels. I find it very easy to relearn tests I've already ridden because I have the visual memory of it, but 10-20 tests are impossible to keep track of.

    Is it correct that you only have three tests per level in the States at the moment? That would be lovely and I don't understand why anyone would need a caller if you only have three tests per level to memorise.

  9. I have never used a reader and never will (training level). I completely agree with your points. And specifically, "Knowing your test will help you focus on your horse totally, not the voice by the side of the ring." I also think it's hard to memorize a test. It's a pattern, just ride the pattern. There are no readers in crossX, jumping, gymnastics, ice skating, dance, etc. If you practice, you can do it. It's like good turnout - it's just part of sport. That said, I never judge anyone who use readers, but I am surprised that I am one of the few people at my shows that doesn't.

  10. Not fond of having a reader myself, but I do understand why some people need or want one.

    I find myself being distracted with a reader, always wondering if he or she is going to read the next movement on time. I've read a number of times and made a few reading errors, but I have to respect the job. It's not easy to time each movement's "read" just right to allow the rider to prepare, and to read so the rider can actually hear me.

    I'd much rather memorize my tests and I've ridden just about every level up through I-1, so I've had a lot of experience at it. The trick to me is to memorize patterns, think about what I am trying to demonstrate, and eventually, add the accuracy of specific letters to certain movements. It just suits my brain to do it that way.

  11. I do not like having a reader or watching tests with a reader. I find that it distracts from the flow of the ride. I am very good at memorizing visuals, so my memorization strategy is to learn the patterns first and then go back and note which transitions are at specific letters and which are between letters. I do not try to memorize the text. That would be torture. If I ride two tests, I create landmarks in each ride to give me a hint as to what comes next.

    I have used readers when I was in college, but the last time that I used a reader as an adult, I completely tuned out the person's voice. I was so focused on what I was doing that I did not hear a word she said. Good thing I memorized my test!

  12. With a graduate degree in science, I can say I over-multi-task. I think too hard, and if I focus on memorization of the test/pattern, I'm thinking of what comes next three letters ahead. Then the horse will start to antici-----pate what's coming, and the transitions come too early.

    Beyond that, if you over-practice the test/pattern with one horse, doesn't the horse start to antici------pate what's coming and sometimes rush the transitions they are fond of?

    I have a general idea of the test/pattern, but I like having a reader. If I find I am nervous, or the horse is uncomfortable in a new location, having a calm reader can give us both someone/something relaxed to ride by and receive some nice comfort from. Most of us don't use a random person for a caller, do we? We use a trainer, a friend, a fellow barn member we appreciate. There's comfort in that, especially in an unfamiliar show situation.

  13. A couple of thoughts here:

    1) Everyone is different. I'm nearly 70, and I work very hard to memorize my tests to the point that I can ride them and remain focused on "riding every stride" during the test ... I clean house and find squibs of paper everywhere, with a "dressage court" and the path of the test traced on them. I trace the test with my finger(in the dust before I apply the Pledge, for example, or on my thigh when I'm waiting at a red light). Mundane chores go more quickly when I've got my mind occupied. I don't want to ride the test in real life over and over because horses will figure things out and know when it's time to canter at C (;o)

    2) The competence of the reader (as well as his/her volume at a show). If there are distractions (other readers in nearby courts), music playing, horses in nearby fields cavorting--you may have your hands full with your own "spirited mount" or even opening your ears enough to hear the reader.

    3) If the reader messes up, it's still "rider error." Bottom line: Riders must know their tests. Readers are backup, security, you name it--but they can't save you if you make an error or if THEY make an error in the reading--and many people have readers and still go off test.

    4) I scribed for an "S" judge who made a negative comment about a big-name trainer who rode in without her jacket (it was "jackets optional" at the show) and she had a reader. I think she was riding a Third or Fourth level test, but the judge said as a trainer she should have been professional "through and through" and ridden with jacket and without a reader.

    5) I've used readers a couple of times. I have no preference, but I would prefer to be "professional through and through" too, though I'm as "adult ammy" as they come ;oD

  14. Okay, I did insert the disclaimer that everyone is different. But...

    If for no other reason than because of this post, watch Dancemoms, and see the eight year old kids memorize hundreds of individual dance steps in a four-to-five minute program in about 48 hours. Watch a high school play and see how these young kids have memorized 2 hours of lines, and body movements, and lyrics. I am what I am (meaning not an expert), but when I memorize a test I don't memorize just the movements, but every thought I'm supposed to have and when, down to "here's a corner, and the canter depart is in the next corner, I need to half halt and get him on the outside rein or his head is going to fly up on the depart." How can you do this if you are awaiting instructions on where to go next? If nerves get in your way that much, you're devoting too much to the emotion and fear of failure, and not enough to the task. I love Jane Savoie because she gives us the "right way to think" about competition. It's all preparation, and not just physical practice. Down from my soapbox now :-).

  15. I never use a reader, and never will. I don't even understand why they are allowed? Most other disciplines require you to memorize a pattern right there the day of the show and if you mess it up you get dinged. We have the tests available to us and they don't change for years and we still need a reader? Come On! Pathetic.
    There is a trainer here, low level, but she often uses readers. She does this for a living and she hasn't memorized the tests yet? Ridiculous. and no, she doesn't have any learning disabilities.

  16. Those 8 year old kids don't have full time jobs, families, nor the emotional or financial responsibilities that most adult amateurs do, either.

  17. I agree that you should memorize the movements/patterns, but to compare a discipline where a person is riding an 1100 pound animal(that might spook because this is the riders first test at a show and is nervous and the horse feels the tension)to a child dancing or doing a school play is not really equivalent. My husband asks me why I don't want to drive his ..sporty car..I asked him if he wanted to ride my horse..he said no and I said why not your car is very horse would be way more challenging.


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