So... that was not good.
Today was my first show with Ringo in exactly 6 months, since our very successful debut at 3rd level (with a confident win and 64% in a bigger class) last November. I went into this show knowing we would be a bit rusty but also tentatively confident that the improvement I've been feeling in the past few weeks and months would cross over into our test and at least give us that coveted 60+% that would give us our last score for our Bronze Medal. It's unbelievable how much better Ringo looks and feels now compared to then (with Brian and other outside sources agreeing), so I was excited to show him off.
Well, that didn't end up happening. I showed two tests today--3rd level test 1 and 4th level test 1--and got 58.5% and 53.4%, respectively. The 53% is officially the worst score Ringo and I have ever gotten as a partnership, and included a 4.5 in the collective Rider marks. Ouch. The judge, to put it briefly, hated us. I was extremely proud of my 3rd level test, and thought it was wayyyyy better than the test I'd done in November that had garnered a 64%. I'd made one bigger mistake in the first medium trot where he'd broken for a stride, but other than that was quite happy. I walked away almost certain that I'd broken 60%.
That did not end up happening. I am extremely loathe to blame the judging (when usually my riding more than suffices to explain any shortcomings) but this was rather ridiculous. The judge dinged me on pretty much every movement for Ringo being "hollow," where Brian had specifically commented in my lesson YESTERDAY how not hollow he was and how beautifully he was working over his back. He also feels and looks the most engaged I've ever had him, so I am more likely to believe Brian's assessment. She also claimed that my half passes were leg yields, whereas I have video evidence that proves they were not.
Additionally, I messed up the location of my 10m canter circle in the first direction, but then because I was not stopped for an error assumed that I had done it in the right place and so did it in the reciprocal place in the opposite direction. When I got my test back, I saw that I had been given a 4 on both movements with the comment "circle at wrong letter." THIS IS INCORRECT JUDGING. The judge must either ring the rider for an error of course the first time or not penalize the rider at all; it is not fair to penalize the rider for an error twice without notifying him or her. Being correctly assessed for this mistake alone could have potentially pushed me into the coveted 60% territory, so it is embittering to have the judge score wrongly. To top it off, I was given a 5 on rider with the comment that I was riding 'too aggressively.' I don't even know what that means - I certainly wasn't overly spurring, jabbing, or catching Ringo in the mouth, so have a hard time understanding what she meant.
I came back for my 4th level test just for the sake of getting the experience, and kind of wish I hadn't. Ringo was pretty much cooked and not nearly as willing to play along as he had been in his first test, with the result that he was quite difficult to control, especially in the canter, and ended up swapping out early in one direction and being realllllly difficult to manage in the other. I knew that it wasn't going to score great, but was still somewhat mortified to get a 53%, with a 4.5 on Rider. I honestly believe I did not deserve that score. I sat well and guided my hot and cranky horse as well as I possibly could have; I wasn't flopping, wasn't bashing my horse in the teeth, and wasn't almost falling off, which is what I think would be necessary to deserve handing out a 4.5 on Rider. It was a low blow to finish out the day with.
Going forward and with crappy judging aside, if I am honest with myself the second test was a mistake, and 4th level is still definitely at the very limits of our ability. The two things definitely should not be combined. I'm going to enter my next show exclusively at 3rd level with one test per day, and really focus on bringing that Bronze medal home. Then, the 4th level can come from there.