(“You’re kidding, right?”)

It’s the time of year when some of us watch a lot of football. You know the term “armchair quarterback?” All fans are susceptible to acting that way even if our greatest accomplishment in the sport was second string JV back in middle school. Despite that we can sit in front of the TV and call the plays (in our own minds) far better than the professionals on the field.

While my expertise in that realm may be sorely limited, I’d like to claim it is less so in dressage. All this came to mind over the weekend as I judged a schooling show. The warm-up area was right behind me and easily within earshot. As I presided over one Intro test after another, I couldn’t help but overhear the coaching advice being given as riders prepared to compete.

As I told my scribe, sometimes I just wanted to turn around and say to them, “You’re kidding, right? You can’t be serious!” All advice – even given enthusiastically and sincerely – is not of equal worth. When putting a test together, both in the planning stages and in the final tuneup, there are many tactical decisions which must be made. Impulsion, we know, is a good thing, But if your horse is tense and wired, that’s a bad time to be pushing for more! If he is being strong in the canter, that’s a bad time to be practicing lengthenings.

The short version whether you be rider or coach is that there are moments to be bold and moments to be conservative. Your decisions should be based on what your horse should take away from the experience, not just on the hope that if you go for broke, you will automatically produce the best results. Legendary former USET Three Day coach Jack LeGoff said it best when he announced to an audience, “I can teach any horse jump off a 30 foot cliff into 12 feet of water! . . . One time . . . !”

Listening to the warm-up area advice at this weekend’s show or watching some of the things the riders did in the show ring, I could barely keep myself from interrupting, “Excuse me, what exactly were you thinking anyway?”