Dressage training with a judge?!: what judges look for

Last week I was incredibly lucky to have a lesson with one of the best (if not the best best) judges in Finland. Tiina Karkkolainen is a 4* judge who has judged internationally and is constantly travelling around the world judging, which means that going for a lesson with her was such an amazing experience for me!
I was expecting to have to do some advanced level tests and practise test riding (as this is what several judges in the UK always offered to do) so when Tiina told me to go on a big circle in the middle of the arena and we started working on Vallu's paces and way of moving you could say I was a little shocked - in a good way! During this lesson I had so many light bulb moments that a 45 minute lesson felt like she had been teaching for over two hours. The main things we focused on were throughness and suppleness, rhythm and balance - all the things that judges look for in a test no matter what level. Simple things that every rider especially a dressage rider will have heard a million times, but this time they got engraved into my brain and way of riding so deeply that over a week later it's all I think about when riding!
I once went with Brooksby Dressage to a lesson with the great Jennie LC who then said to ride forward when they are spooky and this has stuck with me since then. It's worked really well with Vallu who shuts up and gets on with his work if you tell him to go forward when he's wanting to spook/has spooked. Tiina mentioned the same tactic for Vallu but it was more constantly riding forward not just when you think they are about to spook. I've focused so much on just kicking forwards when spooking but then at the same time have ridden far too conservatively and too much backwards to try to stop him spooking that I have totally forgotten about riding him forward ALL the time softly as a tactic to get him to not spook. How can a horse like Vallu have time to think about spooking when he's having to use all of his body and brain to work properly? And it really has made a massive difference in the way that Vallu has been to ride since then. Sure we have days when he's going at the speed of light and I have no breaks and I wonder what I'm doing, but then we have days when he's a 100% with me and it feels wonderful because he's not even considered spooking!
Through just riding a big circle in trot and canter (big trot and big canter always thinking forwards) with some leg yields in and out on the circle, Vallu changed his neck from tight and behind the vertical with a non existent contact to a totally soft neck and through the back in just ten minutes just from my quiet hands and getting him to be active behind! Sometimes it's so simple but just so hard to know what to do and to know what feeling to look for. I feel like sometimes I have no idea what I'm trying to achieve but for the last week every time that I have ridden I've been trying to get 'that' feeling again!

We are hopefully going to be going back at the end of next month for another lesson and I'm so excited to have another chance to train with her!

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