Want to be top of the leader board after you’ve completed your dressage test? We’ve come up with a few ring craft tricks to help you gain some extra marks in your dressage tests. If you can remember a few of these tips in your next test then the judge won’t be able to help giving you some extra marks and remember points mean prizes!
- The scales of training – Put yourself in the judge’s shoes and try and keep in your mind what it is that they’re looking for. The scales of training consist of Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness and eventually Collection (predominantly in that order though there is some cross over on the way) and are a great way of keeping the basics in your head as you ride. Without a consistent and even rhythm it will be difficult to achieve suppleness, without suppleness it will be tricky to develop a consistent contact, without a consistent contact impulsion is going to be hard to achieve and don’t even think about collection without having all the previous scales well established! The judges look for the scales to be more established as the tests go up the grades. For instance a young horse may be forgiven for not halting completely square if it shows a willing and gymnastic way of going.
- Keep an even rhythm– Try to ride every step round the arena. Rather than just trotting from A – C make sure that you have the horse engaged, listening, straight and most importantly in an even rhythm the whole way round. Easy marks are lost because of a lack of concentration from horse and rider, maybe because they are focusing on the next movement, resulting in a loss of rhythm or tempo. Of course there are often the unscheduled momentary lapse in concentration but making sure you’re riding every step you may well be able to pre-empt a shy or a spook and even avoid it all together.
- Use your corners – Cutting the corners is the bane of every judge’s life (nearly as much as egg shape circles but we’ll come to that later!). Think of every corner as your friend, use it as an opportunity to actually ride the horse rather than freewheeling round an oval shaped arena. Riding your corners well will help you to check suppleness, engage the hindquarters and gives you an opportunity to ride a half halt to help you prepare for the next movement.
- The Centre Line – There is nowhere to hide on the centre line and this is where you give your first and last impressions so you want to make it as good as possible! Give yourself plenty of room to make a smooth turn and straight entry onto the centre line. Don’t feel panicked to rush into the arena as soon as the bell/horn goes, you have 45 seconds after the bell goes to enter the arena.
- Smooth Transitions – There are so many transitions within each dressage test that they are a key area to nail some extra marks. Preparation is key to achieving the perfect transition whether it be up or down. A half halt before each transition will help to let your horse know that you’re about to ask for a transition and help to keep the transition clear, smooth and active.
- Circle shape circles – This may sound a little obvious but judges have to sit through many odd shaped circles - some ovals, some pears and even some squares! If you try to break the circle down into quarters it will help you ride each quarter independently and accurately rather than just getting back to your starting position as quickly as possible.
- Read the judge’s comments – You may be surprised to hear but the judges really are there to help! Remember the judge doesn’t know your horse and can only judge what they see in front of them on the day. Try not to take it personally if it doesn’t go to plan and the judge marks you accordingly. Any good judge will give you some constructive comments to help you in your future tests.
- Don’t forget to relax and enjoy – It is meant to be fun at the end of the day and tension in the rider can cause tension in the horse. The judge is looking for a happy and harmonious horse and rider combination that is a joy to watch. Smiling (as opposed to grimacing!) and thinking about your plan when riding can help you relax and not get too nervous. A good smile at the end of your test helps to leave a good impression with the judge as well…
We hope that these tips help to give you some things to work on and help you improve your dressage marks. Just remember to tell your horse that the white boards aren’t that scary and see if they can channel their inner Valegro!