Dressage, much maligned as ballet on horseback for those too scared to jump, is actually an essential part of training. Dressage will improve your riding, and your horse’s movements, which in turn will help with your cross country and show jumping rounds. Dressage allows you to train the horse to be sensitive to the aids, improve flexibility and strengthen the back and joints. Competing in a dressage test will help you to assess the progress you are making with your horse’s training.
The Dressage Arena
The basic Dressage arena is 20×60 meters. Letters are placed around the circumference of the arena as guides. For lower level tests, riders use the letters A, K,E,H,C,M,B,F. The letter X represents the centre point of the arena, and is not marked.
TIP: Remember the letters by All King Edwards Horses Carry Many Brave Fighters.
Before the test
Arrive in plenty of time and warm up your horse appropriately so you can present a fresh horse and demonstrate a picture of harmony and ease.
If your horse or pony is unsettled try riding constant changes of direction utilizing diagonals, circles and serpentines. Perpetual changes of direction make the horse shift his weight from one side to the other with the result that he loosens up and makes them concentrate. Do gymnastic suppling. This means lengthening and shortening the horse’s posture (topline) by lengthening and shortening his stride
TIP: Avoid drilling certain movements over and over as your animal will begin to anticipate what is next and become robotic in the movements.
Entering the Arena (First impressions are important)
TIP: When riding around the arena, stay on the rein that you will follow once you enter. For example, if the test asks you to turn right at A, maintain the right rein until the judge signals your entrance. This will keep the horse thinking ‘right’ and will make him less likely to wander off the centreline. You are allowed to ride around the outside/inside of the arena for a short while before you begin your test. The judge will sound a horn or ring a bell to tell you to start and you have up to 45 seconds to make your way around to A.
Remember to look confident in the judge’s eyes. Now, as you come down that centreline, look up, and make eye contact with the judge. This is part of showmanship. No matter how you’re really feeling, look confident; put a smile on your face, and ride down the centreline like you own the arena.
When you enter, your salute is your first formal presentation of your horse to the judge. Consider your salute as an opportunity to take a deep breath, to collect your thoughts, to give your horse a chance to size up his surroundings, and to prepare for that all-important first turn.
Ride with more impulsion
TIP: Ride with more impulsion than usual when trotting down the centreline. This will prevent your horse from wandering and wobbling.
TIP: When riding circles, try to make a diamond shape. This will ensure you meet all the right points on the arena while maintaining the correct bend.
Demonstrate a clear difference between riding loops or circles and when riding the corners.
Corners – Don’t cut your corners! Go as deeply into the corners as you can. The more you can show the judge your horse’s ability to bend, the better your marks will be.
Perform your movements exactly at the letter. Keep circles as circles and not as squares or ovals. The judge will be impressed by accuracy and shouldn’t mark you down too much if your horse’s paces are not as good. If you take the time to read the criteria you are judged against, accuracy always tops the list. Circles need to be round, not elliptical. Lines need to be straight, not crooked.
TIP: When lengthened strides are required, extend your horse’s strides and don’t rush them. If your animal does not lengthen well try to slow down before the extension to show a difference.
Tip: – If your horse doesn’t respond properly or misbehaves, don’t discipline the horse in the dressage ring. Deal with the situation as best you can at the time.
TIP: keep all your tests in a handy file in your travel bag. When you show up at a show and discover you have ridden for the judge before, you can quickly review their comments.
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