Thursday, June 9, 2011

Calling my dressage ladies, help a hunter princess out....

So, as at least one of my readers knows, I am doing a dressage test next Tuesday night.  It's just a schooling show, at our barn, very low key.  I've been asked to do Training Level Test 3.  And I've been promised that beer will follow (sold!).

Being the Type-A personality and good student that I am, I promptly found the test online and started memorizing last Sunday morning.  Of course, I also had to google dressage letters layout because I promptly realized that "HXK" means absolutely nothing to me. 

So here is how I have memorized my test (I had to translate it into terms I could remember):
  1. Enter at trot, halt in the middle, salute thingy, trot forward and turn left at the end.
  2. Squiggly thingy down the longside at the trot.
  3. Trot around short side, canter in the corner.
  4. Canter circle in the middle of the longside (width of arena)
  5. Keep cantering around short side, across diagonal, trot in the middle.
  6. Walk in the middle of the short side (collected walk).
  7. Squiggly thingy up the longside at the walk (long rein).
  8. Trot in the middle of the short side.
  9. Squiggly thingy down the longside at the trot.
  10. Trot around short side, canter in the corner.
  11. Canter circle in the middle of the longside (width of the arena).
  12. Trot in the middle of the short side.
  13. Hunter trot circle in the middle of the long side (shorten reins again before rail).
  14. Trot around corner, up the center line, halt, salute thingy, walk forward on long rein and say thank you to the judge.
Now I realize that's oversimplifying it a bit, and of course I'm going to try to show our best flat work, our most balanced walk, trot, and canter, make my circles as round as I can, and get as close to a good transition everywhere as we can.  Please don't take the above to mean that I'm not taking this seriously.  I am.  Any chance to get some constructive criticism and feedback on my horse and our flat work is not one I am going to throw away.  I just had to throw the letters out the window.  My little hunter princess brain just wouldn't work that way....

So dressage ladies (or gents, I suppose, in case I have a male reader or two)... help a sister out.  Here are the questions I have so far: 
  1. Do I make the turns in the squiggly thingies (I believe you call them "one loop serpentines") rounded, like an "S" curve, or should they be more like a straight line from H to X, and then a straight line from X to K? 
  2. Is there a particular place between A and F that is preferred for the canter transition?  Closer to A?  Closer to F?  Right in between?  Do they want to see you prepare for the transition, or not?  Example:  I'm doing this at the posting trot (obviously) but I would normally sit for three beats and set up the transition with a slight shoulder-fore before I ask for it.  Would that be a positive or a negative?
  3. For the "free walk" and the stretchy trot, I assume I let the reins out gradually as I ask for this?  This should be the best part of our test, so I don't want to screw it up!
  4. Does anyone have any advice for me on getting a square halt?  Tucker finds this whole concept just totally and completely stupid ("You said stop and I stopped.  What the heck is your problem?").  If I make an effort to get his hind end square, he starts running though his back of tricks trying to guess what I want.  Back up?  Turn on the forehand?  Turn on the haunches?  Side pass?  Canter?  No????  I have a feeling it won't happen, but if anyone has a suggestion, it's worth a shot.
What else do I need to know about doing a dressage test?  What giant faux pas are you imagining me committing?  What will make me stand out as a complete and total outsider (that is, other than the hunter tack, the field boots, and the green-biege breeches)?  There's got to be some things I'm not thinking of....


  1. Here are my thoughts:
    1) serpentines should be rounded, like your S curve, thing Hunter Princess bending lines :)
    2) Shoot for a nice balance working trot as you cross A, and a nice balance working canter as you cross F. They give you the corner for the transition at Training level so that you have time for a smooth, lovely transition instead of forcing it into a specific stride at the marker. :) (how thoughtful of them)
    3) Reins out gradually, they want to see Tucker reach for the contact and stretch down into it, instead of you just dropping contact and him landing on his nose :) (his pretty, pretty nose)
    4) If you're practicing your halts, just focus on your leg pushing him up into it. My instructor once told me to think about striking off into the canter (that same lift and push) but sink into the halt instead. I like the visual and it helps my halts. In general though, if I don't get the square halt of my dreams, I ask for my pony to step up once (*maybe* twice) before I just forget it and salute. Nit Picking on my halt is a great way for me to piss off my horse before the test even starts. :)

    HAVE FUN! Tucker won't mind playing dressage horse for the day (just tell him its fancy) OH, also, when I first started riding tests, I thought of them as courses. I made myself think of my corners/movements like I was approaching a fence, and that seemed to help my mental game...

  2. Turtle thinks this is all good advise although he thinks all of the trotting is for the birds. He has to do a little Trotting this weekend, however, as we are doing the AO hunters and a hunter derby. LOL

  3. Second all that Gingham said more articulately than I would have.

  4. OH I just LOVE this!!!!
    Ok, here are my thoughts. The most important thing to remember in a dressage test is dont lose points over things you CAN control. At training level in particular this means making sure Tucker is soft in the bridle, up off the forehand and moving very freely forward. Your job is prepare him for every move and accurately ride the geometry of your figures be it perfect, true to size 20m circles, straight lines, clear corners, etc. As for your direct questions...
    1. The squiggly things are bending lines and will require a change of bend from inside to outside.
    2. I would use the first part of that corner to sit the trot, half halt him and then the 2nd half of the corner to strike off. It will happen SO fast that just try to breathe-sit-relax-ask.
    3. Reins out gradually, but dont take tooooo long getting his nose down there. Focus on him stretching freely forward reaching to the bit (not curled up, keep your hands nice and forward following his neck without pitching your shoulders and upper body forward.
    4. Square halts are hard. I honestly wouldnt worry to much about it being square so much as just practice balanced halts. Practice your centerline LOTS, get a feel for that turn down it, tracking straight, stopping softly, standing still and striking off. That's enough to think about! Haha!
    Review the actual test online to see what the judge will be looking for in each movement and on the test overall.

  5. 1. Like this: (not my image). Focus on smoothly changing the bend from left to right and back to left, and make sure you go *all* the way to the center line at X.

    2. Anywhere in the A-F corner is fine (it's only two or three trot strides anyway). Yes, sit to the trot and prepare for the transition - the judges want to see a balanced, smooth transition.

    3. & 4. What Gingham and Nicku said :)

    Have fun!

  6. I don't have much advice to offer, other than my instructor (who is a dressage king) told me that half the battle in dressage is getting the movements right when you ask for them. So if the directions include "trot at X", you had better trot AT X, and not one stride before or after X. Good luck! I bet you and Tucker the Wonderpony will do great!

  7. Looks like I am a little late in posting. I agree with what others have said. Just have fun and I am sure you will do fine! :)

  8. The hardest thing for me to remember was not to talk to my horse during the test. Especially not to tell her to "knock it off!" when she got goofy. LOL

  9. I love my readers, you are all so helpful. Please, if you have more advice for me, don't be shy. And THANK YOU!

  10. I laughed my way through as I was busily scribbling notes! I can't seem to remember where any of the letters are (except A, X, C. Not helpful). Until this post, I thought I was doomed to have a caller and swivel head (HXC? Where is H???).
    Memorizing it sans letters, THAT I can do. You are a genius. GENIUS.
    I might actually be able to ride a test.

    The only advice I have is to add onto what Kelly said about the change of bend in the serpentine: change the bend on the one stride or so that is straight between loops. Not required, just cleaner. Tucker's head in exact same position, on bit, new bend. Oh. That's what Kelly said! ;)

  11. Good luck tomorrow!!! Can't wait to hear how it goes. Do you get to have a reader helping you out? The one thing I remember from the few dressage shows I did 100 years ago is that thankfully I got to have a reader. Squiggly thingies?? LOVE IT!!!! Am gonna ask my trainer to please call tem that from now on or I will not do them. LOL

  12. I don't know if it's too late, but my advice (from a hunter gone eventer) is

    1. make your corners distinct from your circles. Corners should be much tighter bends, where Tucker will be much closer to the fence, Circles are supposed to just brush the fence at each of the 4 'corners' or apexes of the circle, with a good bend in between.

    2. you can transition anywhere in the range they give you, but best do do it exactly in the middle, definitely don't want to do it early, as that's really bad.

    3. for the 'loose rein' walk, you want tucker to be marching, and stretching down as much as possible with very little rein contact.

    4. To get a square halt I just ride really forward into a halt, check if it's square, praise if it is, do it over if it isn't. You also can get knocked on if you're halt isn't immobile or straight... so focus on whichever one you think you can do best and hope that it's also the others.

    Good luck!


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