First Run Through a Dressage Test

Towards the end of my lesson on Sunday Trainer had me run through the Intro B test a few times to see what issues popped up. There were plenty, but it was really interesting to run through it. More for my sake to look back on than anything, I’m going to run through the test here and add Trainer’s comments in bold after the moves.

Gem got all englished up this weekend with a new to us black bridle with white padding. I need to poke some more holes in the cheek and it was adjusted after this picture, but all in all it was a good fit. She looked really pretty in it too. It was only $40 so I can slowly change it out over time to upgrade if I want.
Enter at A, working trot and turn down center line: we majorly failed at this the first time mostly because I didn’t get Gem deep enough into the corner and she couldn’t get all her legs sorted. She got all jumbled up and nearly fell on her face which granted us a start over. Use the corner to my advantage, make sure I start looking at my turn well before, turn a few strides too early and leg yield over after the turn if I have to. It’s better than shooting past and swerving in. Sit up super tall and tighten my core to prepare for the turn and help Gem balance herself. 

Dusty came with me so there is media! He didn’t watch the practice tests as he was Pokémon hunting with Wyatt, but he still grabbed some decent shots. This is how we go right now: not super dressage like, but also not tense and giraffe like so I am happy with it. As for me my legs are under me and my body is bent to where I am going. My elbows are still too straight and my hands super wide but again it’s an improvement from where we were 2 months ago. I’m pleased over all.
Halt through medium walk at X, salute: The start of Intro B is rough for us. Gem down transitioned to walk ok but would not halt. It is a known issue. Once she did she decided to swing her butt around so we were facing 90 degrees away from where the judges would be. Not good. Would we even get a 1 for that? This earned us a break from the test and 15 minutes of halt transitions randomly throughout the arena. We then started over from the beginning again. Only let her do 2-3 strides of walk prior to halt so that the walk is more of a prolonged down transition leading to halt versus a true walk. This gives me more time to get her halted. Keep both legs on evenly to keep her straight during the halt instead of throwing them off her like I tend to do.  Do not salute until her feet are done moving no matter how long it takes. It is worse to salute while she is still moving than to take a few extra seconds to fully halt.

Better elbows. Hands still a little weird. But I’m having fun and Gem is calm and relaxed. Two big picture items that were hard to come by a few months ago. I also love how she is tuned into me with one ear at all times. 
Working trot to C, track left: this we could do! Gem transitioned up to the trot from halt sharply although she sorta western pleasure trotted to start. I gave her enough warning to make the turn at C and carried on our way. Get her into her good trot quickly not the crappy western jog she tries to get away with when bored. Use the corners to my advantage and get her all the way to the rail before turning. Make the corners round and purposeful. 

I appear to be on a circle. Gem appears to be on a straight line. Who needs bend when you can surf board your way through?
20 meter circle tracking left at C then go straight ahead: Gem finally got into her good trot and we circled ok. I managed to remember to bend my entire body and we did create a mostly circle shape but it was too small to be 20 meters. Remember to keep Gem looking to the inside of the circle, in a small dressage court I should only be 10 meters away from the end of the arena on either side of my circle and on the rail on the other two. Bend my entire body around the circle, not just my head and neck. Do not start the circle until my body hits E. 

Talking to Trainer about something. Notice how bored Gem looks? This is such a major win for us! In the past she was always high as a kite and so tense. I’ll take bored any day!
Between K and A medium walk: we kind of trotted right through this and walked after A. Not so great. Since Gem tends towards fast, plan to walk at the first letter to give me more time. 

I’m proud of how tall I am sitting. No more fetal position for me! It is feeling really natural too. Very exciting. Some day Gem will go along without her nose sticking out like we are in the middle of the easiest endurance ride ever, but that day isn’t today.
Free walk across F to E then track right: yeah so Gem has no free walk. She doesn’t zoom off once I lengthen my reins which is nice, but there is absolutely zero stretching down or ground covering stride. In no circumstance should I decide to follow her head and topple forward. This does nothing for either of us. 

Obligatory shadow shot
Medium walk E-H: I picked my contact back up but outside of that I’m not sure there was any noticeable change. Don’t ask Gem for more walk. We should get a 6 for what we are doing now. Going for more walk may get us an 8 if all lines up, but it is more likely that she will break into trot and earn a 2.

I’m out of media from the ride so here is a pic of Einstein missing me while I mowed. Dusty and I are no fun when it comes to mowers. He has stitched up too many lost dog toes, so Einstein is locked in the house and I have stitched up too many human feet so Wyatt doesn’t get to sit on or be anywhere near a running mower.
Working trot tracking right between H-C: we had a really lovely up transition here without any jogging steps. In up transitions, don’t ask too early since Gem is typically sensitive and ready to go. Do not ask before my body reaches H. 

Gem and Pete made for some nice road blocks. I finally had to clap and shoo them away.
20 meter circle at B: my circle was still mostly a circle but way too small. Bigger!

Dusty ran a hot and hilly marathon Saturday. I signed him up as a surprise two weeks prior. He was excited even though he had no time to prepare, but his training runs are in the upper teens to low 20s anyway. It ended up being 87F and 1900′ of elevation. He still finished 3rd in his age group and 16th of 48 overall. Wyatt raced him to the finish and bragged all weekend about beating him.
Turn down center line at A, halt at x and salute: I got Gem into the corner better but still failed to let her know we were making a sharp turn. She didn’t trip so that was a plus. The halt was much better but then I thought she was done moving and saluted and she moved. Use that corner, sit up tall and prepare her sooner. Wait until she is 100% still before saluting. 

We ran through it three times before calling it quits. One big glaring issue came up that needs fixing, but I’m not really sure how to go about it.

During the first part of the lesson, I worked hard to do the things Trainer asked and even began anticipating Gem better: I would half halt before Trainer had to tell me, added some leg here, pushed her out to the rail with my inside leg there. I wasn’t perfect, but I was actively riding the horse I had under me. It was amazing.

As soon as we began the test though, for some reason my brain leaked right out of my ears and I focused so hard on the moves I was doing that I stopped riding my horse. Oh we went through each move, but that was all I did. No more well timed half halts, no more inside leg pushing her out, no more balance and rhythm.

Turn here, trot now, walk now. That’s it. It was like all the lessons were gone and I couldn’t ride. It was frustrating and I am sure Gem was wondering why I abandoned her, got tense and stopped riding.

Not sure how to fix that. I think a big part of it was that I really wasn’t sure of the test itself. I wasn’t prepared to run through it and hadn’t memorized it yet, so I was working hard at just not going off course. Going into it knowing the test 100% will allow me to focus on riding more but I’m not naive enough to think it will fix it completely. I need to remember to ride. Any tips on that from those who have done this before?

14 thoughts on “First Run Through a Dressage Test”

  1. dude test riding is HARD. thing suddenly start coming up a little quicker than we expect, and it’s really REALLY easy to default to a reactive vs proactive riding mentality. sounds like you got a lot of good insights out of this practice tho – and it will only continue getting easier with practice! i love all your trainer’s feedback along with your analysis too. for me, i often thing of the following as well:
    -ride centerline turns like half of a 10m circle, so before i’m even getting into the corner i’m already preparing as if we’re riding a circle
    -for the walk trot transition between H and C, on sensitive horses with trigger happy go buttons, i tend to like to ride my corner *first*, and then ask for the trot. that way we can kinda avoid squirting into the corner in a weird way, and can maybe have a more balanced upward. this also helps prepare for later tests where the transition will be specifically *at* C instead of between letters.
    -in practicing halts with isabel (who similarly did not care to whoa, and would swing around), i would set some sort of pole or cone or actual physical land mark on the ground to practice halting *there*. this mostly helped me figure out that, actually YES, i *can* halt the horse when i really mean it. from there, it can then be smoothed out a bit.

    anyway sorry for the novel, obvi this topic is exciting to me haha. and i’m excited for you! Gem looks happy and relaxed in all those pictures!!! 😀


    1. She used the same re: riding the turn as a 10 m circle. I laughed cuz I can’t even ride a 20 m circle right. 🙂

      I will try asking in the corner. She will sometimes shoot forward which causes her head to fling sky high and I was trying to avoid that but then she would do this annoying shuffle instead. Always a seesaw with her.

      Trainer also said to picture a cliff and if I don’t halt before it we will fall off it. It sorta helped. Maybe in need to dig an actual hole 😉

      I was so excited to see how relaxed Gem was. It is a whole new thing for us.


  2. Really concentrate on learning/knowing your test. When I was showing, I would go through patterns/courses in my head, visualizing actually riding through them. Write it out. And — you’ll probably laugh at this — but I would “act out” the pattern myself, in my living room. (Mostly I would do this with reining patterns, since they, like dressage tests, were set patterns that would not be altered ahead of time.) But for shorter patterns, like in equitation classes, I would “ride” the test in my head a number of times before the class. Don’t just think about “what” the movement is, but incorporate how to ride your horse through the movement.

    This is an exciting direction for you and Gem…I can’t wait to hear how the show goes! Her new bridle looks very snazzy.


  3. It’s not unusual to forget how to ride/train during a dressage test so don’t be so hard on yourself. Knowing that is half the battle. I do Ashley’s appraoch- I ride thrhoug the test in my head and include what I’m going to need to do at each part.

    A tip for the turn down centerline: as you come out of the corner start turning your body to make the turn and she should follow along with you.

    For transitions down think ‘shorter-shorter-halt’

    And no matter what happens- it’s all a learning experience and this is new to both of you. Figure out what you want to take away from the show- that helps me from getting over the top when I go.


  4. I have no advice as I definitely suffer from just giving up and trying to get through the test. I think it can help to school the test and break it. If you mess up a circle, do it again. Don’t like that transition? Do it again right away. That helps me not get stuck in the whole just keep moving on to the next step thing.


  5. I’m a super visual learner so I totally agree with writing/drawing/acting out the test to get it to stick in your memory. I find it also helps to watch a vid on youtube of the test being ridden. It’s really awesome that you are exploring a new discipline with Gem, she seems be figuring out her new job quickly too (:


    1. I’m very good at memorizing things. I was not prepared to ride it on Sunday though I am glad I did. I plan to have it down pat once it is time. My big concern is not getting so bogged down in the movements that I completely forget to ride the horse under me!


  6. So I see there’s already a lot of good comments about memorizing the test, so I’ll say ditto to that. I also find visualizing my test to be helpful as well and thinking not just about the movements but the moments leading up to the moments. So think about what you will need to do to prepare Gem i.e. half halt, leg on, etc. and when you need to do that in order to make the preparation part of your memorization. I like to utilize the corners as a re-balancing for my horse and also a place for me to check in to see how my horse feels, if that makes any sense at all. The other thing I find helpful is to practice pieces of my test on my own instead of running through the whole thing many times. Even if you don’t have the letters or a regulation size dressage court, pick a few places and choose to trot at the tree, circle at the fence post, walk at gate or whatever works in your riding area. That way, the movements start to come more naturally as part of your ride. My final tip is to have fun!


    1. Thank you so much for the advice!! I know I can memorize the steps alone but I live your idea of also memorizing what to do to get them. Instead of just “halt and salute at x” I need to be doing “sit tall, leg on half halt to walk then halt sit tall and salute”. Thanks!!!!! I think that will really help me out a lot 🙂


  7. I really liked the way you wrote this post, with the trainer’s tips after each section. That is a super way to remember what you need to work on.

    As for the riding correctly, I think you just need time. You have the riding down and during the lesson, you were trying to get the pattern down. I think with more practice and experience, you will mesh the two together. Parts of each will migrate to your muscle memory sections and you won’t have to actively focus on everything.

    Be a bit easier on yourself. It sounds like you guys were only recently having super issues while riding. You are progressing well and everything comes together in time. Give yourself small goals for each step so you can see yourself progress but know it will take time nonetheless.


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