|This is not me!|
- if the turn is 90° (e.g. turning down - AC - or across - EB - the centre line), you need to leave the track a bit early and look at the marker you're heading towards. Your horse will still be moving forwards, so if you wait until you have hit the marker before you turn, you will end up way off the line and it will be very obvious - especially if you're coming down from A to C, where the judge sits!
- When you come towards the end of your change of rein, you can afford to ask your horse to move a little closer to the marker than when you left the track. This is because they will be heading towards a wall or boards which will help give them a boundary to stop them from drifting out. At the same time, a neat and relaxed turn is more important than riding right to the edge, especially if doing so confuses your horse and puts him off balance.
- So, 90° turn: leave the track early, don't even look at the marker you're coming from, just look at the one you're going to. Let your horse know which way you're heading at the end before you get there.
- Diagonal change of rein - there are two variants of this; the long diagonal and the short diagonal. In the diagram below, FXH is a long diagonal, and KB is a short diagonal. Long diagonals are easier because the turn is shallower, but both can be approached in the same way.
- Diagonal turns - think about your turn early, but you don't need to move on the turn until just before the horse's head comes in line with the marker. This takes some practice, since even when you aren't moving on the turn you should still be preparing it by getting the horse to bend more to the inside much earlier on. Basically, by the time that your body is in line with the marker you should be facing the other marker across the school. This is different to the 90° turns where your body is only in line with the marker when the horse is further out from the track.
- Ride through X (if it's a long diagonal) but for long and
short diagonals you should aim for just short of the end letter. For
example, if you're riding KXM you should aim for a metre or so away from
M, towards B. That way, your horse's head will hit the track at that
point, then you will turn onto the track properly, and your body will
come neatly in line with M. Again, this takes a bit of practice but it's
a neat little trick. It also helps you to ride into the corner once you
rejoin the track, because you will be thinking about pushing the horse
over with your inside leg.
- Circles. All basic level tests will involve circles of varying sizes (although mostly 10m and 20m). Sometimes you do half a circle one way then half a circle the other way, to make an S-shape across the school. Whether it's a full circle or just a half, it should be round! This is tough, and actually the smaller circles are easier because they force you and the horse to be more accurate and more balanced. Practice is your friend, as is plotting the points.
- A 20m circle takes place at either end of the school or in the middle. At an end (let's say we're starting at A on the left rein), you should come off the track at A on your bend, touch the track again just the other side of F, continue on the same bend to pass through X, touch the track again just before K, then rejoin the track at A.
- Plotting your route between those four points helps a bit, but personally the most useful advice I've been given is to spend the whole time looking directly across your circle (so across the diameter). This helps you to stay balanced and to plot something round instead of wiggly or square-ish.
|Potentially leading to this...|
|Click the tongue, then sit and relax to the movement. See how much my left hip goes up and down.|
|A nice free walk.|
- Get yourself onto your line before you lengthen the reins
- Once you're heading straight across the school, gradually let the reins slip through your fingers. This is far easier with normal reins than bar reins!
- Keep the walk active - imagine you're pushing off a swing but don't overdo it. The horse shouldn't dawdle; the steps should be long and active.
- The horse should stretch his head down to seek the contact. If he's reluctant to lower his head, give him a little rub on the withers. It's very calming and a useful trick for all sorts of situations!
- Try to sit as level as possible - you won't be able to use your hands to steer so easily and if your horse drifts about you're in trouble.
- Gather up your reins before returning to the track. Often you will be asked to move up into trot or canter shortly afterwards, so you should be ready to ride the next movement.
|Ready for anything...|
|Marginal gain #1 - nail the trot down the centre line. Look above the judge's head and s/he won't put you off as much!|
Made famous by British Cycling, this is the idea that tiny improvements amass to have a dramatic impact upon the final result. It's simple, right? But very effective! This year, to my immense surprise, I won the biggest dressage class at the RDA National Champs. It wasn't that anything I did was particularly amazing, but looking at my scoresheet I realised that I had just been able to raise every mark by 0.5 or 1.0 - and that made all the difference.
I'm sure I could think of a natty phrase to describe this too - maybe 'movement isolation marking' - but 'get on with the next bit' sums it up best. In dressage, you get some marks for how you perform throughout the test (the collectives), but the majority are awarded for specific movements. If you do one great movement, you get a great mark. If you balls something up entirely, you get a less good mark. If the next bit is better, you get a better mark. The bad mark for your bad bit only affects that one bad bit, unless you freak out and panic and let a wobble affect your next move.
|I need this...!|
Moral of the story: one move is one move, and one mark is one mark. It doesn't affect your next mark unless you let it.
The final part of how to ace a beginner dressage test is how to do a good warm-up. This is covered in a separate post, here!