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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tips for the Perfect Test by Jane Savoie

Following my last post about my dressage test, I stumbled upon a great article by Jane Savoie geared to help ride the perfect test. Read below for some great pointers from the article:


So you want to be able to do the dressage test on autopilot, so that you can reserve all of your focus for riding your horse. You want to be riding your horse not concentrating on what comes next in the pattern.

To help you do this, start memorizing your test early on.

Visualization-I know that it takes approximately 21 days to develop a habit. So I start visualizing my dressage test every day at least 3 weeks before a show. I sit in an easy chair or lie down on my bed, close my eyes, and take 3 really deep breaths.

When you visualize the perfect ride, you program your subconscious mind to ride correctly. That’s because when you do “perfect practice” in your mind’s eye, your muscles will fire in the correct way. Experience yourself feeling calm, relaxed, poised and the harmony of being at one with your horse.

Do your test on foot.
Another thing I do walk and trot, and canter the parts of the dressage test at home in my living room as if I were riding them. Just mark off a rectangular  area and trot down the center line, do your halts, trot off, plan where you’re going to turn, walk where you’re supposed to walk, canter where you’re supposed to canter. So you actually have a chance to physically practice.

Know your dressage test “forwards and backwards”.
The third way that I memorize a test is to learn it the way it’s written from the first entry to the final salute. But then, to know that I “own” that test, I pick any movement and ask myself what comes after it. And here’s the real thing that tells the story, I ask myself, “And what movement comes before this movement?”

What you do as you go around the arena really depends on your horse. I find it helpful to just walk around the arena with tense horses. 

For the horse that tends to be a little behind the leg, you might decide to do some rising trot lengthenings outside the arena. That way you can make sure that your horse is in front of the leg and that you really get his motor going.

Or let’s say you have a horse that is spooky or to tends to get a little on the forehand. Do a little shoulder-in when you’re still outside the arena.

The next thing that you have to think about is whether you’re going to enter from the right rein or from the left rein? If your horse is fairly straight, enter from the direction you’ll be turning at C. That will trigger your memory if you blank out and forget which way to turn at C.

So, if I’m going to be turning right at C, I normally enter from the right rein. I enter from the left rein if I’m going to be turning left at C.

However, let’s say I have a horse that’s really hollow to the left (meaning he likes to bend his neck and carry his hind quarters to the left then); I’ll enter from the right. That’s because he’ll be straighter, and I don’t want the judge’s first impression to be that my horse is crooked.

Now, as you come down that centerline, 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 come down that centerline like you own that arena.  As you finish your centerline, keep your horse straight. Pretend you’re going to lengthen toward the judge so you ride him between the channel of your legs and hands. Then warn him that he’s going either left or right by asking for flexion at the poll when you’re a couple of strides before C.

Okay, you’re in the arena. No matter what level you’re doing, you have to ride corners. The general rule for riding corners is that you don’t have to go any deeper into the corners than the smallest circle done at each level.

So, the smallest circle you’re asked to do for First Level is a 10-meter circle. That means you need to get into the corner to the depth of one quarter of a 10-meter circle.

But if you can show a difference between the line that you follow when you’re going into a corner and the line that you follow when you’re on your 20-meter circle, you show the judge that you’re a savvy rider.

Your rule of thumb is to ride into the corner as deep as your horse can manage. That is, he can keep the same rhythm, tempo, balance and quality of his gait.

The next things that all the tests have in common are diagonal lines. Here’s what I’d suggest. First, ride deep into the corner before you turn onto the diagonal. Then look at a point about a half-meter before the final letter on the long side. Aim for that spot when you go across the diagonal. By looking a little bit before the letter, you’ll have more time to really balance your horse for the next corner.

Another thing that all the tests have in common is that you have transitions from gait to gait. And with the more advanced tests, you also have transitions within the gait.

First, let’s look at transitions from gait to gait. Always prepare for those transitions with half halts. However, the particular version of the half halt you give depends on the way your horse feels prior to the transition. This is because a transition can be no better than the stride just before the transition.

If your horse is well schooled, obedient, and is solidly on the bit, you can give what I call “Preparatory Half Halts”. That’s a momentary closure of seat, leg and hand–Take/give, take/give, take/give.

Direct those half halts to the inside hind leg. Give the half halts when the inside hind leg is on the ground just before it’s ready to push off. You need to time these half halts when the inside hind leg is on the ground because that’s really the only time you can influence a hind leg. Once it’s in the air, it’s already committed to its flight.

Your goal is to engage the inside hind leg prior to the transition. Give three Preparatory Half Halts prior to the down transition. Let’s say, for example, that you want to go from trot to walk. When you feel the inside hind leg on the ground, say something like, “Engage, engage, engage, walk”. Or you can say, “Now, now, now, walk”.

When I’m getting ready to do a downward transition, I tune into my seatbones. I feel which of my seat bones is being pushed up in the air or forward.

So I get into the timing of the inside hind leg being on the ground. Then, 3 strides before the letter, I give my half halts. I’ll say, “Now, now, now, walk,” or if I’m cantering, and I want to trot, I’ll say, “Now, now, now, trot.”

It’s pretty easy to feel the inside hind leg in the walk and in the trot. In the canter, feel the moment when your seat is deepest in the saddle. It’s also the moment when your horse’s mane flips up. So you can coordinate what you see with what you feel.

That’s how I prepare for transitions so that I ride a very accurate dressage test. I know how much ground my horse covers with each stride. So, when I’m 3 strides away from where I’ll be doing a down transition, I give my 3 Preparatory Half Halts–a momentary closure of seat, leg and hand directed to the inside hind leg being on the ground.

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