Mark it up!

Get to grips with your dressage test and give your marks a boost with our tips

This month, we help you find the key to riding a quality dressage test and giving your marks a leg up. Whatever’s giving you trouble, we’ll cover all angles to get a great dressage test out of you and your horse.

  1. Absolute accuracy

Many riders throw away marks by not being accurate, so ensuring you are is a great way to stand out and put yourself above the competition. Any movements performed at a marker should happen as your shoulder passes it. This might mean you need to start asking a little earlier if your horse is behind your leg, or half halt to balance him beforehand. Practise this by riding transitions at your markers until you can be sure your horse will respond as soon as you ask him a question, as this will help you ride exactly as the test dictates, gaining you those handy extra marks.

  1. Walk this way

A pace that’s often forgotten, your horse’s walk is still an important part of your dressage test. Encourage him to march on, taking the rein forward even when you’re warming up or cooling down, as this sets the precedent for all your work. With double marks available for the free rein walk, make sure you allow your hips to swing with your horse’s movement and gradually loosen the rein to push him forward and stretch down. If you drop the rein too quickly, you’ll find his stretch will be inconsistent, and he may throw his head up. Then, make sure you don’t lose any of that impulsion when you then pick him back up again. He should track up and seek the contact in all three of his paces, so be disciplined and maintain that dedication whatever the gait.

  1. Give and take

Introduced at even the lowest levels of dressage, a good give and retake can be a tough trick to tackle. Initially, you’ll only be required to give one rein, and you may find it easier to practise on the long side to start with. You could ride a 10m circle first to help him use his hocks and come off the forehand, then proceed up the long side and have a go at your give and retake. Get used to riding him off your leg and seat, alternately giving your reins at random during your schooling session. You’ll quickly learn when you need to put a little more leg on or stay a bit quieter in your seat to maintain that steady outline. Gradually build up to trying on a circle, ensuring that your horse can maintain the bend by himself using your inside leg. This will then ensure that your horse is between both your legs when you go on to give and retake both reins.

Practising at home and implementing this tips throughout your test are super ways to boost your marks this competition season. Discipline is key with whatever you’re doing, so get used to riding a quality walk and create those good habits now. There’s nothing worse than feeling unprepared by a brand new movement you haven’t seen before, so practise your give and retakes throughout your sessions so they become second nature.

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