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How to Enter a Dressage Competition Arena

enter a dressage competition arena

The initial centerline in each dressage test is the first chance that the judge has to assess you and your horse, so it’s important that you ride it well.

Although the judge does not start marking until you have entered at “A”, how you go about entering the dressage arena will, to some extent, affect the quality of your centerline and the first impression you give.

Here are some tips to help you enter the competition arena smoothly.

What rein to enter on?

The rein on which you choose to enter the dressage arena on is entirely up to you. 

Some riders like to enter the arena on their horse’s “best” or most supple rein. Often, you might find it easier to keep your horse straighter on one rein than the other. In that case, it makes sense to choose the horse’s best rein.

Other people find it better to enter according to the first movement in the test, i.e., the turn at “C”. So, if the test requires that you track right at “C,” you would enter on the right rein and vice versa.

The reasoning behind that is that entering on the same rein sets your horse up for the turn and means that you don’t need to change your diagonal, which could unbalance the horse when ridden on the centerline.

When training at home, practice entering on both reins and tracking both left and right. You’ll soon find out what works best for you and your horse.

How to enter the arena from outside the boards

When entering from outside the boards, you generally have much more space to maneuver. However, don’t give yourself too big a run-up! That can allow the horse to wander off a true line, making it more difficult to keep the entry straight.

Most importantly, you want to make a smooth turn onto the centerline. 

Take a look at the two diagrams below. 

In diagram #1, you can see that the horse and rider need to make three changes of bend around the “A” marker en route to the centerline. All that wiggling around will unbalance your horse and make it less likely that he will stay straight on the centerline.

In contrast, take a look at diagram #2. Riding a smooth half-circle inside of the “A” marker will ensure that there is no change of rhythm or loss of balance.

How to enter the arena from inside the boards

Entering from inside the boards can be tricky if you have a young horse that isn’t well-balanced and supple to the bend. 

To get onto the centerline you need to ride at least a half 10-meter circle. If your horse is more advanced you should ride correspondingly deeper into the corners.

Here are a few tips to help you.

  • Be sure to prepare your horse well in advance for the turn onto the centerline! 
  • Ride a trot-walk-trot transition as you approach the corner before the turn to get your horse’s attention.
  • Use a half-halt to balance the horse before the turn.
  • Establish the correct bend through the corner, ensuring that the horse is working into your outside rein so that you can keep him balanced and prevent him from falling out through his outside shoulder.
  • Look at the “C” marker as you ride through the turn so that you don’t overshoot the centerline or turn too early.
  • Ride the horse forwards without rushing him.

In conclusion

Your entry into the arena is the first impression that the judge gets of you and your horse, so you want that impression to be a good one!

Make sure that you ride a smooth, balanced turn onto the centerline. Keep the horse straight by riding him forward from both legs into both reins, remembering to half-halt just before the turn at “C” so that the horse remains balanced, and be sure to use the corner to set the horse up for the first movement of the test.

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