Even if your horse is still in the early stages of his dressage career, you can easily pick up extra marks by being more accurate, whatever level you are riding at.
In this article, we explain how to improve your accuracy when riding a dressage test, as well as giving you lots of helpful tips and tricks to boost your marks.
Why is accuracy important in dressage?
Dressage tests are designed to test specific elements of a horse’s training for the level at which he is working and competing.
For example, if a test has lots of small circles included in the program, the judge is looking to see if the horse has sufficient suppleness and balance to be obedient to the rider’s aids and to negotiate the movements accurately.
If the horse is trained and ridden well, the test can be accurate and meet the requirements of the test.
An occasional small loss of accuracy, such as cutting a corner or making a transition slightly late or early to the prescribed marker, is not a big deal. However, if you continue to ride inaccurately throughout the test, you will be marked down.
What does inaccuracy tell the dressage judge?
If a trot circle should be 15-meters and placed at “A,” but you ride an 18-meter circle that’s slightly off-center and egg-shaped, that tells the judge that the horse is not sufficiently supple or submissive to your aids to negotiate a circle of the correct size in the correct place.
The mark that you will receive for an inaccurate movement depends on the difficulty of the exercise and the level of the test. In the above example, you would most likely be awarded a mark of 5 at novice level.
The judge will be able to see whether the inaccuracy is due to your own error, poor riding, or the horse’s lack of suppleness and balance, and the judge will make a comment accordingly.
If the horse remains in a good rhythm, shows a uniform bend around the circle, and keeps his balance, the inaccuracy is most likely caused by the rider failing to plan for the exercise and riding it badly.
However, if the horse’s neck is overbent to the inside of the circle so that he falls out through his shoulder, producing a poorly shaped circle of the wrong size, the judge will see that either the horse lacks sufficient suppleness to perform the exercise accurately or the rider’s aids were incorrect or poorly applied.
When you ride a transition, the moment of the change of pace should take place when your body passes the marker.
Often, transitions occur either slightly too early or too late. That happens because the rider has failed to prepare for the transition and asks too late, or the horse is slow to react to the rider’s aids.
Errors vs. inaccuracy
A common inaccuracy that judges see in dressage tests is when a rider overshoots the marker, particularly when riding a test in a long arena.
For example, an exercise asks for the rider to show medium trot from “R” to “K” on the right rein. However, the rider leaves the track a few strides after “M,” arriving on the other side of the arena a couple of steps after “V.” So, the judge is then left wondering whether the rider has gone off the wrong marker or has merely been inaccurate.
In a case like that, the rider may be penalized for an error of course, in which case 2 marks will be deducted from their total score.
Some judges will also give an error of course for other inaccuracies. So, if a circle should be 10-meters but you ride one that’s closer to 15-meters, the judge may ring the bell and stop you, ask you to repeat the 10-meter circle, and deduct two marks for an error.
Again, if you are asked to show a trot-walk-trot transition with 2-4 walk steps, but you ride six walk steps, you may be asked to repeat the movement and be given an error of course.
How to improve accuracy
Although you can’t improve your horse’s way of going overnight, you can take steps to be more accurate in your test riding.
Begin by learning the dimensions of a dressage arena.
Learn where each marker is and the distance between them. For example, the arena is 20-meters wide. Therefore, a 10-meter circle or loop must touch the centerline, and a 20-meter circle must touch both long sides of the arena.
Next, make sure that you understand the requirements of the test by studying the dressage test sheet and learning the exercises.
Some people find it helpful to use a piece of paper to draw the test as they would ride it, whereas others prefer to mark out an arena on the floor of their living room and walk through the test.
Once you have the test plan clear in your mind, you need to practice riding it accurately from the saddle.
If you don’t have a marked-out arena to ride in, use cones or buckets to indicate where the letters are, and mark an arena using poles on the ground.
Related Read: How to Accurately Set up a Dressage Arena
If you’re accustomed to riding randomly during your schooling sessions, you’ll find it quite a culture shock when you make yourself ride accurately! However, being disciplined at home is crucial if you’re to perform accurately in the dressage arena on competition day.
Accuracy improves your horse’s way of going
If you ride accurate exercises, you can improve your horse’s longitudinal and lateral balance. (You can read more about that in this article)
When the horse works in a consistent rhythm around a circle, he builds strength and suppleness. Even basic figures, such as long diagonals and 20-meter circles, can help to balance the horse.
When the figures become more challenging, such as four-loop serpentines and 10-meter circles, the horse has to shift his weight back to enable him to maneuver around the exercises, and he must become more supple laterally so that he can follow the required bend.
A simple test for the accuracy of your circles
A simple way of testing the accuracy of your circles is to count the strides between each point of the circle.
Your horse should take the same number of strides in each quarter of the circle. If there’s a variance, make sure that the line of the circle is maintained and that the horse’s tempo and rhythm are consistent.
Tips and tricks to ride accurately
Here are a few handy tips and tricks that will help you to ride an accurate dressage test.
Don’t cut corners!
Shaving a meter off the arena here and there by allowing your horse to drift in through the corners will leave you less time and space to prepare for the next exercise.
Corner-cutting also makes your riding look sloppy and unprofessional to the judge!
Remember to start and finish circles when your body passes the marker.
When riding a 20-meter circle at the “A” or “C” end of the arena, don’t go right into the corners, or you risk producing a square or an egg!
Make sure that your circle is indeed a circle!
- How to Ride a Good Circle
- How to Get Your Horse to Bend
- How to Ride From Your Inside Leg to Your Outside Rein
- What is the Difference Between Bend and Flexion?
When riding at home, use cones to mark the four points of the circle and ride to them. That will help you to understand what riding an accurate circle should feel like so that you can replicate that in the arena on test day.
Now, ride an accurate circle without using the cones. Remember to count the number of strides your horse takes between each point of the circle.
If the test asks you to halt for four seconds, count slowly to make sure that you don’t make the halt too brief.
Similarly, if you are asked to walk for two to four steps, count the steps!
- How to Ride a Good Halt
- How to Stop Your Horse From Resting a Hind Leg in Halt
- How to Stop Your Horse From Jogging When They Should be Walking
Too often, riders go through the whole test with their head down, seemingly focused on their horse’s ears!
Look up and ahead of you.
Look around every circle to make sure that it’s the correct size and shape. As your head turns, so do your shoulders, which in turn makes your hips follow suit, helping to turn the horse and bend him around your inside leg.
Also, if you look ahead to the next marker, you will find it much easier to plan for upcoming transitions and changes of direction.
- The Correct Position For Dressage
- How to Improve Your Dressage Position
- How to Prepare Your Horse for Transitions
An accurately ridden test presents a professional, competent picture to the dressage judge.
Accuracy also demonstrates that the horse is sufficiently supple and balanced to perform the exercises demanded in the test.
If you have any questions, or any other hints and tips that you would like to share with us, please do so in the comments below.