There are two center lines in every dressage test that you ride, and some tests have more than that.
Every center line is worth 10 marks, making them a potential gold mine if you can execute them correctly.
Remember too that the initial center line in each test is the first chance that the judge has to assess you and your horse, so it’s imperative that you make a good job of riding it!
So, how do you ride a good center line, every time?
What is the judge looking for in a good center line?
The judge hopes to see that the horse is so precisely on the center line that the ‘A’ marker is not visible.
The horse should travel forward and straight, as though he is on railway tracks.
Any signs of crookedness will be penalized!
In essence, the judge hopes to see only the horse’s front legs, not either of the hind legs forming a third track, or coming wide behind.
The horse’s poll should be the highest point, and the contact should be quiet, elastic and steady, without any tilting or swinging of the horse’s head, and his mouth should remain closed.
The rhythm should remain the same throughout the center line execution, and the horse should not slow down or anticipate halting as he passes over ‘X’ or ‘G’.
Tips on how to ride a good center line
Tip 1 – Be accurate
The center line runs from ‘A’ to ‘C’, not several feet to either side!
Many riders throw silly marks away, simply by not riding the center line accurately.
A good tip is to look at where the judge is sitting before you turn onto the center line.
Sometimes the judge might not be exactly at ‘C’, which can happen if they are using a car that was pre-parked for them or they are sitting in a cramped judge’s box with less than perfect seating arrangements.
Always line yourself up directly with the judge and ride straight towards them. This will ensure that you appear accurate, regardless of whether the judge is precisely at ‘C’ or is actually a little to one side of it.
When riding tests for online video dressage classes, always make sure that your videographer is positioned directly at ‘C’, as this is where the judge will assume your test has been filmed from.
Tip 2 – Prepare your horse
Poor preparation is another cause of center line failure.
Make sure that you look where you are going so that you can give your horse plenty of notice about the upcoming turn via a balancing half-halt.
At the beginning of the test, you can often enter from outside the arena, meaning that you can allow yourself plenty of time and space to turn. This is particularly useful if you’re riding a youngster or a horse that is still developing his balance.
If your horse is easier to keep straight on one rein than the other, always enter the arena on his ‘good’ rein to give you a greater chance of keeping straight on the center line.
Tip 3 – Keeping straight
Your horse will stay straighter if he is working nicely forward; horses that are dawdling behind their riders’ leg are far more likely to wander up the center line or drift to one side of it.
Make sure that your horse is working from both your legs into both reins equally. It can be helpful to envisage that your horse is working along a tunnel created by your leg and rein.
A common fault seen by judges at all levels is a crooked halt. This usually happens because the horse is out of balance or runs against the rider’s hand as the halt is ridden.
At the lower levels, a couple of steps of walk are permitted before the halt is established, so take advantage of this to balance your horse before you make the halt transition.
Again, preparation is very important. Give your horse a clear half-halt to get his attention before you ride the transition, and keep both legs on to keep him straight.
Ease your hand forwards as you ride the halt to prevent the horse from running into a ‘brick wall’, which will cause him to swing his quarters to one side.
If you are struggling to keep the halt straight on the center line, it can be helpful to place two poles parallel to one another and a couple of meters apart at ‘X’, and then ride the halt between them.
This can help to correct a deliberate evasion on the horse’s part, but do remember that you won’t have poles to help you in a test so it’s important not to become too reliant on them.
Straight center lines can earn you many marks at all levels in dressage.
Be accurate, ride straight, and take the time during your schooling sessions to practice this potential dressage test riding gold mine!
- How to Ride a Good Halt
- How to Keep Your Horse Straight
- How to Ride a Good Trot-Halt Transition
- How to Teach Your Horse to Stand Still