If you are preparing for a dressage show, or using the tests as guidelines for training your horse, often it is tempting to want to practice the tests. However, this is not always productive because there are so many different components in a test that you probably cannot improve simply by riding the test itself. Besides that, your horse may learn the test and begin to anticipate the next movement, which makes the test even more difficult to ride.
A good alternative is to break down the test into parts, and make exercises from the parts. Here are some examples I used in lessons recently with my students who are preparing to ride the Intro tests at a show next weekend.
The Intro tests are made up of a few movements:
- Trot down center line, halt through walk and salute, proceed walk (test A) or trot (test B)
- Trot a 20 m circle in the middle of the arena (at B or E)
- Free walk across the diagonal
- Free walk on 2 diagonals
- Trot across the diagonal
The circles and the free walks all have coefficients of 2, so these are key parts to do well on.
The other important thing about tests is to remember the key to riding each movement well is to ride between the movements well, which means the corners and the transitions (which are judged). For example, if you cut off the corner right before you turn up the center line, it makes it very hard to ride a balanced turn onto the center line and then a straight center line from there!
So to work on these things without riding the test over and over, I take a few movements and make a pattern that can be practiced. Here’s a few to try, or make up your own!
1. Pick up a working trot. At C, transition to working walk. At H or M (depending which direction you are going) free walk across the diagonal. At K or F return to working walk. At A, working trot. Repeat until it is easy! (Basically, a figure 8 with transitions)
2. Pick up a working trot tracking left. At E, make a 20 m circle, then continue straight ahead. At A, transition to working walk. At F, free walk on 2 diagonals (FXM). At C, working trot. Repeat. Then reverse directions and do the same thing to the right.
3. Pick up a working trot tracking left. At E, make a 20 m circle, then continue straight ahead. At F, change rein across the diagonal (FXH). At B, make a 20 m circle. At K, change rein across the diagonal (KXM). Repeat, then reverse direction and repeat to the right.
4. Pick up a working trot tracking left. At A, trot down the center line. At X, halt through medium walk. Proceed working walk. At C, track left. At A, trot down the center line. At X, halt through medium walk. Proceed working trot (through the walk). At C, track right. Repeat.
Each of these exercises can be worked on until each transition is easy, each center line is straight, each corner is balanced, each circle shows bend, etc. If you can ride all 4 of these exercises easily, you should have no problem riding the tests, whether or not you even practiced them!