How to drive a dressage test can be one of the hardest things for a lot of competitors to remember.  Beginners are particularly susceptible to confusion and getting lost during a dressage test.

A typical dressage court is 40 m x 80 m in size. The majority of training, preliminary and intermediate tests are driven in this size court.

Training               4 Tests        4 in 40 m x 80 m             0 in 40 m x 100 m

Preliminary          5 Tests        5 in 40 m x 80 m             0 in 40 m x 100 m

Intermediate        9 Tests        4 in 40 m x 80 m             5 in 40 m x 100 m

When you get to Advanced Level (FEI) all test are driven in the 40 m x 100 m dressage court.  For this article I will concentrate only on the 40 m x 100 m, being this is where everyone needs to begin.

The first thing you have to remember is that you always enter and leave at letter “A” in all tests, at all levels.  Second is that the head judge is always seated at the letter “C” usually under the tent that we drivers hope is securely anchored to the ground. Third the letter “X” is always in the very center of the court.

As for the rest of the letters “H, E, K, M, B, F, G, D” are used to mark the two long sides and the center points between “K & F” and “H & M”.

I have found in my thirty years of driving dressage tests that letters  “A, C, X ” are really the only ones that you need to memorize.  The rest are just location points that help you get from one movement to the next.  You don’t need to memorize them, you just need to know that they are marking for visually making your circles, diagonals and turns.  The only time knowing these letters, is if you have a caller reading the test for you, but callers are only allowed in non sanctioned events.

The first thing you need to do is to memorize your dressage test.  Take for example training test one starts as all tests do with a working trot down center line to a halt at “X” and salute.  This is your first impression on the judge, so you need to drive your horse straight and look like your enjoying yourself.  You should halt with your horses nose over “X” and him standing square and then salute.  Do not try to rush through these steps.  Once you are in the arena you have all the time you need to do the test.  Rushing to a halt, without really stopping, saluting in a hurried manor and rushing off is not a good impression.

The next step in the test is a working trot to the end of the arena and a right turn all the way up the side of the arena with another right turn to letter “A”.  At letter “A” you do a 40 m circle.  A 40 m circle goes from side to side across the arena and from end to center.  Your horse needs to be on a slight inside bend and you need to drive over the “X” on your way around the circle. When you return to “A” you continue straight and make a right turn at the corner.

When your horses nose gets to the first letter on your left (K) you will make a slight right and do a long diagonal aiming at the farthest letter on your right (M). When your horses nose gets to that point you will make a slight left and then make a left turn tracking to letter “C”. On reaching “C” you will again make a 40 m circle tracking to the left and again going over the center “X” and arriving back at letter “C”.

Note: most of the tests do everything on the left side and then a mirror image on the right side of the arena.

Once at “C” you will do a working walk to the corner, turn left and at the first letter on your right (H) you will make a slight left and do a short free walk on the diagonal, aiming at the center letter on the left. Once the horses nose is at that letter (B) you will make a right turn at a working walk and then go into a working trot. When you reach the corner you will turn right to the center line maker “A” and make a right turn down the center line.

What you do on that last trip down the center line, which is in all test, will be the last impression you can make on the judge.  Drive your horse straight and you look straight down the center at the judges stand and when you are about ten feet away from letter “X” indicate to your horse that you are going to be asking him to stop.  I always use the work “AND” before a command to my horses, that way they know I am going to ask something different of them.

Make sure you stop square and stay halted 3 to 5 seconds before you salute the judge.  Believe me, the judge is counting the seconds and if you can keep your horse still for the 5 seconds and the salute your score will be higher.

Now that your test is over, it is not the time to pat your horse and to relax your driving of your horse.  You need to make a controlled and well mannered exit from the arena.  You should do a working trot straight ahead and about half way to the judges stand make a left turn and proceed to the rail where you will go straight for a few meters and then make a diagonal to the center line and turn right and continue down the center line until you are completely out of the arena. Remember that as long as you are in the arena, the judge could be still judging you so you want to leave in a timely and courteous manner.

Like I stated in the beginning, the only letters you need to know are “A, C, X” to be able to do a dressage test.  The rest of the letters are just points of reference for where your next movement begins or ends.

Now, I’ve been doing this a long time and have driven all of the tests at one time or another.  But even I need to refresh my memory, so one way I do this is to use one of my throw carpets as my arena.  I pick an end and I walk the test just as I would drive it.  There are no letters so you just visualize the arena as you would drive it, but on the carpet.

Some of the things that also help is basic geometry.  If the arena is 40 m x 80 m:

  • then a 40m circle is half of the arena, and that half can be from the middle.
  • 30m circle is 3/4 across the arena and 3/4 of 1/2 the distance of the arena
  • 30m circle at the center is 15m each side of the center line
  • 20m circle is 1/4 the length of the arena and 1/2 the distance across
  • 10m circle is 1/8 the length of the arena and 1/4 the distance across
  • 20m half circle is just 1/2 of a full 20m circle that generally goes back to the long side of the arena at a diagonal
  • short diagonal is across 1/2 of the arena
  • long diagonal is across the whole arena
  • rein back should be done from a complete stop, for the number of steps or meters specified
  • three loop serpentine goes across the arena making three equal loops
  • three loop shallow serpentine goes to the quarter line
  • five loop serpentine same as three but done in the 100m arena
  • four loop serpentine two to 1/4 line 2 full width all 20m in width
  • four loop serpentine each full width of arena all 20m in width
  • figure eight is done off the center “X” for the meter size specified and making each side the same size
  • 10m deviation is done from the long side from one point to a second point down the same side

So, one needs some basic math skills and a good eye to be able to drive a dressage test.  Once you have driven a few of the tests you will get better at it.  As with anything new, the more you do it the easier that it becomes. So get out there and have fun learning your dressage test.

 

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