Daniel Dawson with Eileen driving down the centerline the last movement for the FEI test in New Jersey

Driving the centerline is not as easy as one might think. When you are driving down the sides and end of the arena, you have the fencing or rails there to help guide you straight down the side.

When you drive the centerline, there is no rails or fence to help you do a straight line down the centerline.

When you drive your horse down the sideline, his head will be slightly tilted to the inside showing that he is tracking right or left.  Driving the centerline, your horses head must be perfectly straight with no tilt either direction.

First, let’s understand what is expected of the horse when driving the centerline.  The turns onto and off, the centerline should be a 20-meter partial circle. Your horse should start to turn from the sideline at the last letter before the corner.  This is the beginning of the 20-meter partial circle.  The end of the 20-meter partial circle is when you curve your horse off the end of the arena and down the centerline.

Where is your horses spine?

Your horse’s spine should be where the centerline is at. If you are driving a pair, then the pole will be on the centerline. 

Your horses head will not touch letter “A” or “C” when starting or leaving the centerline.  Your horse is only supposed to be perfectly straight on the centerline before or after the turn.

All dressage tests have some sort of down centerline.  You always enter the arena coming down the center.  There are centerlines that only go half the way down the arena.  Then, there are the ones that might start at a trot and half way down you change to a walk. You will also find the test, Intermediate #3, that has you doing a line at the quarter mark down the arena.

Now that you understand what is involved in driving the centerline, lets learn how to drive it!

How to drive the centerline

That first driving the centerline, is your entry into the arena. As you make that circle before entering the arena make sure that you are lined up before entering.  Once lined up, you need to look out ahead at the letter “C”. Be looking through the middle of your horses’ ears at that letter. Once you are going straight, take a deep breath, relax, and do not move your arms or hands.  Your horse will keep going straight!

The next centerline you will do most likely will come as a turn of the end of the arena. As you start the turn off the side, you will need to give your horse a slight half-halt on the outside rein to slow him just a tad. When you get to the quarter line at the end give, another half-halt to let him know you will be turning again down the centerline.

As you turn down the center line, your horse will be on the line, which means that your carriage will be straddling the line. Again, you will be looking through the center of your horses’ ears at that point at the other end of the arena. Now, if you find that your horse is not quite on the centerline you have

two options

  1. You can stay on the track that you are on, or
  2. You can ask your horse for a side pass if he knows how to do it.

I have found that option one is the better way to go. Most times the judge will score you a point for not being right on the line, especially if you are going straight on your tract.

Option two, only work if you can get the side step the first time!  Otherwise, it looks like a dog’s hind leg!

Remember, when you get to the end of your line, you need to start your turn before you hit the end of the arena.  It should be a 20-meter turn.

Many of the driving the centerline movements entail driving half the arena, stopping, backing up and then finishing the centerline movement.  This is the hardest line to do for many reasons, but the hardest is the backup and then driving forward.  If your backup is not straight and your carriage does any amount of jack-knifing, it is impossible to continue that centerline.

“backup straight”

As you can see, your horse needs to be able to back in a straight line to make this whole movement look beautiful!  Backing up properly is a whole other lesson to explain.

When you move off after the halt and back, do your best to go straight down the rest of the centerline.  Aim your horse for letter ”C” looking through your horses’ ears, smile and believe that you have done the best that you and your horse could do on that given day!

Coming down the centerline at the start of your dressage test is the first impression that the judge will have of you and your horse.  It is also going to be the last impression that you will be giving the judge.  So, you see this driving the centerline is a big deal.

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