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Spin-Off - Geometry And Tips For Better Test Riding

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  • Spin-Off - Geometry And Tips For Better Test Riding

    Spin off on the "apology" post, because I think there are some good concepts worth talking about without the snark toward riders... I judge schooling shows, and scribe a lot at rated shows, AND I compete - totally get it when the power steering goes out at the show. Its happened to me more then once. But a few tips that I think CAN help some riders, and would love to hear other tips too... I love seeing accurate tests - but I'll admit as a rider, sometimes I screw up geometry, and sometimes the horse is just not quite with me...

    Shallow serpentine - remember to go all the way to X - whether it is a trot or canter shallow loop, it is basically a curve through the first corner (don't go too deep into the corner especially for the Training Level serpentine, as it often disrupts the flow of the movement), then remember to go to X, then a curve softly through the last corner . I see a lot of people that don't make it to X - especially in the First Level counter canter movement. And remember to change bend in the trot serpentines, that is part of the score... This is a super common area where we all lose points - make it to X, pay attention to proper bend.

    Full 3 loop serpentines - are basically a composite of 3 half-20 meter circles. No slanting lines across the school (and I'll admit, I've done it before - and lost valuable points). Pay attention to the 20 meter circle size so your serpentine is equal - wow the judges with that geometry. This movement is required at the CANTER in 2nd level, and is a pretty tough movement if your horse isn't well balanced in the counter canter.

    Circles on the short sides - circles don't have corners. So as you are approaching A (or C), ride into the corner before A, then start your circle - and remember that last 1/4 of the circle does NOT go into the corner - see that often in the stretchy circles, and judges do mark it down. Finish the circle, then go into the corner AFTER A to really emphasize how well you rode that circle, and are now riding a corner. It will impress the judge!.

    Speaking of stretchy circles - the goal is to stretch to contact - do not throw away the contact. Loose reins lose points. This is not a free walk (where loose reins are a good thing), this is a stretch to contact. Ideally, the horse should stretch its nose somewhere between the point of the shoulder and the knee - while keeping the wither up (I know, in the ideal world), and maintaining the tempo (not speeding up or slowing down). The horse should stretch down and out, not curled, and not just out. This is a HARD movement and a real test of training and acceptance of contact! BTW - if your horse is going to charge off with a longer rein (ahem, yes, I have been there), then ride for safety - it is one movement, take a lower score, stay on and in control...

    Know the placement of 10, 15, and 20 meter circles - this seems like an obvious thing, but it really isn't! And a horse's natural inclination when it gets "out in the open" (away from the court rail) is going to be fall out, make it bigger. Which is why we do see many ovals instead of circles. And remember, circles have no straight lines - so if you have just spent 3 or 4 strides on the long side in your circle - it isn't a circle. Touch a point, curve off, touch the next point, curve off. Horses are attracted to the rail, so we have to help them come off the rail properly.

    Then - bend... The dreaded bend! Its a show, its stressful - the horse wants to see what is going on OUTSIDE of the court - which = counterbend. Meanwhile, we human beings spent hundreds of thousands of years developing our HANDS as our primary tool, so our instinct is to pull the horse's head to the inside - which = loss of control of the shoulder. Overbent in the neck does not gain points either. Overbent necks in circles, in corners, in shoulder in - are all very common, and are a very natural result of our natural instincts - when in doubt - use your hands! Unfortunately that instinct is not correct in dressage. Everytime you THINK hand, go to leg...

    Leg yield - the two things I see most often are just a shallow diagonal line with no crossing of the hind legs, or a horse very overbent, with the shoulder falling sideways. Another common theme (my Pony does this) is going sideways without going forward (kind of the "full pass"),, and then there is simply not going forward - slowing down when the work gets hard. Practice at home, be aware of what your horse's tendancy is, and ride accordingly.

    Anyone have anything to add? I think little tips on geometry are super helpful for a better test! And remember, not only does it help the scores on the individual movements, there is a component of the Rider Score that addresses accuracy...
    Last edited by MysticOakRanch; Jun. 20, 2018, 09:39 AM.

  • #2
    Informative post, and constructive. Good thread idea.

    Ride the horse forward! I see a lot of "choked back" horses. I see a lot of spooking or shenanigans that perhaps could be prevented or lessened if the horse was behind the leg or just had more impulsion.


    • #3
      Don't know if it carries over to all judges, but I have worked with some judges who say that if a test calls for a movement between letters (e.g. T1: "between B&M, Working trot"), try to execute the movement so the transition happens mid-way between the letters (not when you are passing B or M).


      • #4
        Janet Foy posted something in the last year or so with tips to not throw away points.

        One that I particularly liked, in addition to many MOR already shared, was for tests where you do shoulder-in on the long side, make sure to straighten before turning the corner. Believe me, that ups the level of difficulty and is rewarded.

        In tests where there are TOH or walk piros between H and M, try to space them evenly.

        If doing changes on the diagonal, try to center them over X. In the PSG, the way I do this is that I know how many canter strides it takes for my horse to cross the diagonal (22). For 4s, from the first change to the last it's 16 strides so I have 6 left over (3 on each end) so I come around the corner and go 1,2,ask for the change on the 3rd stride. For 3s, from the first change to the last it's 12 strides, so I have 10 left over (5 on each end) so I ask for the first change on the 5th stride from the corner.

        Of course, I need to ride a straight line and we need to maintain the same stride length etc, but at least I have a plan!


        • #5
          For your shallow loops - aim the first half of the loop towards E or B or just past it, that way you'll hit the centerline just before X, and be changing your bend over X.

          For 3 loop serpentines, ride portions of 20 m circles - don't ride into the first or last corners.

          If you only have one judge and your back is to the judge, they generally can't see the horse's head so that's a good time to fix something.


          • #6
            thanks MysticOakRanch I printed out your helpful post to keep handy. I think I need to get "Every time you THINK hand, go to leg" on a note card and permanently affix it to my bridle crownpiece between my horse's ears LOL


            • #7
              One of the things I was taught many years ago that seemed absolutely mystical at the time (but is now a bit of a "duh" moment): for turning down (centre line especially, but even applicable to quarter lines on horses that can be unreliable with steering/diving out through their shoulders)- undershoot your turn deliberately. For the half 10m circle to turn down centre line, set yourself up to make a 9m circle (and change). That way, you can "straighten" out of your turn and have room to settle right on the line of travel (instead of completing your turn, possibly have lost your horse's shoulders and possibly have overshot centerline already). It's a little precision thing that I found being mindful of really helped me with how I rode those lines and turns.

              (For clarification: you do end up on centreline this way. Not advocating riding to be short of it! But giving yourself this space to straighten after your turn (possibly with a bit of a leg yield or shoulder fore) can help you maintain your correct bend, keep control of shoulders, and not overshoot your turn. If you're going A-X to end your test for example, you should already be on centerline at D or maybe just a little past it. You don't loiter off-centre.)


              • #8
                Originally posted by MysticOakRanch View Post
                Shallow serpentines - remember to go all the way to X - whether it is a trot or canter shallow loop, it is basically a curve through the first corner (don't go deep into the corner, this isn't a corner, it is the first phase of the serpentine), then remember to go to X, then a curve through the last corner (again, don't ride it as a corner, it is the final phase of the serpentine). I see a lot of people that don't make it to X - especially in the First Level counter canter movement. And remember to change bend in the trot serpentines, that is part of the score... This is a super common area where we all lose points - make it to X, pay attention to proper bend.
                What?! I never knew that this was how this figure was supposed to be ridden, even after riding and watching and scribing for plenty of first level tests. Glad to be made aware of my utter geometric oblivion in a kind post and not a snark-fest.

                The "K-X-H One loop maintaining the right lead" type instruction in 1st level has always made me think the movement starts when you leave the rail and ends when you return to it, meaning the corners before and after are normal corners. An actual serpentine seems more elegant...
                Evolutionary science by day; keeping a certain red mare from winning a Darwin award the rest of the time!


                • #9
                  When cantering the shallow loops maintain the correct flexion throughout. Right lead should carry rt flexion through the whole movement - changing flexion can result in the horse changing leads front or back.
                  Count to 3 in a halt before a rein back or the one in the middle of the first level test.
                  Don't salute with the whip holding hand.
                  Enter 'inside' the A marker - it is easier to yield to the center line than steer over to it.
                  If you are in a TOC class or are the first one in the class, announce yourself - hi im number 3 in first level test 1. The scribe will appreciate it.


                  • #10
                    It is your body that hits the letter not the ears or the tail of the horse.

                    In Aus we do not call in a shallow serpentine it is called a loop.

                    I have been taught for 3 loop serpentines that you go straight over the centre line, parallel to the short sides. This is where you change your bend and your flexion.
                    It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                    • #11
                      Really good tips! At the risk of some thinking I'm being snarky (I'm not), think energy in all gaits, especially the walk at lower levels.


                      • #12
                        Releasing a bit as you transition into the walk, particularly lower levels where it's a trot to medium walk transition, helps ensure you don't get jigging from horse or rider nerves, and have a far better walk rhythm. I have gotten more 8s on that than any other movement.

                        When we were doing those trot loops in training level, we were still taking diagonals fairly gradually as she was not making any sharp turns. My trainer had me think of it as turning to ride across the diagonal, then changing my mind around the quarter line - and just giving it a big curve to head back toward the other corner. If that first change of direction happens as nonchalantly as a change of mind and therefore change of direction, the second change of direction always came easily.

                        Post. So many times when I scribe judges comment positively when exceptionally good pros are posting, that they love seeing even such good riders posting if that's what is best for the horse's gaits. That said, my mare gets behind the leg when tense if I am not sitting and communicating to her constantly, so at the lower levels I still sat most of the time. Know your horse.
                        If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


                        • #13
                          I do think nerves get in the way and rider's rush through their tests. There are a few tests that I judge that specify halting for 3 seconds or 4 seconds but people barely stop before proceeding (or the halt at X...it is supposed to be 3 seconds of immobility), but not because their horse was anxious, but because they seemed to be in a rush to get to the next move. They would also forget to shorten their strides before cantering from walk or doing their turn on the haunches, even though that is part of what is required. I really think it is just that they are so focused on the main movement, that they forget the set up, OR that they haven't really read the details of the directives to know exactly what is being judged.

                          Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by netg View Post

                            Post. So many times when I scribe judges comment positively when exceptionally good pros are posting, that they love seeing even such good riders posting if that's what is best for the horse's gaits. That said, my mare gets behind the leg when tense if I am not sitting and communicating to her constantly, so at the lower levels I still sat most of the time. Know your horse.
                            I scribe rated eventing dressage, but what I see still applies

                            The above re: posting. Every event we have riders sitting who should most definitely not be sitting - they are creating rhythm issues. In Canada, we don't have to post until after Prelim now so there's not usually any reason to be sitting (I realize there are times such as described above, but many of the amateur riders we see are not helping by sitting). We do have pros who have lovely seats and can sit but choose to post - I know the judges appreciate it!

                            Enter the ring with purpose. March down centre line. It will help you stay straighter too I got to scribe my first 10 last month for a beautiful entry down CL.

                            Free walk - don't push with your seat, or you're asking for a jog.

                            Lengthening of stride (not extension) - allow with your hands so that the horse can lengthen its frame as well. I write many comments for this where the horse is being restricted by the hand.

                            Prepare for your transitions and use your seat. I also get to write "more prep" quite a bit.

                            When you're riding around the outside of the ring, please make sure the scribe can see your number, or tell him/her when you go by. Nothing like a rider going around and around with their number on the side the scribe can't see so you're not entirely sure who's actually coming in the ring!
                            I've spent most of my life riding horses. The rest I've just wasted.


                            • #15
                              Good thread. I would add to remind the rider to LOOK UP and spot their areas they need to hit in the arena. The rider should know approximately where a 20m,, 15m, 10m circle is for the tests they are riding, where the lateral work starts and stops, and should look up to spot themselves and their horse in the arena. So many riders, especially at the lower levels, look down.
                              Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


                              • #16
                                I learned something valuable during my last show weekend. My horse, not new to showing but new to dressage, had so much tension that boiled over to becoming quite evasive, and his evasion of choice was also brand new material I'd not experienced even at home. I've never really had to deal with something like that in a test, and quite frankly, wasn't prepared. So what I did was just try to manage getting him through the movements as best I could, evasions and all. The first test was icky and how I handled it made the second test later in the day even worse, and he escalated into evading even more. That got us a 58% and a 55%, which to be honest felt pretty generous.

                                Luckily my trainer was there, who is also a judge, was able to help me school through it the next day (2 shows spanning 4 days), but also gave me a bit of a strategy talk about correcting his evasion in the first movement of the test that he does it, take the error, and move on. If it continues to go to pot, either excuse yourself or get eliminated.

                                Seems silly but I had to build in this strategy into my test riding repertoire. Sure enough, the next day of showing, around the arena we go, all is well, so down the centerline, things start to feel a little tense, but manageable - get to C and turn left for our first trot loop, and my gelding does his dance party move- so I simply turned him in a circle/turn on forehand, got my bend back and off we went doing our loop. That seemed to get his head back in the game to get through the test- with tension but manageable and we got a 65%. I'll take it.

                                The other valuable thing I learned is to know what your horse needs BEFORE you go into the test. Turns out, right now, this horse is far better if he goes down the centerline cold. Too much warm up builds his tension vs releases it. My job is to figure out the balance there- seems like a long walk on a loose rein and then some trot, transitions with establishing bend is all I can do before going in. 15-20 min walk, 5-6 min trot, that's it. Perhaps that'll change as he gains more experience and confidence but it is what it is and lesson learned.

                                So, know your horse, and also know how to handle things if they go to crap. LOL.
                                My blog: Change of Pace - Retraining a standardbred via dressage


                                • #17
                                  Let's talk corners. Oh corners. Practice coming out of the corner and checking that your horse's body is straight. A lot of times I see horses come out of the corner with their hip still slightly inward. A little leg pressure should straighten them out, so it's good to get in the habit of doing that after every corner. It won't cause too many problems in the lower levels, but trying to get a shoulder in or half pass with the horse already crooked is just really tough (and I say this from personal experience as this has been my homework - wish I'd trained myself to do this earlier!).

                                  When cantering corners, also, you can get a few more strides to get yourself straight and ready for the movement if you can almost think partial pirouette in the corner then forward coming out. It helps get the horse collected then back on the leg. Again, not critical in the lower levels, but when movements come up faster, it reallllly helps to get those few extra strides to prepare.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Another thing that is SO hard to remember. Every movement is scored separately. So if you screw up one (or two, or a few), you can still redeem the rest of the test - don't panic!!!! I know it is SO hard to remember this, but one or two movements won't hurt you too badly. And if you panic, your horse is going to worry too. Did you know, you can get a 3 on a movement and still get 70%!?

                                    And don't make an issue into a bigger issue. Here is an example - first time I showed my Pony - he was SO worried about the judge's booth. We had that enter, halt at X - OMG, WHAT IS THAT MONSTER moment. So, we didn't make it all the way to C - I got him as far as I could in not-so-straight line, then curved off - you could say we cut the corner quite a bit I patted him, and continued the test - all was good on the A side of the court. Then back we had to go toward C again - patted, and got him a bit closer. Every time around, we got a bit closer. My test scores had a pattern - 5, 3, 6, 8, 7, 5, 4, 6, 8, 5, 6, and so on. But every time, we got a bit closer, and by the end of the test, he was going along the rail, with just a slight hairy eyeball. The judge wrote "great riding, very tactful, and your pony's confidence improved so much". We won the next class - the judge's stand was no longer an issue. And we actually got a 3rd in the first class - because the movements on one side of the arena were 7s and 8s, and the other side of the arena got better throughout the test.

                                    This is just one example - help your horse succeed. It will pay off. And don't panic about a bad movement, make the next movement good!

                                    What do they say about public speaking - envision your audience naked? Envision the judge asking you what you'd like to eat and drink today - something relaxing and non-threatening...


                                    • #19
                                      Stop thinking about the judges as spiders in their lairs waiting to catch unsuspecting riders in a mistake.
                                      We really, really want to see you do well. I hate to give a 3 or less. I love to give a 10 when warranted. I am on your side. That being said, I am bound by the requirements of the test. It does you no favors for me to give high scores if they are not earned. Next week you might do the same quality test and score much lower - then who is the bad guy?



                                      • #20
                                        Know which movements have coefficients and make sure those are as perfect as possible at home! I once got a 9 on a coefficient movement, and boy did that help my score!

                                        (Similarly, you have two centerline-halts. Might as well make those perfect, since they are counted twice!).