Pam Millar

Dressage Trainer


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Improving Your Dressage Scores (click on "training tips" above for more)

(as printed in the Herald )


JUDGES’ comments, both positive and negative, commonly appear on dressage score sheets. Positive comments may include ‘good rhythm’, ‘accurate’, ‘obedient’ and ‘straight’ while negative comments might be ‘loss of balance’, ‘hurried’, ‘lacking bend’, ‘loss of activity’, ‘drifting’, among others.

Both positive and negative comments should be fed into your training routine in order to get better marks next time you compete. Negative comments highlight areas to be improved and positive ones highlight areas to be kept up to standard and progressed ready for the move up to the next level.

Here are some movements that are included in many tests along with common faults, and some suggestions on how to improve them

Centre lines and halts should be straight and balanced. Common errors include the horse drifting right or left, lacking straightness, or tilting his head. The horse can only be truly straight when he is supple on both sides so include bending exercises, circles, loops and serpentines to help towards this. Leg-yielding also helps to get the horse more responsive to the lateral leg aids.

Circles and corners should demonstrate a good degree of bending as well as rhythm and balance. Common faults include lacking bend and falling in or out. Good turns are created from bending the horse around your inside leg, not from steering by the hand. Include any amount of bending exercises in your training but try to create a bend from your inside leg before you reach the start of the circle or corner, so the horse will naturally follow the movement you want to perform. Create the bend with your inside leg and complete the shape with your outside leg and ensure his hind legs follow the same line as the fore legs.

Free walk on a long rein should show free, relaxed, forward steps in a purposeful rhythm. Faults include not covering enough ground and snatching. In training, ask your horse to lengthen his frame by stretching forward into the contact when you offer your hands forward then pick him up again by smoothly shortening the reins. Do not just drop the rein contact and hope he will stretch down, as you then have no control over his head and will find it harder to re-build the contact to shorten him up again. Practise stretching him down and picking up for a few strides at a time, not always just across a long diagonal. This is well worth working on as it attracts double marks on your score sheet.

Lengthened strides in trot and canter are introduced at Novice level and should be powerful, uphill and rhythmic. Hurrying rather than lengthening is a frequently seen fault, and sometimes the horse doesn’t really change his stride at all. In training, ride frequent changes within the pace anywhere in the school, using circles and the short side, not just one change on the long side or diagonal. Make sure you sit tall so you don’t put him on the forehand – this encourages running and produces a downhill picture.

Transitions between paces should be smooth, obedient and balanced – losing balance and resistance are common faults. Take time in your training to ensure that your horse is obedient to light aids for upward and downward transitions. Always warn your horse that a transition is about to happen. You can do this by using half-halts, which improve his balance.

Having prepared yourself at home through a careful selection of exercises, make sure you prepare your horse in a similar way during the test, for each up-coming movement.

After the test has been ridden, the judge will complete the score sheet with a series of marks for paces, impulsion, submission and rider’s position as well as some overall comments. These marks are doubled so you can greatly improve them here. Show your score sheets to your trainer, who will help you work towards improved marks, and meantime, remember to ride those transitions and prepare, prepare, prepare. Good luck!