You leave the arena on a long rein at A and to say you feel a little disheartened is putting things mildly... Dressage can be difficult, there's no doubt about it, however what tends to stack the odds even more so against a good dressage score is the fact that many riders see it as 'boring'; a means to an end of sorts.
Are you the sort of rider that thinks the most challenging part of dressage is memorising your test? For many riders, this is the be all and end all of dressage. Is it any wonder that it is often those same riders that feel hard done by and disappointed when they receive their score sheet?
You can listen to this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast HERE >>
The dressage test is merely a means to see how the horses, and riders, training is progressing and a way to 'course correct' where necessary. If the test is looked at in this way, the boredom vanishes and the scores begin to mean something...
We already discussed a few points on improving your dressage scores previously here on the blog. You can read Part 1 HERE >>
In this blog post I want to focus on using the training aspects that the test is trying to encourage, the reason behind the 'symmetry' on both reins and the disastrous effect riding the test just to 'check' all the movements off can have on your overall score.
Each level of dressage is looking to progress and build on the level that came before. The ascension through the levels corresponds with the basic training scale, the foundation of which is rhythm, relaxation and, suppleness. Both the movements themselves and the sequence they are asked in that are laid out in the test are there to see just how well you and your horse have grasped the concepts.
Depending on the level you are riding at, the dressage judge will be looking for slightly different things while you ride your horse. Keep this in mind and work towards what is required for your level. Don't try to achieve something that is far more advanced than where you are right now. Similarly, if you are riding at a higher level, but have not truly mastered the basics, your scores and comments will reflect this.
Allow the level you are currently at to set the tone for all your rides. Focus on achieving that particular aspect of riding within both yourself and your horse, regardless of the exercise or work you are busy with. This is how you will then become better; and move up the scale.
You have probably noticed that when riding a dressage test, whatever you do on one rein is generally repeated on the opposite rein soon after. This is not due to the creator or designer of the test taking a shortcut when designing the test; rather it has to do with the symmetry that you should be aiming for in your riding.
Dressage tests are there so the experts, judges, can guide you and give you pointers as to how both you and your horse can improve your overall ride. By seeing how well you both can ride a movement to the right and to the left, any stiffness, crookedness or lopsidedness is more easily identified and noted.
Going back to that initial thought that the dressage test is to see how well your training is progressing, you have to agree that being loose and supple on 'both' sides is vitally important to your horses way of going... And to both of you successfully grasping and then applying the concepts behind each step of the training scale.
A lot of riders seem to think that their dressage judge is just there to nit pick their overall riding performance. Reshaping this single belief can sometimes be the catalyst to becoming a more effective and efficient rider - regardless of where and when.
I suggest rather thinking of your next dressage judge as being a trainer of sorts. It's like having a lesson or training session and then being given a hardcopy of your homework afterwards
Just like when in the arena with a trainer, the judges comments on your dressage score sheet will usually include some positive aspects of your ride. They will also spotlight a few places that can be improved, a couple of ideas on what to focus on improving and, very often, an overall synopsis that you can use as a benchmark for your riding at that particular time in your equestrian journey.
If knowledge is power, your dressage score is a mighty benchmark of your riding progress indeed. Seeing it as this, rather than something negative can very often encourage you to really begin working on your weaknesses; and take more pride in your strengths
Before you begin getting into the more technical aspects of your particular test, you have to first memorise the test. Every dressage test is like a map, you reach a particular place on your way to somewhere else. However just looking at the test as this is the downfall of so many riders.
Most riders seem to have an attitude of getting in and out of the arena as quickly as possible. Savour your time in the arena - it's your time, use all of it to the fullest to really show what you and your horse can do.
When we are initially introduced to dressage, the mere fact that we have to 'learn' the test seems to be the overriding factor of the whole process. It is easy to begin believing that taking a wrong turn somewhere, going off course so to speak, is the worse thing that can happen to you. It's not! If you do find yourself on a slight detour, how you react and deal with it will very often dictate the outcome of the test - not the fact that you took a wrong turn.
Rather think about each individual movement you ride in the test as setting up the next movement. That way, you can work on riding the current movement to the best of your ability, while still keeping your 'plan' or 'map' in mind
If you do find yourself 'lost' out on the course, take a moment to gather yourself and your horse, pick up where you went wrong and continue on; it's done! Worrying and stressing about it won't undo it. Rather make a conscious decision to ride every movement from that point on to the absolute best of you and your horses ability.
If you can begin seeing your dressage scores as another tool in your belt that you can use to better your riding, you will soon begin to see a definite improvement in your overall scores. Ride each test to the best of your abilities and value each score sheet as much as you would a lesson with a top trainer; that is essentially what it is after all.