If you want to set yourself apart at First Level and earn points that others don’t, check out these two movements where mistakes are commonly made.

If you think the hardest movement in First Level Test Three is that pesky leg yield out of the corner at K early in the test, you’d be wrong. With the new 2019 tests due to come out soon, I know a lot of people are hoping that leg yield pattern will go away. It’s where you change the bend out of the corner before starting sideways away from the rail. I guess a lot of people have worked hard to figure it out, because I give a fair number of 7s for that movement, as I did this weekend in a couple big First Level qualifying classes.

The down transitions for canter lengthenings at R and P in First Level Test 3 are a good place to earn points.

The down transitions for canter lengthenings at R and P in First Level Test 3 are a good place to earn points.

However, the movements in that test that are more likely to score a thudding 6 or below are actually the canter depart/15-meter circle at C and the transitions down from the lengthened canter at R and P. I don’t get why that canter transition and circle seem so hard, but that circle rarely scores above a 6, while the 15-meter circle at the A end of the ring all by itself is a piece of cake. The C circle is more usually a squashed 18 or 20 meters than 15.

Is it really that hard to do two things at once, to ask for a canter from the trot while starting onto a curved line? Maybe if you’re the type of person who can’t rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time, this moment in the test logically might be dreaded. But there are lots of times in dressage tests when you do two (or more) things at once, and they happen more and more as you go up the levels. Better to learn that idea at First Level than to struggle with it at Third. All you really need to do is bring your inside shoulder back and keep the outside rein on the horse’s shoulder when you ask for the canter – the horse will turn. I promise. (Oh, and turn your eyes right, away from that corner coming up way too quickly.)

The transition to working canter from a lengthening at R and P is more problematic. For one thing, if you want to get above a 6 for that transition you first need to ask for a 7 or 8 lengthening. Maybe people are afraid they won’t get the down transition, because canter lengthenings are often conservative. The test writers deliberately placed that transition at R and P so that the rider could demonstrate that she could do a down transition without the help of the corner—this is a basic skill that again should be addressed at First Level before moving on to Second. I rarely seen a clear transition at R and P, and indeed it’s not even that apparent by the time riders reach the corner at all. Shoulder-fore is your friend here, plus making certain you’re sitting toward the inside—if your weight slides to the outside during the lengthening, which is common, it’s difficult to ask for a clean down transition or maybe even to prevent the horse from flipping his lead at the end of the line.

I get excited when I see a true 15-meter circle after the canter transition or a clear downward transition at R/P, because they tend to be so rare. If you want to set yourself apart at First Level and get points there that others don’t, these are the places in the test where you can make that happen.   

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