Leading Into Dressage

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Yes, there is such a thing as a leadline dressage class.

Yes, there is such a thing as a leadline dressage class.

My blood runs cold when I hear the phrase “leadline dressage.” The worst judging experience I ever had involved a leadline dressage class. Last week, I was working on the program for Lendon Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival, which is this month in New York, and there is a leadline test printed there—I try hard to skip right past that page.

Fortunately, Lendon wrote her own test, and it is pretty straightforward (and not very long, thank goodness). The nightmare class I mentioned above was done with a regular USDF walk-trot Intro test at a schooling show, and it seemed endless. There were seven kids in the class, six of them riding the same pony. The leader was a pregnant woman who jogged along with the school pony, and she fell down at one point. There was also a huge audience for this one class, more than the rest of the show put together, consisting of parents, grandparents, siblings, etc., all with cameras, all cheering enthusiastically.

I did a “rail” type leadline class once at a recognized dressage show, again quite large and again with a big audience. I recall a clear moment of panic on my part. I asked each child a question that I thought would be easy and fun for them, while they were lined up at the end. One little girl looked me straight in the eye and wouldn’t answer. I asked her pony’s color. Nothing. I asked her pony’s favorite treat. Nothing. I asked what the strap was called that she was holding. Nothing. I asked her pony’s name. Nothing. Finally, I asked her to pet her pony, which she did right away. The applause was thunderous.

Never again, though. When I’m asked to do a schooling show, or even a recognized show, I always make sure there won’t be a leadline class, and if Lendon ever comes looking for me to do the class at the Festival, I’m going to make myself invaluable elsewhere.

Actually, that test isn’t so bad. The ring is shortened to 24 meters long (ending at the SIR line). The pattern (which you can find on the Youth Dressage Festival website) starts down the center line as usual and tracks right at C. At M, then there is a “small circle” followed by a right turn at R and a left turn at S. Then the leader and rider turn down the center line again, halt at I and salute.

The general impression scores for position and use of aids (independent from the leader) count half of the overall score. At the end, the rider has to answer a question, which might be the color of her pony or to touch a specific part of the pony, such as the withers. This class goes on at the end of the Festival, while the older kids are getting their awards, a lengthy process. It’s always a crowd pleaser. But, I never watch it—I try to be very busy elsewhere, such as hiding in the lunch room. 

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