One personal rule I have when I show is to quickly glance at the test about 5 minutes before my ride time, especially to double check where the walk travels. I also double check walk patterns when I judge. Tests used to be more consistent with the walk patterns, usually just going straight across the long diagonal, but test writers mix things up more now with short diagonals, broken lines and curved lines.
The Prix St. Georges test walk pattern was changed over six years ago from a long diagonal to a short diagonal. Then, it was changed so that the extended walk starts at M but doesn’t turn to cross the ring until R. However, I still see riders every time I judge who don’t get it right. They either turn at M, or they might make the correct turn at R but fail to release the contact at M.
You see some riders sort of split the difference just to be safe, half releasing the reins at M or turning midway between M and R. It can be tough to see from C because the horse is walking away from the judge there – did the rider really not release the reins or is the horse unwilling to seek the contact? Is it an error or a lower score? Both? Neither?
This has become doubly important with the change this year in the penalty for errors in an FEI test, since one error now costs 2% of the score and a second error is elimination. Because of that penalty, you’d think the riders would be double checking that walk pattern. But, at every show I judge, I still see riders who are fuzzy about where and how to do that straightforward transition. Really folks, this is not new.
The moral of the story? Practice that pattern at home like the rider in the picture above, releasing the reins at M and then turning at R. At a show, you want to be thinking about the horse and not the test.
In fact, how often do riders school any walk patterns that deviate from the long diagonal, like a free walk that turns at X or an extended walk on a curved line? Most of the time, when they take a walk break, they just mosey around. Better use of that down time would be to try out the same walk lines as the tests that you’ll be riding at your next show.