Q: What are some of the most fixable mistakes a judge sees riders making? I like to cross my t’s and dot my i’s in the arena, especially when it is an easy adjustment.
Name withheld by request
A: Nothing can replace solid basics when you want to achieve high scores and place well in your classes. However, judges do become frustrated when they see riders who lose points on small things. A lot of points are lost because the riders don’t understand bending and straightness. Here’s an example: A rider (in any level) comes smoothly down the centerline, makes a quiet straight halt, but does not make a straight transition out of the halt. She will probably lose a point from whatever the judge has been considering. Many times this happens because the rider is preparing to turn the horse at C but forgets to support or frame the horse with the outside rein and leg. This causes the horse to bulge and drift to the outside.
When riders don’t support their mounts on the outside aids upon making circles, turning corners and performing lateral movements, balance becomes an issue. The comments (which usually don’t make over a 6, if that) are usually, “Neck over-positioned,” “falls to inside shoulder,” “haunches fall” or in shoulder- in “too much neck bend.” In fact, overbending, which usually is shown through the neck, stops the horse from sending energy from the hindquarters (the engine) over the topline and into connection. To show a better bend from a 10-meter half circle to another on the centerline, you need to have a brief moment of straightness on the centerline. If you don’t have that, your figures will not be correct half circles.
The leg yielding sequence in the new First Level, Test 3, appears to be difficult for riders (This sequence involves a leg yield from K to X, followed by a 10-meter circle left, a 10-meter circle right and a leg yield from X to H. A total of three scores are given). Riders often do not reach X and support their horses on the outside aids as they start the first circle of the figure eight. This makes the circle lose roundness. Both circles will then not be equal size. It is very important to reach X and be straight before starting the first circle, the second circle and the final leg yield (especially the final leg yield). By keeping the neck straighter in the leg yield and not allowing the horse to over-bend away from the direction you are moving, you’ll have a better chance of making the centerline just before X.
In addition to performing movements with better balance, I can also think of three instances when riders routinely lose a good score:
1. If your horse picks up the wrong lead, fix it as soon as possible by going back to the gait from which you made the transition. Taking more time may bring you into the geography of the next movement and you’ll get two bad scores, rather than one. Asking for a flying change at this point rarely works well.
2. Teach your horse to accept your leg and leg aids at the walk. At the lower levels I see horses successfully teaching their riders to take their leg off in the walk by jigging. When this happens, keep your leg on while you bring the horse back to the walk. Then continue to apply aids for a marching, reaching walk (by giving light and quick leg aids rather than tight and restricting ones). The seat should not be overused. When you make your transition back to a medium walk, you lose points if your horse stiffens to the connection. Again, he must accept the leg aid to keep the rhythm smooth and forward. In your schooling, don’t be afraid that the horse will make a mistake. Use the opportunity to teach that the leg doesn’t always mean an upward transition from the walk. Don’t forget to ride with accuracy from letter to letter.
3. It’s better to make pirouettes or half turns a little larger and keep the rhythm of the gait than to try to make them too small and get stuck. A smarter rider thinks forward, even in the pirouettes.
It really depends on your riding experience as to whether or not any of these points are an easy adjustment. In my opinion, your hours of practice, training and riding education will make most tasks easier.
Charlotte Trentelman is a U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) “S” dressage judge who has competed through Grand Prix. A breeder of Holsteiners, she currently organizes a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) “L” Education Program for her local club. She and her husband, Chris, run Rebel Ridge Farm in Anthony, Florida (rebelridge.net).