The Medium Tour in Dressage

A look at easing the transition to Grand Prix with adjustments to the Intermediate tests
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In a CDI (Concours Dressage International), a dressage competition recognized by the FEI, there currently exists the Small Tour (day one: Prix St. Georges, day two: Intermediate I, day three: Intermediate Freestyle) and the Large or Big Tour (day one: Grand Prix, day two: Grand Prix Special or Grand Prix Freestyle). Because it often takes the rider two years to build the necessary confidence in the horse between the two levels, a Medium Tour introduction this year may be the answer. How the idea works is that horses will compete at the Medium Tour for one year, thus bridging the gap, helping the jump to the Big Tour seem not so big.

This year: A horse can compete in the Small Tour at the Festival of Champions, the Medium Tour at Devon and the Grand Prix in Florida. | Photo copyright Susan J. Stickle

This year: A horse can compete in the Small Tour at the Festival of Champions, the Medium Tour at Devon and the Grand Prix in Florida. | Photo copyright Susan J. Stickle

The Medium Tour is so new that the show managers have to decide how they work it into their competitions by setting their schedules for submission to USEF and FEI. There are a few possible scenarios (day one: Intermediate II, Test A; day two: Intermediate II, Test B; day three: Intermediate II or Intermediate I Freestyle). The schedules for the CDIs are a bit more complicated; one test must be used as a qualifier if the show manager offers the Intermediate I Freestyle. 

In the 1980s, ’90s and over the years, the FEI slowly made the Small Tour easier and the Grand Prix more difficult. They took out the counter canter 10-meter loops in the Prix St. Georges test, and the Intermediate I lost the long half-passes at the trot and the five-loop serpentines in canter (where the horse and rider had to change from true canter into counter canter). 

The Grand Prix has gotten a little bit harder the way the coefficients are placed throughout the piaffe work. The piaffe has to be on the spot, which is hard for the horses. The FEI took out the medium canter with the flying change at X in medium canter, and it took out one of the six half-passes in the zig-zag. There is no longer the Schaukel (multiple rein-backs in sequence order) and it took out the walk pirouettes. 

So there has been a widening in the difficulty between the Small Tour and the Big Tour. It’s almost impossible to take a horse from the Small Tour to the Big Tour in one year and have it work. If you can, then you have a really special horse. The Intermediate II has always been thought about as the test between the two tours. But the Intermediate II test belongs more to the Big Tour than the Small Tour. It really wasn’t a great in-between test. And there was only one. At a show, you either jumped right into the Grand Prix or stayed at Intermediate I.

The idea was to introduce a whole new level and call it the Medium Tour, which would place two more tests (A and B) between the Small Tour and the Big Tour, slowly introducing the Grand Prix movements, the piaffe (not so on the spot), the passage and the one-tempi changes in a friendlier, more inviting way for the horses and riders. 

For riders at the CDI competitions, the Medium Tour will be very good, a great steppingstone for the Grand Prix. Intermediate II, Tests A and B, will be useful for the riders and coaches to have more of a choice in tests. The riders can ask themselves: What are my goals?What do I want to do with this horse to compete at the Grand Prix? How am I going to get there? 

It’s up to the show managers to decide how they will schedule the tests for their CDI and quite possibly add a freestyle. It would have to be the Intermediate I Freestyle because the Grand Prix Freestyle would be a level too high. The only difficulty would be drafting the schedule, and what class the organizer uses for the qualification for the freestyle. This needs to be discussed. 

At our International Dressage Officials Meeting in London in December, we discussed keeping the old Intermediate II. The decision of the FEI to post in the middle of December that the Intermediate II was no longer to be used in 2014 caused a bit of panic and most countries still wanted the Intermediate II. So the FEI agreed, and redid the test very slightly, and now it’s back in. There is real clarification from the FEI on how the levels and the tests will work. 

In talking with my show-management colleagues in Europe, they aren’t sure the Europeans will embrace this new tour enough to add a Medium Tour Freestyle. We just don’t know yet. It’s going to take a couple of years for riders to say they love it or they don’t like it or even want it.

During the 1970s and ’80s, the United States had Small Tour and Big Tour national tests. They were easier than the FEI tests and designed so that the riders could help their horses gain confidence to prepare for the FEI tests. Nobody ever rode them, so they were all dropped. 

The Medium Tour (Intermediate A and B) is a new product. The questions now are, is it going to work? Did it help the horses to take an extra year coming into the Grand Prix? Did this level help build the necessary confidence? Did it help the horse in his first Grand Prix test to not panic, not be so nervous and be less resistant? 

It’s going to take a couple of years to find out if it really is helpful having that level as a steppingstone to Grand Prix. If riders and trainers find this helps a horse’s confidence then it’s really going to prove that the Medium Tour was necessary and important for the sport. 

Because show managers had set their schedules for the winter season, the Medium Tour is not available in Wellington, Florida. During the 2014 summer season you may see it. 

Dressage at Devon has confirmed that it will definitely have this new level in the fall. If a rider has a 9-year-old and does the Small Tour at the Festival of Champions in June, Devon would be the perfect opportunity to compete at the Medium Tour. It would give the rider a chance to see how it goes in preparation for a possible winter season at Grand Prix. It’s a great opportunity to see if a horse is really ready or if he needs one more year at this new level. 

The Medium Tour will also keep the horse and rider from disappearing from the spotlight for a year or two as they prepare for the Grand Prix. It will allow them to shine while still giving them the necessary time to develop, leading to success in international competition. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Dressage Today.

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