The 2011 Dressage Tests

Learn how the 2011 dressage tests evolved and what you need to know at each level.
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The following article was originally printed in the January 2011 issue of Dressage Today.

The process of writing the new dressage tests starts about three years prior to their publication. There are two subcommittees that work closely together. The U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Test Writing Subcommittee is chaired by Bill Solyntjes and includes Natalie Lamping, Bev Rogers, Hilda Gurney, Annaliese Voght Harber, Joan Macartney and Yvonne Barteau. This group writes the USDF Introductory tests and the requirements for the Freestyles (Training through Fourth Levels). Bill holds a meeting each year at the USDF Annual Convention in December to get input from members regarding all current tests.

I was particularly interested in the process this time around because there were many new members on the subcommittee, and it is quite a challenging task to write patterns, ride and time them, write the Directives, proofread and finalize each test. But these new members found their niche in the process, and it was very exciting to work with them.

Credit: halt at x

Here is what happened during the test-writing process to produce the new 2011 tests and what riders need to know.

The Test-Development Process

Feedback is sent to the USEF subcommittee from the USDF. Here is how those changes are implemented.

Step 1: Writing the new tests: After the directives from the USDF are received and discussed, Hilda, Axel and I are usually the "pattern" makers. Hilda can write four tests in under two minutes! I am usually in charge of making sure the tests are balanced. For example, I make sure we have one trot lengthening coming from each direction, or that one canter lead is not overloaded in all three tests, or that the canter depart isn't always on the left lead. As the pattern makers work and ride and then rework, the rest of the subcommittee waits in anticipation.

Step 2: Testing: When the three of us are happy with the patterns, they go to the rest of the subcommittee. Now things get interesting. Everyone rides and times the tests with all types of horses and riders, including ponies, big horses, etc. Our goal was to have no test longer than six minutes. Ideas came back from the rest of the subcommittee: Some movements are too hard for a big horse; others don't flow well; test riders hate some movements or combination of movements. This feedback produces more rewriting for us.

Fourth Level, of course, was the biggest challenge. Making it shorter and easier, while making sure our training standards stayed in place, took some time. We spent about six months just working on the patterns before we all agreed and approved them. Next, the Directives group takes over.

Step 3: Rewriting the Directives: Hilary, with the help of Sandy, Lois, Marianne and myself, took over the rewriting of test Directives. These had been a bit stale, but Hilary's knowledge of biomechanics made this job fun. The wording is very different in many areas. Trying to get the Directives team to find wording that was helpful and yet short enough to fit into the spaces was not easy (see "Use the Directives," p. 51).

Step 4: Formatting and proofreading: Hilary also took over the huge job of putting all the tests into the correct format and collecting all the proofreading errors and getting those fixed on the master sheets. Many times she told us that the tests were now three pages long due to our excitement in creating new Directive wording. Finally, we managed to pare down so that all tests fit onto one page. A few have the Collective Marks on the other side along with the judge's signature and cover. Our master proofreaders worked hard to make sure everything matched in every Directive for the same movement. There are always a few mysterious letter switches that happen as the tests are corrected. If you find any proofreading errors, please let us know so we can fix them.

Step 5: Away we go: The new tests are ready for the 2011 show season. The first year after the tests are finished, the subcommittee sits back and takes a little break. Then the cycle starts over again. It is important that all riders, judges and trainers put their ideas and concerns in writing and send them to Bill or Axel. These comments will be kept on file for when the process begins again.

What's New for Riders

Starting in 2011, there are only three tests at each level, a major change from 2007. That means that Test 3 will be the championship test for USEF/USDF regional championships. Some of the Group Member Organizations who have been using Test 3 for their championships may want to look at their guidelines and switch to Test 2. This concept should allow show managers more creativity when scheduling classes. For judges and riders, here are a few changes you will want to pay attention to in the levels.

Introductory Level: There will be a new USDF Introductory Test C. This test introduces the canter, which will help Intro riders make a better transition to Training Level. I think this new test will also be a positive step to help riders understand the importance of accurate riding, using corners and improving their seats and positions. The score sheet for this new test and for all other new tests can be found on the USDF website, usdf.org (you must log into the website to view these score sheets).

Training Level: This level has always been designed to be inviting to a green horse. In the news tests, this does not change. The trot may still be ridden either posting or sitting. The subcommittee hopes that riders will take this option into consideration. There seems to be some thinking that judges score higher if you sit the trot. This is not the case. A good performance will be rewarded no matter how you decide to present your horse. Worth noting:

  • More transitions are on circles, so they are easier for the young/green horse.
  • Trot diagonals encourage the development of straightness and help the young horse think more forward.

First Level: The biggest change in this level is that the rider is now allowed to choose between sitting or rising the trot. My comment from Training Level also applies here. The subcommittee's hope was that riders post the trot and develop the horse's back correctly and slowly, rather than sit on a horse that is not strong enough. Training and First Levels now really belong together. Worth noting:

  • First Level, Test 1, now has the addition of a canter lengthening.
  • The score for the transition from free to medium walk has been removed.
  • Circles and half circles are in different locations.
  • First Level must be ridden in a standard (large) arena, 20 by 60 meters.

Second Level: This is now the first level in which sitting the trot is required. With the addition of collection and medium gaits, Second Level will be clearly above First Level. Worth noting:

  • More counter canter has been added to the tests, especially in Tests 2 and 3.
  • Counter canter is now required in the USDF Second Level freestyle.
  • Travers, renvers and shoulder-in are still required at Second Level, but many circles have been removed and their location has been changed to help the horses think more forward.
  • The turns-on-the-haunches may be 1 meter in size. Another rider misconception is that they must perform the smaller walk pirouette to score well, but that is not correct.

Third Level: The old Tests 1 and 2 were very rideable and well liked in the past, so little was done to change any of these patterns. However, some things have been altered. Worth noting:

  • Some of the circles with the release of the reins have been taken out. The only release left in is in Third Level Test 2, and the release is with both reins. The subcommittee felt this test of self-carriage was important but also needed to be visible to judges both on the long and short sides.
  • Counter canter is no longer required in the freestyle at Third Level.

Fourth Level: The old Fourth Level, Test 1, was quite popular, so the subcommittee did little to change this test, however, many changes were made to Tests 2 and 3. Here's why: The old 2007 Fourth Level tests were written prior to changes made by the FEI (F?d?ration Equestre Internationale) to its upper-level tests (Prix St. Georges, Intermediaire and Grand Prix). In 2009, the second year the USEF tests were in place, the FEI drastically changed the Prix St. Georges, deleting several movements.
So for a few years, the USEF Fourth Level tests were quite a bit more demanding than necessary. Now the trot patterns flow better and there are more chances to go forward between the lateral work. Worth noting:

  • Canter pirouettes are now "working pirouettes" at Fourth Level and are allowed to cover approximately three meters in diameter. This movement is much like turn-on-the-haunches in that riders try to make it a true pirouette. Instead, riding the exercise as described will get you a high score.There are only three four-tempi changes in Test 3. The three-tempis have been removed. There are three changes on the diagonal in Test 2 (see diagram on page 53). Much work went into these two Fourth Level tests. We feel they are now a good introduction to the FEI's Prix St. Georges test.

The Collective Marks: Collectives now have total point count of 80, not 90 as in the past.

  • Gaits: There is no longer a coefficient; this score is worth 10 points
  • Impulsion and Submission: Both still have a coefficient of 2 (worth 20 points each).
  • Rider: Still worth a coefficient of 3 (worth 30 points) but with an interesting twist. The subcommittee felt that by dividing these scores up, the judge would have a more effective way to communicate to the rider where the flaws and highlights of the performance were. Here is the breakdown:
  • 10 points for position and seat. Does the rider lean too far back? Are the lower legs too far forward or too far back? Are the rider's hands too high?
  • 10 points for correct and effective use of the aids. This includes the rider's correct influence over the horse; the proper use of the aids; understanding the requirements of the movements; and correctly preparing the horse.
  • 10 points for the harmony between the horse and rider.

These tests are truly a combined effort of the dressage community with countless volunteer hours going into their production (the USEF subcommittee processed 10 pages of notes from USDF meetings). I am excited to judge my first competition with these new tests, and I hope all of you enjoy this experience as well. Happy riding!

Janet Foy is an FEI "I" and USEF "S" dressage judge and an "R" sport horse breed judge. She has officiated worldwide and is a member of the USEF International High-Performance Dressage Committee. A USDF "L" Education Program faculty member, she is a USDF gold medalist and is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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