Added Fun

Imagination can spice up your schooling dressage shows

I don’t want to hear anyone say that dressage isn’t fun. Maybe it’s not always fun to watch, but that’s when it’s not done well. When dressage is done well, it’s always fun to watch, no matter the level. But, it’s even more fun to do, a real participant’s sport even more than it is a spectator sport.

Warming up for the Training Level Prix Caprilli at the Youth Dressage Festival, which has 2-foot jumps.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t add some spice to the fun or to make it more attractive to kids or to people who would rather be jumping, or just to break up the usual rhythm of our regular shows, both schooling and recognized. For that purpose, about this time each year, I am usually seeking out the perfect carrots with tops to bring to Lendon Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival in Saugerties New York, where one of my duties is to set up the Dressage Trail class. (Unfortunately, this year I can’t be there, the first time for me in over a decade, but I have a designated carrot picker-upper to back me up.)

Some time back, Lendon thought it would be a good idea to add a Prix Caprilli to the festival to emphasize that jumping and dressage are a natural combination. There seems to be a variety of ways to define a Prix Caprilli, which often is a two-phase dressage/jumping combined training event. But, Lendon wrote a dressage test that includes jumps, test sheet and all.

Following the success of the Prix Caprilli, I concocted a Dressage Trail class for the festival, again with a standard test sheet. The first year we listed it in the prize list 75 kids signed up! We had another success. Now the Prix Caprilli and Dressage Trail class are features of the festival’s third day, along with musical freestyles, which go on during the elaborate awards presentations all morning.

The Dressage Trail class takes place in a small (20 x 40m) arena. The obstacles are all constructed of standard items found in most barns, like rails, barrels, jump standards and cones, so it should be easy for anyone to set up. We found that the kids on their been-there-done-that ponies did very well compared to some of the older riders on their fancier horses – some of those lovely warmbloods would come in the ring and go all wide-eyed: “OMG, who put all this stuff in my nice ring!

Everyone’s favorite obstacle (well, maybe the favorite of the judge and the spectators) involves two barrels with a pad of hay on top of each. The rider must pick up a bunch of carrots from one barrel and place it on the other. Any self-respecting pony, of course, is going to be distracted by both the hay and the carrots. Sometimes the pony gets to the carrots first and then there is a tug of war.

If you would like to see copies of the Prix Caprilli tests and score sheets, plus the Dressage Trail tests, visit and click the show info tab. If you would like further info on the trail class and copies of those score sheets, PM me on Facebook. If you want to try them but don’t want to set up a separate dressage ring, well really all you need is corners and letters and some sort of flatish space that could certainly be on grass, especially the trail class.

The pony in the picture here not only got hold of the carrots in the trail class at the Festival but continued to swing them around his head for the rest of the course. Everyone broke up laughing, including the rider. At the end of the day, the extra carrots were gathered up and presented to this determined pony.

Sometimes the pony gets hold of the carrots instead of the rider in the Dressage Trail class.