Suggestions for Horse-Riding Dressage Tests
Let us make use of a musical analogy. Playing the piano with great skill is not enough for a great performance. Special performance skills must be added before success is achieved. Just as a great concert pianist does not need a score but plays by heart, so any great dressage rider rides his test from memory. Having a ringside prompter may be necessary when competing on several horses and with each one in different tests. Practice makes perfect. The rider who has the test called because he is not fully familiar with it will perform as poorly as would a pianist who is searching for the notes in a musical score while playing a concert. Only a well-practiced test will show brilliance. There is a myth about not riding tests frequently in practice, because the horse might learn and anticipate the patterns. No horse turned loose in the dressage arena will perform any test from memory. The horse cannot analyze and will not learn tests by heart! International riders might perform the Grand Prix test on the same horse for a decade, yet the horse will not spoil the test by anticipation. Every dressage test ought to be a logical composition unfolding a sequence of gymnastic exercises that allows the rider to show how well his horse is developed mentally and physically. As a composition, the test has fluency and beauty inherent in it through logic and balance. Dressage tests must be performed in their totality, not in bits and pieces or as patchwork. Riders should perform each test as an organic whole, like a concert pianist, who does not play notes or measures, but rather the whole musical composition that is beautiful only in its entirety.
Uneven standards in musical performances are not satisfactory. When some parts are played harshly and others with poetic expression, it shows either a lack of understanding of the piece or a lack of skill in unfolding it correctly. Riding a dressage test often owes its greatest beauty to consistency. Once the horse and rider’s temperament develop a distinct style, perform in that style consistently.
Practicing the parts of a dressage test is as necessary to the rider as it is for a pianist to rehearse certain passages of a composition. However, that activity should be limited to practice sessions. Ride the entire test often. It will establish a mood and it will reveal any shortcomings. Repeat exercises for schooling purposes only if they are weak.
Whether competing or schooling the horse, do not ride merely the test patterns, instead, always ride your horse! You should know the test so well, have ridden it so often and polished it in such detail that you should not really need to note the letters of the manege. You should instead know the composition of the ride, “forgetting” the letters that initially aided in memorizing it.
Riding tests belong to the “examination” rather than to the “diagnostic” or “athletic development” phases of riding. Some horses enter the arena tense and showing major faults. Worse than the horse’s shortcomings could be the rider’s acceptance of them. Immediate attempts should be made to change these shortcomings. Although improving and correcting a horse may not be easy during a competition, sometimes just seconds of correctly influencing the horse can reestablish lost rapport and win the horse’s attention and cooperation.