I thought this would be a really interesting topic to talk about as I feel like its a big gap where I see a lot of people missing out on a mass of information that has the potential to really help you improve your scores.
I think a lot of the time, when we come out of the test we have an idea about whether we are happy or not happy with the way the test went, then we get the score and that has the potential to change how we feel. We can go from being happy with the test to not happy or the other way round depending on what the score is. For some anything about 60% is a fantastic achievement, for some there is a score that you have in your head you want to get; for some anything below 70% just isn't good enough; and for some the score doesn't matter.
I know that I have had many tests where I have come out and not been happy for whatever reason, but then I've seen the score and we may have won or done well and I have then forgotten about all the things I wasn't happy with in that test, And because of that I've then missed out on a big opportunity to improve
I always think that your test sheet can be like a blue print that tells you what you should be working on in your training. But there is a whole host of information there from the marks to the comments to the directives and collectives - all of which can guide you as of what to work on in your training,
How to read your test sheet
Your test sheet is chocker block full of information, we are going to go through each one and work out how firstly to work out what it all means and then how you can use it all in your training to boost your scores. Its so easy to go out, do a test and then come back and think 'yes that was good' or ''no that was bad'. But using your test sheet to guide what you work on in your training means that your training will be focussed on you improving your scores so you should see your scores improve each time you go out.
How you do this is completely up to you. You can just make a bullet point list on your phone or in a notebook of the things you need to work on like 'straighter centre lines' or 'circle size' or 'getting my horse to take me forward more'. Or you can go all out and do an excel spreadsheet and write down all the movements and what you scored and then you can easily compare it with previous tests and competitions and see if you've improved. I really like this idea because it helps you to see the finer points a lot more, you may find you scored lower than last time out but you got a better mark for your circles which was what you were working on in your training. It doesnt matter if youre doing different tests every time you just put in the movements so for example you might have 20m circle left and 20m circle right and centre line and transition to canter left and so on. Doing this can be really helpful for breaking down the test and really reading and assessing it. I also know how much time it takes to get it started so ive made a blank one for you to get started under 'free resources' on the website but i have also done one for each level for Hub members which you can find in the 'resources' section.
So, now the rest of this article is going to be about going through the different part of the test sheet and working out what it means, what information it can tell you about you and your horse and how to work out what it all means.
The marks make up the main bulk of what we look at. All the movements are marked out of 10 except for the movements that have a coefficient of 2; at the lower levels this is usually for the free walk which is then worth a total of 20 marks. So that brings up the first point, know where your double-up marks are, how did you score on them and how could you make it better - because these movements have the opportunity to make you twice as many marks as the other movements.
A big part of being able to understand the marks is knowing what they mean. So many people don't actually know what the marks mean:
0- Not Executed
1- Very Bad
3- Fairly Bad
7- Fairly Good
9- Very Good
I think a lot of the time we see a 7 as good an 8 as amazing, a 6 as okay and a 5 as awful. We almost end up having a 4 mark range in our heads rather than the actual 10 marks that there should be. But also what they mean is very different; if you get a 6 that movement was sufficient, you did the job you did it right but there were some things that you could have done quite easily to make that movement better. If you get a 4 or below then, generally there was something very distinctively wrong, whether that's you didn't perform the movement correctly, something happened in the movement like a spook or there was a substantial issue with the general way of going. But on the other end of the scale if you get an 8 or a 9 generally that will mean that you performed the movement correctly in a good way of going.
When it comes down to the marks i think its really easy to see a 7 and think 'oh that was good' and forget about it and then obsess over those marks of 6 and below and stress about how bad it was. When actually we need to be looking at all the marks. Unless you got a 10 there was something you could improve on so look at all the marks, assess all the comments (which we will come back to in a second) and work out all the ways that you could improve every single movement to turn those 4s into 6.5s and 7s and those 7s into 8s and those 8s into 9s and 10s.
You want to look for trends or patterns so you can pick up any issues that you could perhaps work on in your training. So, for example you might see that your transitions are always scoring low, or your 15m circles are always too big. And you don't just have to do this within one test, you can look at multiple tests. You may find that your first centre line always scores low or your canter always scores better than your trot. All these things should be able to give you little insights into what you should be working on in your training. If your centre lines are always letting you down then you could be focussing on straightness in your training; or if your circles are always too big then you could work on your inside leg to outside rein connection.
One thing that I always found very interesting was to compare your marks that you get for movements on the left rein and then on the right rein. All riders and horses are stronger on one rein than another, your marks will show if the judges are seeing that one rein is always better quality than another rein. If this is the case then this is something you can work on in your training.
When it comes to some marks, you may know why you got them, your horse might have spooked so you got a 4 or you knew your halt wasn't square. But there may be some that you have no clue why you got the mark you did. And that is why the comments come in really handy. A judge will normally comment on any movement that achieves a 7 or below and these are all aimed at helping you know what you need to work on to improve that movement.
I think of the judges comments like a blueprint. They show you what you need to go away and work on. When a judge writes the comment there might be a few things that you could improve on but the judge will comment on either the most obvious or the root cause of the issues.
The problem comes when you don't quite understand what the judge is meaning and i think this can be where things get difficult. In a lesson, if our coach says something we don't understand we can ask what they mean and get clarification. And sometimes i think judges use their fancy language and sometimes it just needs to be translated into plain English. So, for example, i went to a Premier League a few months ago and i rode a test i thought was nice, it was soft and rhythmical and easy and just a nice test but i got 62%.There were 3 judges, all on similar scores so i knew there was something quite drastic i was missing in my test but the comments were all slightly different - 'more self carriage', 'more engagement' 'more activity', 'more collection', and so on. And i knew they were all linked, if i had more collection and activity my horse would be more engaged and if i had more engagement i would have more self carriage. And that's fine, but the difficulty i had is then putting that into the practicalities of what do i actually need to change in my warm up and my test and how my horse is moving to improve my scores. And honestly i wasn't sure, i knew what i needed, and if someone had given me 2 or 3 weeks i could have got it, but i had a 30 minute warm up. It wasn't until i asked a judge and they said 'you just need to go for it a bit more' that i realised that the judges weren't saying there was necessarily a training issue they were just saying they wanted to see 'more', so i did that, i went for more obvious transitions forward and back in my mediums, i went for more collection and more smaller pirouettes, i went for more oomph in the changes, more sideways in the half passes and i got 68% which was much more along the lines of what i was expecting. But the point was that translating 'more self carriage and more engagement' to 'go for it a bit more' was really hard to do and i don't think i would have been able to do it unless that judge had put it into plain English for me.
So, if you're ever in the same boat as i was and you do a test and you get the test sheet back and you look at the comments and you think 'i don't actually know what this means' go and ask someone to translate it into plain English for you. Judges have to be eloquent and polite in their comments they cant just say 'give it a bloody kick' or 'your transition looked like your horse fell on their face' or 'your leg yield looked more like a diagonal than a leg yield'. Instead they'll say 'needs more impulsion', 'or ''lacking preparation' or 'losing quarters'. So, sometimes having someone who can read your test sheet and translate it into plain English 'this is what you need to do...' can be really helpful.
So, again, look for trends, has the judge commented on anything more than once? If they have, then this needs to be something at the top of your list of things to work on in your training. The judges comment at the end is a space for the judge to comment on the whole test; what was good and what needs to be worked on. This is probably the most important part, the judges tend to say something nice like 'lovely combination' 'sympathetically ridden' or 'lovely paces' or something along those lines and then something that needs to be worked on. This will be something that impacted a lot of your marks through a lot of your test so definitely pay close attention to it and, again if you don't quite understand what it means and how it applies to your training, ask.
The directives are little explanations or notes on the test sheet that highlight a few of the things the judges are looking for. They might underline some of them to save time and emphasise a specific issue. So, if your free walk has little to no stretching down and out the judge may ask the writer to underline that directive rather than write all that out. Its also very helpful for working out what you could improve on in your test. If you're not sure what you could do to improve it, have a look at the directives and ask yourself if you feel you achieved all of those things, if you didn't, you can make a note of it to focus on in your training.
The last bit to look at is the collective marks. These are the 1-5 marks at the end of your test for things like paces, submission, impulsion and rider position and effectiveness.
If your lowest mark was for submission, have a look through those directives and see what specifically you need to work on. A judge may have been really helpful and underlined some of the directives or guided you in the comments over what to work on. It might be that you know your horse has a contact issue but you're not sure why. If you're getting a low mark for impulsion and the judge had underlined 'desire to go forward' then that could be why, if you're getting a low mark for submission then that could be why. The judge is quite literally telling you how to fix the problems you have and guiding you as to how to get higher marks. Don't disregard this. These are the people that judge us and decide what mark we get, and they are specifically telling us exactly what we need to do to get extra marks. So don't disregard it or ignore it or read it quickly and forget about it. Make a note of it. Write down the weaker areas, write down the strengths and compare them across your other tests. Do you agree with them, do you not? All this things will help you and guide you to exactly what to do in your training and what to work on with your horse to get higher marks for each movement and higher marks for those collectives.
There are loads of reasons you could have marks deducted from outside help to boots and bandages being worn to going wrong in the test and severe disobedience. Its really important to know these rules on what could lose you marks and what could get you eliminated, i know rides that have lost a championship title because they rode with a stick which is automatic elimination. Knowing the rules means that you wont be that person and BD now have it as an online rule book so you can keep it on your phone and flick through it as and when you need to.
Know where your double up marks are
Try to find something you could improve on every movement
Compare marks: left vs. right rein, last competition vs. this competition
If you dont understand what the comments are saying - ask
Use the directives to direct you on what to work on if there are no comments
The collectives can guide you on the things to work on that affected your whole test
Know what can lose you marks or eliminate you - read the rule book!