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How you are throwing away marks in your test

Updated: May 20, 2021

In this weeks training article we are going to look at the areas where you are losing marks for no good reason and the things you can do to make sure you get every mark you possibly can from a judge.

Its all about the tactics with this weeks article. so we have 4 ways that you are potentially losing marks in your test and what you can do about it.


  1. Focussing too much on horses paces, not on the actual test

During training, we naturally concentrate on improving our horses paces, developing their way of going. When our concentration is on the quality of our horses paces, their frame, the impulsion and so on we tend to wait until the 'right' moment before asking for a transition or movement. Its very easy to then get very good at 'waiting' and less good at 'creating'.

Lets take transitions for example, when we ride them in training its very easy to wait until the horse feels in the right place; they feel round and forward and supple. In other words, we wait until we have the right conditions for a good transition. This way of training is really important as it allows us as the rider to show the horse how we want the transitions to be. The problem though is that we become very out of practice with having to ride a transition at a marker, and creating these 'right' conditions for a good transition.

The solution?

When you train, set aside time for 'training' and time for 'test riding'. This could be across your whole week or within a session. When in 'training' mode, this is the time to show them how you want them to be; ride a circle if you don't feel like you quite have the suppleness, change the tempo in the half pass to encourage more hindleg engagement or add in a half transition when your horse leans on you. This is the time to fix problems, tweak things and do what you need to do to get your horse in the right way of going.

Then, in 'test riding' mode, you aren't allowed to add in that extra circle, change that tempo or ride out of a movement if it doesn't feel quite right. You have to stick in it and try to fix it like you would have to in the test. You have to try and create the right conditions for a good transition, a good half pass or a good centre line. And if you cant, then that's a sure fire indicator you need to find a way to deal with that problem because you will almost definitely encounter that problem in a test and you will need to know how to fix it. On top of this, you can look at the walk, trot and canter you will use in a test.

Again, in training we like to practice changing the tempo all the time but are you also able to trot round the arena in the same trot, with the same frame and are you able to ride a circle, shoulder in, half pass keeping that same rhythm, tempo and frame?

2. Accuracy

How many times have you seen on your test sheet 'circle too big' or 'circle too small' or 'transition late' or 'transition too early'. These little issues might only lose you .5 of a mark if its a small error or even 2 marks if its quite drastic, but then look down your whole test. How many times did your accuracy lose you marks?

For example, you could do a bad transition where your horse throws his head up, for this you might lose 2 marks. But, if your transition was bang on the marker, you will ensure that you haven't then lost a further 1 or 2 marks. On the other end of the scale, if you do a good transition for an 8 and it is exactly at the marker you could potentially be looking at a 9, rather than if your transition was late, your mark could be brought down to a 6.

Another common accuracy problem is when riders allow their movement to fade out. This is especially the case when lateral or medium movements are introduced. Riders start of strong and then the horses shoulder might fall to the track towards the end or the medium trot might fade out. Pay attention to where the movements start and end and practice riding it this way.

This is something that is so easily fixed because you just need practice. Again, this is where test riding is so important. When we are at home its very easy to let a large circle or slightly dodgy transition slide. But if you have sessions where your sole focus is on your accuracy you will be quicker to pick up and fix any accuracy issues, big or small.

3. Not making use of the corners and short side

When we ride our test, a lot of the time, you don't have to perform anything along the short side and you definitely don't have to do anything at all in your corners. So make the most of this free space to help you whether that be preparing for whatever movement is coming up next or getting their way of going back.

You could ride a half halt in the corner to rebalance your horse and get them to take more weight behind, perfect for if your horse has come onto the forehand or become a little long.

You could ask for a little inside bend and really push your horse into the corner with your inside leg to create more suppleness and bend in the neck and body.

You could collect your horse in the first corner, push them forwards along the short side and collect them in the next corner. Basically, you're riding a couple of transitions within the paces which is great for keeping your horse in front of the leg and with you. You could even add in a little leg in the corners to activate the hindleg more too.

The main point though is that there is so much you can use the short side and corners for and so many people just use it to take them to the next movement. Take advantage of it and use it to reset the way of going or prepare your horse for the next movement.

4. Not preparing for a movement

This is another really easy way people lose marks and generally its not because they cant prepare the movement, its because they're focussed on something else. This is really common when riders don't know the test or are nervous.

Preparing a horse for a transition or movement involves putting them into the right place physically to execute it with the highest quality. This is something you should also be practicing at home. When a transition or movement is prepared for, it looks effortless, flowing and has that 'harmony' that we are all searching for. When a transition or movement is not prepared it can look jolty and the rider tends to revert to their bad habits like pulling the horse to stop in a transition.

The solution?

When you start learning your test, dont just learn where you are going but think about what you will be doing at every step. When will you prepare for each movement and how will you prepare for it? This is what you should be thinking about and its why visualisation is such a strong mental technique that riders find so useful. Imagine yourself on your horse riding through your test and imagine exactly what you will do as you go around the outside of the arena, as you turn down the centre line, as you go through your whole test. Make sure you focus on preparing each movement and each transition and exactly what you will do to prepare.

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