A big part of dressage is learning your tests, when you know your test and you know what movements are coming up you then have more time to prepare for the movement which then means a better quality movement but also means you can be more accurate too. I know a lot of riders that have callers all the time and then qualify for a championship and suddenly you arent allowed a caller. But they havent ever practiced learning a test.
But, learning the test can be really hard, some people find it really easy and can just read through the test and know it, i must admit i am not that type of person and ive had to look for and find different ways to help me learn a test. Now, i find it really easy but i know lots of people (and lots of my clients) really struggle so i thought i would share with you some ideas that you can try to help you learn your test.
The 3 Learning Styles
Everyone learns in different ways and so what works for one person might not work for you. So you've got to give all these methods a go and find the one that really sticks and makes learning your test easier. You might even come up with different versions or a totally different method completely in which case please do share it, tag us in a story on Instagram or a post on Facebook at let me know which method you prefer or a different method that really works for you.
So, ive divided the different methods into 3 categories, and these are the 3 categories that i was taught when i was a teacher. They are basically the 3 different ways that people learn and as we created lessons for our classes we would try to make sure that there were different elements of these different categories so, hopefully, all the students would learn the same thing but how they learnt it may be slightly different depending on which category they fitted in to.
What learning style are you?
The first one is visual. So these are the people that learn best from looking at pictures or diagrams or from watching demonstrations or displays.
The next one is auditory. These are the people that learn best from listening, whether thats to themselves or to others.
The last one is kinaesthetic. These people learn from physically, hands on doing things: touching, feeling, holding. doing.
So they are the 3 different ways people learn, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Obviously, real life isnt that easy and you may feel you are sometimes one and sometimes the other but i do think people are naturally more one than the other. So i will have clients that i teach that are definitely kinaesthetic, they need to feel what im talking about and once they've felt it, they understand And there are some that need to see it so if i demonstrate the correct aids or show them on a video what theyre aiming for for example they understand it straight away and then there are some that want to hear the theory and understand what they need to do but explaining the theory or the aids or the exercise in a few different ways.
If you're not sure which one you are there are a few really good quizzes you can take click here to find out what learning style you are
Knowing your learning style can be really helpful when youre having lessons too. Ive had loads of situations where i haven't quite understood what my coach has said when hes explained a new exercise or theory but because i know im a visual person i can say 'could you show me what i need to do' and vice versa, if you're kinaesthetic you can see 'can you put me in the position i should be in' or if you're auditory explanations of things really help.
But lets get back to how we can apply this to learning a test then. Were going to start with the visual people first and, like i said if you feel youre auditory but actually the visual method seems to work for you then do it dont feel like you have to do the auditory method because you think youre learning style is auditory.
Visual way to learn a test
So if you are a visual learner, you learn best by seeing things, so we like diagrams, images, demonstrations - basically anything we can see.
So, first things first is to buy the test sheets that have the diagrams on them, i know you can get the ones that have just the words but they wont help you. When you have the test sheets with the diagrams on you can then see where you need to be going. You can find a little whiteboard or a piece of paper and draw out the patterns. You can also do the (what i call) 'air draw method' where you imagine an arena in the air in front of you and then use your finger to draw out the test.
Another way is to watch other riders riding the test. If you type in the test into google you will probably find a good few riders have posted the video of their test so you can watch them ride through it too. This can be really helpful for getting you to imagine how the test should look in real life vs on paper.
Dont panic if you dont know the letters. I know so many visual learners that are top riders that have no idea what the letters are but because they know the patterns they dont go wrong.
I will talk about this in more detail later but visualisation can be incredibly helpful. Visualising the test is basically where you go through the test in your head. So you imagine you on your horse riding through the test - its an incredibly great and powerful tool that can really help you get the test in your head whilst also thinking about how you will ride the test too. But well get into that more later.
Auditory ways to learn a test
Auditory learners learn best from listening. It doesnt matter whether its their own voice or anothers but they need to hear it. These riders are probably the ones that find it hardest, at least in my experience, to not have a caller, during their test but actually practicing running through the test with a caller at home can be really helpful.
So, the first thing to do is to read the test instructions aloud. You can then record your voice talking through the test and listen to it regularly. You can then practice reciting the test and seeing how far through you can get. Each time you falter, find out what the next bit was and then start from the beginning again. Its a lot of repetition with this way of learning but it really works.
A great new techy gadget to try to get is a wrist speaker, i know Tony from Equidance found the Equiblast to be the best one so definitely get in contact with him if this is something you think that would help you. You can then buy the tests and then the wrist speaker will call the test for you as you rider. So, its basically an automatic caller whenever you want. It can be really helpful to listen to randomly throughout your day and especially when youre riding to run through the test with a caller you can hear.
Kinaesthetic ways to learn a test
Kinaesthetic riders learn from touching, feeling and doing. Obviously the easiest way to do this is by riding through it on your horse, it will help you feel and work out exactly what you need to do to ride the test to the best of your ability as well as help you learn where youre going at the same time. You can still do the same off the horse, you can use a rectangular rug in your house or just find any rectangular space and physically walk yourself through the test.
The method that works for all - Visualisation
There's one method that works for all learning styles and that's visualisation. Its an incredibly powerful technique that Olympic athletes use a lot. Its where you visualise or imagine in your head going through the test, but in detail; what the arena looks like, where are you going, what are you doing, how are you preparing for the next movement, what is your body doing, what is your horse doing and so on. It works so well because visual riders imagine seeing everything they will see in the competition, auditory can add in imagining they are hearing someone call their test as they go through it, and kinaesthetic are imagining feeling and doing exactly what they would do on competition day.
It does take a bit of practice but it is probably the only way i now use to learn my test. It can be really helpful to know where you' re competing as you can then imagine riding the test in that exact arena which can be really helpful too. And you can apply this into everything from imagining your horse being perfectly behaved, you doing everything you need to do to prepare and set your horse up, you successfully completing the test mistake free - and all of this is so powerful because your brain isnt very good at differentiating between what actually happens and what you visualise so it essentially ends up being a test riding session for your brain so your brain practices exactly what youre going to do on the day. And ive always found when ive visualised not only going through the test but how im going to ride it and set my horse up and how my horse is going to go, those tests always go so much better.
So, to finish then i wanted to share a few tips for learning your test
Top Tips for learning your test
Learn it as far in advance as possible. Less stress for you, gives you more time to learn it and stops your horse anticipating the test.
Repeat regularly. Whatever learning style works best for you little and often always works. Every time you wake up or go to bed just go through the test, just once, it only takes a few minutes max. The more you do it the quicker you'll get.
If you find you really struggle to learn tests, ride the same test at competitions. Pick the championship test (nearly always on at BD show) and just ride that one until you feel confident you know it and ride it without a caller.
Always learn your test. Youre practicing the method of learning the test as much as you are learning the test. The more you do it the better you'll get.