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Why You Should Be Doing More Test Riding


Now we've all been there, where you have a caller so you haven't learn your test, you haven't run through your test before the competition and, quite frankly you are winging it. You muddle your way through the test, grateful to have made it through, hopefully without any major disasters and are happy with a 'clear round'. As you rode the test you were more focussed on where you were going than how your horse was going, how accurately you were riding or what was actually going on and when someone asks you how the test went you're not really too sure. Now this is a situation i think we are all familiar with, ,whether you did this as a child or you do it now; i will admit i do this more often than I'd care to admit. And i think we can all agree that it isn't the most efficient, most productive, or the best way to compete.


So, what is the best way to turn this situation to a competition where you are riding down that centre line confident and knowledgeable of exactly what you need to do to ride every movement beautifully and exactly what you need to do for your horse to go perfectly and coming away from the test with the judge thinking that you looked confident and competent and it was lovely and easy to watch. The answer in case you haven't realised from the title is test riding!





Before we get stuck into this i want to talk about what test riding actually is and the different between test riding and the training or schooling we usually do at home.


So, if you imagine you are getting on your horse with the intention of training and improving your circles; it may be that you want more bend and suppleness or you're focussing on keeping the same rhythm and tempo in your circles or focussing on the straightness with no quarters sticking in or out. How you do this will totally depend on your horse and you, there may be some exercises you intend to try or a different approach to riding your circle and you will try these things out and aim to see an improvement by the end of your session.


Test Riding though is very different, when we ride a test we don't want the test to get better and better and improve as we go through, we need it to be good from the very beginning. And so when we test ride, our focus is on being able to ride a good circle followed by a good transition followed by a good change of rein and so on.


And, we all know,, if you take a look at how many times you go into your school; you will be spending far more time training than test riding. And thats totally fine because our training improves our horses and our riding and that is great. But, we have to be aware that by doing this we get really comfortable training our horses, and making tweaks and doing lots of different exercises and patterns and going again when things go wrong. What we doing get as much practice at is setting our horses up, being able to perform a good quality movement at the right time at the right marker straight from the get go, and dealing with mistakes in the movement rather than stopping and starting again.


How many times this week do you think you rode a circle and didn't even think about whether it was the right size or the right shape?


How many times did you ride around the arena, not thinking about whether you went into all your corners, had your horse straight on the long side or had them bend around your inside leg in those corners.


And this is why test riding is so important because it teaches us all those skills of riding accurately,


Knowing what the judges are looking for and how to set your horse up


Now the first stumbling block a lot of riders come to is that they don't know what a good circle or a good centre line or a good transition should be like, they don't know what the judge is looking for. And if that's you we have loads of podcast episodes on these different movements; but if you want to go really in depth we have workshops over on the Training Platform which is our membership group and these workshops focus on each individual movement you have to ride in the test; exactly what the judge is looking for and what you need to show to get a really good mark as well as obviously how to ride them. So if you want to join us and learn about this then obviously im going to suggest that you come and join our membership group and there's all the info if you head to the 'training platform' part of the website on how to do that. But once you know this you know what you are trying to achieve and what you are aiming for, so it gives you that clarity for your test riding sessions.


So that's the first thing you have to do, be clear on exactly what you should be doing for each movement. And then you just need to practice until you can do it. I know that is potentially a rather over simplistic way of explaining it but it is true. Test Riding is just about knowing what to do and practicing how to set up the movement and how to make it accurate, at the marker, at the right time.


And, don't get me wrong there are some things that work for every horse; preparing them for the movement and making sure they are listening to you and supple and ready should be something that every rider is doing before every movement. But other types of preparation are far more individual and this is what your test riding sessions can be about, working out what you need to do to prepare your horse and set them up to ride a really good circle or a really good centre line. One horse might need a half halt, another might need a little more leg or for you to make them a little more supple. And all this, to be fair, can be our first reason why we need to be doing more test riding: because it makes us gain more clarity on what the judges are looking for and how we need to ride the movements but it also helps us to practice riding a good quality, accurate movement from the very beginning and learning exactly what we need to do to get that so that, when we go down the centre line at a competition we are able to not only know what we should be doing, but know exactly what we need to do to get it straight away.


Dealing with issues in the test


The next benefit of test riding is about dealing with problems in our test. When we train, if we do something wrong, or we make a mistake or we just get our head in a muddle, we can go around and do it again. In a test we cant do that, we cant stop or take a circle or come round and try again. So, like weve already said, we need to be able to set our horse up and prepare them so they are able to do that movement to a really good quality and accurately first time round. But we also need to learn how to deal with problems or issues in the movement and after the movement. Lets say you are doing counter canter and your horse breaks into trot; in training you would just circle back round, pick up canter and go again; but we cant do that in a test so what are you going to do? What is going to be the best possible way to deal with this so we don't lose more marks? Should we carry on in trot and miss out the transition to trot at the marker, do you pick back up the right canter as quickly as possible so you can still do your transition ? And what happens if your horse then picks up the wrong lead? All these questions will be questions that run through your head in a test when this issue happens. But if you come across this issue test riding at home, you have to deal with the issue straight away, you have more movements coming up so you have to get your horse back together as quickly as possible so it doesn't then influence the next movement and the next movement and the rest of the test. And again, this comes with practice. By test riding at home, you not only get this practice of getting your horse back together and practice at carrying on, but you also then become aware of the potential mistakes or issues you may have when you go and do this test at an actual competition. So you are going to be far more prepared and ready to deal with these issues or, even better, stop them from happening in the first place. And the beauty of doing it at home is that you can ask your trainer; if you have a problem like with the counter canter and youre not sure the best way to approach that problem, you can have that conversation so you know the best way to deal with it if it happens in a test. So you can learn and grow your knowledge at the same time as being more prepared and ready to deal with any issues you have. From a mindset side as well, i have seen so many riders who as soon as they have a mistake shut down, forget their test, and just crumble; if this is you then please start test riding at home because its going to give you a less high pressured environment to practice dealing with these issues away from a competitive atmosphere.


You can practice riding the test differently


The last thing i want to talk about is the fact that you can practice riding the test in a slightly different way and test it to see if its actually going to work and make the test better before you actually do it at a show.


So often, i will go and warm up one of my riders at a show and ask them their goal or what they are going to focus on in the test and they'll say 'im going to go for more power today' or 'im going to ride a really accurate test' and its not that these arent great goals for a test, its more that this wont be related to what we focussed on in our training sessions or in our test riding sessions so, whilst the goals may be good goals for the test, they wont have practiced riding their horses like this before and equally wont know actually how they are going to ride the test; how are you going to ride more accurately; how are you going to ride with more power; and is it actually going to work ? These are the questions you answer when you test ride, or, in the case of these riders, after they have finished their test. And, in case anyone was wondering, no it didnt work!


And so, if you want to ride your test with more power, or more activity or more suppleness or more accurately; thats great but think about how you are going to do it and test it out; does it work when you ride your horse like that; does it actually make them more active or more supple or make you ride more accurately; is there a different way of riding that might get you better results or does riding like this actually make it look rushed, or inconsistent or resistant ?


These are all the questions that your test riding session can help you to work out.


So, ultimately, your test riding sessions are there for you to learn, practice, make mistakes and find out what works best for you and your horse so you know exactly what you need to do, when you go down that centreline at your competition, exactly what you need to do to show you and your horse off to the best of your ability.


So this is your call now to go out and do a bit of test riding this week. It doesnt have to be a whole session running through a test, it could be that you spend 5 minutes at the end of your session riding a really good, straight centre line and working out what you need to do to get it; or focussing on making your transitions more accurate so they're happening exactly at the marker, when you want them to. Or you could even practice the warm up you would do on your horse at a competition and time it, if you normally allow 30 mins to warm up set a timer and warm your horse up and when that timer goes off you can think 'would i have been happy to go down the centre line now?' if you are then great if not, what do you need to do differently in your warm up? All these things, practicing your warm up, practicing riding accurate movements when you want, and riding through whole tests and working out what you need to do to make each movement the best they can be and, equally, what to do when it goes wrong; these are all things that you practice and you learn when test riding. So ultimately, you end up going down that centre line confident in what you need to do and ready for any issues that may crop up.

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