Half-pass, tempi changes, piaffe, passage, extended and collected gaits… skimming through the movements required in a Grand Prix test is pretty intimidating and alienating to most riders, and the seamless performances you see at the major competitions probably seem a million miles away from real life. But it doesn’t have to be this way – in fact, there’s a lot you can borrow from the top levels to use with your own horse and you can improve your own riding by watching, too.
Watch and learn
To get the most out of watching upper level tests, you should identify the similarities between the level you’re riding at and the level you’re watching. There are some things common to every test, no matter what level, so don’t get hung up on the canter half-passes and tempi changes. Some of these common elements include…
- transitions Study how top-level combinations tackle transitions, both within the gaits and from one to another. There should be a noticeable gathering of power – much like what you need to feel when you’re working on your medium paces at Novice and Elementary, or when working on active transitions between the gaits at Prelim.
- straightness Watch how professional riders change their horses’ bend through movements such as flying changes – this will help to solidify the idea of having a moment of straightness in the middle of a movement, which will help you to perfect the serpentine that first appears at Prelim level.
- halts A square halt is a must at every level. Struggling to master the feeling of riding forward into the halt? Watch a top-level rider do it and you’ll see how they ask their horse to almost march in place. You’ll never ride a dressage test without at least one halt, so pay attention to this movement!
Channelling the champions
Riding well is more about dedication, hard graft and physical fitness than it is about natural talent. To be successful at the top levels, riders need to be focused and precise. This means that they’re able to hold themselves accountable for every movement they and their horse make.
Exercises for all
The core principles of dressage are the same from Intro to Grand Prix, so you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that top-level riders work on some exercises you’ll find very familiar. You can modify what the professionals do to reap the rewards of these exercises no matter what level you and your horse are working at.
At Grand Prix, horse and rider are expected to perform half-pass zigzags in canter, with two three-stride half-passes and three six-stride half passes, punctuated by flying changes. That’s a lot of very advanced work, but don’t be put off. Instead, watch how these riders change their horse’s bend from one half-pass to the next and try to replicate that. You can use shallow canter loops down the long side of the school to practise moving your horse away from your leg without compromising his bend or ride leg-yield zigzags in trot to test your horse’s responsiveness.
To discover more of Carl’s tips for applying Grand Prix principles to your performance, pick up the August issue of Horse&Rider, available from 29 June 2017.