HomeExpert AdviceArticleCharlie Hutton’s test riding tactics

Charlie Hutton shares his advice on riding the Petplan Equine Area Festival Preliminary, Novice and Elementary tests

Petplan Equine area festivals

As the season progresses and more of us are competing and planning what to do next, we’re looking at the tests ridden at the Petplan Equine Summer Area Festivals. These tips and videos are sure to help your test riding, whether you’re hoping to qualify for the Area Festivals Summer Championship in October, preparing for your first ever Prelim or planning to move up a level.

Petplan Equine’s resident Area Festival expert and international dressage rider Charlie Hutton demonstrates the tests and receives some comments from a top dressage judge on each one.

Secrets to success

The number one tip for pre-show preparation? Practice, practice, practice.  The better you know your test, the better you’ll ride it – the knowledge will enable you to focus on riding as well as you can and show off your horse in the best way possible. Charlie suggests writing the test down with comments to remind yourself how you need to ride each movement. This’ll help get the whole test into your mind. Then, take the time to visualise riding it in real time.

Another idea is to familiarise yourself with the venue before you go – could you have a lesson there?  Alternatively, put some spooky things in the field or arena at home and play some music – you can even download clapping or crowd noises! Competing, especially at an Area Festival, can be a bit daunting. But remember it’s supposed to be fun and an opportunity to show off the great communication and relationship you have with your horse.


Prelim 19

In this video, Charlie shows the key elements required, which are outlined on the test sheet. At this level of training the judges are looking for quality, regularity, and tempo in the movements. Charlie tells us to picture the test in our mind and be aware of the rhythm you want to ride in each pace.


Novice 23

As you progress to Novice level, the judges look for straightness, balance and freedom within each pace. This is your opportunity to show you’ve put the work into training your horse, building on the requirements at the lower level. Here you can show some longer steps within a longer frame and a little more ground cover.

Charlie’s tip is to work for a steady rhythm and outline throughout the test. Thinking about your timing can really help in the medium trot, which sometimes loses cadence as the length of stride increases.


Elementary 53

The Elementary test moves up several gears. The judges are now looking for engagement and quality, as well as accuracy for each movement and transition. The better the connection between hand and leg, the more you can show the increased balance, as well as smoother transitions, both of which help with collection and engagement.

Charlie’s top tip for the Elementary test is to take time to prepare for every movement – they come up quite quickly at Elementary level, making it even more important to know your test and be able to plan and think ahead.



Aspire to affiliate – Kezia and Luca’s story

Kezia and her horse Luca took part in Petplan Equine’s Aspire to Affiliate campaign a few years ago. With the support from Petplan Equine, Charlie Hutton and sports psychologist Charlie Unwin, Kezia and two other riders took part in their first affiliated competition with British Dressage and since then have gone on to qualify and compete in the Petplan Equine Area Festivals and stepped up to Elementary level. Kezia shares her advice:

“You only have to worry about you, your horse and your goals when competing. I think I realised that nobody’s looking at you at all. Everyone is focussing on themselves and their own horse and I found that when I spoke to people they were very encouraging. If you encourage someone when they need it, it might be that someone is on-hand to give you that same encouragement just when you need it most. Remember, your horse is your hobby and first and foremost it should be fun. If the two of you go out and achieve your goals and have fun doing it, that’s what it is all about.”

About the Petplan Equine Area Festivals

The Petplan Equine Area Festivals, which are hosted by British Dressage (BD), have been a major part of the dressage competition calendar for over 20 years and are a perfect gateway into affiliated competition. The event’s grown exponentially and is now the most participated in BD series of all time. For many partnerships, the Area Festivals are the pinnacle of their competition season and the format provides a great framework for grassroots riders to move up the levels.

Qualification for the Winter Area Festivals in 2022 starts on 30 June and runs through to 31 December 2021. Click here to find out more and to take part in the Petplan Equine Area Festivals.

For more information about Petplan Equine Horse Insurance, visit petplanequine.co.uk

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