Success in the dressage arena isn’t about having the flashiest moving horse or being able to psych out the competition by schooling upper-level movements in the warm-up. What makes a winner is consistency, correctness, and accuracy – and these are all things you can nail even if you don’t think you and your horse fit the stamp of a ‘classic’ combination. Anyone can increase harmony, improve the way of going, and learn geometry.
The shapes of your schooling figures won’t necessarily win you a class, but they can certainly lose it if you’re sloppy and inaccurate. Perfecting the basic geometry is a huge part of putting together a test – after all, a dressage test is just a series of shapes that flow into one another. It’s easy enough to lose a couple of marks per movement for egg-shaped circles, wiggly centre lines, and transitions just shy of the marker, and those marks can be seriously expensive.
Set up for circles
Most tests you’ll ride will feature 20m circles in at least one gait, but it always surprises me how few people can accurately ride this basic shape. It’s important to be able to ride a perfectly round circle of three different sizes – 20m, 15m, and 10m – reasonably instinctively. This exercise, which uses poles as guidelines, will help you commit correct circles to muscle memory.
How to ride it: Ride a 20m circle in trot and canter, travelling between the poles and the fence. Your aim is to hit the track at three points and at one point in the middle of the arena, spending two or three strides travelling to each of these points. The ends of your poles act as turning guides – you need to cut in close to them.
To pick up more marks in your next dressage test by improving your accuracy, follow Sophie Wells’ useful exercises in November Horse&Rider, on sale 19 September.