Dressage is the art of training a horse by standardized methods that result in a well-trained, confident and harmonious partnership. A dressage test has a set pattern with specific movements that increase in difficulty. For a test to be deemed correct, the judge must see a certain level of performance.
The judge’s marking system for a dressage test is based on the training scale with higher marks for more correct movements. The test also takes into account the overall impression of harmony between the horse and rider, which is measured by the ‘collective mark’.
For example, if you ride all of the compulsory movements correctly and don’t miss any of the ‘prohibited movements’, you will be awarded an average score of 10 or above. If you omit a compulsory movement from your test, you will lose two marks for that omission, so it is important to read the test sheet carefully before riding.
Dressage tests with diagrams are invaluable for riders preparing to compete as they show you what the judges are looking for from both you and your horse. They also help you understand how the movements fit into the bigger picture of your training. There is a wealth of information on the test sheet that many riders overlook, including the directives for each movement, the maximum mark available for that movement and even where the coefficients (x2) are applied.
A good dressage test book will have the complete tests on the same pages or facing each other rather than requiring you to flip the page to see the next part of the test, which can be tricky while you are on your horse. These books from Whinny Widgets (training through second levels) and from FEI have all of the necessary information in one easy-to-use, handy book.
Dressage riders are expected to be dressed in formal attire, which includes matching breeches and tops, tall boots or long riding shoes and a hat that matches the color of the coat. The bridle should be black leather, although brown is becoming more popular. The tail is usually braided or combed and the horse’s hooves should be polished and shiny. During a dressage competition, whips are not allowed and bangles are not permitted in the mane or tail, because they can distract the judges.
To prepare for a dressage competition, it’s a good idea to practice the test at home to get your horse used to being in an arena with applause and banners, and to ensure that you know what to expect on the day. You can also get an idea of what the judges are looking for by watching videos online of people riding their tests (but don’t watch the riding – just the pattern). Finally, it’s worth getting someone to video your ride so that you can study the video and identify what areas you need to work on. It is much easier to make small improvements when you can see the mistakes for yourself.