WENDY JAGO, one our busier judges locally, is based in West Sussex and a familiar face at C with her husband Leo beside her as writer. She is the author of a number of dressage books, including Schooling Problems Solved with NLP [Neuro-linguistic Programming] that was published in 2001.
Commenting generally on her approach to dressage judging, Wendy told Out and about Dressage: “I always judge from a ‘visual map’ of the test rather than a verbal description of the sequence of movements. That enables me to see the patterns. If as a rider you don’t do that already, I think it is a useful exercise to get the patterns rooted in your mind by drawing them out on a piece of paper. That way you will be able to relate what should be happening to how you ride and prepare your horse for the movements ahead.
“On the top of my map of Elementary 57 I have noted: ‘Engagement’ and ‘Carriage’. Though both involve the hind-legs, the movements test these in slightly different ways. Engagement requires physical and mental commitment expressed through drive from behind, while carriage requires that the horse is sufficiently ‘seated’ for that drive to have an upward rather than just a forward feel. This test also requires that the horse has enough balance and self-carriage to be able to concertina his stride and frame from relative collection to a more open, uphill ground-covering movement and then back again. Although dressage tests are intended as a proof of your training, riding the sequence of movements is a training exercise in itself and something you can take advantage of at home.
Also worth noting is that there are three halts in this test, so if you’re not very good at halting you will lose a lot of marks. At Elementary you would hope to see square halts but I feel more disappointed by a halt that fails to show forward intent, with the rider’s body and legs asking for contained forward commitment. The halt should also be sustained until the rider asks the horse to move on.
This is the first test of your halt and first chance to impress your judge. You enter in working trot, ride your good halt at X before moving off in working trot. Ride the left turn at C with your horse engaged and bent round your inside leg. A little pressure from your inside leg on the girth in time with the steps will ensure that the inside hind remains active and takes weight through the corner.
At S you circle left 10m diameter. Have you practised this? Do you know what 10m looks and feels like? Do you know how far it extends either side of the S marker? The judge wants to see a circle, not an egg, and not to see you trundling along the track back to S. You should be riding a continuous curve.
There is only one movement at the end of this test where the rider is asked to ride collected trot, but riding this small circle it would help to have your horse more energised, shorter framed with the ribs displaced to the outside. In other words, just a bit collected!
Riding a correct, engaged 10m circle will set you up for the 90deg turn at E to ride straight across the centre line to do your second halt at X. You will need to support your horse’s quarters through such an acute turn with your outside leg, ensuring that he remains upright and that they don’t swing out. Having then established your halt — and it should be square if you want to do the next bit well — you are asked to reinback 3-4 steps.
Rein backs should feel forward. The horse should not be ducking away, or bulging out of it, or shuffling, or running or going crooked, but stepping purposefully straight back in diagonal pairs, under itself while retaining the forward-feeling contact.
The leg and seat should give the signal, and the hand should not bring the horse back, only tell the horse that he is not to move forward. The feeling you get from a good rein back is that your horse is more on its back legs and lighter in front.
At B another engaged, neat turn — this time to the right — will set you up for the next 10m diameter circle. This is an example of the cumulative need in riding dressage tests for preparation. Each movement prepared and ridden well helps you prepare and ride the next.
At P circle right 10m, and then use that good connection and bend to ride into and through the F-A corner
You turn onto the centre line at A and ride straight before commencing a leg yield right between D and L. This enables you to ensure that you have the horse balanced and forward into both reins, before you start going sideways. In the lateral movement your outside leg and your outside rein are used to support your horse’s upright balance while your inside leg asks the horse to move its body (not its quarters) away. Your inside hand should ask for only a slight inside flexion or the horse will over-bend its neck and fall onto its outside shoulder.
The leg yield demonstrates that the horse will move away from the leg applied at the girth and that in so doing it learns to differentially activate its hind legs. By that I mean that the outside leg stretches out to gain more ground sideways — opening up a space — while the inside leg steps forward, across and under to take advantage of it.
You aim to finish the movement by straightening the horse when you reach the track just before B. You ride another nice corner M-C to balance for riding another turn onto the centre line.
A repeat of movement 5, except that you ride two corners, F-A and A-K to prepare your horse and have your horse energised …
…to come off the wall at V and show medium steps from V to R. This is not just ‘some’ medium steps, they should be as far as possible marker to marker. You want them uphill and more ground-covering but in the same tempo as the working trot before.
A decent transition from working to medium at V and clear re-collecting from the medium for the transition to working at R will impress the judge.
The transition itself is marked within 8. You then ride another of your good corners M to C to prepare your horse and have him seated enough so that
at C the transition into medium walk will be smooth, purposeful and forward. You should be using your seat rather than your hand. Then ask yourself, ‘is there a free walk in my medium walk?’ Does he have enough energy and flexibility for stretching over and through at S?
Change rein across the diagonal SXP in free walk on a long rein. The judge will want to see the neck stretching down below the wither, the nose in front of the vertical and the back moving in a relaxed way. Even though it’s a free walk you still want it to be purposeful and have enough energy
when you return to medium at P, and so that when you ask yourself, ‘do I have a canter in my medium?’ the answer will be a good transition directly from walk into a seated collected canter right.
Movements 9, 10 and 11 involve the in-and-out concertina-ing of the horse’s frame that I talked about at the beginning, and that continues…
Ride collected canter AKV and then at V circle right 20m diameter and show some medium strides and return to collected. It is best to do your medium strides as you go across the arena where the judge can see them and use the approaching wall to help your horse collect himself naturally.
I would be inclined to consider doing the medium strides in the first half of the circle to give yourself time to mend the balance, if needed, for Movement 13. You will have to weigh up what suits your horse best.
The majority of riders seem to establish collected in the first half of the circle before opening it up in the second half — but don’t leave it too late because after rejoining the track at V you only have 12m of collected before more concertina-ing…
At E where you turn right straight onto the E-B line and through walk (2-3 steps) over X change the bend and lead to canter left and then at B turn left and ride collected canter to R
At R a repeat of movement 12 on the other rein finishing by going round the M-C corner and ending at C.
At C you start the first loop of a three-loop serpentine with simple changes of leg. This has a whole 30 marks allocated to it, so it’s important to get it right. The first simple change is marked in Movement 15, the second simple change is Movement 16 and Movement 17 marks the quality of the canter and the shape of the loops.
Riding the serpentine as three half-circles encourages the horse to collect, which crossing on a diagonal line does not. The BD Members’ Hand Book 2017 (p.152) specifies, ‘The serpentine with several loops touching the long sides of the arena consists of half-circles connected by a straight line. When the horse crosses the centreline it should be parallel to the short side.’ The simple change walk is ‘one horse’s length’ and should be ‘clearly shown’ to be walk.
In your last half-circle on the serpentine you have to ensure you’re balanced enough to ride a down transition, not to walk but to trot
At A transition to collected trot and at F turn on to a diagonal line to X, still in collected trot, and still in collected trot continue down the centreline towards G.
Many combinations seem to treat this movement as an opportunity to show a final flourish medium trot. It’s not, it’s collected trot. If you are able to collect enough for the judge to realise that this is different from the working trot you showed at the beginning, you may well gain some extra marks.
And the last of your beautiful halts (made all the easier by the collection you have just shown!). A whole 10 marks are available for it!
© Out and About Dressage, 29 September 2017