CURRENT international grand prix rider and List 1 judge Kirsty Mepham talks grand prix newcomers through the test to highlight how they can maximise their marks as they gain experience of performing at this top level. If grand prix is above your expectations as a rider, her explanation will increase your appreciation of the grand prix as a spectator and help you understand why judges are so focused on the scales of training being in place at lower levels.

There are 33 movements in the Grand Prix compared with 20 in the Novice 39. It has an expected duration of around 5.5 minutes while the GP is supposed to be around 15 seconds longer. The test appears to be about movements but it’s also very much about how the movements test the security of the horse athlete’s way of going.

The GP is full on from start to finish, there’s no time to relax and a lot of counting involved. It’s an intense test both for the judges as well as for riders. Even from Inter II to Grand Prix is a big step. There is a lot more to think about in the GP. The piaffe is required to be more on the spot and obviously more steps are asked for — and there are more one and two-tempi changes. The changes are also a challenge because you come at them from different reins from the previous level. In the inter II, the twos are from the right and the ones from the left but in the GP you have to do them the other way around and that can throw a young grand prix horse and sometimes they’re more comfortable doing them from one rein than from the other, so they have to learn to be equally competent and confident on both reins.

You have to know the test inside out and in your sleep, and you have to work out at home how you will present your horse to minimise his short-comings and make the most of opportunities to show off his party pieces. Eleven of the movements carry a x 2 coefficient because they are so difficult. If your horse shines doing any of these, give him the best chance to pick up those high marks. Try to have contingency plans for where things might go wrong, so that a following movement does not suffer.

There is only one GP test so with test familiarity can come the penalty of horse anticipating. It may necessary to work out strategies in your training to keep your horse listening to prevent him taking over. Remember, there are also the Intermediate A and B tests, as well as the inter II that you can ride to vary the horse’s competition experience.

Movement 1
You enter in collected canter, halt at X and salute, then and move off into trot to C. That’s easy, isn’t it! But remember first impressions are important and you’re setting the standard for your whole test. You want to show the judge that you mean business. The judge is looking for a very straight, very collected entry canter and to see the horse going directly into a very balanced square halt with good engagement — at X.

Even at GP it’s amazing how many riders still can’t find X! So simple marks are lost. Have a quick look to ensure you come to rest in halt with your body over the E-B line

The horse stands still for the salute then makes a direct transition up to trot.

Movement 2
Track left at C, making a good turn in the C-H corner in preparation for the HXF extended trot. It’s difficult because the extension comes up so early in the test. The horse has to be in front of you and ready to go and you don’t have much time to set that up. Ensure you use your corner to give you the collection to be able to push out from behind and extend onto a good straight line, with good ground cover, balanced, rhythmic steps and an open frame. The transitions come within the whole movement mark and they should be clear in and out from collected into extended and back: no fizzling in and fizzling out.

The movement finishes with collected trot going round the short side F to K. Anything can happen so you have to keep riding — no time to rest!

Movements 3 & 4
Movement 3 is K to B half-pass right, so use the preceding corner to establish a good bend before you set off half-passing, aiming to arrive at the track 1m before B. Repower and, just ‘bouncing’ off B, immediately change to bend left for the next half-pass in Movement 4, aiming to arrive on the opposite long side 1m before H so that you have the quarters on the track at H. (If you aim for the markers in the half-passes you will overshoot.) Ride straight and ride your corner round to C.

The horse should be up in its shoulder in the half-passes and maintain good balance and self-carriage — and you should show good equal bend and crossing in both directions. You have to ride each half-pass from the marker to the end. No trailing quarters, please; it’s important to keep a good level of energy in these steep angles.

As a rider, I often find myself asking for a little more energy in the second half-pass, so remember to power up and have the momentum you need as you change the bend

Movements 3 and 4 each have a coefficient of two, so the half-passes represent a possible 40 marks. The quality of the trot is the key factor in the half passes: the judge wants to see a nice expressive, active, uphill trot; a nice soft bend and self-carriage.

As you ride, think of the movements broken into phases and ride them all and finish your half-passes with the your horse straight at the marker

Movement 5
Coming so soon after the dynamic half-passes, the halt at C and following rein-back interrupt the flow and they test the horse’s balance and focus, so check and reinforce your horse’s concentration on you in the preceding corner with some little half-halts.

The rein-back begins by the horse coming directly into a nice balanced square halt and as soon as it is clearly established use the impulsion to keep the horse in front of the leg — and in self-carriage — and ask for five straight steps back. The horse should clearly pick its feet up and put them down in diagonal pairs. The judge doesn’t want to see the feet dragging or the horse coming behind the vertical. Then you immediately go forward again in collected trot round to M.

Movement 6
Then you have second extended trot M-V and you start with your horse’s backside still in gear from a correct rein back. There is no medium trot at this level so you don’t have to show a difference but the definition of extended in the handbook reads ‘… the horse covers as much ground as possible without hurrying. The steps are lengthened to the utmost as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters….the movement of the fore and hind legs should reach equally forward in the moment of extension…’

The frame should lengthen but this can be difficult to show with the more compact horses. My Olympic horse Dikkiloo had quite a short neck so I had to make a point of pushing the hands forward to try to get him to reach

You want a nice clear transition into extension at M but because there is a transition straight into passage at the end of the diagonal, riders tend not to go for this second extension quite so enthusiastically.

Movement 7
At V you make a clear transition from extended to passage, and have the horse slightly shoulder-fore to D to help re-engagement. You turn left at K and go across to D. The turn helps you, but you don’t have a lot of time for the passage. You want a very clean transition into the movement and time to establish your passage before the next movement begins at D.

Movement 8
The piaffe at D does not have the edge of the arena to help the stability but, on the other hand, the horse doesn’t have the track “blocking” them. If your horse swings a little in the movement, the judge is a long way away and will find it more difficult to to tell how straight it may be. They will be able to see the closing at the base, the sitting of the quarters and lifting of the back and whether there is a clear bounce from one diagonal to the other.

In piaffe, the knees of the front legs should bend so that the front feet come level with midway up the cannon bone of the supporting leg on the ground and the hind leg should be lifted off the ground just above the fetlock of the leg on the ground and the steps should be regular in quality. (There is a longer description of the technical requirements for correct piaffe on page 183 of the 2018 British Dressage handbook). You want to see a nice, bouncy, swinging through the back, cadenced, on-the-spot trot with even height steps front and back with a clear moment of suspension.

You are asked for 12 to 15 steps of piaffe.  The younger grand prix horses will take a little longer to establish on-the-spot piaffe steps — and you want to ensure that the forward inclination is not killed off.

The piaffe should appear so easy that it looks as if the horse could go on piaffing forever. I watched Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival doing a piaffe like that when I was writing for Stephen Clarke at Hickstead. That quality is difficult to achieve but as a rider you must remain positive, you have to keep the horse focused and confident.

When I ride the piaffe I try to count one, two, three, four x three times before heading out again. If your horse is mega in the piaffe you can go for the whole 15, but of course, you don’t want to end up being marked down because you’ve done too many. This movement deservedly carries double marks.

Movement 9
This movement is to give the judge the opportunity to judge the transition into passage, then into piaffe, then back into passage — so it will be marked after Movement 10 which is the second passage.

Movement 10
You move out of piaffe into passage from D and passage round the corner FP. You want a nice level cadenced passage with the steps the same height and length.

As a rider I don’t count passage steps themselves but ‘count’ to monitor the regularity of the rhythm. As a judge you are constantly counting, too, no opportunity to enjoy your mug of tea!

Movement 11
The judge is specifically asked to include the transition into the extended walk within this mark. After all that collection and contained power this requires that at P you go forward into a nice chilled out, relaxed extended. Dikki would relax and stretch and show a good lengthening of frame even though he did not have a huge ground-covering walk. If your horse does have a ground-covering walk, there is an opportunity to get some double high marks here.

Movement 12
You want a nice clean pick up for the collected walk HCM that will take you round the corner right in front of the judge. Having a horse that doesn’t have a big extended makes it easier to collect the walk. You see quite a lot of dodgy rhythms because the horse is anticipating a return to passage, so you focus on the purity of the rhythm, the self-carriage, activity and consistent contact. Again there is a x2 coefficient highlighting the importance of this movement and its difficulty.

Kirsty: “I did the Sydney 2000 Olympics on Dikkiloo when he was 15. I was 30 that year. He did his first year at GP at the time of the previous Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. It was a year too soon for him.
“Dikki was a driving horse and his forte was the piaffe-passage which now, with those movements having a co-efficient, would work in his favour. He also had very expressive changes. But getting up to that level we often had to retire because he would just bounce around with me. I had no control.
“He was a one off. Dane Rawlins, my trainer, had three Gelderlanders after Dikki but even though they learnt the tricks, they weren’t easy to train and didn’t quite have his temperament. I do feel for people when I see them out there on the breed now; I know how hard it is”

Movement 13
At M proceed directly in passage. The judge is asked to consider the fluency and promptness of the transition into passage. Walk-to-passage is a very difficult transition to show. Ride a balanced corner and avoid irregular steps on the turn and don’t have too much bend to avoid the horse anticipating canter when you want passage. Your aids have to be clear and precise.

Movement 14
Passage MRI. See passage comments for Movement 7 above.

Movement 15
See Movement 8 above

Movement 16
See Movement 9 above

Movement 17
See Movement 10 above

Movement 18
At E you go up into collected canter and canter all the way round EKAF. This appears to be one of the easier movements but the judge is looking for the precision and fluency of the transition. Remember the horse has to re-organise its legs for the strike off from passage and riders can find themselves getting quite a boost from all that contained energy. You see a lot of quarters swinging, so keep the horse focused calm and straight in the transition and down the long side.

As you come round the KAF short side you should be thinking about your first line of changes, so use the corners to get your horse balanced and listening.

Movement 19
On the FXH diagonal ride nine flying changes of leg every second stride. Ideally you aim for change 5 to be over X on the centre line, but where you start the tempis will depend on how ground-covering your changes are. Some horses will need the whole diagonal to fit them in. But remember, if you let the collected canter become bigger and bigger you are likely to have more mistakes and the test asks for changes from a collected canter. The changes should not affect the length of canter stride, they should be of equal length and clean, coming through from behind, uphill and expressive. You finish with collected canter round the short side to M and preparing your horse for….

Movement 20
MXK show extended canter. Both the strides and the frame should lengthen — so you want to see a lengthening of the neck — and the extended should be straight.

Movement 21
A flying change should be ridden on the last stride of the diagonal, so make a clear transition to collected, ride three strides of collected canter, ask for the change and land at K. You ride collected canter from K round the corner to A.

Movement 22
You turn on to the centreline from A for one of the biggest of the grand prix challenges (and x2 marks) — the five canter zigzag half-passes with flying changes at each change of direction. You start at D with three strides of half-pass to the left, then six right, six left, six right, then three left to bring you onto the centreline again at G where you ride a flying change to the right.

When you ride the zigzag, change your bend on the final stride of each half-pass and make the flying changes on the first half-pass stride in the new direction.

The zigzag shows the judge that your horse can half-pass equally well both ways. With the younger grand prix horses you would not go for big sideways strides and angle, but with a stronger, more powerful and experienced horse you can ask for more

The concentration required to ride the zigzag makes it quite easy to forget where you’re at, so religiously count to yourself, three, six, six, six, three!

From G you go down the centreline and track right at C maintaining collection and activity

Movement 23
MXK on the diagonal 15 flying changes of leg ever stride. You are aiming for nice clean even uphill changes. Judging from C, or as a spectator, you must remember to watch the back legs as well as the front and the whole-horse outline, not just become mesmerised by expressive front legs. With lines of flying changes you will see quite a lot swinging with the less secure performers. You also see quite a lot of short changes and horses who have almost finished them all by X, which gives a bad impression. If you have a short striding horse, start later and aim to have them equally distributed either side of X. You have to know your horse and plan accordingly.

When I started judging I found I had to learn the tests differently and it made me aware of where movements finished and where the marks came. Here the judge will not give the mark for the FCs until you finish the movement by cantering round the K-A corner. That canter is important and so, too, is the corner, because you will need to have the horse nicely collected for the next movement.

Movement 24
Down the centreline for a full pirouette left from the centreline at L. You have quite a bit of time to prepare between A and L so have a nice collected with bend to the left in the direction your horse will be turning and ensure you are riding him up into that inside shoulder. You are aiming for six to eight equal pirouette strides with the back legs making a circle of about a metre diameter.

Don’t ride a big steps in the first half of the pirouette then risk your horse sticking as you try to shorten them to get back onto the centre line. Ideally you’re looking for 1m diameter across the centreline. I find that consciously turning my head and body round in the direction of travel ensures you’re helping your horse rather than blocking the pirouette turn. You want nice jump in the canter strides and there should be a clear separation in the hind legs. The judge will also be looking at the quality of canter before and after. There is a co-efficient of x2.

Movement 25
The flying change at X. There are 10 marks for the quality of flying change of leg at X on the centreline, and the quality of canter before and after the change. It shouldn’t be difficult but the judge at C is well-placed to see the straightness of the change. It has got to be uphill and be positioned over X. Sometimes the horse can be thinking ‘tempis!’ and want to give you more than one change. The rider has to be clear with their aids and keep legs close so the horse doesn’t think that you’re asking for some more onesies.

Movement 26
As Movement 24 but to the right. Quite often a horse pirouettes one way better than the other; you have to take this into account in planning your riding tactics and test strategy. You continue down the centre line to C and track right.

Movement 27
The canter finishes with a transition to collected trot at M which continues round to R. This sounds quite easy, but the transition should be nice crisp, clear and balanced. It’s easy for the demands of the test to start to take their toll and for this to be either tired and laboured — or the horse has become hot and doesn’t want to come back. Use the corners on the short side to help you get the horse listening and waiting.

Movement 28
This is the test’s third extended trot: M to R, see notes on movement 2 above note the angle is steeper. The judge will still want to see that lovely energy coming from behind and good self-carriage, etc, and good transitions in and out. At K ride collected trot round to A

Movement 29
In your turn down the centreline at A you are preparing for a clear transition to passage at D. You passage to X (and opposite the side judge if there is one). The transitions are not easy and you also want the horse to be straight, not swinging the quarters off the centreline. The horse has no wall or board to support it and you will often see swinging and unlevel steps with less strong, younger horses.

Movement 30
At X transition to piaffe. Hopefully the horse will still have some petrol left in the tank (for x2 marks). The judge is looking for the energy into the piaffe transition and, on the spot piaffe of 12-15 strides. I count up to four three times and then head out again.

Movement 31
This is where the judge marks the transitions passage-piaffe-passage. The out transition is usually harder If the piaffe gets a bit ‘lazy’ as the horse needs its back end in gear to have energy to move forward.

Movement 32
X-G passage: again a challenge to sustain as a young GP horse is likely to be tired. In fact, it’s a testing moment for any horse.

Movement 33
You land from your passage hopefully directly into a clear halt transition at G.

Kirsty concludes: “Even at international shows you see quite a variety of levels of performance. Everybody is in the same boat and different horses will give you different grand prix challenges. You never stop learning.”

© Out and About Dressage Ltd, 19 November 2017

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