WENDY JAGO, one our busier judges locally, is based in West Sussex and she, with her husband Leo beside her as writer, are familiar faces in judging boxes in venues across the South. She is the author of a number of dressage books, including Schooling Problems Solved with NLP [Neuro-linguistic Programming] and Solo Schooling. In her professional career she lectured at Sussex and Brighton Universities and, using her NLP skills, has also coached senior managers in business and in the public sector.
Wendy chose two tests to analyse for Out and About Dressage that include serpentines. She explained: “What stands out in Novice 24 and the other test I shall be analysing, Elementary 57, is that you must focus on having your horse stepping under because the tests involve a lot of bends, many changes of direction and also of length and power within the gaits. Therefore the horse must be asked able and be to take weight back and support itself on to its hind legs. A lot of the movements won’t work without this. The whole thing will flow so much better as a sequence if it can. This is not about jack-knifing your horse to ride the patterns, it is about being able to use your inside leg to push the ribcage out and get bend while at the same time activating the inside hind.”
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 that will be ridden in front of me. I think it is a useful exercise for riders to get the patterns rooted in their minds by drawing them out on a piece of paper. That way they will be able to relate what should be happening to how they ride and prepare their horse for the movements ahead.
“The other thing I write in the corner of my personal map of the test, is what I think the test is asking a rider to show. For short arena Novice 24, I have noted ‘Adjustability!’; ‘Bend and Straightness’; ‘Stride — power and length of’; ‘Frame length’; and ‘Balance and Contact’.
Reading through the detail of the test, you may feel daunted. But be reassured – all the different bits can and should be practised at other times in your schooling and hacking: they are important elements in developing your horse to be an agile, attentive and pleasant everyday riding partner in every context, not just the arena!
You enter in working trot and you do not halt at X in this test but carry on down the centreline, so my attention will be focused on the straightness and accuracy of that centreline and wondering what kind of turn I shall see when you track right at C. Are you just going to trundle round it, or will I see you preparing with a half-halt just before C to help horse step under itself and create a bend? I probably won’t give more than a 6, however good the centreline is, unless you do a decent turn. The right turn is followed by the C-M right corner…
Still with your horse around your right inside leg, bend right off the track at M to begin a 10m loop to arrive on the centreline just before X then leave the centreline after X and return back to the track at F. In fact this movement involves two changes of bend. On your way to the centreline you will change your bend from right to the left. As you get close to the track again you change left bend back to right. Ideally, the path the horse follows will describe smooth gentle curves with a few steps of straightness on the centreline.
Ride the F-A corner bearing in mind that a 20m half-circle right begins at A and as you are finishing that half circle, just before X, there is a transition to walk (for one horse’s length) before going back into working trot. You will therefore need to have your horse stepping under and carrying itself, so that you can ask it with your seat to make the walk transition. You also need to have in mind where the line of your smooth half circle should touch the track, which is halfway between A and X on the outside track, or 4m up from K.
You will note that the instructions for movements 3 and 4 require half-circles. People quite commonly cross X on a diagonal line. This is incorrect and if ridden incorrectly the rider loses the opportunity the bends offer to get the horse engaging the hind inside legs.
The more you have your horse on your seat, the easier the down transition to walk will be — and the crisper and lighter the transition back up to trot. As you ride straight and parallel to the short ends of the arena over X you should also be preparing your horse for the change of bend…
This is a half circle left 20m diameter finishing at C. Half-circles do not involve riding deep into corners but allow you to show that you are in control of angles and degrees of bend, so make a clear contrast with a deeper corner from C-H to finish the movement.
This is a repeat of movement 2. However, as you come round from A to F to finish it you need to be getting your horse balanced and carrying himself because…
This asks between F and H for some medium steps — not the whole way, but the better marks will go to riders who show a clear difference between working and medium trot strides. If your horse is reasonably well seated coming round to F you stand more chance of the horse lifting and lengthening, rather than quickening and falling onto its forehand. The tempo shouldn’t change.
The good marks will go to riders who show crisp transitions in and out. Don’t leave the lengthened strides too late or you will risk falling into a heap at H where you are asked to return to working.
And only ask for as many medium strides as the horse can manage and stay balanced so that you can ride a proper corner H-C and prepare with a little bracing of your body and seat for the next movement
This is a transition to medium walk at C. You don’t want it to appear abrupt, so try not to use too much hand because you want the walk steps to be smoothly through and purposefully marching forward as you go round the corner to M. Then head off to change the rein with a smooth turn from M towards X on the M-K line. The test requires you to show two different walks…
And just before X you make a transition from medium to a free walk on a long (not a loose) rein. You want the horse to seek and follow and retain a contact on as much rein as you give him.
I often find myself often saying for the comment here, ‘the horse needs to stretch down not just out’. Its neck should be below the wither, ideally with the nose slightly in front of the vertical.
The free walk continues from K to A but in the corner you need to think about picking him up again with your legs, rather than with your hands. Your seat and your legs need to be saying to him, ‘you need to put yourself together again’. If you gently increase your leg pressure your horse will automatically lift his head so that …
At A you can return to a purposeful, active medium walk by taking up the rein. You also need to tell the horse he’s going to have to produce a bit more energy quite soon for an up transition.
When I was riding a trainer once asked me, ‘is there a trot in that walk?’ and she also asked, ‘is there a canter in that trot?’ Meaning, is there enough energy and attentiveness to make a nice transition up? That’s something to think about and learn to assess when you’re schooling.
This movement involves two transitions: at F you go into working trot which you ride from quarter marker to quarter marker, with the judge looking at the trot transition, the energy of the trot, and to see you prepare and ride the transition to working canter at M. You canter round to E.
At E circle left 20m diameter and show some medium strides in the second half of the circle. This instruction asks, ‘have you enough energy for medium canter’, so in the first half ensure that the horse’s inside hind leg is stepping under and able to give you the extra lift and length of stride when you ask for it.
Try to show the judge a distinct transition from the more ‘collected’ working canter to a longer stride medium and not just a faster working.
You don’t want the judge puzzling over whether there was any difference at all. As I said at the start, this test is about getting the hind legs working! As you finish the second half of the circle the approaching wall should help you collect back to working canter. You then ride the working canter round the corner to A.
This calls for a left half-20m diameter circle from A — so you definitely do not go into the A-F corner. Instead you establish a smooth half-circle line that touches the track half-way between the corner and B, and then aims to have you parallel to the short sides over X.
If I see a difference in line from that ridden through the corner to that ridden on the A-X half circle, I will be quite impressed! It often isn’t as apparent as it should be.
Before you start turning across at B have your horse seated enough to feel that you will be able to make a neat downwards transition, so that just before X you can trot for one horse’s length and…
Just after X, pick up working canter right and ride a 20m half-circle to C. Don’t be lured into riding a diagonal line across X: it may be an easier line but it doesn’t prepare your horse for the transition up to canter right. Ride into the C-M corner and on to B in canter right.
At B, circle right 20m diameter. On this circle you are demonstrating your horse’s balance by giving and retaking the reins in the second half. If he’s managed his balance up to this point this shouldn’t be a problem. It’s really just the proof of the pudding: is the horse relatively speaking in self-carriage?
A correct give and retake should demonstrate that the horse is carrying himself and in order to do that the rein has to be slack. And if both reins have to be given, then both have to be slack. So give both reins forward for a couple of strides, but don’t raise your hands and hold the contact upward!
Riders who do this are not releasing the contact and it will get marked down. As you ride the F-A corner — remember the corners are your friends, they help you prepare — keep your horse round your inside leg and active…
You will then find it much easier to make the transition to trot at A, and balanced ready to do some medium trot strides KXM. (As in Movement 6.)
The horse has to stretch on a 20m circle from C as another proof of the soundness of your connection. Your horse should stretch down as well as forward. This movement can show a lovely lifting of the back and swing. You want the horse to say, ‘thank you: how much over and down do you want me to stretch?’ You must be able to give the contact and maintain it and then pick the horse up, preferably using your leg and your back before retaking the reins just before C and ride in working trot down to E
At E you have to ride a 10m half circle left onto the centre line, so you will need to have your horse balanced. If you’ve picked the horse up nicely, then coming to the halt at G is not going to be a problem.
One of the common mistakes with the halt is that riders are so relieved to get there that they stop riding and take their legs off and lose the horse’s attention and usually his quarters too!
You need to demonstrate that you’re riding forward to a halt and to a contact, and so hold the horse there for a few seconds. For me, it is almost more important that the horse should be planted and standing than it is that it should be square.
© Out and About Dressage, 16 September 2017