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Riding a Better Test

Thoughts from a Judge

Louise Koch, judge for one of our GVDS sanctioned shows, shares her thoughts about what the riders she judged could collectively do better. Here is a synopsis of her comments. 

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Awareness of the training scale is key to riding a good test. At our recent show, Louise Koch’s comments on movements at the lower levels were to make sure on the stretchy circle that the horse’s nose is forward and out, not just down. The nose only needs to go as low as the bottom of the chest, but nose out is key to a good score on this movement. Make sure the nose is out consistently throughout the circle and the score will be a 7 or higher. She feels the third rung, connection, is the hardest for most riders to get. The horse should show bend through the body, and softness in the jaw. 


The same is true for the free walk. The nose must be out and the horse should be marching and show overstride. Overstride and stretch is a 7. Overstride, stretch and swing in the back is an 8. 


Other comments for the lower levels is to not override the corners. For green horses learning to balance, corners need to be softer to keep forward energy and tempo. The diagonals should be straight and the haunches should not be moving to the left or right. It will be a 7 if it is straight. 

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 Knowing the size of the circles within the dressage arena is key to getting good scores on these movements. A circle is a constant turn. There should be not square sides—that would be a squircle! 

Here are the guidelines for correct circles:

  • The 20 meter circle starting at E or B should have the first and last quarter arcs falling slightly INSIDE L and I. 

  • A 20 meter circle from A or C should have the first and last quarter arcs slightly OUTSIDE of I and L.

  • On a 15 meter circle at A or C the edge of the circle must be 5 meters off of the rail on both sides of the circle. Louise saw many 15 meter circles that touched the rail. 

  • A 15 meter circle from the long side will have the far side of the circle touching the far quarterline. 

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 A serpentine ridden correctly from A to C is three half circles with the horse straightened on a line 2 meters past the line between P and V, and 2 meters before the line between R and S 

  • Halt at X is with the rider’s body in line with X. 

  • Don’t let a mistake slop over into the next movement. Example: If your horse breaks into the trot  during a canter movement prior to a downward transitiion to trot. Reestablish the canter or you risk getting points deducted not just for the canter movement but also for the downward transition since it cannot be judged if there is no canter to trot transition at the appointed spot. 

  • Slow is not collection-The gait should show more elevation but the activity should remain the same. 

  • Corners for second level should be ridden like a 6 meter circle. 

  • 10 meter circles don’t start soon enough. If you wait to start at the letter your circle will already be too
    large. You should start the bend 2 strides prior to the letter to be able to get an accurate 10 meter circle. 

  • During counter-canter movements make sure to stay on the inside (side of the lead) hip and keep the
    horse bent toward the lead to avoid a change.

  • Correct walk strides should be as follows: Collected-no overstride, but still marching; Medium-heel of  hind in toeprint of front foot. Free walk should show clear overstride of hind heel beyond toeprint of

  • Walk to pirouette with no change in rhythm during the pirouette will score higher. 

  • Change of lead through the trot at X-there should be at least 3 strides of trot, but no more than 5. A  stride before X is where you should ask for the downward transition. 

  • Centerlines should be straight and balanced 

  • Canter to walk transitions-collect before asking for walk to avoid on the forehand transitions.

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Louise was a very knowledgeable and enjoyable judge - a big thanks to her for sharing her thoughts and comments!

Louise Koch on her stallion San Shivago 

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