From Endurance to Dressage
On the Levels - Introductory Tests
Yesterday I told you about getting the DVD, but I didn't tell you what I'd seen, or how useful I felt it was. So far I've limited my viewing to what I actually need right now. I watch a lot of great rides on You Tube, RFD TV, and HRTV. I know what great horses look like. Piaffe? Sure. I can spot that. Passage? Yep, looks good to me. Tempi changes? Beautiful!
None of those are very helpful to me right now as they almost always look perfectly executed. I still need help with the basics. Don't get me wrong. We're getting there. But I want to have the basics down, and I mean solidly down. Better to be really good at one thing than to stink at everything!
So I watched the Introductory and Training Level Tests, repeatedly. I even took notes. Here's what I saw ...
I compared the A and B rides from the DVD to my own A and B rides and feel pretty confident in how we're doing. When I got to Test C, I gave an immediate Uh-huh! Yep, that's our problem, too. The rider from Test C illustrated perfectly where Speedy G and I are struggling. I wrote down the trainer's comments in the hope that JL can help me apply them to my own riding. Here are the trainer's comments:
The horse needs to stretch into the rider's hand.
I understand the words, but using my aids to actually get Speedy to stretch into my hand has been tough, especially since I am not exactly sure what that stretch feels like. At our last lesson, we worked on getting Speedy to reach forward through leg aids that ask for forward movement with a squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. His reward for striding forward was that I stopped squeezing. If he started "running" forward, I used my outside rein in a half halt to slow down his front end. When he sucked back "behind" the bit, I asked for forward again. Does this mean I am teaching him to stretch into my hand?
The horse needs to cover more ground.
Speedy can cover the ground pretty decently at the trot, but when he drops behind the bit, he stride shortens. Again, squeezing him forward would seem to encourage him to cover more ground. The free walk is something that we also struggle with. On the trail, Speedy can do an awesome free walk. His back swings, his tail swings and his head and neck swing. In the dressage court he gets pretty "ploddy." More squeezing needed?
The horse needs more forward energy and more reach.
I think that forward energy, achieved by squeezing, will create more reach which will in turn encourage the horse to stretch into a rider's non-restricting hand. JL's method for having me establish the contact (without restricting) is to allow a slightly loose rein as I squeeze Speedy forward. As he reaches forward from behind, I slowly pick up on the rein, lean back slightly, and tighten my shoulder blades. If he avoids the contact, I try not to pull back, which restricts his forward energy, but instead keep my hands where they are. I repeat the leg squeezes until he comes back up to the bit. When he does, I relax my shoulder blades and return to a more vertical position.
The horse needs to be more between the leg and rein aids.
Again, these are words that probably have more meaning than what I currently understand. To me, it means that the horse isn't leaning on the inside leg. He's also not falling out to the outside leg. He's staying right between the rider's leg. He's not over bent to the inside. He's not twisting his head to the outside. He's even between both reins with a steady amount of weight in both hands. At some point in my riding, the expression between the leg and rein aids will no doubt have a more complex meaning.
The horse needs to take hold of the contact.
This one is quite tricky for me. I don't know if this is a literal statement, or more of a metaphorical one. Do I really want Speedy to hold the bit? What I imagine this means is that he needs to remain steady in the contact. He shouldn't suck back, he shouldn't pop his nose out. Is there a different meaning? And this goes hand in hand with the trainer's next comment ...
There is an insecure connection ...
I think the trainer was describing a horse that isn't steady in the contact, but instead is coming behind the bit, or popping his nose out.
The horse needs to step more under.
I think this is just another way of saying that the horse needs a longer stride, especially from the hind legs. When he steps more under himself, he will certainly cover more ground, and later, he will have a better base of support when he begins to lift his front end. At Introductory Level, I am guessing the trainer just wants to see the horse moving with a longer, freer stride.
The trainer finished her explanation with two final critiques.
The rider needs to keep the connection more stable.
Even I could see that the rider was fussing with her hands quite a lot. JL feels that I have fairly quiet hands myself, although I have a tendency to drop a hand, or carry one too high. My hands have always been fairly quiet, but I did have to work pretty hard to keep them still at the trot. Learning to bend my elbows has nearly fixed that problem.
The horse doesn't fully understand holding the bit.
As the trainer said this, she gave an immediate explanation, acceptance of contact. This made her critique more clear. This horse still needs to work on accepting the contact without evasion. This is the very challenge that faces Speedy G and me.
The trainer used another phrase throughout the videos that I found to be spot on. As the riders and horse worked, she would say, the transition to trot is more confirmed. Or that the canter departure is not yet confirmed. Or that the free walk is less confirmed than the medium walk. The use of the word confirmed is very non-judgemental and conveys the sense of a work in progress.
I am delighted with the videos and will no doubt watch the tests many times. I already have. I am a "studier" by nature and love to do research. My approach to dressage has always included a heavy academic element. I've read many of the dressage classics and find that theoretical knowledge gives me a base to draw on when I am having a lesson. If you are a dressage rider working on a particular test level and want to include a theoretical approach to riding, this video will do it.
I'll write about the Training Level tests when we get to them. Hopefully it will be sooner than later!
On the Levels DVD
I just wrote about ordering this last week (here). My set came just in time for a weekend of viewing! I ordered the DVD from Premier Equestrian for $39.95 which included free shipping. To see more about the DVD, find it here.
"On the Levels is a three disk DVD showing the dressage tests from the perspective of the judge and the instructor with scoring, judge's comments and training tips."
Okay, I copied that from the front of the package, but it's kind of need to know info. What all that means is that every 2011 test, Introductory A through Fourth Level, Test 3 is ridden at a show, or at least staged to resemble an actual show.
An audio track of commentary and scores for each movement is added to the video by Judge Gary Rockwell, FEI "O" 5* and USEF "S" Judge. His final score is also included.
On a separate disk, the same video footage of each test is included with a different audio track. This one is done by Lilo Fore, FEI "I" 4* and USEF "S" Judge and trainer. She narrates the test from the perspective of a trainer. She also pauses the tests to offer lengthier explanations of what needs to be corrected.
Disk Three, the one I've been watching, has a menu feature that allows you to select the test level that you'd like to watch. There is then a second menu that allows you to select which actual test that you want to see. During the test, Lilo narrates the ride. At the end of the test she gives a summary of the ride praising the horse and rider for what went well and then offers advice for what needs to be improved.
Of course all of this is done kindly. Since this is the fifth version of the DVD, I am sure that future versions wouldn't happen if the judge and trainer were overly critical of the riders. And from what I can see, the riders aren't professionals and are clearly making some of the very same mistakes that I am.
Overall I am quite pleased with the quality of the DVD. The footage is of good quality, the narration is loud enough to hear, and text of the test movements is even displayed on the screen. My only complaint was that at the end of the Introductory C test, there seems to be a slight glitch in the DVD as I am not able to return to the main menu. It seems to work well for the other parts of the DVD that I have seen. So far it has been worth the 40 bucks.
More on the Introductory Test tomorrow ...
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: