“If your early you’re on time, if you’re on time you’re late, if you’re late you’re left behind.”
Despite the less-than-cooperative weather we’ve encountered this winter the competition season is upon us. Time to start navigating through the tests and working out the geometry of the arena. Just the mention of test riding has a paralyzing effect on many riders. It may be more productive and less fear inducing to think of it as a demonstration of your training rather than a “test”.
A ride in front of a judge, (as well as at home for that matter) should always demonstrate the rider’s understanding that maintaining and/or improving the horse’s natural gaits are the top priority. A quality transition ridden a stride late is more acceptable than an abrupt, unbalanced transition ridden precisely at the marker. While riding the diagrams accurately is always important, the test is designed to demonstrate that the rider has an understanding of the correct fundamentals of the level being shown. Of course, an accurately ridden figure is ideal, but never sacrifice the balance!
Preparation for each movement is the responsibility of the rider. This is what the corners of the arena are made for! There are two opportunities (corners) before each movement to make sure that the horse is forward, engaged and on the rider’s aids. The set-up for the next exercise should be done in the corner before it is performed. If the rider fails to utilize the corners to adequately prepare the horse, resulting in a movement that is marred by a loss of rhythm or balance, the price will be paid in the rider’s collective marks.
Several times before the show, have someone videotape your test ride. It is not uncommon to feel that the horse is clipping along in a forward fashion, only to see the ride on a video later and realize it was actually painfully sluggish. The opposite is also true, I have ridden many tests that I thought were nice and steady only to see them on video and realize I was rushing the horse off his feet. Ride the rhythm of the gait and work the exercises around it.
In the end, nobody, including the judge, is expecting perfection from your horse. The show is designed to demonstrate that your training is progressing correctly to continue through the levels. Ride your horse proudly and be forgiving if he is less than perfect. Even if there are errors in your ride, a tactful rider that is grateful for the ride is a winner in any good horseman’s eyes every time.