Category Archives: Test Riding

Remember that Dressage Test

Do you have a Dressage Test coming up? Want to ditch your caller (or commander) but just don’t have the confidence to know you will remember that test when the pressure is on?  For some bizarre reason I can do this well!  Remembering a test is the least of my problems on competition day.  If you have difficulties with this it can increase the competition day stress factor considerably.

There’s a learning theory called ‘Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning’ which reveals how we retain information when delivered in various styles.  It shows you, at a glance, how we retain information from the activities we are involved in.

This information is not only going to help you retain information for your dressage test, but help you to develop a strategy for remembering – full stop.

According to the Cone of Learning Model after 2 weeks we will remember:

  • 10% of what we READ
  • 20% of what we HEAR
  • 30% of what we SEE
  • 50% of what we SEE AND HEAR
  • 70% of what we SAY
  • 90% of what we SAY & DO

Dressage TestGenerally, we learn actively or passively.

Continue reading Remember that Dressage Test

Take a Deep Breath

Without question the most underestimated, undervalued, unappreciated, under-rated tool in the rider’s toolbox is breathing.  I should know I am guilty of not tapping into the power that correct breathing gives you.  I have been told to learn to breathe properly and virtually ignored the advice.  Really can’t tell you why, it seems that I know best and I consider being advised to breathe as no advice at all.

I’ve written some posts on how to breathe when riding, paying lip service to it really.  I’d be interested to know how many of you have thought “Wow, that’s a real corker, I’ll go an give that a go”- I’ll wager not many of you.  However, now that I understand clearly the benefits of ‘good’ breathing I have to say that I am more than a little miffed with myself that I didn’t take it more seriously much earlier in my training and have been looking around for someone to blame for not instilling in me just how significant it is.  On this basis I am not going to be the one who does not tell you!

Breathing has proven to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to foster relaxation, build confidence, and direct focus.  Breathing oxygenates every cell of your body, from your brain to your vital organs.  Without sufficient oxygen your body becomes more susceptible to health problems. In a study published in The Lancet, cardiac patients who took 12 to 14 shallow breaths per minute (six breaths per minute is considered optimal) were more likely to have low levels of blood oxygen, which “may impair skeletal, muscle and metabolic function, and lead to muscle atrophy and exercise intolerance.”

BreathSo you see, every time I struggled to keep going, through lack of oxygen to my muscles and my lungs and quickly became exhausted, every time my vast efforts sent me purple in the face, every time my muscles ached through sheer exertion, could have been avoided with a) a few basic exercises to improve the way I breathe and b) an awareness of how my breathing affects my ability to work with my horse.  Deep diaphragmatic breathing raises levels of blood oxygen thus improving physical fitness and mental performance.

If you are anything like me, you want me someone to give you that magical positional tweak that will revolutionise your riding and God knows I’ve given you enough of those in my blog posts over the past year or so, but as my training progresses and things click into place, we are looking at refining everything, relaxing everything, making it more subtle, stripping it back to its heart and as a result I have had to learn to control my breathing whilst in the saddle.  It seems that every breath I share with my horse is an authentic cue either to relax or not.

Breathing correctly means your chest will expand; your ribcage will lift; your vertebrae will re-align; your muscles will soften; your jaw will relax; your elbows will unlock and your legs will hang long and soft.

Breathing correctly means that the oxygen gets to your brain and you are able to think more clearly; communication is calm and responsive.

Breathing it seems is a bit of a lame suggestion in the face of all that you need to do to ride well, such an insignificant idea barely warrants a try doesn’t it? But in my opinion that does not make it any less of a phenomenon but more of one.  It is simple and as such should be embraced because ‘simplicity is the key to brilliance’.

“Relax!”, “Stop holding your breath!” Whilst these phrases are intended to be helpful, what affect do they really have?  When you hit difficulty the first thing to go is the quality of your breathing, perhaps you hold your breath or begin breathing in short, shallow breaths, irregularly, very different from your breathing when you are calm, confident, and in control when your breaths are smooth, deep and rhythmic.  Deep breath

Take a Deep Breath!

The bizarre truth is that learning to control your breathing is not some 10 week course in which you need to seek professional help, pay exorbitant fees and work hard to achieve.  All you need to do is take a deep breath.  Basically, the emphasis is on breathing from the diaphragm (or belly) instead of the chest, as this produces feelings of being calm and relaxed.

  1. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose – feel your chest expand top to bottom. Feel your belly push outward as if you were inflating a balloon.
  2. Hold for a moment before exhaling – concentrate on feeling calm and patient.
  3. Exhale gently through your mouth at a steady rate – be sure to exhale for a beat longer than you inhaled. Feel your belly flatten. Feel the muscles in your arms and shoulders relax while your body melts gently towards the ground. Let your muscles enjoy this moment of relaxation.

Drop your shoulders and let go. Breathe deep, expand your rib cage to give your heart room and exhale the calm. Inhale. Think of what you want to achieve in a positive light.  Exhale. Inhale. We will do a fabulously flowing shoulder-in today.  Exhale.  The deep breath is actually an act of self-confidence in itself.

Taking a deep breath can be used effectively in a lesson, before going into the arena at a show, during any breaks in your schooling or even during a hack It helps you maintain your composure, control your anxiety, keep your focus, and aids your body in getting the oxygen it needs to operate to its full capacity.

What could be more natural than an act that we do some 20,000 times each day?  So, do you know if you breathe correctly?  It is a fact that the majority of us take our breathing for granted.   Given that often the very act of taking a deep breath brings your focus to something that you have complete control over (your breathing) by utilising ‘taking a deep breath’ you have taken proactive steps and decided not to simply wait for things to happen.  Your breathing technique can create relaxation and rhythm.  Isn’t this the essence of all things Dressage?

Aaaaand, breeeeeeeeath!

DressagePatricia – The Dressage Tipster

Have you invested in The Crystal System Book yet?  Click on image to buy …

Struggling with Travers / Haunches In

Haunches In HandsI am constantly amazed at how the very, very small things make such a huge, huge difference.  Here’s one of those such things.

If you are struggling to get a soft flowing travers (Haunches In), turn your inside hand over slightly (like turning a key).  It must be very subtle so as not to draw the horse to the inside or bend the horse’s neck … but OMG! What a difference it makes.

Other essential elements are forwardness and ensuring that you are not crooked with your upper body, but try the hand thing.  It’s a gem!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

Other Eureka moments include :

Eureka – Open your Hips

All Together Now – Eureka moment

Why I want to feel the Force of my horses hind legs in my Ass


You are not a Nervous Rider – You are Excited

In another of our series of Real Life Rider issues, Lisa is fighting competition demons.  Anyone who has experienced competition nerves will know just how devastating they can be.  Someone swapped your horse for one that is so much more sensitive, hot and strangely problematic.  For your horse it’s a case of ‘who is this person riding me and what have you done with my mum?’ (or dad or usual rider!)

nervous rider

But please have faith.  With time, patience and a grand plan, you will be able to control your nerves and ride at your very best.  But you need to work on it, like everything else that needs training, so you must look at this problem as a training issue – for you.

The thing that is at odds with this situation is that nervousness is the body’s way signalling potential dangers and protecting us from doing anything rash.  All very well if we are in a dangerous situation, but at a Dressage comp – really?  When you put it into context you can begin use the anxiety you are experiencing in a positive way.  Let’s have a look at what is happening to you.

Get Real!

Your body is releasing adrenaline.  The rate at which it releases affects your body’s reaction to it.  Symptoms can range from anxiety, doubt and negative thoughts, through to nausea, sweating, dry mouth, migraines, an increase in breathing and heart rate, even diarrhoea.  If this all sounds depressingly familiar, the good news is that nerves can actually aid our riding.  By speeding up our reactions and making us ride with more purpose. But, the bad news is, for some they make the whole competition process one humungous emotional trial.  For those of you in the latter group, you need to learn to work with your emotional responses.  But firstly you will need to understand them.

  • Perhaps you have had a previously bad experience.  Pin point for yourself exactly why you are feeling these ‘nerves’ and ask yourself what would be the worst possible outcome?
  • Are you concerned for your personal safety?
  • Is it that you fear you will not be able to deliver a competent performance in front of others?
  • Or is it something else?

Perhaps a reality check is in order.  Try this:nervous rider

  • How many times did something negative happen at a competition venue and you didn’t die?
  • How many times did you get asked to leave a venue because your riding was so bad?
  • How many times when you thought you rode badly did you NOT get asked to leave a venue?
  • How many times did you witness a crowd of people standing pointing and laughing at your lack of ability?
  • How many times did your friends walk away, refusing to acknowledge that they know you as a result of your riding?

See where I am coming from?  If you are nervous because you think everyone is watching, remember people are more concerned with how they are doing than with watching you. Even the spectators are more concerned with who they are there to watch than with how your test is doing.  The next thing to do is to establish precisely what is happening to you.

  • Are you creating pictures of everything that might go wrong?
  • Are you playing out a running commentary of negativity in your head?
  • Are you creating a drama that doesn’t exist?
  • Are you making excuses for failing before you have even tried?

Your body will not differentiate between what is real and what is imagined.  Therefore, what you are thinking and feeling is reflecting throughout your body.  Think about replacing the word nervous with ‘excitement’.  You will be amazed at how your brain will adapt and generate a totally different state.

The very best way to help your brain relax and not feel the need to press the alarm bell is to try to keep your body soft and relaxed; you will find it hard to generate anxiety from a relaxed body.  How? – Breathing.  Learn to ride with slow breathing based low, behind your belly button.  If you get really good, you can synchronise your slow breathing to the horse’s strides in any pace, this will help you maintain your breathing and a good rhythm.  Really practice this as part of your training at home so that it becomes second nature to you at the competition.  Holding your breath unconsciously will cause tension and you could even become light headed.  When you concentrate on your breathing your jaw will relax.  If not, open your mouth very slightly and keep your jaw ‘floppy’, by doing so you are telling your brain that you are relaxed and it will react accordingly.  Also try smiling through your test. Smiling can help you to feel more positive and it looks good to the judges.

Use your peripheral vision.  Something else you can only do when relaxed and therefore you can trick the body into thinking that you are relaxed is by putting yourself into a soft, blurry gaze where your eyes remain firmly fixed on one spot out in front of you whilst taking in everything around you by way of vague shapes, colours and movement.  Learning to ride like this makes it difficult for your brain to generate a negative state because it is not natural. It will also improve your balance and sense of feel and again you should master this at home before the competition.

Why not have a caller for your test if it’s allowed, certainly until you get over the problem.  A word of caution; don’t use this as a substitute for learning the test in advance.  Not knowing your test will exacerbate the nervous condition.  Having a confident and calm friend there with you will help boost your confidence and keep you focussed. Stay away from nervous people. Both are contagious!

nervous riderFocus on your test, each movement individually and how you are riding.  Do not rush.  There’s no hurry to finish.  If your self-talk is all “this is horrible, I can’t do this, my horse is going to run out of the arena, I can’t sit the trot, I don’t belong here, I am useless, I can’t ride” simply banish it.  It is emotional baggage and needs offloading.

Why would you put your energies into this and not learn to stay rooted in the moment, concentrating on what is actually happening underneath you – right now?

Being more positive will decrease the adrenaline secreted in your body and will help with breathing.  It is important to explore what the most helpful thoughts are for you individually before you ever get to the show.  “I can do this.  I’m so proud we got here.  How beautiful is my horse? We are developing a really good partnership.  We have come a long way together.”

Try to remember a time when you were on your horse and felt the best you have ever felt. Attach a word to that memory and bring yourself back to that feeling through the repetition of the associated word(s).  This will re-affirm that you have done it well before and you can do it well again.  This is a tool that many top level athletes use.  So I use the words “Clint Eastwood” whenever I feel tense.  nervous riderFor me it is a memory of one canter in a warm up at a local competition, when I just felt like it all came together.  Even now as I write, I am smiling and I feel a very warm, proud feeling – it really was good though!  … and I am feeling this because I said ‘Clint Eastwood’ and remembered the feeling of that canter.  Clint would have made a good Dressage rider – so relaxed and at one with a horse.

More homework …

  • Take a few minutes three times per day to mentally rehearse yourself riding confidently.
  • Be extra prepared before the test, know all the movements of your tests by heart
  • Be sure that all your equipment, tack and horse are ready before the show so you have less to worry about.
  • Be on time and know the way to the show venue (in case you have to leave in a hurry! Hahaha)
  • Do some physical exercise that morning or the night before to reduce anxiety.
  • Have a hot bath or shower before you leave for the show to help relax you.
  • Don’t eat too heavily before you go. It will sit in your stomach like a rock and make you feel worse. Have something light and nutritious and bring some healthy snacks with you.
  • Stay hydrated.  Plenty of water to keep the anxiety monster at bay.
  • Repeatedly watch your favourite rider in person or on video.  Recently neuroscientists have discovered ‘mirror’ neurons in the brain that activate when you watch someone do something that you are actively learning about.  Very interesting stuff.  The idea that I can ride like Charlotte Dujardin just by watching her is pretty exciting, don’t you think?
  • Take on board Charlotte’s philosophy – “I always look at it as the same old centreline, just another arena,” Or as she more directly and more famously said, “‘same old shit, different arena.”

If all this fails …

Rescue RemedyYou can get a little help from nature.  Before the show, visit with your doctor, pharmacist or health food store for something to help calm your nerves the day of the show. Rescue remedy is a flower essence that is a great help to many riders to keep them calm.

Remember, confidence is like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets.  It’s serious fun!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

If you enjoyed this post you will love The Crystal System Book

Buy Here Crystal System Book



VariationWhat is variation ?

It is “a change or slight difference in condition, amount, or level, typically within certain limits.”

Everyone knows that there are 3 recognised gaits in dressage – walk, trot and canter.  But we also have variations within these gaits – medium, free, collected and extended walk; working, medium, collected and extended trot and canter.

It is the phrase ‘within certain limits‘ that you must hold in your mind when training variations within the gaits.  You need a holistic approach to teaching your horse variations because, whilst the lengthening and shortening of your horses steps is important, this element (the length of the steps) is only important in relation to the overall outline or frame; elevation of the steps; raising of the forehand and neck and lowering of the croup.

All these elements are thoroughly interconnected and should be considered as the ‘certain limits‘ you must set yourself.  So, you would not set out to simply lengthen the stride when beginning in with the working to medium trot, you would set out to lengthen the frame, encourage more power from behind, raise the forehand and so on.  This is an important point for you to get into your head, because too many people send the front legs flicking out without engagement of the hind quarters and the way you approach the training will set you up for success.

Developing your horses ability to vary the gaits relies on your ability to do your transitions well and this in turn relies on your ability to recognise the absolute purity of the footfall within each gait, consistent tempo and regularity of the rhythm at all times – especailly throughout the transition.

Trot on

Products showing the ‘Trot On’ image can be purchased at …Zazzle/Kelli Swan

Here’s what to do …

Continue reading V – IS FOR VARIATION



Dressage is a thinking sport, riding is about strategy.  Following on from my P is for Preparation post – what do you consider to be the most important aid on a horse?

No, not your legs!

It’s your brain and how quickly you are able to process the huge amount of information you need to ride and perform Dressage and indeed work your body at the same time!  You have to be quick and sharp.  In a dressage test there are a succession of movements, one after the other, all requiring different thought processes, aids, body movements in which the aim is to do as little as possible.

Here’s what to do … be a mind-ful rider, be alert and focused, constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the merits of what you do.  A non-thinking rider is mindless! Proof is found when you stubbornly stick to one solution, even if it does not appear to be working!

You need to take steps to increase your awareness; think about why the exercises and skills you need are important; learn why you need to do what it is you are doing; take responsibility for yourself; keep track of your goals; try to be open to different and creative problem solving; be in charge of your own riding destiny.

1 brainIt takes time to develop confidence in your own decision making and problem solving ability,  just as it takes time to exercise the muscles of the body so it takes time to exercise the brain … don’t be too harsh on yourself if you don’t think you have developed these skills yet, it will come.  You will get quicker!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster





In the arena you should be the only part of the team that knows what is happening or where you are going and nothing breaks the confidence or concentration of a horse more effectively than not bothering to prepare him for a movement.

Your horse is taken by surprise and goes into self-preservation mode when he sees the wall looming up in front of him!

1We use the half-halt to bring the horse to attention; to prepare him for things to come; to make him aware that something is about to happen.  It is absolutely vital that you prepare your horse in sufficient time to be able to allow him to carry out the movement AND whilst you are still in that movement, prepare for the next.

Not easy, but for me the revelation came when calling a test many years ago.  If you were calling a test for friend and on the point at which they reached A you shouted out “A Enter at Working Trot”, they would not be able to turn into the arena on time and they probably wouldn’t be your friend for long!

Here’s what to do … equate in your mind the way you would call a test to the time you and your horse need to prepare for each movement.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster






Anyone wishing foray into the world of musical freestyle or musical Kur (from the German kur – meaning freestyle) will have a whole new host of rules to remember.

Here’s a quick guide to the Kur

  • The technical requirements of each level mirror the level of the training and balance expected in the compulsory tests at that level
  • The technical requirements affect more than half of the score, revealing the need to be able to execute with competence and ease in the movements of the level.
  • Technical and Artistic sides of the score sheet actually count for 50% each but the technical components of rhythm, energy, elasticity and harmony between horse and rider are scored on the artistic side (making the technical element more than half of the score).
  • Your music should be chosen to enhance the horse’s way of going and match the tempo of his gaits.  It is important that the music suggest the movement
  • Transitions should correspond to the transitions in the music
  • Music for all three gaits needs to be of the same genre; a cohesive flow of musical style throughout the test will give you better marks.
  • The floor plan must incorporate all the technical requirements for the level.


You will want to show off what the horse can do well and freestyle is your opportunity to do this.  Good freestyles are fun to ride and watch!

Here’s what 93.97% looks like at Grand Prix …

Charlotte & Valegro 

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

Want to know more about how you can get those all important marks? …

Collective Marks – Scoring

Collective Marks – Paces and Regularity – Walk

Collective Marks – Paces and Regularity – Trot






JEver wondered if the judge is blind?

We have all experienced the test where you think you have done really well but the scores don’t reflect the feeling, or the test that you think didn’t go so well and you win the class!  Sometimes we feel like we’d have better results if the horse climbed on the vehicle and judged!

1I however, have a very pragmatic view of what I should feel about the judge’s comments and scoring and what I should do about them.

For me the judge is the ultimate training aid.  Even if I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the comments, I will try to find what is the ‘essence’ of the judge’s comments and why, on this occasion, they feel so inclined to make those comments.

I have heard protestations from pupils who feel that the comments were unfair, given the level at which they work.  For example at preliminary level … “could be a little rounder”.  My view is that this is a perfectly reasonable comment.  Your horse could indeed be a little rounder, yes?  This is not to say that the judge has marked you down because your horse is not round enough, and you sure as hell would have better marks than the competitor who has cranked the horse’s nose to its chest in an effort to give the illusion of roundness!

Here’s what to do … try not to be defensive.  Take the judge’s comments, think about what they are telling you and work on improving for next time.

A test is just an opportunity for you to show someone how your training is going and for them to let you know what they think of it.  No biggy!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

Related Posts:



Coveting the Red Rosette


The dressage test movements come up on you so fast, don’t they?

Each section of the test is generally made up of a number of movements.

It is absolutely vital that you prepare your horse in sufficient time to be able to allow him to carry out the movement and whilst you are still in one movement prepare for the next.

Dressage TestTRY THIS …

Sit down with a piece of paper and plan your test in your head, working through what it is you need to be doing at each marker, coming up to the marker etc.,

So for  … Enter at A, C turn right, B – 20m Circle right