Tag Archives: dressage test riding

The Collective Marks – Submission

I do feel a little like I may have neglected you a little recently, what with putting the finishing touches to my book and illustrations and campaigning for Haynet Equestrian Blogger of the Year 2014 (which I won thanks to you guys – Wahay!) time got a little pushed for sharing hints and tips with you.  Thank You, script letteringThanks for your patience, to make amends I’ve got some great stuff in store for you.

Let’s kick off with a reminder about the Collective Marks series of blogs I bought to you in 2014 …

… and pick up again with a brand new blog about The Collective Marks – Submission.

You will know by now that my view is that very few trainers give real weight to their pupils understanding and focus on the collective marks.  Forgotten about and often viewed as something that just happens because it is just ‘in there’.   Quite simply, if you do not have a full understanding of what the judge is looking for when awarding The Collective Marks, you do not have a full understanding of the aims of your test.

Continue reading The Collective Marks – Submission

Novice Test – The 20 Metre Circle

HeartThe Crystal System is all about finding clarity in your approach and keeping things simple.  By simple I don’t necessarily mean ‘less’ but actually finding the heart of the matter.   Reducing what you need to do to its very essence ensuring nothing more could be taken away without it becoming ineffective, likewise, anything that you add is unnecessary and would only really create clutter and confusion.

All that we aspire to do will go through an evolution; a cycle of development until the process finds its ‘essential state’.  Learning something new usually creates some seemingly chaotic input, making it hard to separate the relevant and essential elements from the irrelevant.  As you learn more you start to set the pieces of the puzzle together for yourself, eventually arriving at the mastery stage.

HeartI thought you might like me to look at some of the most straightforward subjects in Dressage training and try to find the heart of them – beginning with riding a 20 metre circle.

Let us ask … “What is at the heart of this?”

Continue reading Novice Test – The 20 Metre Circle

NOVICE TEST – Teardrop Turn or Demi-volte to Long Side

Teardrop Turn – demi-volte to long side

The history of dressage is vast and fascinating, full of intriguing words and quotes from the ‘masters’ that you may or may not be able to make sense of.  The Volte was traditionally ridden over 12 strides in circumference (using the inside hind leg as the counter).  However, this was later decreased to 6-8 strides in circumference (6 meters) and is therefore, only used when a horse has developed the ability to collect. Of all the circles, the volte requires the most balance, engagement and power.teardrop turn

However, changing direction through a 10m half-volte is something you need to master for the preliminary test and is a quite significant movement, which should not be overlooked or thought of in any way as simple; there’s more to the tear-drop turn than meets the eye.

Continue reading NOVICE TEST – Teardrop Turn or Demi-volte to Long Side

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


Fighting Competition Demons – Guest Post for Dressage Hafl

It’s always nice to make contact with fellow bloggers, so when Tanja from www.dressagehafl.com got in touch and asked for assistance with competition demons it was pretty timely as I had already planned to write a piece on the subject, having been asked by another rider for advice.

So, to see another great post in my series of Real Life Rider issues click through to …

Dressage Half

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


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


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Canter balance issues? …then COUNTER CANTER

You are struggling with balance issues in canter, your coach says – “ok, let’s try some counter canter then” Eh?  Why would I try something perceived more difficult when I haven’t got the basic pace right?

Well, in order to improve your horse athletically you must always ask him to perform at a higher level, without going past his limits physically, mentally or emotionally and if you develop the counter canter, through a series of exercises it is the very, very best was to improve the canter; not only balance, but straightness and your horse’s attention to the aids.

So, what exactly is counter canter?

When you deliberately ask for the opposite lead from the direction in which you are going.  Counter-canter is a pace not a movement.  Your approach to it will have a huge effect on your horse.

Where to start …

  • Counter CanterFirstly, please be mindful not to allow your horse to string out, keep him up and with you.  You should avoid stressing him (or you) and keep the canter fluid and flowing.
  • Let’s start with a simple change of bend on the long side whilst keeping your horse on the same canter lead.
  • Moving on, you can make that change of bend into a shallow loop on the long side as shown in the diagram.
  • Figure of 8Next, pick up the correct lead, canter around arena and then on the long side ride a loop to the quarter line and back to the track, keeping the same lead.  Your horse will be in counter canter when he rejoins the track.  Make the join up with the long side gradual and slowly make it sharper.
  • Once you are happy that you can execute the previous exercise, canter a large figure of eight, maintaining the same lead throughout.
  • Finally, you will be able to pick up the figure of eight and on the second half of the movement continue in counter canter on a 20m circle.

Counter Canter Aids

It’s all about confidence.  Treat it as you would your usual canter and your horse will do the same. Most issues occur on corners, turns and changes of rein, so try not to freeze or take your leg off – never good, whatever exercise you are doing.

  • Ensuring the canter is forward is the key.
  • Keep your horse straight (nose an inch to the inside is more than enough).
  • Ask for transitions on the long side as you need your horse to be able to pick up any lead.
  • Once you are in canter do nothing but steer with your seat
  • If it goes wrong, don’t panic, stay calm.
  • Cut off the corners to make it smoother and easier to get round.

The counter-canter in itself is a straightening and suppling exercise, hence its ability to improve the true canter.  Relax and ride forward, the worst thing that can happen is that your horse will break to trot or change legs – hey, ho!  If you don’t relax he’ll do that anyway. Have fun,

Patricia –  The Dressage Tipster




1To develop suppleness, engagement, balance and obedience; to help your horse achieve self-carriage try riding him ‘on and back’ by asking him for a few lengthened strides before asking him to come back to his working pace and repeating it several times in a session (transitions).

To set up the lengthened strides …



Halt at XCollecting easy points with a good square halt at x or rather ensuring that you don’t lose easy points is a priority.  Your entry and halt at x is your chance to make a good impression; to get the judge sitting up and taking note that someone who can ride has just entered the arena.

At the lower levels it is ok to ride a progressive transition from trot to halt, the judge would prefer a few steps of walk than your horse screeching to a stop.

Here’s what to do … think of the halt as just that – a halt; a suspension of the movement; a temporary stop; your horse should be on the aids and waiting for his next instruction!

If you have finished the test, you will give the rein and the horse will know it is the end.  If you are starting a test, you will give the instruction to continue but the horse should be primed and ready for that next instruction.  He has not stopped, he has halted … temporarily.

It follows then that the halt should be ‘stepped into’ rather than allowing him to trail out behind and amble to a stop.  You need to teach your horse to halt from your seat and into a steady contact.

Halt at XJust as an aside … I have seen some pretty extravagant salutes.  For the salute, all you do is drop your arm, try gently touching the saddle cloth to make sure your fingers are not flapping (or gesturing!) and that your arm isn’t too wide.  No need to raise your arm to your head and for goodness sake do not salute with your whip in your saluting hand!  The judge will be very offended.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster




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