Tag Archives: Dressage test

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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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 …



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


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


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Coveting the Red Rosette


GeometryGeometry is all about shapes and their properties.

You will, without doubt, be heavily penalised by the judges if you do not execute the shapes within your test accurately.  Accuracy of the shapes you make in the arena is essential if you are not going to drop marks that you could easily hold onto.  Accuracy is a basic requirement of dressage and never the fault of the horse!

So, how do you get those all important circles, turns, diagonals and loops into your work routine as second nature?  A simple yet effective method is to never do any shape in the arena that you would not find in a dressage test.

Condition yourself to be true, so for example ride a true circle be that 8m 10m 15m or 20m – (never 9m), even when you are relaxing your horse and taking a break, you should ensure that when you give the horse a loose rein and are meandering around the arena it is in a shape that you would see in the dressage test.

Change the rein across the diagonal or with a loop – it is all part of the conditioning of you and your horse to the shapes required in a test and teaching your horse to listen and be in-tune with you whatever you are doing – even when you are having a break.

If you are walking around the outside track, you are making a square and should use your corners, even though you are not actively in training mode, if you are relaxing you are still training, basically if you are in the arena – you are training!

Little bit of Dressage Trivia for you here. Where do the letters of the arena originate from?


Well, it is believed that the markings found on the walls of the Royal Manstall (Stables) of the Imperial German Court in Berlin suggest that the letters indicated where each courtier or rider’s horse was to stand and wait for their riders.

The markings found on the wall of the Hof (stable yard) at the Royal Manstall were:

A – Ausgang (Exit)
K – Kaiser (Emperor)
F – Furst (Prince)
P – Pferknecht (Ostler or Groom)
V – Vassal (Servant/Squire/Equerry)
E – Edeling/Ehrengast (Chieftan or Honoured Guest)
B – Bannertrager (Standard Bearer)
S – Schzkanzler (Chancellor of the Exchequer)
R – Ritter (Knight)
M – Meier (Steward)
H – Hofmarshall (Lord Chancellor)

Quick Tip for Geometric Circles … To aid your accuracy before your schooling session use a rake in the arena to draw a straight line from A to C and the again from B to E.  This will help you to work out if your circles and shapes are accurate.  It will also show you if your straight lines are straight!

Dressage, like geometry is also all about shapes and their properties.

Here’s what to do … concentrate on the shapes you make, whether you are working or relaxing, try to get into the habit of using the arena in a way that reinforces accuracy in your riding … at all times.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster




ForwardWhat else? My favourite F word!

I have this image of myself as a little old lady with cats.  I am wondering round my yard mumbling – ‘forward, forward, forward’ then I march up to the ménage fence and yell out – FOOOORWAAAARD! Then the nurses come and take me away whilst bystanders whisper to each other … “she used to be a dressage trainer, you know” HahahahForward

I am always banging on about getting your horse forward.  It really is the first port of call for many, many issues.  I have a Warmbloods, a Thoroughbred and a Lusitano and when I am asked which I prefer to ride and train my answer is this …

“ I really don’t mind what breed the horse is as long as he goes forward”

I have been known to say one thing in response to the pupil who has given me 10 minutes in depth analysis of what they consider to be their problems … FORWARD!

Without that urge to go forward from the leg; to be a forward thinker, the half-halt which is the cornerstone of balance, engagement and preparation for just about everything is just not effective.  Forward is nothing to do with speed, if you are used to a short striding, slow gait it might feel “too fast” at first but a forward thinking horse which is attentive, active and has energy that can be channelled is a much better prospect than one that needs constant reminders.

There is nothing wrong with being a ‘lazy rider’ if what you are referring to is that you want the horse to do most of the work!

Here’s what to do … Ensure your horse is forward,  Simples!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster




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


10 MUST DO Dressage Test Tips that will take your scores to GOOD or better

Dear subscribers …

Those of you that have already subscribed, I have emailed you my latest report on how to improve your dressage scores.  If you have not subscribed yet, just enter your email address in the red box on the right or at the bottom of this post and you will get the report in a few days, right after you receive my first report – 5 Dressage Tips that could Revolutionise Your Riding.

10 MUST DO Dressage Test Tips that will take your scores to GOOD or better

Dressage Test Tips

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Patricia – The Dressage Tipster