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How to get extra points in a dressage test

There’s usually nothing more than a few percentage points between first place and 10th in dressage competitions… so who wouldn’t want a few extra points?

If you’ve ever had ‘circle not round’, ‘late transition’ or ‘not straight’ comments on your test – then you’re throwing away valuable points.

Let’s see how accuracy and practicality can earn you those few extra points in a dressage test.

Enter at A

The centreline is an easy chance to gain points. The judge is smack bang in front of you and will notice a wobbly centre line much more than your horse’s outline.

  • Set yourself up for a nice straight entrance before you enter the arena.
  • FORWAAAARD!.. the slower you go, the more likely you are to be crooked.
  • Look up, breathe and enjoy your moment.

Halt & Salute

If you slam on the brakes, your halt will be messy and unbalanced.

Instead, think of a plane landing…. Yep. A plane.

Planes hit the tarmac with back wheels first before lowering the nose-wheel onto the ground.

So think ‘prepare for landing’ and engage your seat & hindquarters then ask for the front end to stop. Using this technique, your halt will be balanced and you wont crash land into a wonky halt.

Once your halt is established, make eye contact with the judge and salute. There’s no need to make a big performance out of the salute.

Bonus Tip: If your halt isn’t great, don’t try and adjust it. Most of the time you’ll only make it worse.

Maximise ‘blank’ spots

There are places in dressage test that aren’t really judged. Use these spots to prepare for your next ‘important’ move.

For example:

Use your corners

The corner is a valuable opportunity to correct, yet most people zoom through it focusing on the next marker.

Use EVERY corner to check your balance and self carriage.

Take advantage of the corner to do a small half halt, to put everything together to come out of that corner ready to start the next movement as prepared as you can be.

Free walk (points for the taking!)

Dressage tests can be won and lost at the walk. Most riders tend to focus on the trot & canter – and treat the free walk as nothing more than a rest stop (hahaha – definitely have been guilty of that in the past).

Nail these three points and you’ll score higher, guaranteed!

  • Don’t try and force your horse’s head down. Give them freedom to stretch and aim to get your horse’s poll slightly lower than the withers.
  • Don’t completely drop the reins and zone out. It’s not a rest stop, remember ?
  • Keep the walk active, straight and purposeful. Make every stride count.

A circle? How hard can it be?

With circles, you can pick up some easy points for accuracy. Because even a 20m circle is one of the hardest shapes to ride well.

Its all about picking the right markers.

Here’s an example…

Let’s say you’re asked for a 20m circle at C….

  • Point 1: Once passing C, do not follow the track to the corner. You’ve gotta resist that urge to ride deep!
  • Point 2: Aim to touch the track 4 metres past the corner letter.
  • Point 3: Next, aim to cross the centre line 2 metres past the S – R line.

This diagram should help you picture it…

Picture the green stars in your next test and ride to the inside  ☝️

REMEMBER! The markers in a dressage arena have not been placed to help make circle riding easier.

Regardless of the arena size and circle asked for in your test, you need to plan your navigation points.

Don’t force a smile… ?

While enjoying yourself is the aim of the game, it’s not the time for a plastered grin.

For a start, judges are not idiots and cant be tricked into thinking your egg shaped circle is ok…. Secondly, you should be channeling all your effort into riding, not performing like you’re in a beauty pageant.

That said.. sometimes it’s easier to shrug off a mistake with a quick grin.. and get on with the job.

Other handy hints

  • Make transitions when your body is at the letter marker, not the horse’s nose.
  • Don’t let a mistake ruin the rest of your test. An error will only affect one part of the test…So suck it up and focus on your next movement.
  • Identify all movement with a 2 beside them. These movements get double points so it pays to get them right.

If nerves are your biggest enemy on competition day – then follow this handy action plan to get rid of those jitters.

Let’s share the love! What other pointers do you have for getting extra points in a dressage test? Post your suggestions below 😀

3 thoughts on “How to get extra points in a dressage test

  1. An excellent article. Thank you.
    Another suggestion that I give students is to pencil a few tests. See things from the judge’s perspective. It is a great way to get a feel for the “blind spots”.

  2. Fantastic ??

  3. Nerves are my worst enemy, will be re-reading this multiple times.

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