Learning a New Dressage Test: Ride to the Feet

Murmer BWMemorizing a dressage test, or anything for that matter, was so much easier when I was little. And even then, I can’t say I didn’t get lost every now and then. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

March 30th will be our first show in a very long time. I’m getting started early. While it’s intimidating to prepare for competition without lessons and without a trainer, I trust my mare. Isn’t that what dressage is all about? A partnership? We’re in this together, for better or for worse.

We began learning USDF Intro Test A this week. As the most basic of all dressage tests, the movements are straightforward. But like other adult amateurs, life’s distractions can enter my brain at any moment, sabotaging the memorization process. Luckily, I was prepared. By focusing on my mare’s feet, I shut out the rest of the world for 30 minutes.Β Here’s how:

I read the test three times before getting on. During the warm-up, I focused on transitions: halt-walk, walk-trot, trot-halt. As I came down the center line at trot, my mind was on my mare’s feet. She came against the bit and her hind end swung left. On any other day, I would have corrected her. But this time, I intentionally ignored the evasion. Her feet kept the one-two trot rhythm, so we continued down the center-line. At X, I asked for walk. We headed right and she cut the corner, but her feet fell in a consistent 1-2-3-4. I rode the whole test this way. And then repeated the process twice more.

Yes, I allowed position, impulsion, obedience, and precision play second fiddle. And maybe in doing so, I failed to address issues we will need to fix before the show. But by keeping “half-halt,” “yield,” and “leg” out of my mind, “laundry,” “conference call,” and “email” stayed away too.Β I can now ride Intro A in my sleep. And by staying mindful for 30 minutes, I’ve got the time and mental freedom to perfect the rest.

What are your helpful tips for a successful dressage test? Share in the comments below.


23 thoughts on “Learning a New Dressage Test: Ride to the Feet

  1. I write my tests down everywhere! Every time I’m sitting down with a piece of paper, I write out the test. By the time I get to the show, I can just imagine I’m writing the test down, and I know every move like the back of my hand. Not the most innovative method, but it’s worked for me!

  2. I have no tips to offer. Although I’ve taken plenty of dressage lessons, I’ve only been to one dressage schooling show. And it was pretty much a series of “what not to do” movements. At least my third horse didn’t pee in the middle of the arena like my first horse did in a 4-H halter class. Can you write the test on your forearm or would that be too obvious? Place a little cue card in between your mare’s ears?

    • Susan, you’ve now given me an idea! Though it might be one of those middle of the night hare-brained things. The football players have the armbands with plays and a velcro cover flap. Maybe I can fashion one for my show coat… Stay tuned πŸ™‚

  3. I’ve only done one dressage event, and it was a schooling show in October 2013. I had always wanted to do a dressage pattern, since starting riding in February 2012. I had 2.5 months to get ready. I only ride two days a week, and have two lessons each month. It was a tall order.


    My past experience in figure skating and ice dancing, specifically in testing before judges, came in very handy. You must memorize each move, visualize it, and be able to do it on “the day” with no help. There are no “callers”.

    For my Intro A and B tests, I worked on first memorizing the pattern each night before I went to sleep. One I knew the pattern, then I worked on “feeling” what I had to do within the pattern. Again, each night before I went to sleep. And also during “daydream” times during the day (waiting at doctor’s office, etc.).

    I also did not run the horse I lease through the entire pattern each time, as he tends to anticipate. I wanted him listening to me, not jumping ahead with what he thought might come next.

    On the day of the show, I stood near the arena entrance and visulaized where I’d be going and what I’d be doing.

    All these things worked well for me. Have no idea if they will work for you. The best was that I enjoyed it immensely because it’s something I’d always wanted to do, and thus I was relaxed.

    The other riders in my two tests were seasoned riders, with either years of experience, rode every day, or preternatural talent. None of them broke 60%. One got a 58% I think. I expected to be last, as I was the least experienced rider at our barn. Was pleasantly surprised, though the placement mattered not to me. It was the judges comments that were worth getting to help me improve. Good luck and have a great ride!

      • Awww, thank you. Actually, they didn’t go all THAT well. But it was really fun.

        Unfortunately, I’m going to miss out on the first schooling show at my new barn, and then I will also miss out on the only dressage schooling show they have this year. Can’t be helped.

        I do wish you a GREAT ride in your events! πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to read all about it!

  4. I am envious of folks who can “ballet” with their equine. As an aging cowboy-wannabe my idea of dressage is being able to put my socks on right every morning without falling over!!

    Good luck to you on March 30th!

    • I wish our dressage were more ballet-like. We will just keep at it. After all, “dressage” means simply “training.”

      Thanks for the good wishes. I will certainly update on how our preparation progresses.

  5. Ohhh i wanna go watch in March! You need cheerleaders! As to memorization… umm yeah I cant remember to put the coffee in the pot half the time.. im no help.

  6. Hi. I learn mine by learning the shapes of the test, then play it through in my head like a film. Failing that, I put out marked up traffic cones (have the letters on them) in the garden and walk it.
    Best wishes

  7. Ive always learnt mine by walking it out in the kitchen. Any other room works just as well! The better I know the test, the more I can concentrate on riding my horse, and not worrying about where we’re going. This helps greatly when ‘enter at working trot’ becomes enter as fast as is possible to get away from cement mixer next to arena. (that was a fun test.:) )
    I also make sure I only practice my test once from start to stop. If somethings not right I practice the movement, but try to make sure I don’t do the one before it. Rio anticipates, so if we do one movement, then he knows the one after is more difficult, he tenses thought both movements, and won’t go forward.

    The biggest and best piece of advice anyone can give you though- breathe, smile, and enjoy it!

    • Thanks for the helpful tips. I can imagine the cement mixer looked poised to eat your horse πŸ™‚

      I’m so happy to be showing again, so I don’t doubt I will be grinning from ear to ear. Good luck with Rio!

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