How to Prepare for Your First Dressage Test

Dressage is a type of competitive horse training that emphasizes the horse's ability and willingness to perform a series of movements that become increasingly difficult through the levels. A rider practices the movements of the tests at his or her level at home or at a riding barn and then performs the tests in the presence of a judge at a dressage show. After a rider receives several different scores from different judges that indicate they have mastered a level, he or she will move up. If you have developed an interest in dressage and have been working on building your horse's strength, impulsion, and suppleness, you may wonder how to prepare for your first dressage test at a show. Being properly prepared for your first show can alleviate some of the stress involved in the showing process.


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    Prepare to ride your first test in front of a judge by choosing and entering the dressage tests that you will want to perform at a show. Although you may be performing the tests under an instructor, performing under a judge will help you see which movements of the test are your best, and which will need some work. The judges will often make comments on your score card that will help you improve when you next ride in front of a judge.
    • Look for a show that has different divisions such as open, amateur, and youth. This way you can enter a class that fits your specific riding level.
    • Shows may be found in your local horse publications, which are found at feed and tack stores. The back of breed magazines will also list the shows for that breed, often divided up into geographic areas. You may also look for shows online or ask your instructor to recommend a show.
    • You may want to look into performing your first dressage ride under a judge at a schooling show. These types of shows are often less formal than the open shows and are designed to help beginning riders become comfortable with what is required at a dressage show.
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    Purchase a current booklet that covers the dressage tests for the level you are riding at. Booklets may be purchased through dressage equipment supply catalogs or online at various dressage associations. Dressage tests change every 4 years, and the last changes were published at the beginning of 2011.
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    Practice the movements of the dressage test on a lesson horse or at home with your own horse.
    • Work on the geometry of the dressage tests. Make straight lines down the center line, halt squarely at the X, make correct 20-meter circles, and change gaits on command.
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    Ensure that the health of the horse your plan to ride is up-to-date. This may include vaccinating the horse against common ailments and getting a health paper if you will cross state lines. Do this at least 4 weeks before riding your first dressage test.
    • Check your horse's feet, and have them trimmed or re-shod as needed. Do not try to trim or shoe the week of the show in case the farrier "quicks" the horse or drives a nail too close to the white line, causing the horse to go lame.
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    Obtain the proper show clothes. You need a dressage coat, helmet, stock tie and pin, white breeches, white gloves, and boots. Many of these things can be borrowed for the class you are riding in, such as the tie, pin, and coat. However, good fitting boots and helmet are very important for your safety and should fit correctly.
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    Examine your grooming utensils and products to be sure you have enough of everything. In dressage, the horse's tail is left free flowing; however, the mane and forelock will need to be braided and you will need rubber bands the color of the mane as well as combs, gel, or yarn.
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    Clean your tack thoroughly the day before riding your first dressage test. Clean tack will create a good impression for the judge, and if you do it the day before, this will save you work and worry on the day of the show.
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    Pack the trailer the day before the show with the cleaned tack, clothes, and grooming utensils that you will need at the show.
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    Arrive at the show several hours before your ride time to properly groom the horse and prepare yourself.
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    Schedule at least 30 minutes in the warm-up arena to prepare your horse and for you to relax before your scheduled ride time.
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    Contract with a reader to be at the arena at your ride time. A reader will read the test to you as you ride. A reader can be anyone, such as instructor, but make sure your reader is familiar with reading tests during a show.
    • Even though you may have memorized your test for the show, you may want to have a reader just in case. It is very easy to become nervous, lose your focus for a moment, and forget where you are in the sequence of movements. The presence of a reader allows you to hear the next movement in case this occurs.


  • Schedule several lessons with your horse-riding instructor several weeks before the test. This will allow you enough time to get answers to any questions that you might have on the dressage tests.


  • Do not practice the actual test over and over or you will notice that the horse will begin to anticipate the movements before you actually cue the animal. A horse that anticipates the movements of the tests may decide to perform them early and will lower your score when being judged. Instead, work on the principles behind the movements such as flexibility, impulsion, suppleness, and rhythm.

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Categories: Riding