Helpful Tips

Tips From a Dressage Judge: 2022 USEF Advanced Test A

View and print the 2022 USEF Advanced Test A.

The tips in this post are from a Dressage Test Playbook in the Ride iQ mobile app.

Screenshot of a Ride iQ track cover for an Eventing Dressage Test Playbook

Meet the judge, Peter Gray

Peter is a renowned dressage judge and has judged at some of the world's most prestigious events including the 2022 World Eventing Championships in Italy. He has been to the Olympics Games as both an event rider and as a team coach. Peter is ICP Level IV certified and he is a Ride iQ coach.

Dressage rider Peter Gray rides a bay horse down centerline

1. [A] Enter collected canter, [X] Halt; salute, proceed collected trot, [C] Track left

  • If you need 1-2 steps of walk through the halt to make that transition smooth, balanced, and square, do that.

✍️ TAKE NOTE: When practicing at home, have someone on the ground or a video to tell you on which lead your horse appears more straight from [C]. It is possible that your horse’s less balanced canter is straighter.

2. [H-E] Shoulder-in left, [E] Turn left

  • You can use the corner of the turn at [H] to create shoulder-fore by bringing the nose and left front leg more to the left, which will help you create a beautiful shoulder-in. Now, your job is to maintain that position until [E].

3. [B] Track right, [B-F] Shoulder-in right

  • Make your turns rounded like an ‘S’
  • Practice your shoulder-in at home with lengthening and shortening. This will give you the adjustability to squeeze an extra mark by showing a little more engagement or impulsion (given that everything else in your shoulder-in feels good).

4. [K-X] Half pass right

  • Do not straighten your horse when you get to [E]. 
  • Show a clear change of bend over [X] over 3-4 steps. Show the same amount of bend in each direction.

⚠️ WARNING: A common mistake here is to have the haunches leading, so once you go through the turn at [K], just have two steps of trot going on a diagonal line toward [X] before creating haunches-in to the right. This will ensure that your position is correct from the start. Further, riding haunches-in on a diagonal helps encourage every step to be the same.

Bay dressage horse in white saddle pad in extended trot with a female dressage rider in white breeches and black coat

5. [X-H] Half pass left

  • Plan on getting to the centerline one horse’s length before [X]. From there, straighten your horse, create a little bit of a shoulder-in position, and continue on your half pass to the left.
  • Your changeover from half pass right to left must be smooth and show a distinct bend in each direction with straightening in between.
"When I'm doing a half pass out of a corner, I like to go two steps on the diagonal line and then bring the haunches in. If I'm doing a half pass from a straight line (which we are doing from the centerline), I prefer to come from two steps of shoulder-in. Whatever you do, the result is going to be the same, which is that we are positioning the forehand leading." -PG

6. [M-X-K] Extended trot, [K] Collected trot

  • This is the only extended trot in this test, so really prepare on the short side with impulsion and energy. 
  • Aim for an uphill and ground covering trot.
  • Maintain the trot you have from [X] – riders often continue asking their horses to lengthen, which causes them to have a hiccup in the tempo.

7. (Transitions at [M] and [K])

  • The down transition at [K] is more influential – use the corner between [K] and [A] to bend your horse and work on the uphill balance and activity of a collected trot.
  • Keep the steps of your collected trot short in preparation for your walk transition.

8. [A] Medium walk

Peter looks for the following attributes of this walk transition in particular:

  1. The transition is smooth and soft (oftentimes, this transition is abrupt).
  2. The first steps of walk are fluid and forward (oftentimes, the first steps of walk are restricted because the reins are too tight).

⚠️ WARNING: This transition is right in line of the judge’s view, so be extra accurate.

9. [F-E] Extended walk

  • The poll should be at the level of the withers, the nose should go forward at the vertical, causing the top of the neck to go flat like a table.
  • To get a 7, you need at least one step of overstep.
  • Consider encouraging impulsion in the walk more with your seat than your leg, as the latter could cause a jog step.

10. [E-S] Medium walk, [S] Turn right, [Between I and R] Shorten stride and half pirouette right

  • Make the [S] turn right rounded with bend.
  • As you are approaching the point where you’ll begin your half pirouette to the right, develop shoulder-fore. Have small steps of shoulder-fore and then bring the forehand around for your half pirouette. 
  • Remember, geometry-wise, that the half pirouette is much smaller than the half turn on the haunches.

⚠️ WARNING: It is very important to do the shortening of the walk steps correctly – 90% of the time, this is omitted. Be sure to practice this at home!

11. [Between I and S] Shorten stride and half pirouette left, [R] Track left in medium walk

  • Remember the steps of this movement from the right side: shoulder-for, collected steps of shoulder-fore, then half pirouette.

12. [Before C] Shorten stride in walk, [C] Collected canter left lead

  • You want an uphill and soft walk – do not overbalance or micromanage.

13. [H-K] Extended canter, [K] Collected canter

  • Transition to your extended canter as soon as possible, then return to your collected at around [V] (this should give you around 6-7 strides to collect).

14. (Transitions at [H] and [K])

  • The test directive is "Well defined, balanced, and fluid transitions

15. [F-X] Half pass left, [X] Straight ahead, [I] Half circle left 10m to [S]

  • Again, position the forehand leading (instead of the haunches), and maintain that position to [X].
  • Get rid of the bend at [X], but maintain some flexion left. 

✍️ TAKE NOTE: The half circle is where you create the quality of the canter for the flying change.

"In canter, I prefer to do this with bend. When you ride this, it feels like you're really exaggerating the bend in the horse's neck and body between [A] and [F] in the corner, but that will give you a nice position for half pass with the forehand leading." -PG

16. [S-P] Change rein, [X] Flying change of lead

  • Make sure your lead change is right at the letter [X]. If you have a green horse, you can set them up for the flying change by leg yielding 1m to the left as you’re approaching [X].

17. [K-X] Half pass right, [X] Straight ahead, [I] Half circle left 10m to [S]

  • Again, make sure you have lots of bend from [A] to [K] and that the forehand is leading coming out of the turn.
  • You’ll lose the bend at [X], but have some flexion to the right.
  • Just like you did on the other side, really work on the quality of the canter in the half circle.

18. [R-V] Change rein, [X] Flying change of lead

19. [A] Turn left down centerline

20. [X] Halt; salute

A beautiful liver chestnut wearing a drop noseband and black bonnet gets a pat during an upper level dressage test

Collective mark: Harmony of athlete and horse

"For me, this is a happiness mark. Was it a pleasant test to watch? Did the rider show the gaits to the full potential? The rider should show off the freedom of the horse's gaits through their ringmanship. Round off the corners and show the quality of the gaits." -PG

💡 YOU READ THAT RIGHT! Round off the corners rather than going too deep. Doing so will show off your horse's gaits and prevent them from getting "stuck" in the corners.

Want more help improving your dressage scores?

In addition to hundreds of listen-while-you-ride audio lessons with top coaches, the Ride iQ mobile app also includes Dressage Test Ride Alongs (top coaches ride the test along with you and share tips and guidance along the way) and Dressage Test Read-Throughs (a reader calls out the test in the time it takes to ride it – great to help with memorization!).

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