Helpful Tips

Tips From a Dressage Judge: 2022 USEF Intermediate Test A

View and print the 2022 USEF Intermediate 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 Playbook episode

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 working trot, [X] Halt; salute, proceed collected trot, [C] Track left

  • Ride this [C] track left as a half circle left, showing bend and fluency through the turn.

2. [H-P] Medium trot, rising or sitting, [P] Collected trot

  • [H-P] is a nice short diagonal that will encourage you to have a little more lift.
  • Collected doesn’t mean shorter steps or slower pace, but it means an enhanced level of engagement and more uphill balance. Have the poll a little higher here.

3. [K-E] Shoulder-in right

  • Be sure to round off the corner, which will get you to a slight shoulder-fore position, then blend it into shoulder-in when you get to [K].
  • Shoulder-in is a 30-degree movement from the track, and it’s a three-track movement. Judges often see not enough bend or flexion in this movement.
"I come from being a rider, trainer, and judge, and I've decided that the way to get the best marks is to round off the corner. The reason being, the shoulder-in at [K] is easier to develop from a half circle than a straight line, so if you go deep into the corner, you're risking slowing down the tempo and lowering the quality of the gait, which is how we form our base score." -PG

4. [E-X] Half circle right 10m, [X-B] Half circle left 10m

  • 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.

5. [B-M] Travers left

  • Again, the half circle has set you up for the bend.
  • Travers is a 35-degree angle from the track, so you’re going to bring the haunches in a little bit so you’re on four tracks instead of three.
"The feeling that you're going to have as a rider is that most of the bend is actually in the body, and the horse is nose is looking straight down the long side of the arena. But most importantly with the shoulder-in and the travers, once you establish your position which you feel is correct, keep it until the end of the movement. There's nothing worse than having a shifting of the position." -PG

6. [H-E] Shoulder-in left

  • You did this movement on the other side; create a bend for this in the corner with a slight shoulder-fore.
  • Think of bringing the inside front leg on an inner track and increasing the flexion (not necessarily the bend)  of the nose.

⚠️ WARNING: The outside rein is often overdone here, and the pressure of the outside rein is unrelenting. This can cause horses to tilt to the outside and be unable to bend. Make sure that the outside rein releases enough for the bend and flexion to happen.

7. [E-X] Half circle left 10m, [X-B] Half circle right 10m

  • You have the same objectives as the previous half circles; keep the tempo, balance, and activity, but show a clear change of bend over [X] within 3-4 steps.

8. [B-F] Travers right

  • Keep in mind the positioning on four tracks.
  • You want to straighten before the corner, and balance the trot a little bit to prepare for your halt. 

9. [A] Halt

  • Show immobility for three seconds.
  • Aim for a square halt, with your horse’s weight equally distributed on all four feet.

10. [A] Rein-back 3-4 steps; proceed medium walk

  • Having diagonal pairs will get you a score above a 7.
  • Remember that your medium walk is uphill.

11. [K-R] Change rein extended walk

  • The poll should be lowered to the same level or slightly below the withers, and the nose should go forward, making the crest of the neck flat like a table.
  • Show activity and overtrack – this will help make the difference between the medium and extended walk and get you a score above a 7.

12. [R] Medium walk

  • This is a separate score, because the judges want to see the regularity of the walk but a change of the frame.
  • Change the level of the poll to uphill.

13. [Before C] Shorten stride in walk, [C] Collected canter

  • Be careful not to micromanage the walk while you shorten; simply shorten a couple of steps before a nice, crisp transition into canter.

14. [H-V] Medium canter, [V] Collected canter

  • Demonstrate a nice ground cover jump and some suspension in the medium canter.
  • Collected canter should show uphill balance and enhanced engagement, not short steps.

15. [K-D] Half circle left 10m, returning to the track at [E]

✍️ TAKE NOTE: This would be difficult if your collected canter transition wasn’t done well, so be sure to practice the transition from medium to collected canter in the warmup.

16. [E-H] Counter canter

  • To maintain the left canter lead, have a slight flexion of the nose to the left, but no bending.
  • Balance the counter canter in preparation for your upcoming simple change.

17. [H] Simple change of lead

  • You are allowed 3-5 steps of walk for this simple change. If you are doing four steps of walk, do two before [H] and two after [H].

18. [M-P] Medium canter, [P] Collected canter

  • Just like on the other side, this transition will set you up for the next three movements.

19. [F-D] Half circle right 10m, returning to track at [B]

20. [B-M] Counter canter

21. [M] Simple change of lead

  • Again, you’ll have 3-5 steps of walk to do this.

22. [E-X] Half circle left 10m onto centerline, [I] Collected trot

23. [G] Halt; salute

  • Be accurate and straight with your transitions all the way up to the halt.

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!).

Sign up and start your Ride iQ 2-week free trial. You will have unlimited access to listen-while-you-ride audio lessons for all levels, dressage resources, exclusive podcasts, an online community with coaches and members, and more. All for $29.99/month after the free trial.

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