Helpful Tips

Tips From a Dressage Judge: 2022 USEF Modified 3-Day Test

Alina Tang

View and print the 2022 USEF Modified 3-Day Test.

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

Screenshot of a Ride iQ track for an Eventing Dressage Test 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 working trot, [C] Track left

  • In the 20mx60m arena, if there is an additional judge at [B] or [E], you do not have to salute that judge. You only need to salute the judge at [C].
  • Make a smooth and rounded turn to the left.

2. [H-P] Change rein, lengthen stride in trot, [P] Working trot

  • Aim slightly to the left of [P].

3. [A] Turn right down centerline, [L-H] Leg yield left

  • Make a half circle onto the centerline to show suppleness and promote activity and engagement through that turn.
  • Make sure that the position and tempo of the leg yield is consistent from start to finish.

4. [C] Halt

  • An accurate transition means that your horse’s shoulders are right at [C].

5. [C] Rein back 2-3 steps, proceed medium walk

  • Make sure your leg is ready after two steps to ask your horse to go forward.
  • Keep your horse’s frame a little more ‘up’ in the medium walk.

6. [R-V] Change rein free walk

"I love this place to do the free walk. It just seems to feel good to do these free walks far away from the corners. It gives your horse a chance to show off the quality of his walk without having a corner afterwards to restrict the regularity of the walk." -PG

7. [V] Medium walk, [K] Working trot

  • Don’t shorten or balance the walk too much (which promotes tension); just change the frame.
  • Keep the softness in the contact and just raise the poll. 
Side view of dark bay dressage horse in a white saddle pad wdemonstrating extended trot

8. [A] Turn left down centerline, [L-M] Leg yield right

  • Same as you did on the other side, make sure the leg yield shows a consistent tempo and position throughout.

9. [H] Working canter left lead

  • This is a difficult place to do a canter if you go too deep into the corner; round off the corner and pick up the canter as your horse’s nose is approaching [H].
  • Making a rounded turn will help you have a fluid transition into the first canter stride.

10. [S] Lengthen stride in canter, [E-B] Continue lengthening half circle left 20m, continue lengthening to [R]

  • Don’t have too much bend while lengthening on a circle, but have some flexion of the nose inwards.
  • Be sure to lengthen both the stride and the frame.

11. [Between R and M] Develop working canter

  • Start this transition a stride before [R] to give yourself enough time to balance the canter.
Bay horse with a blaze and three white socks in a white saddle pad cantering with a young female dressage rider

12. [H-X-F] Change rein, [X] Working trot

  • Be soft with the contact and go forward with your body through the working trot in order to show the fluency of the gait.
  • Use the short side between [F] and [K] to balance the trot.

13. [K] Working canter right lead

  • Again, be sure to round off the corner with bend.

14. [V] Lengthen stride in canter, [E-B] Continue lengthening half circle right 20m, continue lengthening to [P]

  • While lengthening on the circle, remember to not have too much bend in the body – just flexion.

15. [Between P and F] Develop working canter

  • Start this transition a stride before [P].

16. [A] Working trot

  • We want the first stride of trot to be forward and soft, while the horse’s shoulder is passing [A].

✍️ TAKE NOTE: This can be a difficult transition, so be sure you practice at home.

17. [K-R] Change rein, lengthen stride in trot, [R] Working trot

Front view of a dark bay dressage horse in an indoor arena

18. [C-L] Serpentine of two equal loops width of arena, rising trot, allowing horse to stretch forward and downward, [Before L] Shorten reins

  • This serpentine is in a stretch frame, which is easier to create out of a trot without momentum. Between [R] and [C], really balance your trot slightly more than you may normally. Start the stretch a stride before [C] by asking your horse to go down and forward.
"The best way to figure out [the geometry of the serpentine] is to go on foot, or visualize before your test where you're going to cross the centerline. So many times, we see the first loop huge and the second one tiny, or vice versa. The geometry is important here." -PG

19. [V] Track left, [A] Down centerline

  • There’s not a lot of time before making the turn at [V], so be sure you make a rounded turn like a quarter of a circle to the left to promote a confident connection and raising the frame.

20. [G] Halt; salute

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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