Helpful Tips

Tips From a Dressage Judge: 2022 USEF Modified Test A

View and print the 2022 USEF Modified Test A here:

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

Before you enter the arena

Go around the arena clockwise. This will help get the horse supple and ready to track right.

1. [A] Enter working trot, [C] Track left

  • No halt on the centerline here.
  • Bend left through the turn to show suppleness.
  • You can start lengthening as you go around the ring and wait for the bell to go off in order to prepare for box #2.

2. [H-X-F] Lengthen stride in trot, [F] Working trot

3. [Quarterline after A] Turn right, [Between X and E] Leg yield left to [H]

  • It’s important to make a rounded and smooth turn onto the quarterline, because you have to go all the way down to the opposite [X].
  • Note: Straightness and how you get to the quarterline will be important here (make sure it’s a nice rounded turn).
  • On your leg yield, it’s better to have the forehand than the haunches slightly ahead, but it’s most important to make sure your position and tempo are consistent throughout.

4. [C-A] Serpentine two loops width of arena, allowing horse to stretch forward and downward, [Before A] Shorten reins

"This is a hard enough thing for some horses to achieve on a circle, but now we have to change the rein within the stretch circle. I think the geometry of how you change the rein over [X] is important. I would approach [X] on a slight right-to-left angle, rather than absolutely perpendicular to the centerline." -PG
  • Ride these serpentines like two stretch half-circles.
  • Make a clear change of bend over the centerline in your serpentine, because that is a component for your score.
  • A smoother turn over [X] will help your horse keep his head down.

5.[Quarterline after A] Turn left, [Between X and B] Leg yield right to [M]

  • Again, you want a rounded and smooth turn onto the quarterline. 
  • As soon as your leg yield is finished, shorten the trot steps in order to prepare for your halt.

6. [C] Halt; proceed medium walk

  • Keep your horse’s shoulders in line with [C] as you come to the halt, and make sure you halt for three seconds before proceeding medium walk.
"Remember, it's medium walk out of the halt, and then in the turn, we lower the poll for the free walk at [H-X-F]." -PG

7. [H-X-F] Change rein free walk

  • You want equal pressure on both hands, both legs, allowing the poll to go lower than the wither. Keep soft contact, a light feel, and create a little march with your seat.
  • Show the freedom with the walk, but don’t be too fast with the rhythm.

8. [F] Medium walk, [A] Working trot

This is a very nice place to transition to medium walk, because we’re on a bend between [F] and [A], so use this bend to keep your horse loose as you quietly raise the poll to be higher than the withers.

  • Don’t try to balance or micromanage the walk too much – just keep the regularity going.
"As a judge, I would prefer this trot transition to be a hair early than late. We see late transitions all day. Bang-on at [A] would be perfect, but if it's a little early, that would be okay." -PG

9. [K] Working canter right lead

This is, again, a nice place to pick up the canter.

Bay horse in grey saddle pad cantering with a young blonde rider

10. [E] Circle right 20m, lengthen stride in canter

  • Make sure you not only show lengthening of the stride, but also lengthening of the frame.
  • We often see restriction from too much contact from the reins, which prevents true lengthening of the horse’s frame.

11. [Between E and H] Develop working canter

  • Start fairly soon, and use the final corner of your last circle to help with your balance for your working canter..
  • Keeping the flexion to the inside will help you maintain the roundness and softness in your horse’s frame.

12. [M-X-K] Change rein, [X] Working trot

"There's a good chance that the younger horses might be losing their balance by the time they get to [X], so just soften the contact and allow the horse to go into a nice, big trot. Try not to restrict your horse at all. Just go with whatever the horse gives you, and smile to the judge and ask for that nine." -PG

13. [F] Working canter left lead

  • Use the turn as we go past [A] to balance the trot for a crisp transition at [F].

14. [B] Circle left 20m, lengthen stride in canter

  • Make sure you practice at home to understand whether your horse has a tendency to have his haunches coming in one direction or the other. We often see it here in the lengthen, and particularly in the lengthening to the shortening of the canter. 

✍️ TAKE NOTE: Have a plan and strategy to maintain straightness throughout this movement.

15. [Between B and M] Develop working canter

  • Start developing this balanced canter closer to [B] than [M].

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

A uniquely colored black horse wearing a Micklem bridle trots during a dressage test

17. [A] Down centerline

  • Again, make sure you make a half circle onto the centerline, which will help enable you to show fluency of the trot (which is a lovely way to finish the test!)
  • Be sure you also show bend and suppleness of the turn here.

18. [G] Halt; salute

  • Maintain straightness through a strong lower leg before you quietly halt. 
  • Show immobility for at least three seconds before exiting at the free walk and long rein.

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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