Helpful Tips

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

Alina Tang

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

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

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

This test can be done in either a 20m x 60m or 20m x 40m arena.

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

  • Consider doing your warmup to the left in order to prepare for this track left.
  • Ride this [C] track left like a half 10m circle at [G], demonstrating a rounded turn with bend and suppleness.

2. [H-B-K] Working trot on two diagonals

  • Aim a meter to the left of [B], and plan on turning a meter to the right of [B]. 
  • Straighten as you go to [K], then aim one meter to the right of [K] so you can round off the corner between [K] and [A].
  • In this movement, be sure to show the regularity of the trot, especially with a tight turn at [B] – stay balanced so your tempo can stay consistent.

3. [A-C] Serpentine of two equal loops, width of arena

  • In a 20m x 40m arena, these will be two half 20m circles – one half to [X] and another half to [C].
  • You have about 3-4 over [X] in which you need to show a clear change of bend through the horse’s body and neck, as well as flexion of the poll.
  • In a larger arena, these half circles will turn into stretched out loops, but you’ll still change your bend over [X].

4. [Between C and M] Working canter right lead

  • Think as if you’re starting another serpentine of two loops, and stay out of the corner as you pick up the canter.

5. [B] Circle right 20m, working canter

  • Keep the regularity of the canter and have slight flexion inwards.

6. [Between B and F] Working trot

  • Go from canter to trot soon after [B], which will give you time to organize and balance in preparation for your walk transition.

7. [A] Medium walk

8. [K-B-H] Free walk on two diagonals

  • Plan on giving yourself two meters before and after [B] to make a smooth turn with bend. The smoother the turn, the more likely it is for your horse to keep a low frame (especially for young horses).

9. [Between H and C] Develop medium walk

  • The poll should be a little higher than the wither here.

10. [C] Working trot

  • Make the first step of trot as your horse’s shoulders pass [C].
"I predict this will be done late by a lot of competitors, so be ready as you're preparing for the medium walk in that turn between [H] and [C], to get your horse in front of the leg and thinking about that trot transition." -PG

11. [C-A] Serpentine of two equal loops, width of arena

  • Remember the same objectives that applied on the other side.
  • In the final quadrant of your second loop, begin balancing for the canter transition.

12. [Between A and F] Working canter left lead

"You have lots of time to prepare for the canter transition, so give it your best shot to get your horse as balanced and attentive as possible." -PG

13. [B] Circle left 20m, working canter

  • The geometry, regularity, and three-beat rhythm are important here.
An adult man canters a beautiful black horse with a drop noseband in a dressage test

14. [Between B and M] Working trot

  • Again, transition to the trot soon after [B] to give yourself ample time to balance.
  • Slow the trot down in preparation for the stretch circle.

✍️ TAKE NOTE: Horses have a better chance of developing a better stretch in the frame out of a slower trot without momentum, than if the trot is too forward and on the forehand. They must be balanced in order to stretch their head down and forward.

15. [C] Circle left 20m rising trot, allowing the horse to stretch forward and downward, [Before C] Shorten reins

  • Initiate the stretch in the corner between [M] and [C] (this is a great place to initiate a stretch).
  • You also want to demonstrate that your horse is confidently seeking the contact on a light feel, as well as a consistent tempo.

16. [E] Turn left, [Over X] 4-6 steps medium walk, proceed working trot, [B] Track right

  • Do not make 90-degree turns at [E] or [B], as this will affect the fluency of the trot, which will affect your score for the quality of the gait.
  • Show a big trot with lots of ‘pizazz’.
  • In order to maintain fluency, you must turn early and make an ‘S’ – a quarter circle left at [E] and a quarter circle right at [B].
  • The walk steps over [X] will approach very quickly; make sure you divide the steps evenly over [X].
Front view of a grey horse cantering, wearing a white saddle pad and black bonnet

17. [A] Down centerline

  • Make this like a half circle to the right with bend, so you finish with a picture of fluency and freedom.

18. [X] Halt; salute

  • As you go into the halt, have both legs squeezing so your horse stays straight.
  • You’re allowed to go through a couple steps of walk to have a smooth transition.
  • Be sure to show three seconds of immobility.

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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