Helpful Tips

Tips From a Dressage Judge: 2022 USEF Preliminary Test A

Alina Tang

View and print the 2022 USEF Preliminary 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 of 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, [C] Track left

  • Ride [C] track left like a half 10m circle to the left with bend, showing freedom of the gait

2. [H-X-F] Change rein, lengthen stride in trot, [K] Working trot

  • Aim one meter to the left of [F] so you do not box yourself into the corner.

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

  • Again, make the turn as a half circle onto the centerline.
  • For the leg yield, remember: your horse should be parallel to the long side, and  keep your tempo and position the same.
"As a judge, I am going to forgive someone who has the forehand slightly leading without neck bend, because this gives clear passage for the right hind to cross over in front of the left hind, which will create better fluency and a higher score for the trot gait." -PG

4. [C] Working canter right lead

  • This is a great place to ask for the canter, because your horse should be balanced and set up from the leg yield you just did.

5. [M-F] One loop to quarterline, maintaining right lead

  • Make sure you go to the quarterline and not the centerline here.
"I find that a lot of people make the first part of the loop too shallow and the second part too steep; in other words, they start turning slowly and then run out of space at the end." -PG

6. [A] Circle right 20m, lengthen stride in canter, [A] Working canter

  • Make sure you show lengthening of the frame in the circle. 
  • Start preparing for the working canter in the final quadrant of the circle.

7. [K-X-M] Change rein, [After X] Change of lead through trot

  • The simple change should occur within 3-5 steps of trot (don’t hurry this transition).
"I think a good schooling exercise for this at home is to go [K-X-M] and trot at [X], but then in an effort to set yourself up for your new left lead canter, circle left 10m at [X] to get them balanced and bending, then ask for your canter." -PG

8. [H-K] One loop to quarterline, maintaining left lead canter

  • Get to the quarterline early so you can make a symmetrical loop.

9. [A] Circle left 20m, lengthen stride in canter, [A] Working canter

  • Start your lengthen a little before [A] so you can be in your lengthen at [A], then use the final quadrant of that circle to rebalance for the working.

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

  • If your horse feels a little unbalanced and forward, just soften the rein, smile, and go with them.
  • Show freedom of the gait here.
"If they feel a little on the forehand, don't try to fuss with them and spoil the tempo." -PG

11. [C] Medium walk

  • Make this a fluid and smooth transition, not abrupt. 
  • Try to time it so your horse’s shoulders are at [C] for the first step of the walk.
  • In Peter’s eyes, it’s better to have slightly late but smooth transition than a timely but abrupt transition. The former will set you up better for the free walk transition.

12. [M-E] Free walk

13. [Between E and K] Develop medium walk, [K] Working trot

  • Show some flexion to the left in the medium walk, which will help prepare your horse to maintain a soft contact and transition to trot.

14. [A] Turn left down centerline, [D-M] Leg yield right

  • Again, make this a smooth half circle.
  • You did the same thing on the other side already – be sure to maintain the same ingredients here (consistent position and tempo).

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

  • Start a little slower with the trot, so that if they do speed up a little bit, they’re still at a good tempo. 
  • Very quietly pick up your contact to avoid shortening your horse’s neck.

16. [E-X] Half circle left 10m to centerline

  • Make sure you don’t confuse this with an [E] turn left. This is a half circle with bend. Show activity if you can.

17. [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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