Helpful Tips

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

Alina Tang

View and print the 2022 USEF Training 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 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

This test will be held in a 20m X 60m arena.

1. [A] Enter working trot, [X] Halt; salute, proceed working trot, [C] Track left

  • You’ll get a better mark for halting through 1-2 smooth steps of walk, compared to halting abruptly without walk steps.
  • Be sure you show immobility for three seconds.
  • Show the fluency of the trot by rounding off the turn at [C] track left like a half circle.

2. [S] Circle left 10m, [E] Turn left

"I think at any level of competition, 10-meters of trot are difficult, to be honest. The horse will really need your leg and outside rein to support and help him with the balance of that 10-meter circle so he maintains the tempo, activity, and a certain degree of engagement, and of course (most importantly) shows bend, which we call suppleness." -PG

3. [B] Track right, [P] Circle right 10m

  • It’s easy to get a great mark for [E] turn left and [B] track right, yet it’s common for people to receive a poor score. 
  • Judges look for the quality of the trot, so keep the trot forward and round off the turns like an ‘S'.

4. [A] Turn right down centerline, [D-S] Leg yield left

  • As with all turns onto and off the centerline, ride it like a half circle with bend.
  • The leg yield should demonstrate consistent position and tempo. 
  • Having the forehand slightly leading in the leg yield is preferred over having the haunches slightly leading.

5. [H] Working canter right lead

  • This is a great place to pick up the canter, since your horse is already engaged following the leg yield.
A woman wearing a read show coat rides a dark grey horse in dressage

6. [M-P] Lengthen stride in canter

  • Be careful not to accelerate, but instead, gradually build a longer stride.
  • Make sure you show lengthening of both the frame and the stride.

7. [P] Circle right 15m, developing working canter in first half of circle

8. [F] Working trot

  • Show the quality and freedom of trot. Make the first step with light contact.

9. [A] Circle right 20m rising trot, letting the horse stretch forward and down, [Before A] Shorten reins

  • The essence of the circle is the stretch, but showing bend is worth 0.5 marks.
  • Make sure your horse is showing stretch throughout the entirety of the circle.
"We're really looking to see the confidence in the horse's connection, and really, the correct pathway of training when we see the stretch circle." -PG

10. [K-R] Lengthen stride in trot, [R] Working trot

  • This is a great place to ask for a lengthened trot, because your horse’s back muscles should already be engaged following the stretch circle (thank you again, test designers!).

11. [C] Halt; proceed medium walk

  • Immobility should begin once your horse’s shoulders are in-line with [C].
  • Be sure to count for three seconds before proceeding medium walk.
  • Medium walk should involve the poll being consistently above the wither.
A woman in a navy show coat and blue gloves halts her dark grey horse in a dressage test

12. [H-B] Change rein free walk

  • The poll should be below the wither in the free walk.

13. [B-K] Change rein medium walk

✍️ TAKE NOTE: Practice this transition at home to ensure your horse does not get tense. Focus on the softness and regularity of the walk.

14. [K] Working trot, [A] Turn left down centerline

Have the first step of trot occur when your horse’s shoulders pass [K].

15. [D-R] Leg yield right

16. [M] Working canter left lead

  • Again, don’t go too deep in the corner here.

17. [H-V] Lengthen stride in canter

18. [V] Circle left 15m, developing working canter in first half of circle

  • When transitioning down to the working canter, try to ask for 10% more balance with each step, as opposed to transitioning abruptly. Transitioning gradually will help you maintain rhythm and an even tempo.

19. [K] Working trot

20. [A] Turn left down centerline

21. [X] Halt; salute

  • Have a stronger leg on the way to [X] to help keep the haunches in-line with the front end – the straightness (or lack thereof) is easy to spot here.

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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