The Value in Test Riding

A previous instructor encouraged me to ride a dressage test on occasion even if I wasn’t showing. She explained that it was a great way to set goals and evaluate our progress. I was humbled as I realized my inability to perform a transition exactly at a letter. I put test riding in my training toolbox for the value it held for me at that time.

Our individual goals vary from getting your gold medal, entering your first show, or backing your youngster. Short-term and long-term goals continue to change as we progress in our training. My long-term goal is to ride all the movements in a Grand Prix test. While I don’t foresee myself being competitive at that level, I want to feel “all the things” and execute them correctly. Along the way, I want to ride every single test and receive a respectable score. Yep, you read that correctly. Maybe it’s FOMO or maybe it’s just my desire to experience everything I can with a partner I’ve always dreamed of having.

I have never been a fan of showing as my anxiety gets the best of me. Add in paying an extra mortgage payment to attend a recognized show and you can count me out. But, if you are interested in showing on a budget there are plenty of opportunities. Betterdressagescores.com allows you to record yourself at home and submit the video in an online show for less than $30. And no, you do not need a proper arena. I participated in one of their shows with my thoroughbred and really enjoyed the experience! If you are fortunate enough to have schooling shows in your area, you can take advantage of the show atmosphere for not much more money.

Last year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and took Josie to a few schooling shows. I challenged myself as I wanted a benchmark to track our progress. Josie proved to be a gem at shows and is really helping me build my confidence with each outing. We have successfully shown Intro and Training Level 1. At our last show in November, we had a 60/40 chance of picking up the correct lead and may or may not ride off into the sunset when we left our canter circle. Our canter to trot transitions felt as if I was wrestling an alligator, and our halts were definitely not square.

Over the weekend, I was schooling parts of the Training 2 test to get a feel for what we needed to focus on. Two other people were riding in the small indoor arena with me and a family was on the sidelines watching their granddaughter get a pony ride. Needless to say, it wasn’t the quiet environment I was hoping for. Instead of getting frustrated that there were so many distractions, I used it as a training opportunity to test my ability to ride parts of the test and tune out the chaos.

As I picked up our canter transition and headed down the long side, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this felt. There was no praying that she would get the correct lead. I felt my excitement grow when Josie continued to maintain her balance and listen to my seat as we rode onto a 20-meter circle. She responded to my half-halt as I transitioned off the circle and headed straight. We were still in balance! The trot transition at V was A-MAZ-ING!! I was thrilled!!!

Progressing from Training Level 1 to Training Level 2 is not a huge step up. Both tests have canter and trot transitions and both ask for the transitions between two letters. By making a short-term goal to ride a specific test and using a show as my timeline, I created a way to gauge my progress and be able to appreciate how far we have come.


The top photos are from a recent ride and the bottom photos are from our last show in November.

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