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Thursday, 10 September 2020

How to Learn a Dressage Test

Team Tunnah Equestrian - How to Learn a Dressage Test

Firstly, there is no correct single way to learn a dressage test. As with everything in life that we learn, we all learn in different ways, and what works very well for one person, might not meaning that learning and recall are improved for another. In this blog, I'm going to share five ways that I think you could approach learning a dressage test, but I'm sure that there are many of you out there that have other methods too. Why not drop yours in the comments at the bottom if it's not included here?

How I learn a test

Quite surprisingly, I don't know the letters of the arena well at all. Sure I know All King Edward's Horse Can Make Big Fences, but without reciting that, I often get in a muddle with where K, H, M & F are, and which sides E and B are in context to where I am. I'm OK at A, C & X, mostly because I enter at A, know a judge is sat at C and X is right in the middle.

That's just a 20mx40m arena...so I've no chance when it comes to a 20mx60m arena.

So how do I managed to learn often two dressage tests, to ride without a caller, and within 5 minutes of finding out which test I'm doing!?

For me, it's all about visualisation. I get all my tests from dressagediagrams.org, where they come with a visual of each movement. I find it almost impossible to learn a test from reading it and this is because I don't know my letters well enough. So a movement that says 'HXF change the rein in working trot', I can't wrap my brain around which direction that is going in or how it sits in context to the movement before or after.

Team Tunnah Equestrian Dressage Diagram

The first thing I learn is which way do I turn off the centre line when entering the arena. After that, I follow the flow of the patterns, noting where give & retakes, lengthening, or size or circles/loops are, and then run through it as I'm looking at it with my finger on the front of my phone. I do the exact same thing when I'm about to go into the test arena to ensure I've got it all in my head - that's actually what the header photo of this blog shows me doing! 

Usually, after squiggling through it with my finger two or three times, I've got it straight in my head. I often learn my tests the night or morning before my tests, and will run through it, using the patterns, in my head while making a coffee, or planting, or while on my way to the competition (so long as Andrew is driving!)

As you can tell, I'm very much a visual learner so the diagrams help me hugely!

Learning your dressage test by doing

There are many people who learn various things by doing them, and this can be the same when it comes to learning a dressage test. I know many people who prefer to ride through their test to learn it, with either someone calling the test from the ground or looking at the test in sections and riding movements stitched together to finally remember the whole test.

This is a good tactic too if the test has some movement in that you're not so familiar with, or perhaps need polishing, but it is also a method that if you use a lot on the same test, your horse can start to anticipate the movements.

Learning without your horse

How many of us have skipped around the garden or living room in a made-up rectangular arena to literally skip through their tests? I've done this!

This tactic is a good one for making sure you remember and know your test, regardless of the way your first learnt it!

I think we've all got our own ways to skip around to mimic a canter, or walk a giant step with our head and neck stretched down to show free walk on a long rein... or is that only me!?

Reading your dressage test through

Some people prefer to simply read their test through and recall each movement as though it were a step on a recipe they well know.  As I said, I just cannot learn a test in this way, but it proves very effective for many.

If you do have a caller during you dressage competition, I know quite a few people who use this method not so much to learn in detail their test, as they rely on the guide of a caller, but so that they know what's coming up in the test, or to pick out a few movements to polish up at home a few days prior to the competition. 

Diagrams can help you learn your dressage test

This is the tactic I use.

It can also be where you draw your test out to learn it or trace the patterns of the test with pen & paper until you recall all of the movements in full.

When I first started competing, I would draw the test out several times over with a pen on a piece of blank paper. I'd use long dashes for canter, short ones for walk and dots for trotting. As I did this in a loosely drawn rectangle, there was no way to look back on it and refresh your memory, but if you draw each movement separately, a little like they are displayed on the Dressage Diagrams site, then you can take it away with you to look back on.

Use visualisation to learn your test

Although I'm very visual in my approach to learning, I don't actually use this tactic, but I think I should start using some of it to perhaps help polishing up my scores in some areas.

This method is about EVERYTHING within your test, not only where you will ride - coming down the centre line visualising look up and forward, giving a relaxed smile, shoulders relaxed back and down, and where you will start to look around your arena to make a smooth turn off the centre line & into the next movement.

It's about visualising every stride and step from the start of your test until the end.

Using visualisation will often need accompanying with one of the other tactics to learning your test, before you can start the full visualisation techniques.

The reality is that everyone is different, and most people will use a combination of these methods to make sure that they know their test inside out for competition day. Some people prefer having a caller, just in case their mind goes blank, but will still know every precise movement of the test. Others rely more heavily on a caller, knowing their test only loosely as a guide. But whatever way you learn your dressage tests, always set yourself up for success and guide your horse through the movements on the day.


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