Dressage Horse Training: Test Analysis for better Ride and Score

Hello Everyone,

This blog is going to discuss my 2018 PSG show at Fox Lea where I had two chances to score 60% to complete my USDF Silver Medal. I have included video from Saturday and Sunday along with what we did differently to improve our performance for Sunday.  While quality, strength and balance are always works in progress, my goal was for Donzer and I to maximize for our current skill sets.  Please pull whatever nuggets may help you in your riding journey.  My previous blog shares the written plan I created for my 25 days of training in Florida this spring.

On Saturday, I did the warm-up as planned except for riding 4’s on a 20 m circle.  In the test (58%) the overriding comment addressed Donzer’s nodding head (which is one area I’ve been focusing on for the past few years) and in the changes he was pulling down-so basically he was too much on the forehand.  After taking some time to feel the frustration of coming so close to sixty but not quite, Kris and I sat down with this recording and the judges remarks and created a plan for Sunday.  In a recent clinic, the clinician made the point that when you are riding a test, you’ve paid the judges for their feedback.  So, Kris and I decided to make sure we did our absolute best for Sunday so we would have a clear baseline for our on-going work.  (Keep scrolling…)


I will run through the test from top to bottom with changes we affected.

From the halt, I use my spurs on Donzer’s belly close to the girth to ask him to lift his back. This was to be have more uphill balance in the trot depart.

For the initial trot (and all trot work), I gently closed my knees and stretched up and tightened my belly just below my rib cage to keep the tempo slower.  I’ve just become more aware of how Donzer runs off at all the gaits.  But, I felt like I could immediately impact the trot for Sunday’s ride.  Watching Saturday’s ride I was able to reduce the running trot. I can see where we have much more strength to build to lift and carry but I can tell you from my riding perspective in the test it felt like we were moving in slow motion.

From the extended trot to collected trot, I asked Donzer to trot in place before the corner and then carried a collected trot through the corner before allowing him out a little on the short side.  This helped the score a lot.  And, I will definitely add rating on a circle to my daily ride until we can develop the communication for Donzer to come back by sitting versus bracing for balance.  I’ve already been finding some nice videos by Joseph Newcomb demonstrating this exact process.

For the trot half-pass, I made a concerted effort after the volte to think about trotting in place before we started the half-pass.  This helped.  I’ve had much better half-passes in my training but getting the same quality in a test is different than when you get to ride several in a row.  This is why showing is so important to the training process!

For the canter pirouette/flying changes, we broke and did not have the sitting we needed.  In the warm-up I made sure to include my 4s on the 20 m circle.  This exercise is helping me communicate with Donzer and organize my aids.  You have to be sitting and balanced to execute 5-6 4s on a circle.

For the flying changes, I made my ask very clear.  I’ve had trainers tell me to be more subtle but Kris reminded me of how when learning canter departs at Training level, Donzer would be confused.  He knew I was asking for canter but not sure which lead.  So, for now, Donzer really prefers a very clear aid and this can become more subtle after we’ve been doing 4s for awhile.

For the extended canter, I sat up and kept half-halting with my body strongly so Donzer did not blatantly dive and flatten like he did on Saturday.

More support/contact–the last overall change was I shortened my reins and provided more support so this definitely steadied Donzer’s head.  For the past few years we’ve been working on getting Donzer’s neck out.  I try to always ride him on the third notch of my reins.  However, for the test, I shortened the reins to provide a more solid connection and this helped.  I will continue to keep working Donzer’s neck longer in training, especially at the end with a stretchy trot serpentine.  And, I will add moments of more contact to find the sweet spots.  I think Donzer’s head will continue to steady up as he finds more balance towards the hind end and really learns to engage his core and lift his withers.

Good Riding,


Out of the Saddle


Share on Facebook
Be Sociable, Share!