1. First impressions do count. Make your entry straight, purposeful and confident! If you are coming down center-line like a drunken sailor, chances are your stop will not be square and your turn at C will not be accurate.
2. Go straight towards C, then make a balanced turn with accurate bend and energy. Do not cut the corner. Remember you are right in front of the judge and he/she is looking for bend and balance! If your horse does not have the required bend yet, start a bit earlier to keep him in balance and you will still get a better score than the rider who cuts straight across!
3. Circles need consistent bend and rhythm. 20m circles are your entry into achieving this. Your horse only needs a small amount of bend through the body and it is a lot easier to keep a steady rhythm on the larger circle.
4. The smaller the circle the more balanced you and your horse need to be to perform accurately. For most horses that means you will have to put on extra leg for the small 10m circles or he will be wiggly and losing energy just like a bicycle that goes too slow around a turn.
5. Transitions are an area that causes many riders to lose unnecessary points. Prepare ahead of time so your horse is not surprised. The judge wants to see smooth and balanced transitions. If you have to go from a jog to a walk at A, don’t wait until you are at A and then slam on the breaks. Your horse will hollow and tense and your score will go down!
6. The letters. Know where they are and think ahead. If you have to perform a certain movement at B you want to time your aids, so it happens right at the letter. A beautiful movement correctly performed, but several feet away from the letter has to be marked down for inaccuracy.
7. The free jog. One of the most misunderstood movements. You are asking for stretch over the topline and longer stride. That does not mean go faster. If you push your horse to speed up he will likely become unbalanced, fall on the forehand and instead of longer strides will take smaller, quicker steps. The opposite of what you want! I’m planning on having a separate blog about the free jog. Too much to go into for here!
8. The free walk. Again you want stretch over the topline and longer stride. You want a swinging, purposeful walk. A horse that meanders along while checking out the scenery in not what the judge is looking for!
9. The caller. A good caller can make or break your ride, so make sure you practice with the person you choose and know your test well enough that you are confident to continue correctly if the reader is off. Otherwise you will incur an error!
10. Soft feel. This is a big one and I take it very seriously. A horse that is hollow and against the rider’s hands, overbridled, or fussy in the bridle throughout the test cannot get a decent score. Momentary unbalance or a spook will be marked down in the movement they happen, but an otherwise balanced ride will not be hugely affected. A difficult moment tactfully ridden can actually improve your overall soft feel score. We are looking for a working partnership between horse and rider, but don’t get discouraged if things go wrong. Sometimes nerves take over in the show ring and things that were beautiful before get tense and ugly. The judge only sees you for those couple of minutes, so take his/her comments for what they are, a snapshot of this ride. Today! Tomorrow is another day and another chance to shine!