11 Unexpected Side-Benefits Of Riding Tests (Or Patterns)

By Kathy Farrokhzad Turn left here. Canter cir-

cle there. Halt for five seconds. Then trot in a straight line out of the halt. If you’ve never ridden tests

(or patterns) before, you might be in for a bit of a surprise. You gotta do what you gotta do when you’re told to do it! There’s no built-in sensitivity to your horse’s need to trot before canter. Your squiggly “straight” line might become a lot more apparent when it’s supposed to be off the rail down center line. Or you might become more aware of your horse’s lean- through-the-corner-and-fall-off- the-rail just before you need to set up for a lengthen at trot. When we ride on our own,

or even in a lesson, we tend to ride according to our needs (both the rider and the horse). We take time developing our transitions, riding half a circle or even more to increase impul- sion, half-halt the balance to allow better rounding through the horse’s body, maybe in- crease impulsion a little more, then finally proceed with the transition. To be sure, this is the way

to improve our skills. Learning takes time and developing accu- rate aids and responses from the horse takes practice. There are occasions when there simply is no other way and rushing your- self or your horse results in stress and tension and maybe even worse. However, there is some-

thing to be said about putting yourself through tests or pat-

terns. If you rarely ride a pat- tern, you might initially be sur- prised how difficult it can be to ride according to specifications. But it is very much worth the effort. There’s a reason why it’s

called a “test” in dressage! You are basically testing your skills against a structured, step-by- step progression of develop- ment. Think of

benefits to practicing a test. Even while you are working on one part, so many other things have to fall together to make the test flow. Check them out below!

1. Focus on specifics When you work on partic-

ular movements, you realize how much goes into each skill. For example, a lengthen at can- ter down the rail may look like the horse just took larger, bounding strides. But give it a try and you’ll notice that devel- oping the lengthen through the body takes more than just en- ergy.

The tempo needs to be

maintained while the impulsion is increased. Keeping the line straight looks a lot easier than it feels, especially if your horse tends to lean on a shoulder!

2. Become more consistent When you ride movement

to movement, you become more aware of the lurches and stop- starts that happen during each figure. Have you ever noticed

in order to fulfill the require- ments of the test.

7. Develop bend and straight- ness

These two wonderful con- it as a

performance. Can you do what is required at a given level? There are so many side-

your horse lose energy going into a corner? Or maybe he shortens his stride length as he steps into the beginning of a cir- cle. Test riding will help you notice inconsistencies and give you reason to work on them.

3. Accurate transitions In dressage tests, you ride

movements letter to letter. It happens in other disciplines too, where the patterns indicate ex- actly where a gait or figure be- gins and ends. When you are not used to being accurate, you let the horse take those few extra strides before or after a given point. Working on spe- cific placements of transitions makes you and your horse sharper and more in tune with each other.

4. Well ridden figures Once you know the test,

you also learn the exact dimen- sions of a figure. Let’s take a loop, for example. The loop starts at the letter after the cor- ner, goes to X and then back to

the final letter before the next corner. Following set figures gives you and your horse a rea- son to develop specific abilities, such as changing bends, step- ping deeper underneath the body, maintaining rhythm and tempo, and so much more.

5. Count strides When you stick to what

you are required to do in a test, you will learn a lot about your horse. One thing you might no- tice is the stride length your horse may have for each move- ment. You might realize, for ex- ample, that your horse takes 4 strides from the last letter into the corner. This information will help you in the timing of your half-halts and bends into and out of each corner.

6. Improve your aids You’ll have to get better at

your aids in order to improve in the test. So as you practice, you’ll find what you need to ad- just - maybe an outside leg here, an inside weighted seat there -

cepts are easy to forget or be- come lazy about in general. When you aren’t carefully plac- ing movements according to a sequence, you tend to let the horse go a bit straighter (or even counter bent), or a little less straight. Haunches to the inside, anyone?

8. Be more comfortable dur- ing stress There is no doubt that hav-

ing to do particular movements in particular places adds a stress element to both the horse and rider. Once in a while, it is good to work within that stress level to develop the ability to con- tinue to perform even under less than perfect conditions. It will get better with practice

9. Learn new skills Do you ever get caught in

a rut of doing the same thing over and over again? Use the tests to remind you of new movements you may have for- gotten about or never at- tempted. The dressage tests, in particular, are leveled in a way that you can work from one test to the next, as they increase in difficulty. This way, you never stagnate at one point for very long.

10. Think ahead When you ride movement

to movement, something won- Introducing the Mad Barn Provincial Nations Cup!

cited to announce the first ever Mad Barn Provincial Cup at the 2019 Trillium Champi- onship Show! This new class will take on a similar format to a FEI Nations Cup class where each of the THJA Zones put forward a team to represent them and compete for a pay- out towards their zone banquet and zone ac- tivities. This new class aims to unite the zones in camaraderie at Trillium Championship Show and encourage team work amongst competitors.

The THJA and Mad Barn are ex-

forward a team of four members (representing the .90M, 1M and 1.10M jumper heights) and a chef d’equipe (team coach) to represent their zone at the Mad Barn Provincial Cup. Team selection will be based on zone points in the se- lected jumper divisions and will be updated throughout the season and displayed on the THJA website and social media. The chef d’e-

Each of the seven zones will put

quipe (team coach) will be selected by the zone executive before Trillium Championship Show and announced in conjunction with the team an- nouncements the week before the show.

$1500, the second place zone will take home $1000 and the third place zone will take home $500. Mad Barn has also put together some fantastic prizes to accompany the zone bonus payments. More details to follow on those as the excitement about this new class builds this summer!!!

The winning zone will take home Good luck to all the zones!! Eastern Ontario Trillium Circuit

Central West Trillium Zone Central East Trillium Hunter Jumper Associ- ation THJA North East Zone SouthWest Trillium Zone South East Trillium Zone THJA Georgian Bay Zone JumperAssociation/

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derful happens pretty much on its own. Even while you are performing one figure, you need to know what is coming next so you can set up for it. Thinking ahead while riding is an excellent way to develop a flow to your riding that you can’t achieve when you do one thing at a time.

11. Look where you’re going Do you tend to look down

when you ride? You won’t have that opportunity when you need to plan where you are going in the test! You must look to the letters, to the perimeters of the ring, and to the placement of the figures, so eyes come up natu- rally.

If you dedicate some time

to practicing tests on a regular basis, you will notice that both you and your horse improve in your ability to meet the prede- termined goals of each test. As you become more familiar, you can start to work on new skills that challenge you to grow and develop - both horse and rider.

Bio: Kathy Farrokhzad is an EC coach and author of the Horse Listening book collection, and Goal Setting For The Eques- trian: A Personal Workbook. New Book! Horse Listening Book 4: 20-Minute Exercises To Add Variety To Your Riding Routine. If you liked what you read here, check out her blog at for many more articles about horses, rid- ing and life in general.

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