If you want to ride a professional dressage test, the first thing is that you need to do is know your test. I mean REALLY know it.
Even though from Training Level through 4th level, you can have some read your test out loud, it’s still important that you really know your dressage test. This is critical so your test doesn’t look like a bunch of random movements strung together.
That way you can use the reader if you occasionally blank out. But for the most part, you won’t even be listening to the reader because you’ll be paying attention to your horse.
So you want to be able to do the dressage test on autopilot, so that you can reserve all of your focus for riding your horse. You want to be riding your horse not concentrating on what comes next in the pattern.
To help you do this, start memorizing your test early on. I have 3 different ways that I memorize tests. They include:
1. Visualization-I know that it takes approximately 21 days to develop a habit. So I start visualizing my dressage test every day at least 3 weeks before a show. I sit in an easy chair or lie down on my bed, close my eyes, and take 3 really deep breaths.
You want to do diaphragmatic breathing, so as you inhale, feel like your stomach is getting fat. That means you’re taking air way down into the bottom of your lungs. As you exhale, feel yourself sinking into the chair or bed.
Visualizing your dressage test is going to help you do two things. First, it’s going to help you memorize your test. Secondly, when you visualize the perfect ride, you program your subconscious mind to ride correctly. That’s because when you do “perfect practice” in your mind’s eye, your muscles will fire in the correct way.
As you visualize, go through your dressage test stride for stride. Fill in as much detail as you can.
What are you wearing? What does your horse look like? What does the arena look like? What color is your jacket? What color are your gloves?
Fill in as many details as you can AND include your senses. Hear the rhythm of the footfalls. Feel the contact with your horse’s mouth. See your horse’s head and neck out in front of you. Smell the fly spray.
Also, add emotion to your mental movies. Experience yourself feeling calm, relaxed, poised and the harmony of being at one with your horse.
2. Do your test on foot.
Another thing I do is walk and trot, and canter the parts of the dressage test at home in my living room as if I were riding them. You can also do this in a regular dressage arena if you want. Of course it will take you a long time to walk, trot and canter around an entire dressage arena , but it definitely works to do this.
But if you have a big rectangular area or just mark off an area and trot down the center line, do your halts, trot off, plan where you’re going to turn, walk where you’re supposed to walk, canter where you’re supposed to canter. So you actually have a chance to physically practice.
3. Know your dressage test “forwards and backwards”.
The third way that I memorize a test is to learn it the way it’s written from the first entry to the final salute. But then, to know that I “own” that test, I pick any movement and ask myself what comes after it.
And here’s the real thing that tells the story, I ask myself, “And what movement comes before this movement?”
So I might say, “What comes before the left canter depart?” or “What comes before the free walk?” or “What comes after the trot lengthening?”
When you can pick any point within the dressage test and you can answer those two questions, you really own that test. Also, if you do happen to blank out in the middle of the test, you’ll be able to remember where you are very easily. Click here for more free dressage tips