Know Thy Test
By Sally O’Dwyer
When I enter the show ring, I fear I will be possessed by a horrific amnesia attack and forget where/what I am supposed to be doing. I know that I am not alone in this fear. So, what to do? Go all in and think as if you are going to get a PhD in your test.
Get serious and work with a Dressage Trainer that competes and knows the tests, so they can teach you to be amazing. You are worth it! Think of the cost as a necessary part of your PhD test tuition. You are a Jedi and you need a Yoda!
What’s Your Purpose? Just like an actor, know why you are doing what you are doing. Each level has a specific purpose notated on your test. Understanding the purpose will help you know what your judge is looking for, and help you decipher the scores you receive.
It’s Easier to Remember Something you Love: Understand how the movements flow together and are sequenced to prepare the horse and rider for the next skill. Thank the creators for designing your test and tell yourself that the test pattern was written just for you to show off all your mad dressage skills. Believe you will WOW the judge because you are freaking poetry in motion when you ride your test.
Nail Your Directives: Directives for each movement (also found on your test) explain how to perform each movement. When memorizing your test, include the directives. Most people know the movements, but not the directives. Accuracy counts, so know the size of your circles, where the transitions are, and to what letter you are traveling. Know what new movements are being introduced and the coefficients.
What Learning Style Works Best for You? Do that!
Think about what type of learner you are and focus memorizing your test in a way that best suits you. Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic–hands on/physical learner? Take it easy on your brain and learn your test in three sections: the walk, trot and the canter tours.
Visualize Rocking it: To learn your test, visualize in your mind you are riding your test–astride your horse. Do this at night before falling asleep in bed. By the way, visualize yourself killing the test! Imagine your horse’s regular, rhythmic footfalls. You are looking up and you can see between your lovely horse’s ears and you are using your corners. You are relaxed, and your horse is supple and in front of your leg. You look great. Think about what you will be doing while riding and how you will prepare for each movement. Give your horse a little pat for doing such a great job.
Draw Your Test: Download a PDF of a regulation dressage ring (check Pinterest) and then draw your test–be accurate!!!! Make sure you use the Standard arena Size, 60 by 20 meters. A Dressage Arena Sketch Book is available on Amazon. You can also walk your test out in a ring, or your living room.
Get the USDF TESTPRO App. This I Phone/Android app offers multiple learning options. You can read the test as it is written, watch a digital horse perform your test–click to move to the next movement, and you listen to an audio version of the test.
Watch You! Have someone video you performing your test and watch yourself go. This works best in a regulation sized ring with letters. Sometimes it is difficult watching ourselves on video because we are our own worst critics and we are just too harsh on ourselves. If that’s the case, watch your test being performed by others who have uploaded their rides on YouTube. Make sure you are watching the 2019 test version. They often have the score posted. Judge for yourself where you think the rider and horse are going well and perhaps could improve. Think about what movement will come next while watching the video.
Consider just riding one test per show. Riding more than one test can be challenging. They are often similar enough to cause confusion. At the lower levels, it is acceptable to ride more than one test at a show–If you like to show more than one class, ride your test, say second level test 2, then ride second level test of choice (TOC) and select test two. That way you can do your thing twice without the headache of having to memorize more than one test. You can also bolster your confidence by having a reader read your test for you. Don’t worry what others might think of you. It is okay to have a reader for tests Intro through 4th level. Readers are prohibited in championship classes. Having a reader really reduces my anxiety!
Go to shows and watch people ride your test. Try to attend when you are not showing so you can focus on the rides and not have to deal with your 1,500-pound friend. Enjoy getting to know other competitors at your level. They are your cohorts so show them some love. Now go out there and ride a killer test!