BILL: The one word answer is WELL. You’re supposed to ride it well. The question is HOW. What do we see as judges that usually goes wrong? The exercise is mainly about suppleness and bending and showing that the bend can be changed smoothly and without resistance. Riders very often dig themselves into a hole right from the start by riding the figure itself incorrectly and giving themselves no opportunity to show those bend changes. Typically what we see is a figure that looks a lot like the walk pattern in Training Test 2: The rider goes from the corner letter on a diagonal, “changes her mind” at X, and goes back to the corner letter on the same side on another straight line. What we want to see is a figure of continuous curves–no straight lines at all. Think of a “bell curve.” After a normal corner between C and M, peel your horse gradually off the track aiming not at X but almost towards E. You should cross the quarter-line right opposite R, and that’s the point where the bend should change. Then you ride a “fat dome” whose point furthest from the track is at X. The second half of the dome as you return to the rail, should match the first half. Don’t aim back at F; think of a sharper curve almost as though you are going to P. Then DO change your mind and the bend as you cross the quarter-line in line with P, and ooze gracefully back onto the track approaching F as gradually as you see the space shuttle touch down at Kennedy. When the movement was new, a diagram on the front of the test sheet explained how it should look. I wish the Test Writers would restore that picture. It would make it a lot simpler for the riders, and I wouldn’t need to order a rubber stamp which explains to the people I judge what they keep doing wrong!
BILL: The nice thing about this question is that there isn’t really a single correct answer. Some opinions may be worth more than others, and your own can be foremost if you so wish. When I first saw the video from the end of July of Edward Gal & Moorlands Totilas doing their 89+% ride at Hickstead, I very much admired the horse’s athleticism, and the piaffe/passage was truly spectacular. My overall impression, however, was less ecstatic than many others’. For me parts of the ride seemed almost inorganic — robot like. The topline reminded me a bit of a Saddlebred — nearly a headset, and I missed the elasticity and harmony I have seen in other horses. Looking at the linked video here from the European Championships, I take it all back. I admit that the music doesn’t appeal to me — on the apocalyptic scale it belongs somewhere to the west of the Road Warrior soundtrack. But, WOW, what a ride this one was! Goosebumps are more than appropriate. Tears, well, that’s up to you.
BILL: The answer to this, for better or worse, is a resounding NO! Some judges seem to have a sliding standard and want to be “kinder” or “encouraging” to less experienced competitors. I am totally in favor of encouraging them—particularly with my comments on the test sheet or, if time permits, in conversation after the ride. But to jimmy the scores higher—whether at a schooling show or at a competition in a more remote part of the country—just confuses riders and trainers. A single standard that remains the same morning to night, professional to amateur to kid on a fat pony, and—as much as is humanly possible—week to week and show to show is the only good way to indicate to riders where they really stand and what progress they are making.