“. . . exercises that are often taught grudgingly . . . “)
The premise I wish to begin with is that a horse which is truly “on the aids” should be able (appropriate to his level of training) to perform any movement you want anywhere and anytime you ask for it. That just seems reasonable, and it fits in with my notion of the horse functioning like a vending machine: equally ready to offer any desired result when you’ve put your money in. If he’s correctly on the aids, he won’t answer “Make another selection.”
How does that fit in with a six-figure horse I once tried in Germany? She had FEI credentials and could do all the movements of PSG. However, if I asked her to come down the inner track and halfway between F and P leg yield to the left to the opposite quarter line, she had not a clue and wouldn’t move over. Clearly that was not programmed into her memory bank!
So the question becomes do you just want to teach your horse how to do the tests, or do you want a horse who is soft, obedient, and willing to do whatever you ask whenever you want it? The answer is pretty obvious to me, and I hope it is to you also.
The above is all preamble to the mention of three exercises that appear in the tests and are often taught grudgingly and primarily just for the score. It’s easy to fall into this trap because they appear in the tests pretty much always at the same locations and always in the same gaits. The three: stretching the horse long and low which we see in the trot on a 20 m circle in Training and First Levels, very collected canter which is asked for over the centerline in Fourth Level Test One, and uberstreichen which is asked for on the 20 m circle in canter in Third Level Test Two.
But please, they are included in the tests not just so you will get a score but to remind you that performing them successfully are measures of how correct your horse’s training is, and as I mentioned back at the top, they should be available to you whenever you want. Moreover, the ability to perform them should be alive in every other movement
You should want to be able to perform them not just in those several places that the tests dictate but wherever you want and in other gaits as well. Recent USEA tests have incorporated stretching long and low into the trot serpentine and into the canter. Why not? Even in Collection the horse must think of reaching to the hand from back to front, not being ridden restrictively.
Likewise, the very collected canter is a balancing tool and should be available to you anywhere—in the middle of a half pass, for instance, not just as pirouette preparation. It can vary in duration and in magnitude. Think of it as a “Return to your senses and find your balance” interlude to share with your horse when things are unraveling.
And uberstreichen—the release of one or both reins for several steps with no loss of frame, balance, or tempo—is a demonstration of self carriage. Make it as doable in shoulder in or a canter pirouette as it is on a circle. Embrace these movements. Don’t avoid them. Use them to explain to the horse the relationship you are seeking. Find out if they work!