In the court of St. James

(“Presto you’re an FEI rider!”)

One of my recurring themes with students is to do lots more stuff than the patterns of your tests. Look at higher level ones. Look at lower level ones. Look at rider tests. Look at foreign tests.
Stay out of a rut. Nothing should be so surprising to your horse that he  can’t do it.

The tests are more interesting than they used to be. I’m talking 30 or 40 years ago. During that first spurt of popularity when “normal” dressage riders discovered that you didn’t have to be an Olympic rider to do more than 20 meter circles on Arabs and quarter horses (no offense intended) and the Germans flooded the American market with schoolmaster-ish warmbloods, things were getting a little out of hand. Slap them in a double bridle, buy a shad belly and a top hat, and presto you’re an FEI rider! Like anyone with a newfound toy, it was only natural to concentrate on the “tricks.”

There were many voices of reason trying to stem that tide, several of them by proposing a modified kind of competition. In CDS on the West Coast there was Baron Hans von Blixen Finecke from Sweden. In the mid west there was Colonel Kurd von Ziegner. Both had the idea that a more meaningful competition would include both the standard FEI test and one especially created emphasizing the basics. The two elements would be combined for an overall score.

The point was to ensure that the horse was truly on the aids—that he didn’t just make a flying change at the corner or over the centerline because that was where you always did them. Von Ziegner was doing clinics at St. James farm in Illinois, so the competition which he was encouraging was cleverly called the Prix St. James. Here it is:

It probably looks a lot less radical to you now than it did back then. Remember this was before the stretching circle was introduced in our tests, likewise before they included uberstreichen. The Colonel was a bit ahead of his time, but his ideas should be familiar and consistent with the way you train.