Misplaced Concerns

NOTE: Although this entry appears here after “Meet the New Tests,” it is out of chronological order and was written as a lead in to the new tests.

(“I hope they get rid of [blank]!”)

The 2019 USEF/USDF dressage tests have been released. (There is a link to them elsewhere on this website.) They become effective on December 1, 2018, and my next blog will cover the changes and what they mean to you as a rider.

Before we get to that, I recently came upon some conversation on the Chronicle of the Horse forum speculating as to what they would be like. This was comprised almost entirely of “I as the center of the universe” reactions along the lines of  “I hope they get rid of (blank). My horse always has trouble with that.” Complaints included having to make a canter depart directly onto a 15 m circle, having to come out of the corner counter-positioning the horse and leg yielding towards the center line, and having a halt over the centerline all in First Level Test Three, the latter which supposedly “interrupts the flow of the test.”

I am not totally unsympathetic to riders’ critiques of the test patterns. There have been times in the past where requirements which were newly introduced simply didn’t work out. The next time around they were abandoned. A few examples: the very first time leg yielding was introduced in any test was in the early ‘90s and it involved yielding from the corner in to X and back out to the corner at the end of the same long side. There were no prior tests which built up to the movement either by asking for the yielding on a shallower line or by yielding outward from the centerline. Prior to that time many American lower level riders had never done leg yielding at all. Consequently it was always a mess! Other short lived (and then rejected) experiments included requiring riders to enter in sitting trot in Training Test One, the renvers in Second Level, uberstreichen in medium canter, and medium trot on a 20 m circle.

Putting those admittedly bad ideas aside, please recognize the rationale behind the requirements of each level and the sequence in which the movements are introduced. One Intention of the tests is to guide you in a logical progressive development of your horse through correct training. That you have trouble with a movement or your horse doesn’t do it very well is often exactly the reason it’s there and you should be working on it! In those earlier examples which drew the complaints, shouldn’t you at First Level to be able to make a canter depart anywhere you want, whether it’s on a circle, in a corner, or in the middle of the long side? The halt in the middle of the test “disrupting the flow?” There would be a reasonable argument to keep it out of your freestyle, but during the last test before you move on to Second Level, shouldn’t you be able to make a balanced halt, keeping the horse in front of your leg and move off smoothly back in to trot? Whether you can or cannot isn’t the point. You SHOULD be able to!

As you look at the new tests, analyze what the exercises are trying to accomplish and help you to understand. As you do that, you should also think about what other patterns not specifically included in the tests will augment that process.

A look at the new tests next week.