The USEF has new RIDER tests this year. Could you tell me about them?

My first reaction to the notion of more tests is “Puleeze! Stop this endless “give everybody a chance to win something whether they ought to or not!” But that’s just me and being old. Somewhere along the way the notion that the only way to justify yourself (or be motivated) is to dangle the possibility of some prize in front of you seems kind of shallow.

On the other hand, the Rider Tests were created to give the people who don’t have a warmblood with exotic movement a chance to compete on a more equal footing. God, after all, didn’t decree that scores (and therefore “worth”) should be viewed through the prism of what you can pay for a fancy, athletic horse. That’s just an evolution of the sport which is, in part defined by breeders and sellers of those magnificent creatures.

“And why shouldn’t it?” is a reasonable response. A well ridden good horse is more beautiful than a well ridden average horse. That may not sit well with the politically correct “everybody gets a chance to play” Soccer Mom ethos, but it remains true on an objective scale. If the goal is to reward that which is most wonderful to see, then a great horse ridden greatly should be the pinnacle of our sport. Right?

Meanwhile, if the goal is “Be as good as you can be,” then the Olympics could include lots of old fat men running their personal bests. We might just be less inspired.

So anyhow, wherever they came from, here’s the deal: At Training, First, and Second Levels there are additional single new tests which exist alongside (but not meant to replace) the regular ones we see at normal competitions. The “Rider Tests” have a prescribed pattern as you’re accustomed to, but, more along the lines of the FEI Young Horse Tests, you don’t get an individual score for each movement successively performed. The judge watches your entire performance and, at its conclusion, gives out five scores each parsed to tenths of a point. They are for Rider Position, Correct and Effective Use of the Aids, the Horse’s Response and Performance, Accuracy of the Exercises, and Harmony between Horse and Rider. Each of those five scores has a coefficient of 2, so each reflects 20% of the overall score for the test. The verbiage goes into further detail on the sheets to make clear to you exactly what the judge is looking for. Reference is made to the Pyramid of Training and adherence to all the correct basics that good dressage is supposed to reflect. Your final score will be expressed as a percentage of “perfection”—same as the regular tests.

How popular the Rider Tests become remains to be seen. I think they’re an excellent vehicle to try at a schooling show to give you a different kind of feedback. In terms of a meaningful competition, until the judges (through practice) establish their scale, the grading of one rider against the next may be problematic. I don’t see it as a difficulty if there are three in the class, but imagine in a class of 20 where the placings can hinge on whether your geometry was a 7.3 or a 7.4 or a 7.5. Tough calls! (In a way you might say empty calls. When it comes to ring figures, instead of 100 possible scores, I could probably get by with three: PASS, FAIL, and “Well, that was pretty good except for the screw up.”)

One interesting sidelight to these tests: They have given the committee an opportunity to experiment with movements and figures that haven’t “made the cut” for inclusion in the regular tests. In Training Level, they include a pair of transitions from trot to walk to trot as you cross over the centerline on a 20-meter circle. First Level includes riding on the second track, turns on the forehand (unseen in American tests since the mid 1970s), a three loop canter serpentine with changes of lead through the trot, and canter lengthening on the 20-meter circle (as in some of the USEA eventing tests). Second Level incorporates shoulders-in and travers on the centerline, a three loop canter serpentine with simple changes of lead (as in the old Second Level Test 4), simple changes from counter to true canter at the middle of the short side, and (a favorite of mine which I lobbied in favor of for years) a diagonal of medium trot with some well defined steps of collected trot over X. You may recognize this movement from the regular Fourth Level 1, but I’ve always said why teach them to barrel off across the diagonal for three levels before you suddenly suggest to the rider that she might have controlled, supple, and regulatable Mediums at Fourth Level? Until a horse builds the strength for better carrying power, better that he should demonstrate shorter Mediums of higher quality and the ability to get into and out of them fluidly and obediently.

So there you have it. I have yet to judge any of these new Rider Tests. If you happen to ride one in competition, drop me a note, and tell me what you think about them.

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