Dressage test

11 ways to take the stress out of your first dressage test

By Juliet Penwarden on 06 November 2018

Whether it's your first dressage test or you've been riding for a while these useful tips below should help every rider. Hopefully, these points will aid your preparation and diminish your nerves for your dressage test:

Always smile: Remember you are riding and competing for pleasure so let rip with a smile! Smiling will help you to relax and release tension and if you do, you horse is more likely to do so too.

Find the right coach: Learning should be enjoyable and rewarding, as should teaching. Finding a coach who understands you and your horse, recognises your ambition and ability and knows how to make you both tick will make all the difference to your motivation. And theirs!

Prepare for your first test well in advance: Work through all the separate test movements with your coach, over several weeks, until you and your horse feel relaxed and comfortable. But don’t ride them in the order that the test requires otherwise your horse will begin to predict the sequences in advance.

Learn the test: Make sure you know your test inside out and back to front. Walk it in the field with the dog, draw it on a white board, or ride it from start to finish on a different horse! While it’s permissible to have a caller on the day, often the test will look much more fluid and pleasing to the judge if you can ride it smoothly from memory.

Look the part: A smart appearance will give a better overall impression and shows respect for the organisers and the judge. Make sure your boots are polished, your breeches are clean, your jacket fits and your hair is tidy. Your horse should be gleaming from top to tail, with clean and properly fitting tack. A white saddlecloth will help you look and feel the part and a plaited mane will not only look tidy but will often show off your horse’s shape to best advantage too.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew: When you enter your first dressage test make sure you are working to a slightly higher level at home. For example if you are capable of riding a high preliminary test at home enter a lower one for your first event. This way even if your nerves and the new environment get the better of you, there’s every chance you may still come home with a rosette.

Plan your travel route: Take the stress out of the journey by planning your route to the venue in advance. Get your sat nav programmed the day before or use Google Maps. Write down the directions too, just on the off chance that your electronic route planner fails!

Allow plenty of time on the day: Rushing will make you and your horse stressed. Make sure you reach the show in good time, having factored in time for traffic delays. Allow your horse some time to settle in at the venue while you take a look at the arena and watch a test or two. 

Respect the organisers: Be courteous to the judge, writer and other helpers. Often they are volunteers and a smile, a hello and a thank you from an appreciative competitor will help them get through a long day. It will help you to feel more relaxed too.

Learn from your test: Judges have a tough job trying to give marks and constructive comments, all in a short space of time. Your test sheet is produced to help you progress so it’s very worthwhile to read it carefully and discuss it with your coach. Be proud of the good marks and be proactive about how you can improve on the weaker scores next time.

Say thank you to your horse: Without your horse none of this would be possible! No matter how you performed it’s important to appreciate your horse and be grateful that you have the privilege of being able to take him out and compete.

Related Content

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide To Dressage 

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Advanced Dressage Rider and BHS Accredited Professional Coach


Juliet Penwarden is an advanced dressage rider and BHS Accredited Professional Coach, based at Brook Farm in Suffolk. Juliet is currently competing at National level with her two horses Decorum and Estoban. She is level 4 Senior Coach and enjoys teaching a wide variety of horses and riders and helping partnerships progress.

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