("Tests have been revised
since this article were written, but the basic premise is the same progression." Kristin, July 2002)
All dressage tests build upon
one another and each movement within each test prepares the horse and rider for the next level. Also called movements, they
are merely the gymnastics exercises the horse needs to further its progress to Grand Prix. Progressing from Training Level
to First Level is a minor jump in the scale of levels to Grand Prix, although it is a major transition as Training Level prepares
the horse for all dressage. First Level follows suit by setting the groundwork for collection, and achieving collection is
the basis for all advanced work. Therefore, entering First Level properly with an understanding of its purpose is mandatory
if one is to progress through the levels of dressage.
At Training Level, the horse goes
willingly forward and the rider learns to harness the horse's rhythm by asking the horse to move off the leg aid and flex
at the poll. Thus, with each stride the horse's energy is captured in the hand and recycled back to the horse's haunches through
Training Level requires 20-meter
circles. In Tests 1 and 2 the horse does not have to be on the bit. The horse need only show that it fluently goes forward
and is relaxed, accepting the rider's aids. In Tests 3 and 4, the horse is expected to go on the bit at a trot and canter.
There is not sitting trot until the horse fully accepts being on the aids and its back has developed elastically to carry
the rider unburdened (First Level).
Canter departs for Training Level
Tests 1 and 2 are performed out of the corner and/or in the corner. The horse has the benefit of the doubt, plus five or six
strides to get the canter depart. The corner also prepares the horse for the correct lead. Tests 3 and 4 requires more accuracy
since the horse is advancing, thus the canter depart is at the letter and not in between.
A rider can clearly see what is
required of their horse in First Level by reviewing the tests. First Level Tests 1 and 2 requires fifteen-meter circles and
lengthenings at a trot and canter. In Tests 2 and 3, the circles become ten meters and leg yielding begins. Free walks are
required, but these are mandatory in all tests until Second Level.
Canter departs out of the corner
are still required until First Level Test 3 when the horse begins canter departs on the straight line of the diagonal. (Keeping
the horse straight in the haunches for a canter depart is vital when it comes time for flying changes [Third Level] as the
haunches should not swing higher in or out, but remain straight so all the thrust and power is forward.)
In First Level, the circles get
smaller in order for the horse to come more under from behind and carry more weight. As a result, by riding First Level movements,
the muscles required for the horse to collect himself (Second Level) begin to develop. But, this only happens provided the
horse is not stifled in its forward impulsion, and the rhythm of the trot and canter does not fluctuate.
Riding a correct ten-meter circle
is challenging not only for a rider beginning First Level, but for the horse as well. Horses may try to swing the haunches
either in or out on a smaller circle because it is easier than stepping under to carry the weight. Therefore, a rider must
be ready with the leg aids to hold the haunches onto the arc of the circle, and the rein aid to capture and receive the impulsion.
For this reason, First Level movements in Test 2 begin with a ten-meter half-circle instead of a full ten-meter circle.
Moving up to First Level develops
a little shorter frame within the horse, and as the rider schools the First Level movements in Tests 1 and 2 this frame will
develop. In other words, as the horse does a one-half ten-meter circle, and is ridden balanced on the aids and steps under
to achieve the circle, its head will come up. Since staying on the bit at First Level must be consistent, the rider's job
is to not only keep the haunches from falling in or out with leg aids, but to keep the horse soft in the jaw and flexed at
the poll while it makes the smaller circles.
When the horse begins working
on a smaller circle, it is normal and natural for the head to come up. In actuality this is what the rider wants. The head
comes up as a direct result of the haunches coming more underneath the horse's center of gravity to carry the rider and the
horse. The head coming up is not a threat to the performance as long as flexion at the poll is achievable. Thus, a continual
contact through the rein will keep the rider feeling for flexion at all times, so the horse remains on the bit throughout
the circle's arc.
First Level Tests 1 and 2 show
a lengthening at a rising trot as this gives the horse's back freedom to use itself and lengthen, but in Tests 3 and 4, the
horse is expected to have enough suppleness within its back muscles to carry the rider who remains sitting for the lengthenings.
Lengthenings at the trot and canter
in First Level show important aspects of the horse's gymnastic ability - lengthening and relaxation of the back muscles,
the ability to do downward transitions within the gait, and/or the engagement of the haunches, without the rider pulling at
the horse to slow it down. A rider's ability to show a lengthening proves that their horse is submissive to the aids as it
strides forward into the hands with rhythm, and easily returns to the working gait without resistance.