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In Stride: Dressage Test Patterns
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In Stride: Dressage Test Patterns

By Kristin Hermann

Horsetrend Magazine, August 1990

(Tests have been revised since these articles were written, but basic premise is the same progression. Kristin, July 2002)


Riding dressage test patterns are the determining factor as to how we progress with the horse's training. By actually reading and knowing the required patterns or new movements, a greater understanding of dressage will occur. Therefore, regardless of which level you are riding, and/or can compete with your horse, it is beneficial to know the requirements of the next two to three tests beyond that level. Thus, if you are riding First Level Test 2, familiarize yourself with First Level Tests 3 and 4 and Second Level Tests 1 and 2.


You will notice by studying the tests that the test levels are progressive from Training Level to Grand Prix, and that even within each level the tests proceed step by step. For example, First Level Test 4 is more difficult than First Level Tests, 1, 2, and 3.


Familiarizing yourself with the tests beyond what you are presently riding is not meant to scare you because the patterns become more difficult, but to help enhance your understanding of the training process. For example, by studying the tests, you will realize that the ten-meter circles required in First Level Tests 3 and 4 are necessary to develop the horse's gymnastic ability (and the rider's coordination) to achieve the lateral work required in Second Level on up.


A simple example of how the tests feed into one another is in First Level Test 2 where part of the test pattern is to ride two ten-meter half-circles. Then in First Level Test 3, the ten-meter half-circles become ten-meter full circles.


The examples would be numerous if you studied all the tests. Even at the higher levels an example is the half pass, which introduced at Third Level, develops into a half canter pirouette at Fourth Level. However, the rider must remember that he does not need to know the FEI tests (above Fourth Level) in order to enhance a First Level ride. But, by having an intellectual knowledge of how the First Level test patterns relate to the movements required for the FEI tests, will encourage a rider to understand the overall purposes of dressage to enhance and/or harness the athletic ability of the horse at the riders command.


Kristin showing Pernod.

Also, rather than merely knowing the dressage test patterns, riders should question why each movement is required and wonder how each pattern or change in gait benefits the horses training. Questions to ask would be:

  • What are the working gaits?
  • Why go on the bit?
  • Why do we ask our horses to lengthen?
  • How does the ten-meter circle relate to the shoulder-in and how does the shoulder-in enhance collection?
  • Why doesn't the horse extend its gaits before it lengthens its gaits?

Again, the questions could be endless.


All dressage tests progress from the basics in Training Level to Grand Prix. If a rider wants to train his horse's athletic ability beyond Grand Prix, he'd have to learn airs above the ground.

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