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2003 USAEq Dressage Tests - a Discussion with Larry Buseck
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The New 2003 USA Equestrian Tests informal talk by R Judge, Larry Buseck

On March 20th the WPDA sponsored an informal talk with Larry A. Buseck, our club's only R judge. Larry has been a judge for 12 years and a large R since 1997. For 23 years Larry has been a WPDA member, and for several of those years he served as president. He is a certified instructor from the British Horse Association and has a USDF Bronze and Silver Medal. Currently, he teaches, trains and judges throughout the area and the United States.

First, Larry discussed several new rule changes. Before, riders had one minute to enter the dressage arena after the whistle. Now, riders will have only 45 seconds. The reason this rule was changed was to encourage riders to be ready to enter when the bell rings and not wait to begin their warm up when they hear the bell. This rule change came as a surprise to many riders already showing in the warmer states, so, let it be known, 45 seconds is not one minute. Larry suggested that riders practice with a stop-watch to see how far around the ring they can go in 45 seconds. Most horses cannot trot all the way around the arena in 45 seconds unless they are really moving forward.

On show day if you plan to ride your horse in more than three classes, think again. A new rule only allows a horse to go into three classes. Larry stated that from his judging experience, there seems to always be someone at the show going into five or more classes with one horse. So from now on this will not be allowed. Since some riders did not use good common sense, a rule had to be made to protect the horses.

Also, a list of bits approved for showing now include one of the Myler bits. To know which one, he suggested checking out the rule book and the USA Equestrian website. If it is not pictured in the rule-book it is not legal.

For the Training Level tests a rider may post or sit for any of the four tests. It used to be that you only had that option for Training Level Tests 1 and 2. Generally this is regarded as a good rule, since many Training Level riders are not ready to sit the trot yet, and trainers believe this will keep the horses' backs more comfortable and swinging.

When asked what the difference between Training and First Level was, Larry said judges want to see thrust and the beginning of the hindquarters carrying at First Level. At Second Level judges are looking for medium and collected gaits. Then for Third Level, judges need to see a clear distinction between the paces with active hocks accepting more weight on the hindquarters. The medium and extended gaits should show a clear difference within the horse's frame with the medium more together and uphill and the extended longer and more ground covering. Larry says at this point, the top line of the horse changes so the energy from the hind legs comes more through.

When asked why a working walk was changed to a medium walk when the tests were last updated in 1999, he said it was because riders would think a medium walk would go more forward. Too many riders slowed the working walk and interfered with its freedom. A good walk is to cover ground. That means the horse should step well under itself. The walk, Larry said, is the easiest gait to destroy and the hardest gait to get a good score on especially as you move up the levels.

Riders wanting to show at Third Level are now able to use a double bridle. Previously, this was not allowed till Fourth Level. There are pros and cons to this according to Larry. Riders who try to take advantage of this rule by riding Third Level before they have given their horse a strong foundation in the basics will not do well, because the substance of the tests have changed. The emphasis will be on the importance of horses showing their good basics instead of the movements!

Larry emphasizes, over and over to read the directives on the test sheets to know what the judge is looking for within each movement. He also suggested that all competitors should refer to the USA Equestrian rule book and read about the levels and the description for each gait. Fourth level has been condensed in the new tests, and Larry says many riders may be tempted to skip Third Level because it is so difficult. The ability to show a clear difference between medium and extended gaits is very challenging.

About using the scale of scores, Larry informed us that all judges are being pressured to use the scale. They are encouraged to give not only 10s but 1s and 2s as well!  A 10 is excellent, a 9 is very good, and an 8 is good. Someone asked what the difference is between a 5 and a 6. Larry stated that 6 is satisfactory and 5 is sufficient. A better way to think about it is that 5 means the movement was "marginally" correct, meaning that you just barely executed the requirements. According to Larry and the USA Equestrian rules, 8 means that you made a good effort at fulfilling the requirement of the movement; 9 means very good and 10 means that you have done an excellent job at fulfilling the requirements!

A few other tidbits Larry shared were that the USDF Walk Trot Tests are new for 2003 and now require a halt at the beginning. The new Second Level tests ask for simple changes right away with the first test. He added that the S turn from E to X and half turn X to B at First Level is actually an Intermediare movement and is rarely seen ridden well at Intermediare. It requires really good balance to not lose the haunches or forward flow of the movement. He also commented that he believes it is good for the S judges to have to judge Training Level, so that they can influence, and hopefully inspire, riders at the grass roots level. This is, after all, where the foundation of dressage begins.

Larry also mentioned that at the championship shows, if a rider does not score at least a 50%, no ribbon will be awarded. The best advice Larry could give everyone is to acquire the strong basics of a balanced, engaged and straight horse. The rider must get the horse reliably on the aids with energy, straight and forward, and then "just go for it."

Lastly, Larry informed us that now riders only have three errors till being eliminated: first error - 2 points, second error - 4 points, third error - elimination. Also, riders need to know that only 20 seconds of sustained resistance will be tolerated, or result in elimination. So, at least we now know that all the stress will not be on the rider and horse, because with these new rules changes, the judge will not only have to blow his whistle for an error, but now also have to carry a stop watch to time your ability to get your test literally back on track!

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