Coventry Equestrian Center

Riding a Training Level Test & Through the Eyes of a Camera

Our Background and Philosophy
Coventry FACEBOOK Page
Our Facilities
Upcoming Events
Horses for Sale or Lease
Some of our Successful Students
Dressage Over Fences
Coventry Juniors
(OLDER) In Stride..CEC's Newsletter
Coventry's Newsletter
Recommended Reading
Stretching your Horse - Yoga for Horses
Training Articles
Published Articles - Instruction and Advice
Published Articles: Photo Step-by-Step Guides
Published Articles - Interviews and Clinic Reports
Favorite Quotes
Western Dressage
Our Photo Album
Favorite Links
Clarion Calls Herbs and Herbal Articles
Contact Us

by Kristin Hermann 

Accomplishing the goals of riding a Training Level test is the foundation of dressage. It is the level where the rider must master the horse’s three natural gaits and maintain the horse in a relaxed, rhythmic and round frame. Sounds easy! But, harnessing the horse’s three natural gaits to display in a soft frame or contact where the horse’s hind end travels through the rider’s seat resulting in the horse giving at the poll onto a soft and receiving hand is not that easy. However, once a rider does master Training Level and continues on the journey of dressage, or, gymnastic training with the horse, the challenges lessen as the foundation has been set. Below are photos of a home schooled horse performing at Training Level. By sharing
these photos we are going to experience a Training Level Test (through the eyes of the camera) and discuss what is going on, why, and maybe a little bit of how.

In the warm Up Arena (photos 1,2 & 3)

Photo 1.

The warmup arena is often crowded and a rider has to stay focused with the horse and avoid being distracted. Just the experience of warming up in a crowded arena is a great way to start because it causes the rider to focus yet maintain peripheral vision (soft eyes) and that is what is needed to ride the test. Our junior rider has warmed up and her attention is now on the other arena waiting for her number to be called.

Photo 2.

Enter at A, at X Halt and Salute

The bell has rung and the rider (a junior rider with three years of experience in the saddle) has 45 seconds to get to X. That thought alone would be enough to get anyone’s stomach in a turmoil. Sounds like a short amount of

Photo 3.

time, but if you breathe deep, it is almost a minute! Okay, but just before going in, we break her concentrated spell acquired through warm up and do a few last minute touches: wipe the boots, tuck in spur straps, check that all keepers are secure and ask, “Do you know your test and which direction to turn at C?”

Our rider is outside the arena and she is getting ready to trot down the center line. She needs to bring her left hand up so she has a straight line elbow to bit, however her horse is soft in the bridle, relaxed and attentive. They are ready.

Photo 4.

Shortening the reins, she leans a little too forward in anticipation, nevertheless, our off-the-track thoroughbred prepares for his grand entry. Coming down center line is the first and last impression the judge gets of you and your horse, so try to make it impressive. (photo 5).

Photo 5.

Halt at X

Her halt at X is straight and the horse has stayed soft on the bit and is not against the rider’s hands. (photo 6) Ideally the horse should be square in the back, but at this level it does not matter too much and the judge can’t see that anyway. Straight, on the center line with a smooth transition from trot to walk to halt with a submissive horse is enough of a challenge for now.

Photo 6.

The rider has leaned forward to salute. Sometimes this can be a problem, as you can see leaning forward caused her leg to move back. She is lucky her horse did not walk off when she did this. She should practice saluting and not leaning forward, her seat /position should not be jeopardized to salute. Also, taking the hand off the rein to salute while the horse stays soft and on the aids is always a big plus in dressage, not to mention taking the rein back after the salute. Practicing the salute before you go to the show is always a good idea! Many horses interpret taking the reins back as a signal to walk on. Nope, the signal to walk is asking the horse to move off the leg not taking up contact. Perfect practice makes perfect.

After the halt, your horse is to transition from a walk into a trot where it stays straight onthe center line till it gets about a horse length away from C. The horse is not to turn too early, ‘fall in’ off the center line or go wide to the outside of center line and then turn. Practicing riding the center line before the show is also a good idea. It is challenging riding a horse off a wall with nothing to guide it and perform fluid transitions while keeping its long body straight. Going from a trot on the quarter line or centerline on into a walk, and then back into a trot while keeping the horse straight, is a great exercise to learn how to do great centerlines. When you can go trot / walk and walk/ trot while keeping your horse straight and soft on the bit before during and after transitions then, add the straight halt. Once this is perfected then add the salute. Training your horse by practicing pieces of the tests and then learning how to string them all together is a great method for success.
The Reader

Having a reader for your tests is a great advantage. It helps to take the edge off of knowing where you are going next. With a reader you can completely focus on what you are doing with your horse. Remember, the judge is always evaluating each moment and each movement of the horse’s relaxation, rhythm, roundness and accurancy throughout the whole test. The rider, of course, is the pilot who makes it all happen. However, a rider needs to know the tests too. All tests usually mirror one another, meaning if you do a circle left at E, then when you change direction and circle to the right it will be at E’s mirror opposite which is B. Knowing this helps a rider to remember the fluidity of the tests.

At A Turn Right or Left

Which way you turn at A is not an issue in dressage, the tests will be your directive. The
issue is how well you rode the corner from the center line. Did your horse travel up to C before turning, or did it freak at the judge? And/or did your horse get into the corner of the turn, or cut the corner? And/or did your horse over or under shoot center line? Once again sounds simple till you get there.

Riding into the corners teaches the horse to bend and the rider to use the aids. Good use of the arena, such as using the corners, is required to ride an accurate test. Corners are good for half halts, setting the horse up for center line, changes of rein across the diagonal and/or canter departs... Use the corners, for as hard as they may seem to get into they are your friend for gymnastic training and performing awesome dressage tests.

Photo 8.

The Twenty Meter Circle
In the next two photos (8 & 9) our
horse has ridden through the corner and is on a circle at E or B, hard to tell exactly where she started! Her horse’s body is nicely ‘positioned’ in the direction it is traveling, which is tracking left or counter clock wise. This rider is letting the horse’s hind end and back travel through her seat where she directs the energy and size of the circle with her aids. Her outside rein is keeping the horse in balance, so he is not ‘falling in,’ or making the circle too small. She is sitting nicely in the middle of the horse’s back and is not leaning to the inside. Everything about them looks harmonious.

Photo 9.

This horse is soft, he is not tense or rushing, he is relaxed, rhythmic and calm. Also, you can see how the rider’s shoulder is slightly back or turning in the direction she and her horse are traveling. A rider’s shoulders should be in alignment with the horse’s shoulder. Both horse and rider are positioned left to ride a very nice twenty meter circle. Her inside leg is at the girth bending the horse at the rib cage and her outside leg is back keeping the haunches from ‘falling out’ and her outside rein is maintaining the balance and her inside rein is slightly positioning the horse’s neck left. Sounds complicated, till you just do it enough that it becomes second nature.

Change of Rein Across the Diagonal

Once a rider performs that first perfect circle, then she makes a change of direction across the diagonal to display the horse's gaits, balance, rhythm and suppleness in the other direction. Just because a horse goes well in one direction does not necessarily mean it performs as well going the other way. Basically, for the judge, the rider is showing how well she trained the horse to go ‘both ways.’ Dressage horses must be ambidextrous, as well as the person training the horse. One sidedness will not benefit either horse or rider.

Photo 10.

Okay, to get to the other side, the change of rein across the diagonal too is judged and scored. One does not just meander across the arena on a diagonal line, but ride the horse forward and straight and then ride into and out of the corners bending the horse through the corner. Going across the diagonal can be as challenging as the center line. Often a horse will fall either in or out on the diagonal line. In photo 10 our rider is preparing to come across the diagonal. You can see her concentrating as she has her head up and is looking for the opposing letter on the other side. If she lands with her shoulder at the letter she will have enough time to get into the corner to prepare for the next movement.
The Training Level tests usually have either a transition to walk or a canter depart after the diagonal line. By riding into the corners of the arena, have we emphasized this enough, the bending not only helps to maintain suppleness for the horse but it preps the horse for the next movement. If the movement is for a walk, the corner will help to half halt the horse to slow it down, if it is for a canter depart the corner helps to gather the horse so it coils uphill into a canter.

The Free Walk

Because we don’t want to tire our horses out, all tests require a walk break in between the trot and canter work. Thus the free walk is either displayed across the diagonal line or on what is called a ‘broken diagonal
line.’ That is two short diagonal lines that meet at X. Please refer to a dressage test, where some of the movements
are illustrated on the back cover. In photo 11, our rider is walking through a corner preparing to come across the diagonal. She is once again looking up scouting her next move, good job! Even though her horse should be a little more up in the bridle, they still make a very harmonious pair. The horse is bending nicely and has obviously been very obedient to her soft commands.


Photo 11.

Riding through a corner requires quite a bit of finesse, not that any part of a Training Level test does not, but you can see in photo 11, that she has gotten her horse into the corner by pushing his body and bending into the corner, keeping him on the outside rein. She has not pulled him into the corner.

Once a rider lands on the diagonal line, after riding out of the corner in balance, she lets the horse stretch out, or chew the reins out of the hands while walking. Remember do not allow the horse to stretch in the corner, wait till you get him on the diagonal line.

Photo 12

Many horses do not stretch, but those that do are rewarded because
stretching in a dressage test is always double points. Our horse, in photo 12, is stretching real nice, but his nose is a little behind the vertical. The rider needs to let his nose out a little more. Also, in this photo the horse is under tracking. That means his hind end needs to step more under his body. When a horse is tracking up, the length of stride from the two front legs will match the length of stride of the two hind
legs. It is obvious, in photo 12, that the hind end is not stepping under enough. More push from behind would help to get the nose more forward, but then the rider might risk the horse jigging, or breaking to a trot, which would blow this movement for her. There is a fine balancing act between horse and rider when riding tests and all options have to be mentally calculated during the process of riding the test. Certainly this rider is likely thinking, “Do I ask for more walk, or just accept the walk I have?"

The Canter Depart

After the trot has been displayed
for the judge, and the free walk gave the horse a break and a chance to stretch, the canter is now ridden. Did we mention before, how the corners can set the horse up
for the canter depart? In Training Level all canter departs are performed either in the corner or just before or after the corner, for that reason mentioned above, whereas in First Level, the canter is asked for on straight lines.

In photo 13, our rider has leaned forward to ask her horse to canter, and her toe is out! This is typical for a green rider. Eventually, she will learn to lean back to get the canter departs, but for now it is okay. Besides, who is going to argue with a horse that looks so beautiful and an elegant junior rider? Also, it must be mentioned that the horse’s nose is again behind the vertical. But, regardless, he is stepping up and through the rider and has a nice frame. Need we start to debate whether the horse is either in front of the rider’s leg, yet behind the bit, or behind the leg and behind the bit? The bottom line is, this horse is connected from back to front, he is in front of the rider’s leg, but behind the vertical. As this rider starts to ride more uphill herself and not lean forward, the horse will follow suit and come more up at the poll. First Level here we come.

Photo 13.

The Canter Circle

When we talk about riding a Training Level test, it seems so easy, however putting together all the varying parts of the test, let alone maneuvering the horse ‘just so,’ gets to become an obsession. Dressage training is definitely for persons with OCD. The Training Level test is very similar to the Walk Trot test accept for Training Level, the canter is required. As we have already discussed the canter depart, now with the can
ter ‘in hand’ we move onto the canter on a twenty meter circle.
Tracking left we have two photos (14 & 15) of our rider doing a fine job. Her horse is submissive and he is balanced on the outside rein, not to mention he got the correct lead! Because she has him in balance he can canter uphill and come more under and up. Lets face it, this is still Training Level so there is a lot of training to accomplish, but for a three year rider and a thoroughbred off the track, these two are on a path toward success.

Photo 14.

One reoccurring theme that does appear in all photos, is that the horse needs to be more up at the poll, and the rider needs to sit more back and, she needs to lift her left hand that seems to keep slipping below the withers disrupting a good elbow to bit connection. Things to work on, but if they had nothing to work on, well then maybe they would not be showing Training Level.

In photo 15, of her tracking right at the canter, showing the judge that she can train her horse to be as athletic in both directions, she looks just as good. The horse is nicely balanced on the outside rein; even though it is below the wither, he is submissive and the rider is sitting nicely balanced, meaning, she is not leaning either in or out but sits equally on both seat bones.

Photo 15.

The “Stretchy Circle”

This is the best movement of the Training Level test. Most riders have a hard time allowing the horse to stretch, and no doubt because it is challenging. The test allots you one twenty meter circle to get the horse stretching and then back up again into the ‘working frame.’ Of course, to do a correct “stretchy circle” the horse is not suppose to come off the aids in the first place. “The horse is still in a frame just with a longer rein.” However, to get the horse to stretch the rider has to allow the horse to lower its head and neck by giving the rein as a result of opening the fingers. In 
photo 16, our rider is coming out of the corner and is starting to giving the reins to let her horse stretch. And, he is loving every minute of it.

Photo 16.

A good stretch will allow the horse to lower the head and neck without the horse pulling the reins out of the rider’s hands, and correct stretching will not put the horse on the forehand. The correct training of developing the horse’s ring of muscles, establishes the ability for the horse to carry from the hind end in order to support itself and the rider. Stretching is also a wonderful way to see if a horse can go in self carriage. Because a horse that can stretch ‘down and out’ then come back up while maintaining balance and rhythm is a beautiful training moment to behold. And, a rider who can allow the horse to stretch and not be fearful of not being able to get the horse ‘back together’ and in a frame is a rider who is mastering the basics of truly classical dressage!

Back to our test. As the rider allows the reins to slip through her hands, as in chewing the
reins out of her hands, her horse does not do a nose dive, but remains tracking up, and carrying himself as he stretches down. But, before you know it the rider is approaching C, and, as the test states,“before C, shorten the reins,” and proceed working trot.

Photo 17.

Down Center Line, X Halt and Salute

- wipe your forehead - leave the arena at a free walk on a
loose rein...

Well, this has been quite a journey, about seven long minutes to be exact! From the first entry at A, to two twenty meter circles at a trot, then a free walk, and a few changes of rein across the diagonal on into a canter... For the final judgment our rider again descends or ascends down the center line for a final halt and salute. This better b
e good, because this is the judges final impression. Did we mention riding into the corner to set your horse up for the center line?

Hmm, in photo 18 our rider is starting to relax, as she knows this is her final moment and she itches her nose coming down center line. Perhaps this is a way to bewitch the horse into a perfect halt? Needless to say, even one handed, our rider’s horse is straight, relaxed and submissive - he obviously knows his task at hand. ( Oh, by the way, nice braids.)

Photo 18.

And, here it is - the final halt, photo 20. Nearly perfect. Boy, you have to love this pair. Now, the rider leaves the arena on a loose rein. But, before she turns to walk out of the arena, and this time avoiding the corner, she tries to catch the eye of the judge to see if there are any verbal comments. If you are lucky, the judge will comment on your ride. If not, and if you feel inclined, say a polite thank you and humbly walk out of the arena knowing those seven minutes of a dressage Training Level test displayed the perfect practicing that you have put into schooling your horse.

Photo 20.

The end.

Oh! Wait,

the results......

PS: Every Performance Grand

Horse and Rider's Rewards for a Job Well Done!

To return to Training Articles Page, click here.
To return to the Home Page, click here.