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#trainingtip Learning a Dressage Test

Learning a test can often be one of the most daunting parts of competing in dressage, for children and adults alike! Even if your rider always has a caller, it is still a good idea for them to learn their tests so that they can ride more confidently as they will know what is coming up next.

With two weeks to go until our next closing date, here’s a few thoughts on how you can learn and practise your test, if you haven’t already!

People learn in different ways. Working out your child’s learning style can really help – do they learn visually (by watching, or imagining themselves riding the test in their head), audibly (by listening) or kinaesthetically (by doing)?

Most people will start by reading through the test, which is great to give you a rough idea but it often isn’t the best way to truly learn a test, especially for children.

MiniD (7 now) has so far worked well by having me call the movements, just a few at a time, and then after she has ridden them, we discuss them. She’s quite an ‘adult’ learner in that sense – but she is as yet unable to remember a full test this way. Don’t forget at Demi Dressage you are allowed a caller at all levels – and whilst no ‘coaching’ is allowed, we have no problem with you repeating the movements or reminding your child which way is left or right! You may have heard me calling out on some of the demo vids ‘ to the stables’ or ‘to the fields’!

Many children find it far easier to have the test visually laid out, especially if there are any new movements. Using poles or cones (see some of our previous #trainingtip posts for suggestions on how to use poles and cones to mark out shallow loops or ‘ice creams’) can make it much easier for them to understand where they need to go.

Away from the yard, you can draw out the test – maybe you’ve already bought our Welcome Pack and are making good use of the wipeable test diagram in that. Or you could make mini markers and set out an ‘arena’ in your lounge or garden – a great way to exercise the children by getting them to ‘ride’ their tests in order to learn it! Tip: if you have hobby horses this can become quite a fun game! At Pony Club one evening, the children made markers on the kitchen table and then used MiniD’s Crafty Pony to ‘ride’ round the test. All of these interactive/playful methods are usually far more effective than just trying to read and learn the test as ‘words’.

For older children, you can start to encourage them to visualise riding through their tests. What do they need to be thinking about as they approach each marker, for example? Not just ‘where do I go next?’ but ‘what aids will I need to use here?’ This will help your child to become much more of an independent ‘thinking’ rider.

Here's a update from our #supportedrider Lily and Biscuit (previously Lily and Simba!) who has kindly shared how she starts to put her test together. Lily is a fairly new young rider, and it’s great to see that she includes practising her halt and salute in her training – many riders neglect to do this, and in all our Demi Dressage tests it has a whole mark for this one movement!

Hello, today I will be telling you how I train for my demi dressage test. First I practice my salute and I start by leaning down because I struggle to at times.
Then I work on transitions. So I start this by getting Simba to trot when I tell him to and then trot to stand, stand to trot, trot to walk, walk to stand, stand to walk. And then I practice the demi dressage test as much as possible before the actual test is filmed.
The reason why I haven’t filmed my dressage test recently is because I have been looking for a new pony. Now I have a new pony named Biscuit so now I am just waiting till I get my confidence back up. I am planning on filming one soon. Biscuit gets excited when we turn him out but has a great personality and is awesome to ride. He is a 13.1hh gelding gypsy cob. And now my Instagram account is Lily_and_biscuit_pony.

To give you an idea of how important it is to understand your own (or your child’s) individual learning style, as part of my autism, I have a condition called ‘aphantasia’ – this basically means I cannot visualise anything in my head. As adults, this is often one of the key training techniques we are given, not just for learning tests, but to improve riding in all ways from confidence to performance – you are told to ‘see’ yourself riding a movement well, jumping a big fence perfectly etc etc. Well, that doesn’t work for me! Instead, I learn my tests by ‘patterns’ – most tests are fairly symmetrical in how you move around the arena on each rein. I have a quick read through, but my brain cannot hold a lot of information written down like this, so I walk through the whole test as my warm up, noting where each transition will be as I learn the pattern I am riding. Initially I will just tell myself ‘trot at the A end’ or ‘canter in the bottom corner’ – only when I am familiar with the whole pattern of the test will I learn *exactly* where that trot or canter transition might be.

What works best for you and/or your child to learn your tests?

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