How do I prepare for dressage Training Level Test 1?

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Answered by: Susan, An Expert in the Horses - General Category
You’ve practiced your canter departs. You’ve worked on forwardness. You’ve done 20-meter circles until your horse has left a trench in the arena. But are you really ready for dressage Training Level Test 1?

Preparing yourself and your horse for the United States Equestrian Federation’s 2011 dressage training level test takes patience and persistence. But TL1, the first test that involves walk, trot and canter, is grounded in the everyday schooling you likely practice with your instructor.

Training Level Test 1, according to the USEF, is designed to demonstrate how your horse moves freely. The judges look for a steady rhythm to the gaits and willing contact with the bit. They will assess you on straightness through the centerline, bend in the turns, shape of the circles and quietness at the halt.

That’s a lot to take in – and it doesn’t even include the efforts to primp your look, load into the trailer and settle in to the show grounds. But for many dressage enthusiasts, the fun and learning are well worth the work.

Preparing Yourself

Riding, as you know, is as much a mental as a physical activity. It’s fun to get psyched up for a show, until the point where eagerness is replaced by nervous “what if”s. Talk with your instructor about how to stay relaxed –for your sake and your horse’s – up to and including test day.

You can help settle your mind by memorizing Training Level 1. The good news is, TL1 is an easy-to-remember routine based on two 20-meter circles – one at the trot, one with a canter depart – in each direction, with a free walk across the diagonal to break things up. In most schooling shows, you may have a reader call the moves for you, but judges may be more impressed if you commit the test to memory.

Preparing Your Horse

Though it’s tempting to practice –and practice – TL1 in the weeks before the show, avoid the impulse to over-drill. Your horse will likely remember the sequences within a few days; any repetition after that may cause him to “rush the aids” or second-guess you in the dressage ring.

If you need to strengthen your skills over portions the test, you can do so while providing variety for your horse. Break up the moves into a more random order. For instance, start your canter on the first 20-meter circle instead of the second. Incorporate the free walk outside of the test routine. Halt along the wall instead of at X. This diversity of movement lets you work on your weak areas, but keeps your horse “guessing” and more attentive to your aids.

If your horse has any issues tied to new environments, show day is not the time to work them out. You can help a green horse prepare for a show by simulating the conditions at home. Set a chain barrier or traffic cones to mark the ring. Ask some friends (and their horses) to act as audience. Place someone at C, where the judge will sit. Let your horse become comfortable with the kinds of stimuli he’s likely to encounter on show day, and you’ll both be more mentally prepared to ride for a ribbon.

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