Show season is here, and many of you may be planning on competing in dressage shows. Over the next weeks, I will be giving you a run-through of the 14 movements in the 2011 Training Level Test 1 USDF test. This run-through will not only help with the one test at hand, but help to focus dressage training for any level.
First, I will give the movement, followed by the directive ideas. These are highlighted because these directive ideas give the rider insight into what the dressage judge will be looking for when scoring the test. It's these directive ideas, rather than the movement, that the rider should be focusing on and training towards. Always refer to the Purpose, which is found at the very top of the test sheet, to glean to what degree of training, collection and precision these directive ideas are expected to be executed.
2011 Training Level Test 1
Purpose: To confirm that the horse is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit.
All trot work may be ridden sitting or rising, unless stated. Halts may be ridden through the walk.
Introduce: Working trot; working canter; medium walk; free walk; and stretch circle in trot.
A - Enter working trot
X - Halt, Salute
Proceed working trot
Straightness on the centreline and in halt; immobility; quality of trot; willing, balanced transitions.
First off, please note that all trot work may be ridden rising (aka posting trot). A training level horse will most likely not have the flexibility through their back nor the self carriage to make sitting trot easy for the rider to maintain balance. Looking at it the other way, rising trot puts less pressure on the horse's back than sitting, and it's easier for the rider to keep body weight centred over the horse's centre of balance. Therefore, I would highly suggest riding the trot rising in this level. Soon, the tests will require sitting trot, so take advantage of the choice now!
Secondly, the test stipulates that transitions to halt may be ridden through the walk. Please relate this to the directive ideas of the halt movement: "willing, balanced transition". Also, the purpose of this test is to see the horse move "freely forward" while "accepting contact with the bit". Most likely a training level horse will not be engaged enough to move forward from trot to halt while maintaining steady contact with the bit. To make sure that the transition from trot to halt remains balanced in this level, I would highly suggest riding the transition through walk. This way, the transition comes in incremental steps. First, moving from trot into a clear walk, then an immobile halt, upwards into a defined walk, and finally back into a rhythmic trot. Because this transition is requested to be at X, I would start preparing for my walk transition after G, and ask for the walk a couple strides away from X, making sure the halt is directly on the letter. When you start preparing the horse well in advance for this transition, it is easier to be accurate in your placement of the movement. Likewise, move off X with a couple steps in walk, having already achieved a clear defined trot well before C. Remember not to use too many walk steps, as the movement is in fact a transition from trot-to-halt and halt-to-trot. The walk steps are there to make it easier to keep the balance during that transition.
Straightness on the centreline is another directive idea. Straightness comes from riding between two legs and two reins. I think it's important to realize the power of these two legs and two reins individually before putting them together for a straight centreline. Therefore, set some cones up from A to C and weave in and out of them. Feel how your leg and rein can be used to alter the course of your horse to the track that you want them to be on. Practice your weave tighter and tighter around the cones to the point where you are almost riding a straight line, and then remove the cones completely. Then use both reins and both legs to ride a straight line from A to C. Then, try to incorporate a walk transition over X, while still riding with your legs, seat, and hand. Next, incorporate the full transition to halt.
An immobile halt takes practice. Therefore, whenever you halt, including just after you mounted, or are about to dismount, or any time you halt on the rail, count to 5 in your head before progressing forward. That way, both you and your horse get into the habit that halts are immobile wherever they may be. That way, there is less of a confusion for the horse when asking for a steady, immobile halt on the centreline. At this level, a square halt is not the focus at all in the directive ideas, so this should not be the focus of the training. Instead, concentrate on balance and straightness in all three gaits, trot, walk, and halt.
Hopefully, this article gave you some ways to start training for your Training Level dressage test. Stay tuned for more tips as we progress through the test!