~about 6min read 🙂
Let’s be honest here: learning and remembering dressage tests is tough.
Disclaimer: If you are one those lucky riders that is able to memorize tests within seconds and can recall every test you’ve ever competed, good for you, I envy you 😛 (comment below or send me a message on how you do it).
For better or worse I don’t belong in the aforementioned category.
Learning and remembering tests, for me, is not something that happens easily or overnight.
One of the reasons is that I have Learning Difficulties (including, but not limited to, Dyslexia) so I had to find ways to cope with memorizing my dressage routines.
In my early days of dressage competitions I was veeery anxious and self-conscious about it. I would have nightmares where I was going down the center line and could not remember if I was supposed to go left or right.
However, when I started talking about it I realized that many fellow riders had similar issues.
Once I stopped being so self-conscious, I focused more on finding solutions that work for me rather than on the problem itself.
So these are the solutions and contingency plans I have found helpful over the years.
1) I Draw the Test:
I am a very “visual person” so every time I have a new test to memorize, I print a birds-eye view of a dressage arena and draw the entire routine in chunks. (download my cheat sheet here: Dressage test layout for notes)
Grouping exercises that flow (like the shoulder-in, 8m circle and half-pass to the centerline of the Prix St. George) allows me to form sequences in my mind.
I also use different colored ink for walk, trot and canter as well as different lines (eg. Dashes for extensions) for the different exercises.
There are no rules for this, you have to find what works for you through trial and error.
Similarly, recording yourself narrating the test might also work if you learn by listening!
2) I Act out the Test in my Living Room.
There is a limit on how many times you can go through a test during your training for multiple reasons:
(a) you are going to tire your horse (especially if it includes exercises that are difficult for them)
(b) you run the risk of them learning the test before you and stopping early on the center line or striking off to canter 2m before the mark etc. (we’ve all been there)
(c) Your time is better spent focusing on HOW you ride those test movement rather than the order they come in.
The solution I have found to actively run through the test is to act it out in the living room.
I make extensions, circles to scale and even pretend to ask for bend. In this way I focus both on the sequence as well as the aids I have to give at specific points. (Feel free to laugh at me, I laugh with myself too)
3) I Film and Watch Myself Riding the Test.
To do this I either use a video from a past competition or I ask a friend to film me during training.
To do this successfully you have to make sure that you are 100% precise on your marks otherwise you’ll learn a mistaken version of the test.
If it makes you feel safer, if you’re filming at home, have a friend or your trainer call out the next movement so that you are precise without stressing about remembering the sequence.
4) Have a Contingency Plan
While the above are preparation tools that I swear by, having a contingency plan gives me peace of mind.
This way, if my mind goes blank after arriving at the show grounds, I have somewhere to turn to without panicking.
Firstly, I always keep a picture of my test drawings in my phone for a quick look through.
Secondly, I always have a copy of the day’s tests in my phone (if you are competing international classes, the FEI dressage test App is a life saver! best money i’ve spent in a while)
Moreover, I ALWAYS wear a heavy wrist watch on the hand I am supposed to turn after the center line. This way, if my nightmare occurs (once again) in reality, I wiggle my hands and I know which way to turn.
On the day of the competition, I like to mentally go through the test while watching the competition arena. Its almost like a short meditation session since it helps me visualize myself competing.
When doing this, I have my phone handy in case I’m stuck and I need my cheat-sheet. However, I make sure that I am not rushed for time so that I don’t psych myself out if I get stuck or forget an exercise.
Finally, a word of caution: If you plan on watching another rider run through the test before you go in, make sure that you trust that the rider you’re watching is accurate.
Most importantly though, trust yourself.
Going into the arena with self-doubt is the worst thing you can do.
BE PROUD, because putting yourself under the spotlight for a group of experts to judge you is difficult and not everyone can do it.
So smile, chin up, heels down and enjoy the ride!