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                                               Learning your dressage test
                                                          By Henri Senn

Whilst Interdressage allows tests to be called, many of you will be in the same boat as I am, with enough problems begging, bribing and threatening our camera people to film our tests without the added worry of trying to find someone to call them.  I am also sure that I am not alone in having tests called by people who have never ridden a test, so are unsure of the speed to call it.  Either they are 5 movements ahead of you, or you are guessing which way to go at C as they are still entering at A!!!  And so we need to learn those tests we want to ride.


The first step is remembering where all the letters are – I still haven’t mastered this, Cassie repeatedly tells me a story of a king whose name escapes me, who had some horses ridden by a lot of fearless women.  I gather this will ensure I know where all the letters are, but it doesn’t seem to be working as yet!  (Note from Cassie – “All King Edward’s Horses Carry Many Brave Females”)  So I find myself talking through my test something like this “Enter at A, go left, do a circle in the middle, change the rein after A, go across the middle, canter in the corner, ……. Halt between the middle and the camera person” which makes perfect sense, but apparently only to me.
So once the letters and their positions have been learnt, on to the best way to learn the test.  No one way is better than any other, you just need to find the way that works best for you.


Mathematical Diagrams
Having a mathematical mind, I like to learn using diagrams to split the test into shapes.  I borrow Cassie’s felt tips, walk is always in red, being slow, canter is green for go, and trot blue.  Hopefully the attached diagram for May’s WTC test makes the movements very clear, although I did discover that not including arrows to show which direction to go resulted in a very confused jockey!!  This sheet then sits on the kitchen table to be studied over breakfast every morning.


Endless Practice

The theory behind this is to ride the test often enough that it will become second nature.  The drawback, certainly for me, is that when I tried this I discovered Bosco learnt the test too, so would start his circle or change of rein before being asked, and always a couple of strides too soon, as he knew what was coming.  He is well aware that a halt is often required going down the centre line, so if I am not concentrating I find us stopping without warning!  One month we had to do turns on the forehand, after a few days of practicing the move every time we halted on the long side of the school he would turn round without any aids from me.  This lasted about 3 months!  So this only works if your horse doesn’t try to learn the test too!


Trotting round the living room

An invisible horse is vital for this method, as well as some paper with the letters on to place on the floor, and someone who can read the test VERY fast, as cantering down the long side of the room doesn’t take very long!  You also might consider whether the neighbours can see into your house before you start prancing round the furniture in extended trot.  Alternatively a large garden instead of your sitting room would mean more space and so help the caller, although you might suffer if (like me) your fitness levels are such that the Hobby Horse class takes several months to recover from.  However practicing minus steed does mean your horse won’t know the test when riding it, and so will not anticipate the moves.  An unsubstantiated rumour claims that a certain Interdressager and daughter have been videoed trotting round their living room, we are hoping said video may surface on Youtube one day.


Mentally ride the test / Visualisation

Another method I use is to ride the test in my head.  However I STRONGLY advise you do this alone, in the privacy of your own home.  I have found myself getting very strange looks from fellow car drivers as I do a 20m circle at E whilst waiting for the lights to go green., as “mentally”, for me, also includes rising in trot, holding the reins, and leaning round corners!  (And yes, I know I shouldn’t lean round corners!)


Take a journey

Pick objects to represent walk, trot and canter – if like me you are maybe not quite as slim as you might be, go for something tasty that you can remember.  Walk could be a bottle of wine, and trot a takeaway?  Then pick a place name for each letter, Canterbury for C, Middlesboro for M, or even go exotic, Hawaii, Antigua, China.  And then you can have a nice travel trip instead of a dressage test, so you can go from Accrington to China for a talkaway, etc etc etc.  A great idea but I might be so busy planning my dream holiday I would forget I was doing a dressage test!

Pillow talk

For this method please ensure you have an arena shaped pillow, round and square pillows could cause chaos when riding your test.  Just before going to sleep learn the test by drawing it on the pillow.  Then close your eyes and ride the test (falling asleep half way through optional) by visualising the arena you are going to compete in.  The theory behind this method, I believe, is that by the morning you will know the test, however, knowing how strange my dreams are, by the morning my test will probably include a giant rabbit shaped jelly and an inflatable lilo!!!


Watch and learn

You should be able to find examples of all the Interdressage tests on Youtube or the Interdressage web site.  Watching other people doing your test can definitely help you learn the test – but please make sure they scored well before watching, there is no guarantee you are not watching someone who forgot the test, went wrong and scored 50% or less.  Anyone watching my tests with Sockorski would be hard pressed to learn anything from them, except possibly that I should be locked up in a padded room for my own safety  


Poetry
Having been fairly useless at English at school this method is lost on me, but I am reliably informed that you can learn a test by learning the end bit first, much like learning poetry at school.


Repeat after me
Cassie learns her tests in the car, with me breaking them down into small sections, i.e. circle, change the rein, circle, change the rein” with her repeating them back to me.  Interdressage tests are often fairly symmetrical, which is a great help in learning them.  A good example is the May WTC test, as long as you remember to go left at C once you enter the arena, “circle, change the rein” twice will get you half way through the test.  (I am ignoring the “show some lengthened strides of trot” as we are incapable of managing that at the moment!)


More than one test?

Trying to learn more than one test?  I tend to only be able to cope with one test at a time, however for those of you able to learn two, a great tip is to learn them as one long one in the order I was doing them.


Freestyle

If all attempts at test learning fail, the next step is to beg Karina to include a freestyle test in the schedule.  While everyone else carefully plans their tests you can make yours up as you go along, with camera person wielding a stopwatch to ensure you do not over-run the time limit.  The only drawback to this is the almost inevitable comment from the judge that the test seems a little muddled and poorly planned!


Help!

Failing all that, I am available to call tests, bribery of Thorntons chocolate works wonders!  And remember if you do forget what you are doing in the middle of the test (and yes, I have done this) the beauty of Interdressage is that you can just video again.  I had just ridden a particularly pleasing test that had gone very smoothly when the camera lady mentioned how unusual it was in a walk trot test not to have any walk – Ooops!!!!!  


Good luck.  And many thanks to all those who shared their test learning techniques with me.