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Article published in "Topline Ink" Equestrian Magazine

Tips for Memorizing Dressage Tests

Written by Ivetta Harte "L" Dressage Judging Program Graduate with 'distinction'

Since memorizing dressage tests is a non-physical aspect of dressage, try to look at it from a classroom point of view: what learning style worked the best for you in school? Each person has a different learning style: visual, aural, verbal, physical, or logical. Some of them overlap. Different styles of learning uses different part of the brain. Dressage riders also can choose different options that can help them in memorizing a dressage test according to their own style of learning.

If you are a visual learner you will prefer using colorful images. There are several ways to create a visual study guide for dressage tests. On a regular piece paper, sketch a dozen diagrams of the dressage arena with coordinating letters. Now take a green color pen for trot, red color for walk and blue color for canter. Sketch all of the test movements in order with the corresponding pen colors. Some tips for coding the movements: small circle with an X in it means “halt.” Small circle means a transition. Solid line means canter. Dashed line means trot. A dotted line means walk. Small arrows show the direction. Large arrows indicate lengthen, medium or extended gaits. Put the final paper in a plastic sleeve and put it in the folder. Keep this folder next to your bed and glance on your tests before you go to bed. You can also buy prefabricated diagrams of the tests available on the market.

The next thing for the visual learner is to create a tiny cheat sheet of the test that can be put in a breech pocket or clipped to your belt. Make small diagrams of your test movements on 1 piece of index card paper. Then cover this paper with some clear packaging tape for protection. Punch a hole in the top, and put it a keychain clip. You are ready to ride your test with a cheat sheet on your hip.

For the aural and verbal style of learning, you would prefer to work with music and sound. This is where your favorite iPod or MP3 player comes in handy. Dictate the whole test on your iPod, MP3 player, voice recorder, or CD, movement by movement so you can listen to it over and over. You can also record it with the actual timing of the ridden tests and ride the test while listening to your iPod.

If you have a physical learning style, hands-on experience will work the best for you. Create the dressage arena letters using a fat black marker and index cards. Position them in your kitchen, living room, or bed room and repeatedly “walk” your dressage test in this home-made arena.

If you have a logical learning style and love brainteasers, try to think of your tests as a puzzle: After a halt, I turn right and the judge will be sitting on my left hand side. I’ll be trotting toward the arena gate, where I came in. Then I need to find the X by doing a trot loop, I’ll end up on the other side of the arena, away from, my back to the judge, and I will be looking at the “A” side of the dressage arena, when I entered my test. After passing an “A” entrance, I’ll be looking towards the bleaches (or video camera, flags, a tree, cows, friends, etc…) and as soon as I’ll see bleachers, I’ll start preparing for my canter depart. After the canter departs, I’ll be able to see the judge and take a couple of relaxing breaths. Then the most balanced movement comes in: the 20 m circle in the middle of the arena! After that, I’ll be cantering toward the judge and getting ready for the down trot transition right next to the judge, I almost will be able to hear the judge give my score – that’s how close the down trot transition is to the judge. The judge will be whispering on my left hand side during my down trot transition. My test caller will be standing at B and I will have to start my free walk right next to my test caller…. And so on.

Similar technique can be useful for people who have difficulty remembering the dressage letters. Keeping an actual dressage arena in mind, assign a realistic visual picture to the dressage letters: left of the judge and next to the bleachers = H, right of the judge and next to the parking lot = M, left of the entrance and next to the feeding room = K, right of the entrance and next to the videographer = F. When at X during the halt/salute movement, B is to my right.

Think of how you drive and how you remember the driving routes – that technique might help you to remember the dressage tests as well.

All learning styles can benefit from the DVD USDF “On the Levels” that shows the flow of the tests, gives visuals and sound.

If your horse is obedient enough to stand next to the show arena right before your test, try to watch the rider before you who is riding the same tests as you are and in your head, go over your test pattern one more time watching the rider before you.

There are many fun tools that can help you to memorize your dressage tests: colorful diagrams, small cheat sheets, iPods, DVDs, and puzzles. The key is effort and repetition, as well as refreshing your memory right before the test. To know your test, even if you are using a caller, can help to calm your show nerves as well.

Click here to print the dressage arena diagram to draw your own dressage tests diagrams


Read more dressage articles published in Topline Ink Equestrian Journal Magazine for the Dressage and English Sport Horse rider.

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