I was recently asked how I practice for a dressage test. It got me thinking…over the last few years I have done dozens of tests and started to refine how I prepare.

I normally start on YouTube…looking for videos of others performing the test. This is how I also start to memorise it; I write it down as the reader is calling it out.  It normally takes a couple of goes before I’ve a copy neat enough to use!


Next, I look at the test for bits that I think we’ll find hard or need to practice. My next test is Novice 30 and in that there are 15m circles, give & retakes in canter and a ‘medium canter-to-working canter-to-trot-to walk all within a long side and two corners.

The school at our yard is approx 25m wide x 40m long and this test is performed in a 20m x 60m so I really need to try and get my head around what the menage will look like on competition day, and the general size of the circles.  First stop: google images:


Second stop: book lesson with instructor that knows our school and how to break it up accurately (more on that on Friday!)

Our last two schooling sessions have featured the the give and retake in canter.  I just waited until the canter felt good and then gave it a go.  I also practiced moving through the paces (adding in the medium canter) within a short period time and space. I’ve been doing this on a circle – aiming to move up and down the paces within 1/2 a 20m circle, then within a 1/4- and then going large round the school.

Abbey is inclined to fall out of canter (into trot) when she comes back to working canter from the medium strides, so I’ve not actively practiced this. (I’ll LOL if I cant get her back at the competition now!)

I did this in between the other things we’re working on at the moment – medium trot, shoulder-in, leg yield etc.

Today, for the first time, I ran through the test.  We warmed up as usual and then “performed the test” but using our school at full size.

By running through the test, I find out:

  • what I don’t know about the test (in this case I couldn’t remember which letters to go from and to for the first two diagonals)
  • what movements we find hard or which movement-to-movement we’re struggling with (the medium canter back to working canter through to trot on the left rein)
  • any ‘easy’ things we can refine (e.g. centre line in this case.  Abbey consistently wobbles out through her left shoulder – because I drop the left rein *I think*.)
  • and anything I can pick up about riding on the day of the test (I’ll try and come down the centre line on the left rein, so I have ‘got’ her in that outside hand. I will scream at myself LEFT HAND UP as often as I can remember, might even tell the OH to shout it at me randomly in the warm up!)

Although Abbey was starting to tire, I did then go on to practice these things in the same session.  I repeated centre lines 6 times, coming off each rein. Practiced the quick transitions on both reins (though having watched the video back, I will focus more on the left from now on). I did this multiple times too. Finally, as Abbey was wanting to stick her nose on the floor anyway (very tired by this point!) I practiced the stretches on a 1/2 20 m circle.

As I was starting to cool her down by this point, I also practiced the free walk on a long rein on across the diagonals, before heading out for a short 5 minute hack down the tracks surrounding our fields.

In the next 10 days, I will continue to practice parts of the test. I’ve a lesson booked – my RI knows I’m aiming to get my head around 15m circles.  I’ll also film and critique the test a final time.

This will all be interspersed with hacking and jumping as we know ‘variety is the spice of life!’

How do you practice your tests and/or prepare for a competition? What would you do differently?