Maximising your marks in eventing dressage
March 1st, 2022
The dressage phase of eventing is often regarded as the less exciting phase, and some event riders and maybe even their horses see it as the phase to ‘get over with’. Yet it’s usually the most influential phase of eventing, especially at the grassroots levels.
Achieving a sub-35 penalty test used to mean a pretty strong start on the XC field, but now it seems you need to be scoring below 25 in the dressage to be in with a chance of a coveted place, and a ribbon. So, what can we do to achieve that ideal, 20-something dressage score?
Incremental increases in performance
Our customers tell us here at World Wide Tack that it’s all about the minor improvements; the incremental increases in performance that add up to extra marks. (To clarify, each dressage movement carries a maximum of 10 marks, plus an additional mark for overall impression.
The judges’ average scores are combined to get a score and a percentage, so the penalty score is the difference between the percentage and 100 e.g. 65% gives 35 penalties.)
Working on the theory that you’re better off trying to improve 100 things by 1%, than one thing by 100%, we advise not focussing on the one weak movement in the whole test, but improving the overall picture.
There are lots of little things we can do to ‘eke out’ those extra marks, such as simply being accurate, being straight, and being forward going.
Scales of Training
Teaching your horse to always halt squarely (below) will almost certainly guarantee a higher mark to finish on, and we advise never to omit practicing your free walk, as its worth double marks in some tests.
Also, the judges will use the Scales of Training (Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection) to help score your movements, so it’s useful to try tick them off while you’re warming up.
As mentioned, every movement is marked out of 10, so you want to squeeze every mark you can get out of each individual movement.
A lot of people ‘go quiet’ and become less animated once entering those white boards, and your horse can quite easily ‘drop off the leg’, because they know the rider is trying to look smart and quiet, and won’t use very obvious aids.
You can then therefore end up riding a very mediocre test. But many eventers believe that it’s much more beneficial to sacrifice a very early section or movement, in order to get your horse in front of your leg with a firm aid, even if it looks untidy. Hopefully, the whole test then improves.
Therefore, you may only get a five for that early movement that lacked harmony and looked untidy, but then you may pick up sevens and eights for the rest.
What lets a lot of eventers down is tension in the dressage test, usually caused by the excitement for the next phases. Ear bonnets can come in quite useful here, to help diminish the exiting sounds, and help maintain the horse’s focus.
Also, if you get nervous for the dressage phase yourself, this will resonate through you to your horse, as per the phrase:
‘What’s in the brain goes down the rein’. So try to breathe, smile and enjoy it.
Bits that offer comfort and harmony
Dressage rider Kirsten Wing (left, pics by Beth Hicks), a former eventing enthusiast, is a brand ambassador for Bombers Bits, which we at Equine Management distribute.
“Sometimes finding the most suitable bit as part of the horse’s training regime can be a puzzle, but it is so rewarding when you find the final piece,” she adds.
“When you’re riding and competing, you’re having a conversation with the horse, and where that usually goes wrong is with the bitting.”
“Choosing a bit that reduces mouth pressures, and offers comfort and harmony can definitely aid performance. Every horse has the potential to go well in a Bombers bit, if ridden well,” Kirsten concludes.
Check out our range of ‘dressage legal’ Bombers bits and don’t forget that we can order bespoke bits in your desired size, mouthpiece and cheekpiece – just give us a call on 01825 841 303.