It can be difficult to get your dressage test sheet back and not know what to focus on to improve your marks on your next outing. Many judges leave helpful comments, but sometimes to reach the higher marks, you need to look at the whole picture rather than individual movements. And you don’t need a flashy Grand Prix horse to do it – a tidy test is achievable for any horse or pony. International dressage rider Kate Cowell shares four easy areas to focus on so you can score better marks in your dressage test.

1. Accuracy

“It’s all about accuracy,” says Kate. “You will be rewarded with good marks just by being accurate and correct, for example ensuring that your transitions are exactly on the markers and that you are straight and make the correct size shapes. Clarity of transitions is also a good way to gain extra marks, so making sure that you do good trot-to-walk or trot-to-canter transitions.”

2. Paces

“A horse’s paces can also be developed with time and work – consistently working through the scales of training (rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection) is a systematic and attainable way of developing your horse’s expression correctly. You can also develop the ease of movements and confidence in the work – the aim of dressage is to make it look happy and easy.”

3. Rider position

Ensuring that your position is good is also crucial, as is having a time- and energy-efficient warm-up routine. We have plenty of tips and exercises you can do to improve your position. You might need to check your rein contact is even, change with your stirrup length, or even try some unmounted exercises.

4. Fitness

“It’s also important to remember that a fit and muscled horse will product a better test,” adds Kate. “Consider your horse’s feed and management and talk to your trainer to develop tailor-made exercises specific to your horse and repeat them regularly. Keep developing the finesse of your aids.”

Meet the expert: Kate Cowell is an international dressage rider, based in Malvern, Worcestershire. Alongside competing, Kate also trains riders and produces horses up to grand prix level.

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