Ask the Judge – Ready for 2023

Dear Amy,

I am planning to compete with my horse at Training Level Test Three and First Level Test One this season. I noticed that there have been some changes in the new 2023 versions of these tests and I am hoping you can answer some questions about them.

First, I am curious why the trot serpentine in Training Three was replaced with a “loop”? I am also wondering what is the correct way to ride this movement. Another question: how do you know which posting diagonal to be on? Can you be penalized, or get an error, if you are not on the correct one? What about when you are trotting across the diagonal? Are there any other changes for these two tests that I should know about? I would appreciate your guidance.

Ready for 2023

Dear Ready,
You have some very good questions and I would be happy to share information about these tests. First, let’s look at the new patterns in the 2023 Training Level Test Three. Test Three has many changes and improvements, and it is clearer than the 2019 version that it replaces. It is also a shorter test, although the recommended ride time is the same 5 minutes, and 30 seconds, it has two fewer scoring boxes, 13 as opposed to 15.

Let’s begin with the purpose of the test. You can find this stated on the top left-hand corner of your test sheet and it is always important to keep it in mind. The purpose of the 2023 test is “To confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, by showing suppleness both laterally and longitudinally, moving freely forward in a clear rhythm with a steady tempo, and readily accepting contact with the bit. Correct geometry and lines of travel should be shown.” This test introduces two new movements: a shallow trot loop and a canter-to-trot transition on the diagonal. There are new directives for the free walk, which now includes the word “overtrack.” In other words, your horse’s hind hooves step should clearly be stepping over the print made by his front hooves. This is true for any test where the free walk is asked for, but this is a clearer description than we have had.

To answer your question regarding replacing the trot serpentine with the trot shallow loop, I understand this was done for several reasons. Prior to the 2019 test, Training Three also required a trot shallow loop. It was replaced in 2019 by the three-loop serpentine in an attempt to help riders because there was often confusion over the correct geometry for the shallow loop, as well as how to execute a correct bend throughout the pattern. Unfortunately, riders were still having difficulties with the bend and geometry in the three-loop serpentine. I also understand it was too tricky to fit in all three loops when the test was ridden in the small arena (20 meters by 40 meters) as opposed to the full-sized arena (20 meters by 60 meters.) So here we are back to the shallow loop, redesigned to be clearer and simpler to ride correctly. This movement directs you to leave the track slightly after the first long side letter, trot to X, then return to the track slightly before the last letter on the long side. It is performed in both directions and has a coefficient of two, meaning that the score is counted twice each time.

What is important in the shallow loop is to show clear changes of bend on a curved line. For example, if tracking left, slightly after H, you begin a single loop through X, developing your horse’s bend to the right as you leave the track. Maintain the right bend until you return to the track slightly before K, at which point you change your bend back to the left. At Training Level you may do the trot work either in rising or sitting.

If you choose to post, what diagonal is required? You might be surprised to learn that there is not a required posting diagonal for judging purposes. Your judge will not be focusing on this aspect of your ride, and there would not be any deduction and for sure not an error if you were not on a specific diagonal. In fact, the posting diagonal would never warrant an error: The only time you could receive an error for your rising trot is if the test clearly requires you to be sitting and you are not. What is most important is for your horse to stay in balance. Many riders choose to change their diagonal with the changes of bend as you technically will be changing direction through the loop. When it comes to changing the rein across the diagonal in the rising trot, your main concern should not be which diagonal you’re on, or when or where you change it. This is totally optional: Change at the start of the line, at X, or at the end of the line. This movement is not part of the current Training Three test but it is asked for in both directions in First Level Test One in conjunction with a trot lengthening. Reminder: you are on the correct diagonal when you rise and fall with your horse’s outside front leg.

The current First Level Test One is similar to the 2019 test. In the past, this test introduced 10-meter half circles in the trot and 15-meter circles in the canter, as well as trot and canter lengthenings. In the new test, the canter lengthening has been removed, giving the canter tour more ease and allowing the horse to develop more strength and balance before lengthenings are introduced at this gait. This test still has an average ride time of 5 minutes and 30 seconds, but there are only 15 scoring boxes compared to the 17 boxes in the past. First Level Test One also has some changes in the verbiage of the purpose. It now states the horse should be on the bit, whereas before it stated that the horse was to maintain “a more consistent contact with the bit.”

I hope this has given you more insight into these two tests including how to ride the loop and what to do about posting diagonals. Please note that I am not discounting the importance of the posting diagonal. In these movements, you should be most concerned about quality, balance, and geometry, all of which can be easier to achieve if you are on the correct diagonal. As you prepare for your first show in 2023, remember to read the purpose of your test and make sure you can achieve it: this will be the expectation of your judge.

Happy riding and showing.

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