Ask the Judge – Using Your Corners

Dear Amy,

I am going to be competing at the dressage Training Levels starting this summer.  I know everyone says “remember to use your corners,” but I am not sure what that means and what the judges are looking for. I also don’t see where you get a score for the corners. I also wondered if the short sides are scored, since I do not see a place for a score for that, either. What is the judge really looking for in the Training Levels?

Dressage Newbie

Dear Newbie,

It’s great that you will be starting your dressage show journey this summer. These are very important and interesting questions.  Let’s start with another question: what is Training Level? On all dressage tests each level has its own purpose. You can find the purpose written on every test. It is useful to know what is going to be required and expected of you and your horse. This is what judges will be taking into consideration when critiquing your ride. Let’s see what the Training Level purpose states:

To confirm the horse demonstrates correct basics, is supple and moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm with a steady tempo, accepting contact with the bit. 

In other words these are the basics and fulfill the bottom four rungs of the training scale.

For each Training Level test, it is interesting to take into consideration how many test movements there are, and of these, which ones are coefficients (double points), how many transitions, how many corners, and how many short sides are in each test. Training Level is comprised of three tests. Let’s take a look and make some comparisons:

Training 1: 13 test movements, 6 coefficients, 11 transitions, 10 corners, 0 full short sides

Training 2: 16 test movements, 6 coefficients, 11 transitions, 15 corners, 4 full short sides

Training 3: 15 test movements, 7 coefficients, 12 transitions, 11 corners, 0 full short sides

Training Level includes the following gaits and movements: working trot and canter, medium and free walks, 20 meter circles left and right in trot and canter, stretchy circle (introduced in Training 2) and a trot three-loop serpentine (Training 3).

 As you can see these tests all have many transitions. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that scores for the transitions make up more than 50% of your final score at this level.  So how do you perform a correct transition? According to the USEF rule book DR 107.1, the changes of gait and pace should be clearly shown at the prescribed marker, they should be quickly made yet must be smooth and not abrupt. The rhythm of a gait or pace should be maintained up to the moment when the gait or pace is changed or the horse halts. The horse should remain light in hand, calm and maintain a correct position. In DR107.2 the same applies to transitions from one movement to another. In other words when riding your transitions the objectives should be smooth, willing, calm, regular, obedient, and accurate.  

In Training Level tests, the coefficients are assigned to nearly half the movements of each test. Since these moves are counted double it is even more important to be secure in your ability to ride what is requested as effortlessly and accurately as possible.  

There are an abundance of corners you must ride through in each test. Although there is not a specific scoring box for just the corners, this does not mean they aren’t being judged. Keep in mind that from the time you enter at A and until you salute and leave the arena, your judge will be taking every stride into consideration. The corner scores will be combined either with a movement before, a movement after, or with a transition. Corners are very important because they encourage your horse to stay supple, and to rebalance as well as to prepare for the next move, to name a few of their benefits. When riding corners, as a general rule you want your horse’s bend to correspond to the correct bend of the smallest size circle of each gait in that test. In Training Level, the smallest circles are 20 meters in both the trot and canter. It is generally accepted expected that corners should be ridden about two meters smaller than the smallest required circle. Therefore, in Training Levels, corners should have the bend and depth of about an 18-meter circle.

Your short sides are also taken into consideration in the same way the circles are in the scoring. Although there is not a direct score for every short side, they will be linked to a movement before, a movement after, or a movement within. So, yes they are being judged. Short sides are not a rest break. Similar to corners, they are where you can regroup, encourage and balance your horse as you prepare for what’s to come.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind specifically when riding Training Levels:

  1. Halts may be done through the walk, and you may move off from the halt through the walk. If you do choose the walk, I would suggest limiting your trot to halt and halt to trot transitions to no more than three walking strides.
  2. The trot may be ridden rising or sitting. Try to decide which type style would best show your horse off and keep him moving freely forward. You will not score higher just because you are sitting.
  3. A reminder that in correctly ridden circles and in the serpentine you DO NOT “use” the corners: in other words, do not go deeply into them.
  4. You may wear half chaps, gaiters or leggings in solid black or brown, without fringe, matching the color of your footwear, and made of smooth leather or leather-like material instead of tall riding boots if you prefer.

Other thoughts to impress your judge at any level.

  1. Be prepared. Know your test and be able to perform it reliably.
  2. Be on time.
  3. Remember to wear your number and to remove any schooling boots your horse may have been wearing in the warm-up because these are not allowed in a test.
  4. Know the rules, purpose and directives of each level and test you ride
  5. Smile and be confident

I hope I have clarified what is expected in the Training Level tests and the way corners and short sides are incorporated into a score. 

Enjoy the ride!

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