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Should I Practice My Dressage Test Before a Show?

Updated: Apr 5

Ask any dressage person if you should practice your test before the horse show and you'll get a mixed bag of answers. Many folks, trainers and amateur riders alike, will argue you absolutely shouldn't practice your tests too often.

"Your horse will start to anticipate everything!"

"Your horse will learn the test and stop listening to you!"

I'm on the total opposite side of the fence.

I practice my tests. A lot. Let me tell you why...

One thing you may not know about me - I am a professional, classically-trained musician. I draw comparisons from the music world to the equestrian world all the time. The two worlds have so much in common! It was actually one of my music/business mentors who inspired this post!

I have learned A TON from Christopher Still, professional trumpet player in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and performance coach extraordinaire at Honesty Pill - some music stuff, but mostly business and performance mindset stuff! In his most recent coaching series, "Peak Performance Mondays," Chris talks about audition preparation. Now, before I lose ya'll, let me tell you... taking an orchestra audition is JUST like riding a dressage test at a horse show.

Chris says, "Frankly, when it comes right down to it, being able to perform at your best for 10 minutes at a time is really what auditioning is all about anyway."

I'll re-phrase for the dressage riders... "Frankly, when it comes right down to it, you and your horse being able to perform at you best for 10 minutes at a time is really what test riding at a horse show is all about anyway."

So why not do it as often as you can?

Four Reasons Why Practicing Your Tests Will Improve Your Riding (And Your Scores!)

  1. Deadline Motivation: When you ride a dressage test, you must execute specific movements exactly at specific letters or moments in time. For example, let's look at something as simple as a canter transition. When we ride at home, we can take our time, prepare our horse with an extra circle (or five!), set them up, and then ask for the transition when everything feels good. When we’re training, that’s how we should do it most of the time to set them up for success. But in the show ring, you don’t get that luxury. You must do the transition right at the letter.

  2. Stress Simulation: The pressure of executing movements right at the letter is stressful! Moving from one movement to the next quickly, with no time to adjust or "fix" things, is stressful! Practice feeling that stress so you can learn how to adapt and adjust.

  3. Nerve Management: Learn how you react when the pressure is on. Your horse is counting on you!

  4. Ease Over Time: Familiarity breeds comfort. How many of you are professional riders that have ridden a million tests on half a million different horse shows? Yeah, very few of us are. So you need to get in the "miles" or "reps" somewhere... The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Horse show prep and test riding is a complicated subject, but I want you to start considering the fact that you’re probably not doing nearly enough deliberate practice in this area as you need to feel comfortable in the arena during the insanity that is a dressage show.

My challenge to all of you -->

Whether you plan to show this season or not, pick a USDF test to learn and practice putting it together in real time. Prop your phone up on the arena fence and turn your camera on. "Ride" your test. Sit down and watch the video shortly after your ride, while the feel is still fresh in your brain. As you ride, don't worry about perfection. Focus on the process. This is about learning how to perform with your horse when it matters most!

Want more help with test riding preparation? Need an extra set of "eyes on the ground" to give you solid feedback on your riding? Want some tips and tricks from a pro to help you streamline the process? Contact me HERE! I do both online and in person coaching. Let me help you and your horse feel confident going down centerline this season!

Looking for more information on Performance Mindset Mentoring? You have to work with Chris at Honesty Pill! Head over to his website HERE to find out more about working with him!

X Halt Salute - Go get'em!

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