When is the right time to move up to Preliminary?

 In Claire Marie Senior, Dressage, Training

There always comes a point when you ask yourself ‘when should I move up to Preliminary level’ in dressage?

Are you the kind of person who doesn’t think twice about having a go at a British Dressage Preliminary test? Or are you the person who needs to think carefully and prepare to take that giant leap into a Preliminary test?

It doesn’t matter which type of person you are. It is important to recognise that you are challenging yourself for more.  Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a good thing. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen…right?

Now it does put a lot of people off taking that next step up into the next level, because of the ‘new required movements’ within that test.

So, think of it this way:

A Preliminary dressage test is just an Introductory dressage test with canter in it.

In a Preliminary test you will still be able to ride the walk and trot movements the same way as you would a Introductory test, and when it comes to the canter, then you can see what happens. Hopefully, nothing too dramatic.

Your aim is to:

  • Stay on (always a bonus!)
  • Stop thinking about the canter.  Focus on the walk and trot!
  • Can you ride the walk and trot in the same way as an Introductory test? 
  • Aim to get the same consistent scores in the walk and trot as you would in an introductory test.
  • Focus on getting your horse to keep listening to you BEFORE the canter as well as IN the canter.
  • Stay calm – YOU CAN DO THIS!
  • Maintain the same rhythm, balance and control in the canter
  • After the canter, how long does it take to get your horse working in the same way he did BEFORE the canter? 
  • In the next attempt at a Preliminary test does this happen quicker?
  • This is a good way to learn how your horse responds to you after the canter and shows consistency.

Problems which may occur, for an excitable horse:

  1. Again, staying on! If you think he’s going to explode into the canter then sit back, push your heels down, pick up your outside rein and hope for the best!
  2. If your horse gains speed in the trot before the canter, ask yourself is this him anticipating or you only thinking that ‘canters coming soon’?
  3. Don’t allow your horse to gain speed before the canter transition, the more contained and relaxed he his the better transition you will get.
  4. Take your time when asking for canter, don’t rush, stay calm and ask quietly.
  5. If he breaks, it doesn’t matter! As frustrating as this may be, as he’s already broken the rhythm there’s no point in flapping and throwing yourself everywhere in your efforts to get the canter back.  So, get organised, press your reset button and try to regain the canter if there’s time.
  6. If he does break, and there’s no time to ask for the canter transition again, then it’s much better to stay in trot, put that movement behind you as its already gone and you can’t change the mark you’re going to get so PUT IT BEHIND YOU, THINK AHEAD ONTO YOUR NEXT MOVEMENT.

Problems that may occur, for a lazy horse:

  1. A horse who is reluctant to canter will benefit from having a more forwards trot beforehand.
  2. Think contained energy.
  3. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare.
  4. Ask for the transition early so you CAN get it between the required markers.
  5. The more responsive to your aids the horse is, the better the transition will be.
  6. Maintain the correct body bend and maintain balance.
  7. Too much leg work will not keep the horse cantering, it will actually encourage him to back off and slow down.
  8. Think of using your other aids to improve the canter.

Going to the next level is a good way of gauging where you are in your dressage training. And remember, it’s a learning process.  Be proud and give yourself a pat on the back for having a go!

So go on.


You know where I am if you need me 🙂 

Many thanks Claire Marie Senior.

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