Friday, March 18, 2016

Ask the Judge | Calm Me Confused

Questions about Dressage
With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor and a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage.

Dear Amy,

I am planning to ride Fourth Level Test 3 at my next competition. I do not understand how to ride the new double rein-back movement. Can you explain to me what it should look like and how to ride it correctly?

Call me Confused.


Dear Confused,

It’s very exciting that you and your horse have advanced this far in your dressage training. Your question refers to Fourth Level Test 3, Movement 6. This movement reads as follows on your USDF test sheet:

C. Halt, rein-back four steps walk forward four steps rein-back four steps – proceed collected trot.

This is a new movement for the 2015 Fourth Level Test 3, which is currently the only test to ask for it. However it is a movement that appeared in previous FEI level tests, which gives an idea of its degree of difficulty. This rein-back series is better known in the dressage world as the Schaukel (“swing” in German) because your horse is supposed to move forward and backward fluidly like a swing.

The definition of this movement from the FEI Judge Handbook reads “This is a combination of two rein-backs with walk steps in between. It should be executed with fluid transitions and the required number of steps.” When performing this movement, it is important to remember the aims and the essentials of the rein-back. The aim is to demonstrate submissiveness and thoroughness as well as improving collection.

The directives for this movement, according to the USDF test sheet, state “straight, immobile halt, willing straight steps with correct count, clear transitions.”

The essentials are (adapted from the FEI Judge Handbook) 1) Regularity, relaxation, suppleness, contact; 2) Quality of transitions in and out of the rein-back both times; 3) Submission and willingness to accept the aids; 4) Self-carriage, collection and balance; 5) Straightness, accuracy and number of steps. 6) The halt: squareness and immobility.

There is a halt at the beginning of this movement, but there are no halts between the backward and the forward steps, or between the final backward steps and the collected trot.

When you start this movement, make sure your horse is square and over the letter C. Maintain your halt for a solid three seconds before initiating the start of the swing. Then take four steps backward, and immediately take four steps forward, and then immediately take four steps backward. Immediately pick up the collected trot.

So, how do we count the steps? In this movement, there are a total of 12 steps. The number is counted by the number of times that the front feet touch the ground. (e.g., left fore, right hind (1); right fore, left hind (2); left fore, right hind (3); right fore, left hind (4)). A common fault in this movement is not taking the correct number of steps, often because the rider does not know the correct way to count, or because it is simply difficult to be this precise. It takes a great deal of control to keep your horse straight and moving fluidly as he moves backward and forward. The most important aspect of the swing is the horse’s fluency to change directions.

To prepare for the swing, first be sure that your horse can back comfortably and obediently. In a correct rein-back, the legs step back in diagonal pairs and should not be set down parallel to one another. The swing should not be attempted until the horse is skilled enough in his training to perform a single rein-back calmly and willingly.

To get your best score, make sure that your halt is square, exactly placed and held for a clear three seconds. Make sure that your backing is fluent and that you count the correct number of steps. Strive for your transitions to be prompt and smooth throughout. Your horse should show no resistance or hesitation. Your horse should be on the bit and the picture of absolute willingness. According to Janet Foy, a United States FEI Four Star judge “The rein-back is a wonderful tool to help put the horse more naturally on the hindquarters. The rein-back should always be forward thinking and never used as a punishment.”

When correctly performed, the Schaukel demonstrates your horse’s obedience and advanced training. I hope this clarifies what the movement is and how to ride it properly. Good luck!

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.