Friday, July 22, 2016

Ask The Judge

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 will be advancing to Second Level dressage this spring and I have a few questions that I hope you can answer before I compete. 
First: Will we be using the same tests this spring as they did last fall? 
Second: Would it be appropriate to rise to the medium trot? 
Third: What is the difference between a lengthening and a medium trot?

Sincerely, Second Level


Dear Second Level,

How exciting that you are ready to move up to Second Level. I would be happy to answer those questions. They are good ones.

As far as the tests being different than they were in the fall, you have no need to worry. They will be the same tests. The USDF Dressage tests change every four years. The last year the tests changed was 2015. Those tests went into effect December 1, 2014 and they will be used through November 30, 2018. There is a joint USDF and USEF committee that is tasked with devising the 2019 tests, which will go into effect on December 1, 2018.

If you are ever unsure about whether a test will be the same next year, just look at any printed test, which will say the year that it went into effect. You can always know when the tests will change by counting four years forward. December 1 is always the date that new tests come into use. (This will be the December of the year before the date printed in the test.)

Your second question is about rising to the medium trot. The answer is no: you are not permitted to post during the medium trot, or any other trot work at Second Level and above. Although Second Level tests don’t seem to clearly state that sitting the trot is mandatory, it most definitely is. In any trot work in any dressage test, it is a given that sitting is a must: the only exception is when the test clearly states that rising is permitted. Once you graduate from First Level, you will not see this option on any test sheets.

If you opt to rise to the medium trot, you will be given an error, a two point deduction off your total points. I highly discourage doing this, and not just because you will lower your score. Learning to sit the trot is an important step as you progress in your dressage riding and training. Sitting the trot is a more effective way to influence your horse’s balance and engagement, and is necessary for collected gaits that are introduced in Second Level.

Your third question is about the difference between the medium and the lengthening trot. There is a difference, although many of the qualities are the same. In a trot lengthening, the judge looks for the overall strides to become longer, while the horse simultaneously stretches and “lengthens” his neck, without losing the rhythm and tempo of the gait. The judge will be looking for five qualities: 1. A moderate lengthening of stride and frame (you should see a clear difference from the working trot); 2. The regularity and the quality of the trot; 3. Straightness; 4. Consistent tempo; 5. Willing, clear transitions.

The medium trot is more than a lengthening, but does not cover as much ground as extended trot (this movement comes in at Third Level.) In the medium trot, the horse’s frame should stay rounder than it did in the lengthening, with the poll the highest point. The judge will be looking for: 1. A moderate length of frame and stride; 2. Engagement; 3. Elasticity; 4. Suspension; 5. Straightness; 6. Uphill balance; 7. Transitions (if these are not counted as a separate movement).

The biggest difference between the lengthening and the medium trot is that the trot lengthening comes out of a working trot, which means that there is not as much engagement of the hind legs. The medium trot, on the other hand, comes out of the collected trot, which means that this gait demonstrates more impulsion and engagement. In the medium trot, the horse should be carrying himself with uphill thinking and some overtracking should be evident.

As the renowned dressage trainer Walter Zettl writes in his book Dressage in Harmony: “The medium trot must come from the collected trot. It can only be as good as the collected trot that precedes it because it expresses the carrying power that the horse is now developing in its collected work.”

I hope this helps you as you make your transition to the next level. Good luck!

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