Friday, June 15, 2012

Questions About Dressage | Ask the Judge | 6/15/2012

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is 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 about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.

Dear Amy,
I have a question about leg yielding. I am not getting very good marks in this move, although I think I am very accurate. My test comments say “too much neck-in” or “too much bending.” I thought you should have bend. So, what makes a good leg yield?
                                                                                                   -Yeilding But Low Scoring

Dear Yeilding,
If you are already doing leg yields, you must be fairly skilled in your dressage training. Leg yielding is first seen in First Level Test 2 and First Level Test 3 in the USDF Dressage test. In eventing, it first shows up in the Preliminary dressage test. In First Level 2, you must leg yield both left and right, and the movement is worth double points (it has a coefficient of two.) In First Level Test 3, you must also yield to the left and to the right, but only one of these movements has a coefficient of two. The leg yield can have a big influence on your score, so it is an important movement to master. Leg yielding is the first sidewise movement that your horse will learn.

Let’s see what the USDF guidelines say about leg yielding:

Purpose: To demonstrate the suppleness and lateral responsiveness of the horse.

Execution: The horse should be straight with only a slight position away from the direction he is moving. He must show a clear cross-over of the inside legs over the outside legs. The horse should be almost parallel to the long side, with the forehand slightly leading.

Essence: The cross-over of the inside legs over the outside legs; the regularity of the trot; the lateral responsiveness, the alignment, balance and self carriage, and freedom and flexion

Positives: 1. Body nearly parallel to track; 2. Slight flexion of poll away from direction of movement; 3. Neck in line with rest of spine; 4. Crossing of inner limbs; 5. Forward reach of leading limbs, especially the hind leg.

Negatives: 1. Horse loses balance, regularity, or varying tempo; 2. Neck not in line with rest of spine; 3. Side stepping with leading legs; 4. Not crossing inner legs; 5. Twisted at withers, or too much bend in neck; 6. Running sideways; 7. Haunches leading or trailing.

Misconceptions: 1. Crossing is the main thing, even if it means the leading hind leg is simply side stepping rather than going forward. 2. There should be “bend” rather than slight flexion in the poll.
Leg yielding is not a bending movement. This is why it is considered a “two-track” movement, and is not considered a lateral movement.

A good leg yield consists of:

Obedience: The horse moves easily off your leg while staying in a steady tempo and frame.

Accuracy: The movement starts and finishes at the prescribed letter. This means the horse is in the act of leg yielding when the rider’s body is parallel to the starting letter, and that the leg yield finishes when the rider’s body is parallel to the ending letter. (Hint: leave plenty of time to prepare!)

Cross-over: The inside legs should pass and cross in front of the outside legs. The bigger the cross, the better (this shows scope.)

Impulsion: Your horse’s tempo should be the same before, during and after the leg yield.

Acceptance of bit: The horse is accepting enough contact required for First Level. He should be even on both reins and sides of the neck, even though he should be looking slightly away from the direction of travel.
Harmony: The leg yield should look effortless. The rider should have invisible aids, and present a pleasing and seamless picture.
A lot of work goes into a good leg yield. It is a good idea to school this movement, as its aim is to help improve the rider’s aids and the horse’s obedience. It is a great suppling move, helping to improve the freedom of the shoulders and hindquarters, as well as the horse’s balance. All of this will help you to climb to Second Level, which is the first time you are required to demonstrate collection.

I hope these guidelines will help you improve your score. A well ridden leg yield gives you a great feeling, and it can be a lot of fun for you and your horse!

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

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Questions About Dressage | Ask the Judge | 4/22/2012

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy
Amy McElroy is 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 about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.
Dear Amy,

I recently competed in a test that required a rein back (This was the first time I performed this movement in a test.) I assumed this was just going backwards! From my score (a 5!) and the comment “not diagonal pairs” I guess there is more to it. Could you please explain how you score a rein back?
                                                                                                                 -Backward Confusion

Dear Backward Confusion,

Congratulations on moving up to the USDF Second Level, which is the first time the rein back is introduced. You will see the rein back in tests from Second Level through the Grand Prix. The difficulty of this movement increases with each successive level. For instance, the number of steps increases and the type of transition in or out of the rein back becomes more challenging.
The rein back demonstrates your horse’s degree of obedience and submission, as well as its “throughness.” The transitions in and out of the rein back also help to increase the collection that is required in Second Level tests and above.
Lets’s look at the USEF 2012 rulebook definition of the rein back.
  1. Rein back is a rearward diagonal movement with a two beat rhythm, but without a moment of suspension. Each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground actively, with the forelegs aligned on the same track as the hind legs.
  2. During the entire exercise, the horse should remain “on the bit,” maintaining its desire to move forward.
  3. Anticipation or precipitation of the movement, resistance to, or evasion of the contact, deviation of the hindquarters from the straight line, spreading or inactive hind legs and dragging forefeet are serious faults.
  4. The steps are counted as each foreleg moves back. After completing the required number of steps backward, the horse moves forward in the required gait immediately.
Keeping all these rules in mind, there is a lot of preparation and practice that goes into performing a high-scoring rein back. Here are some common faults and some tips for getting the best possible score.
Common Faults

  1. The horse resists going backwards.
  2. The horse gets too crooked.
  3. The horse takes way too many, or barely enough steps.
  4. The horse displays too much tension or anticipation.
  5. The horse comes off the bit or becomes too fussy with the mouth.
  6. There are not clear quality transitions in or out of the rein back and the horse is not immobile before backing.
  7. The horse does not back in diagonal pairs.
  8. The rein back is inaccurately placed (not at the letter where it is supposed to start.)

 Some tips for a good rein back:
  1. Concentrate on a quality transition in and out of the movement.
  2. Stand immobile for three to four seconds before asking for the rein back.
  3. Prepare to take the correct number of steps at the required letter with straightness. Count to yourself as each foreleg steps back.
  4. Stay soft and quiet with your hands so your horse is willing to accept your aids.
  5. In the last rein back step, immediately go forward into the next required gait. Do not make a second halt.
  6. Strive for large, rhythmic steps.
  7. Maintain relaxation and suppleness without losing connection to the bit.
Possible Scores
8 and above: A rein back that earns this score will display: Precision: The halt is exact and square, and the rein back is fluent and has the correct number of steps. There are clear transitions with no resistance. Rhythm: the movement is even, regular and displays clear diagonal steps. Suppleness: the horse is elastic through the whole movement. Contact: the horse is light and steady on the bit with the poll the highest point. Impulsion: the horse takes active steps, maintaining his desire to move forward. In each step, the legs are well raised, with the joints bent. Straightness: The front legs are clearly in line with the hind legs. Collection: The hind legs carry enough weight to show that the horse is in balance. Submissiveness: The horse has no resistances.

7: A rein back that earns a 7 is still a fairly good solid rein back, but it may have some of these attributes. The transition could have more clarity. The halt is almost square. The backward movement could be even more fluent. The horse might be slightly off the bit. The horse could bend his hind legs and joints even more that he is.

6: A rein back that earns a 6 is satisfactory. The horse is performing a rein back, but it might have some of these negatives. The transition might not be clear enough. The halt might not be square. There may be some small inaccuracy in the movement. The horse hesitates or seems reluctant, or the steps might be a little bit too hurried. The horse might have some tension, or not remain clearly on the bit. He might lose some activity or drag his feet slightly. He may get somewhat crooked.

5: A rein back that earns a 5 is marginal. The horse backs up, but he has some problems. For instance, the halt might be too abrupt and not square. There may be inaccurate placing of the movement, or too many or too few steps. There may be too much hesitation. The backward steps may not be diagonal. The horse might be tense, or drag his feet, or get too hurried or too lazy. The horse has some resistance to the aids.

4 and below: Insufficient. The number of steps are far too many or too few, or the horse does not even back up at all. The gait is not diagonal and the steps are too hurried or too tense. The movement is very crooked. The feet drag. There is too much mouth and head fussiness. There is strong resistance to the aids, or other bad behavior and disobediences.

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