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The new 2005 dressage tests for international eventing competitions received widespread approval when they went under the spotlight at the second annual Open Eventing Forum on Monday (21 February, ’05).

International eventer and trainer of the German eventing team, Christopher Bartle, who designed the new tests, explained that dressage should “prepare the horse for the special demands of the cross-country and show jumping” phases, without the horse becoming totally reliant on the rider.

“It is the wrong sort of dressage training that produces a horse that is reliant on the rider, rather than too much dressage training,” he explained. “It is vital that riders and trainers work towards developing self-carriage, by which I mean a horse which is able to take responsibility for itself.

“The horse must remain responsible for its own balance, going forward and listening to the rider. There is fine line between the rider dominating the horse and giving the horse the freedom to think for itself.”

The new tests, which have been designed to be shorter than before, see the introduction of the canter half-pass at four-star level and collected trot from two-star level upwards. The half turn about the haunches has been introduced at two-star level, while flying changes are now first required at three-star level. The demanding nature of showing shoulder-in on the centre line has been acknowledged and moved from three- to four-star level.

Other changes to the tests include movements such as the halt followed by the rein back being awarded separate marks by the judges, while the collective marks no longer receive coefficients. “It was felt that the coefficients favoured the names, so these have been removed,” explained Bartle.

International dressage judge Francis Verbeek watched as a select band of riders rode through the new tests and offered constructive feedback on each of their performances, before Ferdi Eilberg took centre stage and worked his magic to significantly improving each horse’s way of going in an incredibly short time frame.

Verbeek said that she felt the new tests were sufficiently challenging to the riders, but commented that some elements of the three- and four-star tests were quite difficult for judges. In particular she said she would have liked to see the shoulder-in and subsequent 10m circle judged as separate movements. Bartle explained that this had been heavily debated and that it was an example of “how difficult it was to design dressage tests for a committee”.

Leslie Law rode the new four-star test on Coup De Coeur, who is expected to step up to four-star level this season. Afterwards he said: “This is the first time I have ridden the test and I think it is of similar difficulty to the old four-star test. The serpentines are easier than before but then you have got the introduction of the canter half-pass, which will improve our training and riding. I think it is good to have the shoulder-in back on the centre line.”

Feedback from the floor included a brief debate about the introduction of collected trot at two-star level and whether it would have been better if collected trot was required to be established prior to the commencement of riding shoulder-in, instead of at the same time as starting the movement.

Bartle explained that as shoulder-in can only be ridden with a degree of collection and is a collection exercise in its own right, riders should automatically be preparing their horse with some collection before the exercise. He also clarified that the level of collection expected at two-star level would only be as much as was required to ride the movements correctly.