Anna Ross: A test-riding strategy needs maths *H&H VIP*

Opinion

I recently had the pleasure of riding at the British Dressage (BD) seminar for List One and Two judges at Kilbees Farm, Berkshire, hosted by Olympic judge Andrew Gardner.

When there were a couple of last-minute dropouts, I put on my game face and best Pikeur, and rode two grand prix horses that are not my usual mounts for the judges to assess. I do know both horses as I train their owners, Renata Rabello and Bronte Watson, who compete them internationally and kindly lent them for the occasion.

Riding a grand prix test in front of 200 of the country’s top judges on a horse one hasn’t sat on for six months is not something I’d advise anyone with a nervous disposition does, but necessity is the mother of invention. I formed my test riding plan under the assumption it couldn’t be more embarrassing than the time I competed on the British team at Aachen and the Lipizzaner horse parade went past in the middle of my test — my ride Liebling II tried to join in.

Food for thought

A good test-riding strategy is one of common sense and mathematics. It’s important to have a plan and stay calm enough to execute it. It is refined over time until both horse and rider are convinced it’s the most effective one. At grand prix, it evolves over years — not in the 15 minutes I had to “find the buttons”.

For example, horses who can perform the most dynamic piaffe and passage and then relax to walk for a nine are like hen’s teeth. As the mark for the walk is doubled, the rider has to make a decision.

Do we risk a collected walk losing the rhythm to sharpen the horse in order to make a dynamic transition directly to passage, or is it less “expensive” to leave the walk as relaxed as possible and take a step of trot in the transition?

Emphasis was placed on the passage transition in the seminar and rightly so, but my inner Carol Vorderman was left thinking that if it meant creating tension in the walk, I’d take the double score for the better walk and sacrifice the single score for the transition to passage. Food for thought — and well worth studying where the double scores lie.

All in it together

It was so interesting to hear the high level of discussion between knowledgeable judges who were prepared to come forward and share different views.

Those who spoke up gave great confidence in the independence of their judgement.

Judges should be prepared to give their own view and be brave. We are all in it together, putting our performances on the line. It was a good reminder to ride boldly for the higher marks, too, and the judges were encouraged to use the whole spectrum.

I was proud of my and my partner Marcelo Tosi’s seven-year-old mare Habouche, who was expertly piloted at the seminar by my long-term rider Beth Bainbridge, to score eights, nines and some 10s.

“Holly” is such an exciting prospect with three foals on the ground already and one “cooking” via embryo transfer. To hear such praise for her was confirmation of my belief in this talented horse, who has so far only been lightly competed.

We have high hopes for her on the journey ahead to grand prix level.

Ref Horse & Hound; 16 May 2019

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