Judge’s insight at the Winter Dressage Championships: how every rider can boost their scores at novice level *H&H Plus*

  • Find out what the judges are really looking for at novice level – and what you can do in your next test to improve your marks

    Novice level is one the most accessible and popular of all the British Dressage levels, and at championships in particular you can expect to see Olympic champions and dressage newbies riding the same novice tests. 

    But while it may be one of the lower levels, gaining a really good score at novice – à la Charlotte Dujardin – is far from easy. We chat to Frances Turner, the judge at E for the Petplan Equine novice silver at the NAF Five Star Championships, who emphasises the importance of the level – and how riders can boost their marks.

    “Novice level is the building blocks, the foundations of the future, and it is so important that riders get it right at this level,” Frances explains. “As judges, we want to see good training, good quality work and accuracy. 

    “We have seen some lovely tests here today, and I’m a bit blown away by it to be honest. In this particular competition there were some really seriously nice horses who were well ridden.”

    The Petplan Equine novice silver was eventually won by Alexandra Ratcliffe riding the nine-year-old Lord Leatherdale son Heaven V/H Trichelhof to an excellent score of 72.15%.

    “For me the winner had it all: she had a really big moving horse, well balanced horse, but she rode him so nicely and showed correct training. She didn’t put him beyond his boundaries – she wasn’t going for gold in that respect,” explained Frances. “She just showed a really nice, harmonious picture and the horse looked happy in his work. He was forward, free, he wasn’t restricted, he wasn’t hurried. It was everything we wanted. 

    “Some riders, who are perhaps a bit nervous, tend to hurry. They’ve been told to ride forward, but they actually misinterpret that and hurry the horse,” added Frances. “We also saw quite a lot of people cutting corners, but corners are so valuable for helping a horse with his balance

    “The other common thing is that we see riders get into a bit of a zone and if they make a mistake they can’t put it behind them. They then often make two or three and the horse gets out of balance as the panic sets in.”

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