Improve your dressage marksThis article is an extract from one that originally appeared in Horse magazine's July 2012 issue.

Here, Roland Tong shares a few insider secrets that will up your percentages even more.

A – enter at working trot and proceed down the centre line without halting. C – turn right.

“The judge generally thinks he or she is sitting at C,” Roland points out. “If they are not, they will say you were not on the centre line and give you a five or six at best.

“So, just aim at the judge, wherever they are sitting, and they will say “straight, seven”.

“Don't forget you have to track left or right at the end – a handbrake turn at C won't look pretty. So ride a well-prepared, gentle, gradual turn.

“If the test dictates you must go right at C, turn down the centre line off the same rein.”

R – circle right 15m diameter

“Plan the shape, and keep a slight bend in the horse's body around your inside leg all the way around the circle,” says Roland.

“Come off the track when you hit the marker, make sure you reach the three-quarter line – but don't go over it – and arrive back to the track just before the marker.

“That letter should be your key focus point all the way around the circle.”

BK – change the rein in working trot

Roland says: “You want the horse around your inside leg and working into the outside rein as you ride around the corner before the diagonal. Then take a tiny bit of inside bend, to prepare him to be in the new outside rein when you have changed the rein.

“Aim to hit the track slightly in front of the marker, so you are in it when your horse's shoulder lines up with the letter – otherwise, you will overshoot.

Between B & R – medium walk. SP – change rein free walk on a long rein

For the free walk, Roland says: “Take a deep breath and leave the horse to relax.

“You must maintain a contact, while letting the rein go as long as you can. Allow your hand forward and let the horse take his neck out and the bit down.
“Keep him striding forward with your seat and use your leg, if needed.”

Between P & F – medium walk. Just before A – working trot

To avoid your horse predicting the upward transition, Roland suggests: “Shorten your reins gently and slowly.

“As you shorten your reins, think about taking a slight inside flexion to put the horse into the outside contact.

“Sit still and half-halt quietly with your seat. Don't interfere with the horse any more than necessary. You want the rhythm to stay the same between the free and medium walk.”

Transition to canter when crossing the centre line

“As a horse goes into canter, the tendency is for his frame to come up,” Roland says.

“You don't want a 'hollowing' comment and a mark to match from the judge, so make sure he is a little rounder in his outline before you ask for the upward transition, to counterbalance this.

“Go into sitting trot a few strides before you ask for canter, so the horse is relaxed, happy taking your weight and soft over his back.”

AKE – working canter. E – working trot

“The long sides are a chance for you to show off your horse's pace,” says Roland. “Check he is quick [reacting] off your inside leg, sit up, look ahead and ride him forwards and 'uphill'.

“For the downward transition, plan the movement, sit straight and give the horse a number of little half-halts.

V – circle left 20m diameter and allow the horse to stretch

“For this movement, the horse has to bend through his whole body and be supple – he has to work from active hindlegs, over his back and into an even but longer contact,” explains Roland.

“If necessary, take a little inside bend, then soften to encourage and allow the horse to stretch down. You want the bit to feel soft in the horse's mouth.”

G – halt. Immobility. Salute

Once again, plan your turn onto the centre line in advance. Roland says: “For the halt, close your leg and create the feeling that you are riding the horse's hindlegs to the reins – that's how you get a good, square halt.

“As you finish, look at the judge and smile – that's 10 points right there!”