Everything Else International Event Forum

The Judge’s View – International Eventing Forum – Hartpury

The morning session was called the Judge’s View and was hosted by Isobel Wessels (IW) and Andrew Gardner  (AG) who are both International 5* dressage judges.

Before they looked at the different tests which make up 1*, 2* and 3* they briefly touched on what they are looking for in a dressage test.

Think simple, the principles never change. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.


Andrew Gardner & Isobel Wessels

AG – Have an honest system of training and have conviction. Are a horse and rider honouring the level and showing the judge they are on the correct lines?

IW – It should all be about a simple way of going. The best tests are those on the best produced horses. The horse should have a good way of going, flow, harmony, ease and lightness. A simple way of going with those things will make the difference of one mark to every movement.

AG – I cannot say what each judge is looking for now. The judge should not have whims but should be looking for a classically and technically correct performance.

IW – The judge should be able to find what is good about something. They should be looking for the positive not the negative.

AG – Some people go through life saying the glass is half full, while some say the glass is half empty. At a young horse class one judge might comment on something wrong but do you look to be convinced by correctness of the picture or are you looking for underlying issues? Different judges pick up on different things they see.

The judge on the short side sees different things to the judge on the long side such as neck bend, straightness and carriage. Judges will pick up on different things that they see.


Charlotte Bacon & Solon

At this point Charlotte Bacon came in on Solon to perform the 1* test. Andrew Gardner stood at C while Isobel Wessels stood at E. Andrew commented on what he was looking for as they watched Charlotte ride the test.

  • Straightness of the centre line, the halt transition both in and out of the halt. The halt should be stable and still. The move off should be clear.
  • There should be a difference in the medium trot. The transition in and out of the medium should be consistent.
  • In the leg yield you are preserving the correct rhythm. Both forwards and to the side making sure you maintain balance.
  • In the half circle you are looking at the rhythm and bend through the body. Transitions tell about correctness and if the horse is listening to the aids.  The second leg yield shows the other side of the horse. The rhythm and bend should be the same on both reins.
  • The downward transition tells a lot.
  • The rein back should be about submission and willingness.
  • The medium to extended walk should be about correctness and rhythm. There should be a difference shown between the two and the main change is through the frame of the horse. The extended walk should be stretching into the contact. Walk is an important gait because of the marks it has given to it.
  • In  the canter there should be a difference shown and the half circle is about balance and bend.
  • Counter canter is about suppleness and obedience. The transition in and out says a lot about the submission. The mirror image of doing the counter canter on both reins allows you to compare if the horse is the same on both reins. The counter canter is about waiting for the aids and is a test of balance.  The transition so soon after the counter canter is a test of balance and is challenging.

Andrew Gardner then summarised the test he had watched.

‘This was an accurate test and was well ridden and performed. It was even and consistent and judges need to recognise that aspects are quite difficult as a lot comes up. They are not easy combinations of movements. If the rider has bought it together well then this has to be recognised. Not every mark will have been a 10 but you have to recognise the elements that will add the extra marks.’

Isobel Wessels then commented about the test.

‘A good job was done. The transitions were good and it looked easy. There was a difference on the long side in the left rein compared to the right rein. This was because the right rein was crooked. In the leg yield, he becomes short in the neck  and on the forehand which would be 8s but if the horse was more out and open in front and up this would improve.’

Isobel Wessels then took the rider and worked on the trot.

‘You need in more in front by bringing the horse back and then sending him forward. He needs to be more off the leg. My feeling is he is not off the leg and curls and goes down in his frame. We want the rider to have the horse in front of her more and go, when the rider says go instead of curling and going too deep in his frame.’

‘On the diagonal, think GO! One aid and collect, then lighten. The horse needs to be in front of the aid. It should be one aid to go and one aid to come back. Make sure the horse is more up and then soften the hand. Ride what you want, not what you don’t want. Imagine you are on Valegro.’

‘In the leg yield, the reaction to the leg was to curl and dive down. It needs to be a more uphill connection with a soft forward hand so the horse carries the poll at the highest point. When you make the movement don’t flex the horse instead think about the hind leg stepping across. If you ride the horse like this the horse can stay up in the shoulder and this will improve the trot. You need more trot but not a faster trot.’

‘The trot – walk – trot transition was an 8 but if fewer walk steps it could have been a 9. Think about the horse reacting behind and not curling and diving in front.’

Knee down, toe up was mentioned to the rider in her position to aid the downward transition.

‘The horse needs to react behind. If at a jump and you say go, you want the hind legs to come under. Riders are brave going cross country but not in the dressage arena!’

Andrew Gardner took over adding some thoughts.

‘Isobel has done some very subtle exercises but has influenced the way of going in the horse, so it has become more responsive so the rider could do less and the horse do more. The trot has started to improve and the hind leg has come under the body more. The horse’s back has started to swing more which you can tell through the tail. The horse has relaxed more in response to the leg and improved the walk. If you niggle at horses then they will close down and be less sensitive. For higher marks you should have the feeling of elasticity and swing which only comes when the horse is relaxed.’

Isobel Wessels then talked about connection and reaction of the hind legs.

‘The horse needs to use its body, not just its legs. The energy should be all the way through with an elastic connection. This makes every movement connect up. The walk was a highlight of this horse which is worth double marks.’

‘Looking at the right canter, this needs to be straighter.’

‘In every transition the hind leg should react by bringing energy through to the rein. The half halt should not become your contact. It should be the lightening of the rein. You want a soft forward hand in the canter. If straighter the horse is more uphill and the canter is better. It’s very important that the rider should give somewhere for the horse to go if they are activating the hind leg. The hind leg should come through into a soft hand.’

1609978_610928475622951_1945074375_nRider two was Emily King riding Brookleigh and they were performing the 2* test.

This is the video of the test. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33v9mRXckG4&list=UUmBY46fIMk4Knek17GI1b8g&feature=c4-overview

Isobel Wessels commented on the test.

‘The walk pirouettes were the weakest bit. Event tests are difficult and halting at L is unfriendly. I noticed that the horse was more bent to the right and was a bit banana shaped on the half circles. The horse should be straight. You really asked the horse to go in the medium transitions but less might be more. Keep the stride you have started with and stay on the hind leg. If you have him straighter you could have started with a 9 and keep the marks. Ride a good transition at the end.

You have to put the judge in the position that they can only give you a good mark. Work on the trot and have the courage to change what you don’t want. Learn to keep the weight on the two hind legs all the way across the diagonal. The horse could be a little straighter in the neck and it should have an elastic contact in both reins. You should feel like you are on a railway tracks Do not let him derail through the shoulders.

Straightness and rhythm are paramount. If you do an extension off the straighter rein, its always easier as you arrive straighter. When you change the rein in medium trot from R to K you are on the right rein until K. It is incorrect to flex beforehand. The rider controls the bend and forwardness. Do not use too much flexing on him to try and soften him to the right.

On the pirouette it is all about a 4 beat walk. He has to learn to adjust the walk and to give you quicker and more active steps which he is not good enough at yet. The horse has to look in the direction of the turn. You should see the corner of their eye. It is better if the pirouette is bigger but good rather than smaller and not as good.

Don’t change what you are doing but think about straightness as an underlying issue. When you approach the pirouettes think about shoulder fore position. The shoulders should lead not the quarters. Think about the outside hind leg stepping under. Control where the hind leg steps.’

Andrew Gardner:

‘A few of the things we have picked up relate to each other about controlling the shoulder. Which means control of the connection to the outside rein.’

The third rider to come in was Izzy Taylor on Orlando, to perform the 3* test. 1782116_610928172289648_2142516504_n

note : I have the Izzy Taylor test but it needs editing as I managed to record it upside down, so I will add it when done!

Isobel Wessels commented – ‘ This is very much a case that the serpentines were not accurate at all. You need to stay straight. The bend in the shoulder in should be uniform. You need to decide where the change in pace ends, not the horse. Corners are your friend in a test, to put them on the aids. If the horse is even in both reins he is on the hind legs so that when you say go he can keep his balance. The horse should go uphill, not scamper. Ask for more suspension in the canter, think about more time in the air and the horse being lighter footed.’

Andrew Gardner – ‘Riders often try too hard. You would not want to be nagged all day long. The eventing tests could be more friendly as they do have some awkward movements.’




About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.


  • Very good summary, perhaps worth adding the exercises Andrew was doing with Izzy to improve the quality of the canter as they worked brilliantly. He had her riding a slightly more forward canter on the circle, thinking big not fast, then bring him back softly maintaining the uphill frame. The canter became much less tight, there was better separation between the hindlegs (which had a tendency to operate “together” through tension) and more swing and the stride became longer. Think Izzie needed to remember that corners are her friend 😉

    A side note, Charlotte wasn’t in fact riding Billy Buzz, she was riding her other horse, Bug.

    Personally I thought this session was the best of the day (other than the brilliant lunchtime classroom one with Liam Moggan) which was a change as the last couple of years I have found the dressage session the weak link despite having excellent speakers. I think the format (ride a test with commentary then pick on a couple of weaknesses to work on) worked brilliantly and I thought Isobel in particular was really incisive.