I caught up with BD listed judge Vikki Hayton, who can often be found in the car at C at BE events, to get some insight into dressage judging and some top tips on picking up marks in the first phase.
How do the standards of dressage compare between BE and BD (comparing, say, BE100 with Prelim and BE Nov with BD Nov)?
They are supposed to be exactly the same, however we have been asked to be more sympathetic with BE competitors, as their horses are so fit, tension often affects their tests.
Where do you most commonly see marks being lost?
Free walk, a lot of riders tend to do free walk on a loose rein as opposed to long rein (keeping the contact) and not allowing the horse to lengthen its steps and frame.Pushing the horse out of its natural rhythm and getting jogging in the walk. Inaccurate centre lines, competitors think they’re on the centre line but A is not directly behind them. Incorrect bend through turns and circles, causing lack of balance and affecting rhythm.
What is the one thing people could do better to improve their marks?
Ride more accurately. Learn to ride accurate loops and centre lines. Teach your horse to stand up square all the time, not just when you’re riding him. Teach your horse to lengthen his frame and practice lengthening and shortening in walk, trot and canter. Your aids for lengthening his walk should be different from those of the trot transition, otherwise the horse jogs. Don’t ride in sitting trot if your horse is not forward and lacks a supple back.
Do you see professional riders presenting tests better than amateurs, and if so in what way?
Yes, they tend to ride more accurately and have better ring craft – often arriving earlier for their tests giving them extra working-in time round the outside of their arena to settle them. Clear transitions from mediums to working. Good stretching showing that they have been correctly produced.
What do you think of the BE tests as a whole – do they incorporate movements and transitions that allow riders to show off their horses’ schooling?
Yes undoubtedly. The tests have been planned by experts to develop and help you to move your horse up from one level to the next, incorporating exercises that will help them to move up to the next level. The tests gradually become more difficult as the year progresses towards the championship tests.
Would you be interested in seeing half marks used at BE as well as BD and for what reason?
Most definitely, as long as they’re used for the right reasons; i.e. when you think a 6 might be harsh and the movement doesn’t quite warrant a 7.
The big question – we are all told to plait and turn horses out perfectly out of respect for the judge. In reality does it make any difference?
It is a mark of respect and does make a huge difference, as a horse looks more professional when it is well turned out, but for me, the main reason for turning a horse out well, should be out of respect for the animal.
What could eventers learn from BD? Do you adjust your judging at all between the two disciplines?
I am more sympathetic judging event riders from the aspect of the tension/fitness. I try not to be too harsh as they need their horses fit and this can cause them to be tense. Maybe having their horses working over a more supple frame and stepping forward to the contact. At the lower levels working without stirrups to develop a deeper seat.
Can you name someone who rides particularly good tests consistently and is worth watching and learning from (an eventer preferably!)?
Emily Lochore, Emily Baldwin, Richard Jones all get good dressage marks. Oliver Townend and William Fox-Pitt are masters of the jumping phase and keep their horses in such a good rhythm.
Bad tests…… A lovely older gentleman who competes at the same level every year and who always does half of the canter work on the wrong lead, he never appears to notice and they happily continue and at the end his fan club, who are always there clap and cheer him when he’s finished. Memorable moments…..a pony club event a few years ago. I was given a charming young, but inexperienced writer. We seemed to be getting on really well, after the first 12 or so tests we had a break and she asked me what I meant by ‘losing bowels’, I couldn’t understand what she meant and then it dawned on me…she’d been writing losing bowels instead of losing balance!!!! I hope those competitors saw the funny side.
With thanks to Vikki Hayton of College Farm Equestrian www.collegefarm.com – BE and BD accredited trainer, BD listed judge.