After 7 years in service, including two Olympics, two WEGs and multiple top level events, the 2009 4* A and B tests have finally been retired. Their successors contain several notable differences and will give competitors aiming at Badminton, Kentucky and the rest some quite new exercises to work on. The new tests can be found here : new FEI 4* tests
We asked international dressage judge and former eventer Annabel Scrimgeour to cast her eye over the new tests from a judge’s point of view and highlight the changes and movements she think will prove tricky.
The new 4* dressage tests will, no doubt, cause much debate and opinion as to whether they are better/worse and easier/harder than the previous tests. The right answer will be dependent on the horse’s strengths and weaknesses. It was felt that the tests needed to be kept short so some things had to go. Most will be delighted that the walk pirouette failed to make the cut. For me, while useful in training, it is not helpful for an event horse in competition especially in a highly charged atmosphere as it can encourage the horse to come back underneath you and event horses need to look forward through the bridle. Counter canter has also been dropped. This has been well tested at 1, 2 and 3* level so other movements have taken priority. It can and should still be used in training as and when required. Not many will miss the dog leg medium trot or the endless serpentines either, especially the 5 loop one mixing counter canter and flying changes. The additions are the 20 metre circle with stretching and more width to the half pass.
I have only read through the tests and haven’t ridden the movements as written but I think the B test will be the more interesting to watch, probably will require a more correctly trained and ridden horse and the trot work is definitely more difficult. After the centre line the first movement is medium trot on the full diagonal which is a long way on a moderate mover or one that is taking time to settle to the rhythm – it is less than 20 metres from the move off at I to the start of the medium. That is followed by half pass left from F – X and an 8 metre circle right at X then shoulder in right up the centre line and track left. Control of both the shoulders and the quarters will be required throughout otherwise it will look very messy. Big flashy trots won’t be an advantage. Extended trot on the diagonal will show if the rider has shut the horse down to keep control or has been able to keep it forward up to the contact, then repeat the lateral work on the other rein. At the end of the centre line comes walk – extended on the short diagonal M – E should encourage relaxation but the medium walk from E – F then round to A and halt will seem miles on many. It will be a line that all judges should be able to see if the rider cheats a bit and doesn’t connect the medium walk as is commonly seen at the moment. Rein back and into canter comes next and requires a lot of carrying strength in the back and hind legs which is hard for the less dressagey types. A – K is not far to establish the canter before the medium K – S but then the 20 metre half circle to R is plenty of time to prepare for the flying change on the R – V diagonal.
The half pass from F goes to the 3/4 line between S and I then there is no specification as to where you do the flying change before turning right. I think many will leave it as late as possible to hide any lack of straightness in the change and the approaching turn may help the change. The right half pass is then straight away from M followed by extended canter up the long side from F – M. The new 20 metre circle with stretch at C could be interesting especially for those that are a bit free after the extension as M – C is about 3 strides! There is then time to get organised for the last change on the S – P diagonal before the final centre line. By contrast, the A test should favour the flashy movers with the shoulder in setting up the half pass and the trot being quite straightforward. It may be easier to get away with having a less correct horse. I am a little disappointed that both the medium and extended canters are across the diagonal with a collect and flying change at the end. The big canter is something that many event horses can do very well, showing a bigger range than many top dressage horses but I can see rather muted extensions to try and avoid a 4 for a late change. 2 7s come to more than an 8 or 9 and a 4. The rest of the canter isn’t so challenging although the 20 metre circle at C from the centre line cannot be round!
The trot work for the B test will take some practice to be able to control the balance in the changes of direction out of the lateral work but should level the playing field for the more modest mover as it will highlight any horse not between leg and hand and those trying to produce “dressage horse trots” could be in trouble. Transitions forward and back in the canter will also need fine tuning which can only be good for the jumping training. Conversely, the A test may let you get away with more gaps in your training and it may be easier to con the judges especially with a big mover. Developing the balance, suppleness and connection has to be the basis of the work to make the movements easier and the horse more adjustable so the training shouldn’t really change providing you are doing an honest job even though the emphasis may move depending on the horse and how you have trained it in the past.