Thursday, November 4, 2021

Mean Ol' Dressage - Novice Test A Edition

Charlie and I have ridden the 2018 USEF Novice Eventing Test A to death over the years. A grand total of 16 rides since 2018.... not even including 2020 where we were deep into training land.

So. After all that repetition, how well do we ride this test? Did we get better over time? Worse? Stay basically the same? Let's take a look!!


Basically, Charlie is a remarkably average dressage horse. Or, maybe more accurately, he's piloted by a remarkably average rider haha. We average a 33.9% on this test, +/- 2.2% ( Our scores have trended toward improvement over the last 4 years, but.... only barely haha.

It's possibly more interesting to dive straight into the individual movements themselves, and see how our scores really breakdown: 

*missing 3 test sheets from 2019, sorry! and apparently didn't ride the test once in 2020...

The two right-most columns are the Average and Mode scores, respectively. Average being.... Well you guys know what an average is haha. You probably know what the Mode is too: the value that repeats most often in a set. 

To me, the Mode is possibly the most interesting here -- esp as it comes closest to how a judge actually scores (increments of 0.5, vs 0.1 as in the Average). 


1. Judges don't love our downward transitions and sluggish walk, all of which are symptoms of lacking impulsion ("energy within the cadence").

2. We generally enter well enough, and exit okay-ish (one of these days I *WILL* fix our halt tho!).

3. Trot work is just... fine. I feel like we track right better than we track left, and the average scores agree even if the modes do not.

4. Our left lead canter transition is definitely weaker, as is that circle. It's even odds tho whether this would still be true if it came as the second canter movement rather than the first, because....

5. The whole back end of the test fares much better. Charlie always moves out better after a canter. Obviously we canter in our warm up, but... maybe we should canter immediately before entering at A too?

judges always want to see more expression from charlie's size large frame

- Fix our damn halt. For real, tho. Utilize the indoor mirrors for this, even if we only ride in the indoor long enough to practice a couple halts.

- Practice more changes of flexion (ie counter bend) in all gaits (especially tracking left), to improve lateral suppleness and soften the stiffness judges always see in Charlie's back.

- Improve serpentine geometry. Get 3 fully straight steps across the E-B line over X while changing bend, rather than the shallow diagonal-ish line we normally ride.

- When preparing to ride a test at a show, consider cantering immediately prior to entering at A.

- Impulsion overall is a tricky thing to "fix" -- esp with a horse like Charlie. But work like this is how we'll do it. 

the handsomest 6.5 horse you ever did see <3
Thoughts on the 2022 Novice Test A:

- I want to like the immediate diagonal change of rein in trot, since that movement scored well in the 2018 test. To be seen if it'll be the case when it doesn't happen right after a canter, tho haha (unless, of course, I start cantering immediately before entering the ring!).

- The 2 loop trot serpentine is back again -- and this time twice!! This movement replaces 20m circles in trot, and.... I think I like it? Definitely want to finesse those changes of bend tho...

- Canter comes early! Still starts on the left lead (our weaker side), but maybe this will improve the impulsion issues that often plague us?

- The walk work drops right after the first canter, which might be ok? Tho, it could mean walking a tightrope, trying not to jig or break gait... Ditto the free walk on two diagonals (a "<" shape).
very very curious to see how judges interpret this mark
- Then another 2 loop serpentine to change directions, before right lead canter. I'm suspicious the walk break might sap whatever energy we developed in the first canter but... We'll see? Anyway, we canter again after this second serpentine.

- Then, omg, Novice has a stretchy trot circle now.... If history is any guide, we might possibly get slightly run away with here...

- The test ends with a 10m half circle onto the center line from B, halting at G. Theoretically, this should be fine considering how much we've practiced those 10m half turns for the Training Eventing and First Level tests. 

- Finally, the biggest change of all: Collective Marks dwindled to a single "harmony" score, worth 20 total points (compared to 40 available points in the 2018 test). I expect we'll probably score a 6.5 here, more or less always haha ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

honestly just here for the #journey, and maybe a little fun too ;) 
To be perfectly honest, the Novice tests are kinda boring. Given the opportunity to choose my own test, I much prefer first level. 

I also tend to believe that with very basic tests (training level dressage equivalent, etc), there's probably a "ceiling" for how well an average horse can actually do. Mostly because.... There just aren't many chances to show off anything other than movement or way of going. 

Sure, I still believe the argument I made (wayyyy back in 2017) that amateurs often place too much emphasis on "fancy" gaits at the expense of qualities more likely to ensure a successful partnership (like a good brain and rideability). But... In a test where all you do is walk trot and canter a 20m circle, rideability isn't super evident, ya know? Whereas a horse like Charlie can shine more in tests that ask him to do... more

But ya know. We kinda seem to be novice lifers haha. So. Novice tests we shall do! And admittedly it's pretty cool from a data perspective to amass such a large set of scores for easy apples-to-apples comparisons --- even if it only shows we've kinda scored equally mediocre over the past 4 years (despite objectively improving our combined training). Time will tell if I'll be back here in 2025 doing a similar summary analysis LOL!


  1. I didn't realize they were changing the collectives. The use of "athlete" instead of "rider" feels a bit patronizing.

    1. Lol yea that whole phrasing definitely feels a little “committee’d to death” haha. I’m super curious about the change in collective marks, and skeptical that they’ll be less informative for riders now than the traditional dressage grouping. Tho ya know. Eventers will do just about anything to speed up the process I guess!

  2. I'll be interested to see how the collectives shake out - in my experience the judges just tended to score them as an average of the test (if I got 65% the collectives were mostly 6.5's and I doubt that will change) but I kind of LIKED the detailed break down at the end.

    1. Agreed about liking the detailed breakdown. And actually, I didn’t interpret them in quite the same way as you — for instance, I understood the “gaits” score to be more or less what the judge thought the horse could do. So you’d hope for a test where most scores hovered right around what the judge gave for gaits. Like Charlie often got a 7 for gaits, but I kinda ride him to a 6.5 haha. Regardless, our collective scores often used a spectrum of marks (see above, even tho yea they generally all even out in the end) whereas I suspect a one singular mark will probably be more like the outcome you describe - the average of the test. In which case, I expect a 6.5 forever and ever amen (tho maybe sometimes a 6 LOL)

  3. I agree with you about the tests being boring and struggling to show rideability. The 2022 test looks like it might buck that trend, but with the single "harmony" collective.... that parsing seems like it will probably go right out the window. Ah well, Novice and BN will remain a gaits competition. Just like Training level (and probably 1st, honestly.)

    On improvement trends: Equiratings suggest that there's 0.5% inflation in dressage scores annually, so if one doesn't see their scores going down by 0.5% per year they are "losing" to inflation.

    1. Idk why but my knee jerk reaction to that equiratings tidbit is heavy skepticism LOL - are they measuring the judges? Or the riders? Or the horses? Some combination thereof ? Upper levels, lower levels? Pros and amateurs?? Horses that change levels or stay in the same level? Is a 30% at one level really the same as a 30% in the next one up or down??? Idk that tidbit seems a bit too reductive to be true (or am I thinking too deeply about it?!?!? LOL)

    2. Good questions for data nerds! Since they're quite literally in the business of data analysis for improving rider/team performance I'm inclined to believe them. That did run me down a rabbit hole of how you even calculate inflation (in a true economic sense) and some thinking about how you might calculate it broadly on an eventing scale.

  4. I like the idea of comparing the movements across time. I haven’t looked at new tests for 22 yet. I should get on that.

    1. Just a quick clarification — these are the new *eventing* tests, which are distinct from traditional pure dressage (usdf) tests

  5. I know I don't have skin in the game since I don't dressage lol, but rolling the collectives into 1 for the 2022 test seems lazy for the judges and I think is a disservice for riders and their horses. It's a chance to pick up points where they may have been left on the table in the movements.

  6. This was really fun to read!! I already keep all my tests, makes me want to pull them out annually to do the same kinda thing. I don't think I like the change in collective remarks either... I guess it just kinda leaves you with the test you had that day (ie no praising a talented horse and rider combo with rider position and gait collectives if the wheels fell off the bus that day).


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