After a weekend of training judge candidates and watching repeated mistakes in ring figures, it seemed appropriate to discuss the importance of correct figures which effect the balance of the horse and hence, the score.
Knowing the dimensions of the arena and placement of the letters should be part of every riders’ early education. For the purposes of this article, we will be talking about the full size 20 x 60 meter arena.
Unfortunately there has to be some math involved! The corner letters are placed 6 meters from the actual arena corner. The next letters are spaced 12 meters apart down the long side and have corresponding center line letters (D, L, X, I, G)—information that’s crucial to knowing where to place figures and movements.
Let’s take the 20 meter circle for example. When placed at A or C, the open side of the circle crosses the center line two meters beyond L or I (6 + 12 + 2 = 20 meters). Even for the visual learner, it is necessary to see where the center line letters are in order to be able to gauge and develop a feel for the correct bending line as it crosses the center line.
Consequently, 20 meter circles placed at E and B need to cross the center line at the same point—two meters inside L and I. We often see riders make the mistake of crossing the center line at L and I. That makes the A and C circles only 18 meters, and the E and B circles 24 meters! It’s impossible to maintain uniform bend and balance in the horse because the circle is no longer round.
Developing a feel for the correct size and placement of these circles is crucial to riding the perfect three loop serpentine. The rider must understand that the serpentine consists of the halves of the three 20 meter circles, connected by a brief straightening where the horse is parallel to the short side when crossing the center line into the new loop.
Keep in mind as you begin your serpentine at A or C, it begins as a 20 meter circle which means it does NOT go into the first corner. Consequently as the serpentine ends at A or C, it does NOT go into the prior corner. This is a common mistake we often see.
To improve a riders feel for the placement of the circles, cones can be an extremely helpful training tool. By placing cones along the center line in pairs (about 1 meter between the cones) at the appropriate crossing points, the rider has a visual aid and can better understand how to make the horse straight before the bend of the new circle begins.
Learning to ride these figures precisely paves the way for developing balance and correct bending necessary to build engagement and suppleness as you move up the levels. Flaws or details skipped in the basics only lead to awkward movements later on. For example, circles which are never round and the haunches falling sideways to the outside lead to balancing
Another example: a canter serpentine without correct alignment in the horse, due to an unbalanced figure, will not develop the correct balance (collection in counter canter) which can then create difficulties for the next step—a correctly executed flying change.
It is also important to learn how to ride the corners in correct balance, as they connect the rider to the next line of travel or the next test movement. A corner is ridden as a quarter of a circle or volte. At Training and First level a correct corner is ridden like a quarter 10 meter circle. As the levels progress the demands of the corners increase. At Second and Third Level corners are ridden as 8 meter quarter voltes (developing and increasing collection). Corners at Fourth Level and above are ridden as 6 meter quarter voltes.
Another mistake we often see in the show ring is a rider cutting the corner and losing balance and connection with little preparation for what comes after the corner. And at the lower levels, riders often try to make deeper or sharper corners than necessary. The horse loses its balance,
Pay attention to DETAILS............they will help lead horse and rider more smoothly up the levels as well as earn higher scores in the performance on the show grounds.
See you on the Center Line!
About the Bills
Bill Warren is an FEI 3* judge, a USEF ‘S’ judge and USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medalist. Bill McMullin is a USEF 'R' judge, USDF Certified Instructor and Faculty Member, as well as a USDF Bronze and Silver medalist. Operating under the name Warren-McMullin Dressage, the renowned judges travel throughout the year, but are based in Stoughton, Massachusetts in the summer and Loxahatchee, Florida in the winter. Both Bills maintain a full schedule of riding, training, clinicing and judging. In addition, they are constantly improving their own education and the education of their students with world- class instruction from Conrad Schumacher and George Williams.
ShowChic Dressage invites the dressage community to learn from the Bills.
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