If you’ve been stuck in Novice for a decade, you might be inclined to ask why they call it Elementary when it seems so hard to graduate to this level. It’s possibly because unless you’ve established the basics in Novice, the Elementary tests may seem filled with intimidating new work. But the truth is all of these movements have their foundations in your earliest training. Your horse’s strength, balance and response to your aids should result in a simple transition to this more demanding work.
Up a notch
One of the first things you’ll notice is that things start to move a bit faster – where you may have had a full length of arena to lengthen a canter, now you’ll be expected to execute two or three movements in the same space. This will characterise your rise through the grades – each new level puts greater emphasis on the degree of communication and response to the aids; it’s the ultimate test of how well you and your horse can ‘speak’ to each other.
Interestingly, even if you reach the highest levels of dressage, it will still be the basics that underpin the most advanced movements. And if you don’t believe this, watch a Grand Prix test and see how much attention is paid to a simple rein-back.
As in Novice, there are seven Elementary tests – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 with a Freestyle and you now have the option of using a snaffle or a simple double bridle. Whip and spurs if required. Note, it is only from Elementary that rules dictate use of a dressage saddle, so you may have been performing quite happily in a GP until now. You’ll probably appreciate it, since now you’ll be riding your tests in sitting trot!
Again, judges will be paying attention to your horse’s rhythm, straightness and balance, along with cadence, elasticity, suppleness and engagement. While your horse’s self-carriage was tested in the ‘stretchy’ trot in Novice, in Elementary you’ll test it by giving the rein on a 20m circle in the canter.
The work you introduced in Novice will now be developed further. The subtle counter canter you rode on the curve through X will now be ridden on a 20m circle followed by a simple change of leg, testing your horse’s suppleness and obedience to the canter aid. You’ll also start to ride 10m canter half circles – the next step in your journey to the canter pirouette and a true test of your horse’s strength and balance. You’ll help him in his understanding of the concept when you start working on the turn on the haunches, which, along with the rein-back will develop his ability to collect and activate his hind leg. This will be useful as you start to ride collected gaits.
Can your horse cope?
If you’re serious about keeping your equine athlete happy and working well – and let’s face it who isn’t – you’ll have noticed that it’s not enough to simply practice your flatwork every day. Your horse may benefit from cross-training to help build fitness and develop muscle power – hacking out, hill work and pole work can all help. Dressage may seem sedate but it actually requires incredible levels of strength and stamina.
Also, depending on your horse’s age and conformation, you may need to enlist the help of various specialists to keep him strong and sound. Farriers, vets, physios and other equine body workers can all play a role as you begin to learn that successful competing sometimes requires a team effort. As you become more finely attuned to how your horse’s body moves, you’ll realise that there are times that he could be performing more happily. Consider your own discomfort if you were attempting lateral work with a pinched nerve or misaligned spine – sometimes just the discomfort of simple muscle strain can cause resistance. Definitely a good reason to call in an expert, and even learn some maintenance skills yourself. Yet another way to bond!
You will advance through the grades by accumulating points at shows. From Novice to Elementary Medium, points are accumulated in the following way:
55% to 59% – 1 point
60% to 64% – 2 points
65% to 69% – 3 points
70% to 74% – 4 points
75% and above – 5 points
Your horse will be required to attain a minimum of 10 points and a maximum of 100 points to move up – this means that you can spend a little longer in a grade if you’d like more time to establish your work at that level.
Next month we’ll look at the Elementary-Medium classes.Want to try it out? Recreational membership is free! Visit www.dressagesa.com for contact information.