Dressage: what's helped you get better scores?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen an eventing thread about geometry, producing brilliant dressage tests, etc. What’s helped you recently?

I did a dressage-only test at a local event last weekend to see how we’d come out of our winter break. Our first five movements felt great and we got 7s - the rest of the test had 6s and 5.5s. I’m finding the dressage only portions of tests is so helpful for my show nerves, since I forget to ride once the bell rings. :laughing:

I have another dressage only show next month, and looking to sign up for a ride-review-ride clinic which has always been extraordinarily helpful. I’ve also been setting goals for myself; I’d like to see us do a sub-30 score this year. So what’s helped you?

1 Like

Look at your test and if you have a video watch test and follow along. Just getting the departs and geometry right is huge. Then anything about fussing or falling on the forehand. All this is easier said than done of course :slight_smile:


I’m in the same boat but have improved scores by riding every single stride with extreme focus. My horse is tricky in the contact, a very wriggly baby and if you zone out for a couple strides you can end up 2m off the wall with giraffe head before you know it.

She also requires very accurate body position and use of legs. If things start to unravel I need to go to an almost leg yield to get things back on track. So it’s all about being proactive Vs reactive.

My last test was so much better, but the judging was across the board harsh by that one judge. I got a 34 which my trainer called a 28 under anyone else.


Practice your test, a lot. A lot of people disagree with this, but riding it regularly will help with so many things. Comfort in the test. Being able to prepare your movements well ahead, not worrying about where you are going. You know where your weaknesses are, and can focus training on those things working up to the test. Film yourself riding it, and see where are losing points. Especially if you have video and can compare to your last test sheet. If your horse anticipates then practice the tests in sections.

Make sure you are schooling a level above what you are showing. None of the movements should be something you aren’t capable and confident in.

Also, bend bend bend. Judges want to see more bend rather than deep into corners. Make sure those movements that require bend like circles etc show a generous bend.

One last thing, to read and learn the purpose of the test, which is written on the test. This will tell you what exactly the judges are looking for, and what you can focus on showing off.


Been there, but at least in these cases the judging across the board is rather critical so it tends to level the playing field… for the most part. For sure there are certain judges I hope I don’t get at shows… :laughing:

There’s one judge local to me I always try to get a dressage-only test with if I can… I find he leaves the BEST comments about what we need more of, whereas other judges tend to just leave the score and not really comment on what needs improvement.


After riding with dressage only coaches, I have learned as eventers, most just do it to get it done.

We should be riding our test more as Jealoushe said. Also we are too late on being active into our next movements. I have learned I don’t begin my bends near enough, nor are the bending enough. Activity and being more accurate are huge.

When I went from my eventing coach to my pure dressage coach, my score improved by 10 points better. My OTTB went from mid to bottom of pack dressage to now being in the top three. Against bigger movers and nicer horses.


If you have time to scribe for a dressage judge, I highly recommend it! I do it quite often and love to hear the language and see what they are seeing and commenting on.


BRB, going to your dressage coach!! I’d love to see a 10 improvement in my scores.

What are some exercises your dressage coach has you work on?

I’m learning I need to be more proactive too. Riding the test in a show setting has really helped me get better at organizing and planning for the next movement while in the current movement.

I picked up an exercise at a clinic last weekend that I’m really liking at home for my horse. Set up a cavaletti bounce (canter) at X. I’m coming off of a circle and entering it at a trot, exiting it at canter. You can switch direction or work on specific lead. Canter a chosen number of strides then downward to a trot, keeping activity and engagement. It’s really helped and I’m already seeing an improvement in transitions and engagement behind.


I think the exercises are dependent and what areas you need to strengthen. What areas or movements in the test do you see the most room for improvement? How are your collective scores normally?

Another thing I learned that was helpful was to ride at home like you’re riding a test, always. So do things that make sense, and help your test riding. Like always encouraging forward across a diagonal. If you give a free rein to relax, then give and pick up like you would in a test. Always being on the ball. School in shapes that are used in your tests. Do transitions at the letters. Things like that.


Working with a dressage trainer who is also a judge went a long way toward improvements for me. She really helped me be more accurate in my geometry - so many of us throw points away on something that can make a 1-3 point difference in a movement score. She also helped me be more thoughtful about when to start and finish a movement. When to pick up reins in the free walk (at the quarter line), etc.
We had lessons that were “training” lessons and lessons that were “how to maximize your show score” lessons. Not always the same thing!
Also, I second what BraveSC said - go and scribe. It’s hugely helpful to hear what judges are actually looking for.


There’s totally a truth to that. When I can squeeze in lessons, there’s this one instructor I really love riding with because she’s focused on improving the accuracy of the ride which translates to the scoring of tests. I like the visual of picking up the reins in the free walk at the quarter line, and will think of that when I practice my free walk… which according to our most recent test, we need work on. :sunglasses:

There are so many little tidbits out there where we’re[g] throwing away points. I saw a +1-2 point increase in my circles at A and C this year from last, because I worked this spring on seriously almost exaggerating the difference between going into the corner and then that first circle. Once I started riding the corner like it was a 90 degree corner, and started riding off the rail for the 20m circles, I started to consistently get 7s and 8s on the circle movements. Next goal is 9s.

I spent spring working on the (negative) comments we received in our last test which was in October.

The good; we didn’t get a single comment about tension or lack of acceptance of the bit which have been places we’ve lost points historically. We got several ‘lovely outline’ and ‘active rhythm’ comments.
The bad; our most recent score didn’t really reflect this improvement. I have the ride filmed and I can also see areas where I gave away points like not riding that freewalk assertively enough, and not having enough bend coming into one of our canter transitions. Our transitions we can get more points on too and one of my current exercises is entirely focused on making that left lead transition flawless.

I am totally burnt out on scribing and volunteering. I do that every year and have ‘Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride’ Syndrome but for volunteering/showing. This year I am taking a sabbatical to actually show.

I tend to be really hard on myself competitively, too. Since I work independently outside of a trainer’s program, I use the scores as feedback for how my training is progressing. (This is not by choice - I’d love to be in a weekly program but own horses on a shoestring budget). Sometimes the scores don’t really reflect the improvement especially as we go up a level.

I know there are times to be thrilled with a 30-something score, but I’d like to be the person consistently laying down 20s. I see tests like MJs and just swoon. :heart_eyes: We’re not quite there yet, lol.


I really agree with this! I was just working with a trainer this last weekend who insisted that the moment the ears turn away from you, you immediately do something new (a transition, half circle, counterbend - literally anything) to get the focus back. I’m good about following this rule on horses that are noticeably distracted, but on more seasoned horses that might not be so dramatic about it I find myself saying “oh she’s just a teensy bit distracted, but things are still going well” and I let it slide because she hasn’t really done anything wrong yet, and then 3 steps later she’s out of the contact entirely and bracing so hard against me that I’m nearly yoinked out of the tack.

It can be really tough, especially on a younger horse who is distracted easily. It feels like you’ve got to do something new every 3 strides and that gets exhausting. But eventually 3 strides will turn into 5 strides, will turn into 10 strides, etc.


With all the scribing I’ve done over the years the best comment a judge made in my opinion was ‘Show me the bend.’ Vs needs more bend or no bend. Show that you understand the question being asked !

And personally I’m a real sucker for soft downward transitions. Balanced transitions right on the marker.


When I’m riding, my answer would be “wish I knew: it’s a mystery to me!” When I’m watching as a rail bird, scribe or even amateur judge in a schooling show I see stuff I don’t see when I’m the rider. What kind of stuff? Most of it has been described above.

Be more forward. No one ever wins with a cautious test. The horse needs to march forward to the contact and through the ring.

Geometry is a biggie! Yes, corners are different than circles at C or A. A circle is a circle and really straight lines are not easy, especially across the diagonal.

I was taught that when the directions call for something at a given letter, you are to be doing that thing by the time your stirrup is at that letter. Example would be going across the diagonal to M with a lengthening, then working trot at M. Aim for a stride before M on the long side as you go across the diagonal (straight of course) and have your horse straight and in working trot at M. In other words plan ahead. Oh and especially on an explosive OTTB, don’t change the diagonal you’re posting on until you reach the point where you’re straightening out on the long side or your horse may stiffen at x.

Mostly, work to develop flow as you school transitions and pieces of your test. It’s a dance, not series of individual movements. Did I mention I’m still working on it?


One of the hardest things I had to learn was to internalize the fact that each movement is its own movement for scoring.

At the beginning of my dressage career, any time I would have a problem with a movement, my internal voice would say “Now you’ve blown it” and go on automatic pilot for the rest of a test just to “get through it.” I finally learned to brush off those not-so-great moments and to stay focused for the entire test.


To that end- I am a dressage rider but I do most of my volunteering at HTs because then I am not sad that I am not riding that day.

Also, agree with above- lessons with a pure dressage trainer. The focus is different and I have also found that the scores go up much faster than with dressage lessons with an eventer.


Oh me too!

I suppose it’s from a history in rail classes. Make a big mistake that you know the judge saw, and just… check out.

My last test we had a big mistake - horse attempted to dive out at A. Rode through it with a small argument. Judge acknowledged it on the scoresheet and we were scored appropriately. The rest of the test was lovely, and we landed my first 70.

That’s what I love about dressage, so many opportunities for redemption.

I have found that working on lateral movement has helped my scores. The more lateral control I have helps with everything else - corners, circles, bending.

Between the aids, balance in the transitions, straightness. Using test notes always help me to focus on “what to work on next”.


A $50 bill in an envelope with my entries.


:laughing: With inflation, you’ll have to sneak $100 in your next entry!!


Dude, Rebecca Farm is expensive enough as is.