How important is geometry?

I’ve been watching gazillions of videos of dressage tests. Why i ask is that most videos i watch have eggshaped circles or unstraight lines when horses are off the rail as a guide. And i wonder if most folks feel that a straight line is lacking if it meanders a bit, and do they train for straightness? Do you feel your horse wobble? Do you see your track in the sand and strive to correct it? Don’t most judges judge a down the centerline, the quarterline, 20m circles etc on the perfection of the lines? I wonder if it’s because i’m mostly watching Intro ABC and TL123 and horses/riders demonstrating in their home videos are not ‘there yet’…? Looking at the tests and evaluation criteria i don’t see mention of geometry, so maybe at the low levels these things aren’t evaluated?

In my experience geometry is evaluated at all levels. Correct geometry is what helps us all save points but it’s extremely important to not lose any points the more limited of a mover you have as a mount. I typically ride ‘6’ movers and to get every possible point to the definition of the ceiling limit I must ride correct geometry. My horse’s gaits are not going to get us to our goals in competition but correct riding and that means correct geometry can - ie, square halts get me maximum points where I’ll never receive a 9 for our medium across the diagonal.

As to your question about straightness, it is also evaluated and again in my experience it makes all the difference in the world as to how well a horse (regardless of natural ability) is able to successfully perform. I ride one now who tries to roll over his right shoulder, evading the right rein contact and also keep his left hind out. I must ride every stride keeping this in mind and demanding straightness if I am ever going to be able to perform past second level.

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So do you ride with your left leg a bit back? Or loosen your right rein?

i guess i need to find better videos then. I wish some of the really great riders would do demo videos of lower level.

I do neither. I do my best to keep his left hind leg under by asking with my lower left leg and I try to keep his barrel straight between my legs and seat. I ride him into the contact trying to keep it equal in both reins. If he drops the right rein I will ride for a feel of renver (as you would going to the left) regardless of which direction I’m riding. So I don’t drop him on the right side, that would just be giving into what he wants. I also don’t put my right leg back in this situation because that would just push his haunches out to the left even more which is exactly the opposite of what I want. Hopefully that makes sense.

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Join usdf and watch the videos available to members. Scribe at local schooling shows. They are typically heavy on Intro and Training level rides and those tests are easy to scribe and watch. Get past 1st and the movements come up so fast you can’t do both.

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ok, i guess i’m not understanding what you mean by ‘left hind out’

My horse likes to travel crooked and not straight. His natural inclination is not to weight the left hind as much as the right hind. Unless I’m paying attention and making sure he steps both hind feet up equally underneath and toward his midline (underneath them), his preference is to travel (think going to the left) with his haunches ever so slightly towards the inside. This way he doesn’t have to carry as much weight on his left hind. This is not a lameness issue. This is a straightness issue. He also (which is common in this situation) doesn’t like to come through on the right rein. If he did I could more easily keep his left hind stepping underneath. Instead he likes to weight his right shoulder or blow over (energy spills over) the right shoulder and not accept the contact on the right rein. Some people call this way of going (whether it’s a horse that doesn’t like to weight his left or if it’s the right hind - and then they blow through the left shoulder) dog tracking. They aren’t moving straight or equal into both reins. This is very subtle in my horse at the stage he’s at now but when he was at training level it was very clear and geometry of the test harder to perform correctly. I’ve managed to correct this and ride him straight consistently at the walk and trot; but, I still have to constantly pay attention. But, NOW these issues are what’s making it challenging to rate his canter and have him come through correctly at the canter. It’s the basics, always the basics that must be mastered. We can perform clean flying changes but we won’t even think of really working on them until I can keep him straight in the canter and that’s at all canters - collected, medium and extended.

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Geometry is especially important at the lower levels for both rider and horse. It’s easier for an inexperienced rider to “see” geometry deviations than to feel a lack of straightness accurately, much less know how to correct it. Over time, with a good coach, the rider can develop the feel. For the horse, as exvet says, straightness is absolutely necessary for correct development.

Dressage “tests” are intended as diagnostic tools and geometry is fundamental.

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This is Intro A, if you click the user name USDFORG you can find the rest of the On the Levels tests. Turn on the volume, the judges comments are voiced over on these. You’ll notice in this one, it says “fairly” straight centerline - there were a few wiggles.

As exvet said, poor geometry can leave points on the table. And… Straightness is actually part of the training pyramid.

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Poor geometry is the best way to throw points away. Or the other way round, correct geometry will gain points. The most flashy leg-throwing Dutch WB should score lower if their circle is egg-shaped while a normal horse showing a correct circle should score higher because, to emphasize, because the figure has been ridden correctly. Not gait but geometry.

I appreciate that people on this forum are convinced that big gaits win points but really dressage is about correct riding, developing crucial things like straightness, based on the scales of training, and big gaits come with training. If you want to see what happens as training develops, find a horse you like and look, on line, at their performance over many years as they move up through the level e.g. Charlotte Dujardin has several. A massive extended trot is built from a normal one, the piaffe develops from a normal trot too but needs more hock so you can’t fake the flashy high knees. The judges sit in different places around the arena so important elements of training, such as straightness, can be clearly assessed.

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If you have the opportunity to scribe, especially at schooling shows, you would be doing yourself a big favor to do it. You will gain lots of insight into the topic of geometry from the judge’s comments. The last time I scribed, I can’t remember how many the comments were, “Serpentines don’t have corners,” and “Circle not round,” and “Drifted on C-line,” C-line meaning center line. So the short answer is yes, geometry is very important; scribing for as many judges as you can will tell you what the most common mistakes are. As exvet pointed out, points are lost due to poor geometry, something that is within your control.

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ha! ok…by out i thought you were meaning he bent his rear toward the rail. Now i understand why you do not cant your left leg a bit back. And why you give pressure with your left calf to give him a pose to wrap around! Thank you for your explanations.

Yes, as others have said there are two interrelated issues here.

The fundamental one is straightness, which means that you can school, develop and ride your horse so he is carrying weight equally on both sides, can bend the same both directions, and can go perfectly straight in both directions. Paradoxically developing a straight horse involves lots of lateral exercises to get him balanced physically.

All horses naturally curve to one side or the other, with various effects on how they go under saddle. Many ammie riders have some degree of asymmetry as well, including just being handsier with their own dominant hand.

Geometry in a dressage test is an evaluation of how balanced and straight your horse is. Personally I would hold off on showing a horse that drifted off the rail or couldn’t do a circle, but people’s goals differ and many just want feedback or a fun outing or to get a young horse used to crowds.

You do not get straightness (the goal) and geometry (the visible effect) by merely drilling the Training Level test patterns. You need to do more.

Of course there is also rider error. We’ve all seen beginner or intermediate riders that can’t keep a well schooled horse on the rail, when that horse gives us personally no problems.

As far as the pragmatic question of how many points you lose, have a look at the score sheets. Each movement is individually judged on numerous criteria including gait, balance, and geometry. You will lose points for bad geometry but also for switching gaits or speed or geometry too soon or too late.

Your overall score will be influenced by the inherent quality of gait and also how many movements you messed up. A really nice horse that has one bobble might still get a respectable score.

Anyhow, in a test geometry is important because it shows that you are developing a balanced horse that you can ride with precision.

That said, it’s not so easy or quick to get a horse to that point, and if you are looking at random videos of schooling shows or video competitions sent in by other folks new to dressage working without good trainer feedback, I bet there is a lot that is imperfect in their rides.

That’s fine, and it is good to be able to see the errors. Their errors reflect common problems riders face. But don’t take them as models to aspire to.

It’s like saying, I found some websites with a contest for middle school students to post their unedited writing about life under Covid (or some such timely topic). I noticed a lot of spelling errors and wierd grammar. Does this mean spelling and grammar no longer matter in competent writing?

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It definitely is commented on at lower levels. I was only able to show twice this year, at training and first level (8 tests total). The centerline, halt, salute always has comments on straightness or lack thereof. I know I definitely got comments when my 15m canter circles got too large or too small. My 20m circles are pretty good, so didn’t get any comments that I was riding eggs or flat tires.

It is definitely important, as others have pointed out, to be able to ride good lines. When you go to 2nd, your SI and HI will be crap if you can’t already trot a super straight line. The horse will drift instead of traveling with bend along the correct line. It is much more pronounced and obvious once you start the lateral work, IME, so judges should be calling it out at Intro/training/first so it’s corrected before moving up.

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Remember too that Intro (especially) and Training is usually Amateurs (or Juniors) or young/green horses, or some combo of those. For example, I’m an Ammy on a 4YO showing Intro, where there are not a lot of movements where you can pick up points; I know my geometry, and make sure to use it where I can to get all the points we can in a test. But with a greenie? Sometimes you sacrifice geometry for a balanced transition or good connection, because I can fix a 22M egg later as the horse gains the better balance from the good transition.

Also, people go in the show ring and our brains straight up forget half of what we know and so sometimes you forget what shape you’re making there.

Geometry is not a specific score on the test, but you will absolutely get comments on “circle too large” or “use corners” and will lose points for it.

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You are seeing a lot of imperfect geometry in part because it is deceptively difficult! Especially in a show atmosphere with an inexperienced horse or rider.

Try to video yourself riding a perfectly straight line and a completely even and round circle. You may be surprised at what you see.

Although those lower level tests are meant to be easier with long straightaways and big circles, it can also give a wiggle-worm young horse more time to wobble!

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You might find this book helpful, if you can find it:
The Competitive Edge, Max Gahwyler

Max Gahwyler was a dressage judge, among other things, and analyzes the lower level tests from that viewpoint. Very helpful to know what the judge can and cannot see, and how to ride the figures and maximize points. The books are dated, from the 80s maybe? So the tests are not current, but many movements are the same, and valuable knowledge carries across the years. This will help you with a lot of the questions you ask about riding tests.

I think there are three books that cover Training through Fourth.

Grey

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From hours spent scribing… definitely important. For the training scale (but note how high up ‘straightness’ is) and for competitive scores. You are just giving points away if you are capable of, but don’t perform, straight lines, square corners, and round circles of the appropriate size.

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True, however it is reflected in one of the rider scores in the collectives:

Rider’s correct and effective use of the aids (clarity; subtlety; independence; accuracy of test)

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