Riding Instruction in Bucks, Berks and Oxon

 07966 248916
Riding Instruction in Bucks, Berks, Oxon
 07966 248916

Dressage - A Judge's Eye View

Posted: Wednesday November 21st, 2018 - 1:37pm
Dressage - A Judge's Eye View Picture

Sixes again?!!

You've finished your tests and your lovely horse is on the trailer/lorry ready to go home. It's been a successful day - neither you nor your horse had a meltdown, you didn't forget your test, and it felt like it went pretty smoothly. Then you get your score sheet and your heart sinks a bit at the distinctly average marks you've ended up with. If you always seem to get the same marks (and rarely break the 7 barrier!) or you find similar (and perhaps incomprehensible!) comments from the judge each time and feel you're not sure how to improve, you are not alone! My clients bring me this issue on a regular basis so don't despair, because there are actually lots of easy, quick ways you can improve your scores without your horse having to turn into Valegro overnight! After my most recent outing judging Preliminary 12 and Novice 27 at a Riding Club comp, I thought I'd put together some tips on best practice, and explain how to avoid the mistakes I commonly see when judging. You're welcome ;)

So what was I looking for overall?

The Horse

Forward going, calm horses with active, correct paces will score better at any level. They need to be able to perform the movements easily, with one movement flowing into the next without a loss of impulsion. Your horse also needs to demonstrate a degree of bend, following the lines of turns and circles through their whole body.

The Rider

You have to do your bit too by riding as accurately as you can. It's all too easy to lose marks just by riding transitions a little early or late, missing your centre lines, or riding less than perfect school movements. In addition, correct diagonals and a balanced, effective position will not only improve the collective mark you receive for your riding, but also produce a better overall performance from your horse.


One common area for improvement at Prelim level is the free walk on a long rein. I often see riders drop the reins altogether, producing a loose, not a long, rein. Instead, maintain a contact and lengthen your reins gradually to encourage your horse to stretch forward and down on the end of the rein. Ensure your horse is still walking actively forward too, as I see a fair bit of dawdling!

Preliminary 12, in particular, contains some of the more challenging movements seen at Prelim level. The half 10m circles in walk, and changing the rein in canter, with a change of leg through trot, are both quite tricky to do well. Accuracy of circle size and shape, and a smooth change of bend on the centre line (right in front of the judge!) are the key to successful half circles.

For the canter change of rein across the diagonal, avoid a potentially unbalanced transition to trot by preparing early. Half-halt well before the X marker to gather the canter together, keeping enough leg on to prevent your horse breaking into trot. Then when you ride the actual transition, it will be much smoother, as you came out of a more balanced canter. Practise varying the canter when schooling, sending your horse on, then bringing him back without letting him break into trot, to develop the canter balance.


At Novice level, a lot of riders lose marks in the performance of the medium paces. Usually, not enough difference is shown between working and medium trot and canter, so really go for it with the medium to achieve maximum impact. Remember, medium paces are about lengthening the stride, rather than quickening the tempo, which can be easier said than done, so enlist the help of your instructor to ensure you’re doing it right.

Giving and retaking the reins is another area that causes confusion. You need to be quite obvious with this to gain marks. Move your hands forward towards your horse’s ears, slackening the reins completely, before replacing them and taking up the contact again. Move your hands, don’t let the reins slip through your fingers, and hold the position for at least two or three strides so your judge doesn’t blink and miss it!

General Tips

LEARN YOUR TEST! I cannot stress this enough! Even with a reader, plenty of competitors still mis-hear instructions and go wrong due to the pressure of the situation. If you do make a mistake however, don’t give up! Your judge will restart you, so take a deep breath and forget about it. Only that one movement will be affected, so concentrate on riding the rest of the test.

It’s a great idea to get someone to film your test so you can review your performance afterwards, especially if you do so with an instructor, who can help you analyse how you did. In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to focus on how your horse is going, but afterwards you can match up your score sheet with your video and see exactly what your judge saw.

If you haven’t competed before, don’t be shy. There are so many benefits to having a go at some unaffiliated dressage. It’s an excellent way to boost your confidence and develop the bond with your horse, who will no doubt enjoy getting out and about to a new place. Brush up on any skills you aren’t sure of, and practise your test with your instructor beforehand to ensure you feel in control on the day. A friendly local competition is the best place to start, have a look online or in tack shops for your nearest yards and riding clubs and the events they are running.

Happy Riding :)

BHS National Convention

Posted: Wednesday January 21st, 2015 - 3:24pm

Just booked my place at the British Horse Society National Convention!

It promises to be an informative day of practical demos run by Tim Stockdale. I've seen him speak before and he's funny and engaging as well as (obviously) hugely knowledgeable.

It's on March 2nd at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire. Should be a great day, head to the BHS website to book online or give them a ring

Your Horse Magazine Article

Posted: Tuesday November 4th, 2014 - 4:07pm
Your Horse Magazine Article Picture

I was delighted to be interviewed recently by Your Horse Magazine for their article on the secrets of happy hacking.

Client Focus

Posted: Tuesday June 10th, 2014 - 1:29pm
Client Focus Picture

Another lovely sunny morning for teaching! Here's Chris Ehrlich and Bailey looking great today, well done :)

Rosehill Cross Country Schooling Clinic

Posted: Friday June 6th, 2014 - 5:46pm
Rosehill Cross Country Schooling Clinic Picture

Just some details for those of you who haven't been before!

We are booked on the course at 10.00, and you can gain access to the site any time before then to get ready. You will need to sign in to their visitor's register, and if I haven't taught you before, fill out one of my rider registration forms too. Remember you will need the £20 for Rosehill's charge in cash on the day (they have an honesty box system). Looking forward to seeing you all there :)

The address is:
Rosehill Estate
Rose Lane
Henley on Thames

However, their website advises that you don't use satnav for the final part of the journey as it will take you to the wrong entrance.

These are the directions on their website:
From the M4, M40 and A4 - follow the A404(M) and then the A4130 towards Henley, passing through a village called Hurley. You will shortly pass a pub on your right named The Black Boys

For schooling, Rosehill is up a single track road, Rose Lane, on the left after the pub. Rosehill Estate is then the first turn on the right

From Henley follow the A4130 towards Maidenhead. At the top of the hill take the right turn towards Cockpole Green and follow the map.

The map and directions can be viewed in full at:

Q and A - Teaching

Posted: Monday April 7th, 2014 - 6:34pm

This question came in from a client who is gaining initial teaching experience at a local riding school and training for their PTT. My answer follows the question.


Hi Rachel,

Can I just run a quick question past you? My 7 year old client struggles with rising trot (we have done some sitting trot and he is sort of ok) what exercise could you do to practice rising trot.

I have done some rising in walk - just for him to get a feel of what he needs to be doing. Any other suggestions?


What you've done so far sounds good, get him to do the rising in walk first and do lots of sitting trot so he can feel the rhythm. A seven year old should be strong enough to lift himself up and down so his problem is probably with timing. You need to be saying "up down up down" to him in time with the trot and telling him if he's too fast or too slow until he gets the right speed.

If the pony is safe and will stay on the track, he could hold the pommel or a neck strap to avoid pulling on the reins to get out of the saddle. If you're not sure of the pony, put him on the lunge then he can concentrate on learning to rise without having to control the pony as well (and you can practise your lunge lesson for your PTT!)

Good Luck!


F and I Training Day with Darrell Scaife

Posted: Saturday October 5th, 2013 - 5:05pm
F and I Training Day with Darrell Scaife Picture

Great day yesterday observing Darrell Scaife FBHS coaching several groups of horses and riders. He demonstrated his thoughtful and calm approach to coaching during three morning jump lessons. The sessions ranged from young horses through to experienced combinations jumping courses.

The afternoon session was devoted to dressage. I had a fantastic lesson with Darrell on Revelation 2 (kindly lent by owner Antonia Findley) during which I worked on achieving greater connection and more expressive lateral work. He went very well, displaying his lovely big paces to good effect and as always behaving impeccably.

BHS Autumn Convention

Posted: Wednesday October 2nd, 2013 - 11:36am

What an interesting and very enjoyable day! There were four sessions concentrating on training the event horse from BE100 right through to Advanced taken by Yogi Breisner.

Yogi is obviously an excellent coach but what stood out for me was how impressive his observational skills are. He instantly identified weaknesses and was able to bring about rapid improvement in the performance of the combinations by prioritising his feedback. He uses common sense when coaching and made the day as interactive as possible, with questions taken after each session as well as during.

It was great to see quality horses and riders tackling challenging exercises which clearly described the requirements of the level at which they are competing.

I found the day very inspiring ahead of the Final of the Instructor of the Year Competition next week.

I'm a finalist for BHS Instructor of the Year!

Posted: Friday July 19th, 2013 - 9:28am
I'm a finalist for BHS Instructor of the Year! Picture

I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Regional final of this competition at Berkshire Riding Centre. The day was very enjoyable and informative, run by Robert Pickles FBHS, in the style of a training day.

I taught a lunge lesson and a semi private jump, as well as taking part in discussion sessions on all the horses and riders provided for the day.

Much deserved thanks go to Rosie and the team at BRC for organising such a well run day with excellent guinea pig riders and horses.

The day surpassed everything I'd hoped for by ending with Robert telling me he was putting me through to the finals in October!

I'm determined to put in a lot of hard work between now and then to improve my coaching and give the best performance I can!

Photo courtesy of BHS Press Office

PGCE Observed Teaching Assessment

Posted: Wednesday May 22nd, 2013 - 8:49pm

Just finished my final Observed Teaching Assessment for my PGCE course!

I did a jump session, working three riders at Stage 2 standard through a grid. It went really well and the assessor has awarded me an outstanding (grade 1) on the ofsted scale of grades!

A massive thank you to Tamsin, Faye and Katrin (and Pepsi, Jake and Bembridge!) for being such excellent guinea pigs - You guys are a pleasure to teach :)

Review of BHS Spring Coaching Convention

Posted: Monday May 20th, 2013 - 3:43pm
Review of BHS Spring Coaching Convention Picture

This was a fantastic opportunity to see some top quality horses working at all levels from promising youngsters through to Prix St George and Grand Prix. It was a very informative day, with expert and refreshingly down to earth coaching and commentary from Stephen Clarke FBHS. I would highly recommend any similar events in the future.

Client Focus

Posted: Wednesday November 28th, 2012 - 1:26pm

Well done to Richard Lake for completing your


at Wellington Riding yesterday.

I hope all your hard work and committment to training is rewarded - fingers crossed for the results!

Q and A - Teaching

Posted: Thursday November 22nd, 2012 - 1:11pm

This question came in from a client who is gaining initial teaching experience at a local riding school and training for their PTT. My answer follows the question.


Hi Rachel,

Do you know a good exercise for beginners who are not really in control of their horses (approx. 5 of them) at the minute I always made them go in a ride and asked them to concentrate on keeping their distance to the horse in front, no cutting corners etc and then done some transitions with them.
Do you know any alternatives??


Keep drilling them on this basic stuff, it's the only way they'll get better. Add variety by using the centre line to practice riding straight. You can use a pole either side of X to help them at first. You could develop this by putting guide poles on an inside track and making them ride away from the wall again to develop straightness and use of the outside aids. This is good because essentially they are still riding around in a ride so they are safe and under your control but they are practising different things at the same time.

You can make it into a bit of a game by making the poles narrower and narrower and seeing who can steer well enough to make their ponies go through. I've even done this with adults and it does focus them really well.

Good luck


Posted: Wednesday November 21st, 2012 - 3:48pm

I'm starting my winter stable management courses with a BHS Stage 2 course commencing on 4 December 2012.

Covering the entire Stage 2 syllabus, this is a practical course including study materials and crucial exam tips.

Sessions run weekly from 6-8pm at Radnage Livery and Eventing, HP14 4BZ.

It is possible to attend one-off sessions, for example, if you only want to cover specific subjects such as plaiting or bandaging.

£40 per session if booked on the whole course
£50 per session if attending as a one-off

Contact me for more details and to book 07966 248916

Patrick Print Training Day!

Posted: Wednesday May 16th, 2012 - 10:30pm
Patrick Print Training Day! Picture

I'm excited to be involved in organising this day and will be riding in one of the jump lessons! Here are the details...

Whether you're a competitor, instructor/candidate for Intermediate Teaching/Stage 4 Riding or simply want to learn more about training horses or riders, this promises to be an interesting and interactive day with a BHS chief examiner.

It will be held at Radnage Livery and Eventing, Green End Road, Radnage HP14 4BZ on 29 May

Tickets are £35 (£30 for BHS registered instructors)

email: training@radnagelivery.co.uk for more details and to book your place!

Copyright © Rachel Levy Equestrian 2016