Marilyn Payne Reviews New 2017 FEI Four-Star Dressage Tests

Photo by Leslie Threlkeld. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Upper-level riders packed the room at the USEA Convention today to hear Marilyn Payne’s review of the new 2017 FEI CCI4* dressage tests and her suggestions for riding key movements. Marilyn is a 3*/4* FEI Eventing Judge and sits on the FEI Eventing Committee, and she led the charge in creating the new four-star tests, which had not been updated since 2009.

Our resident FEI guru Maggie Deatrick discussed the major changes to the tests in this post. Notably, the half-pirouette at the walk and the counter-canter tour has been dropped altogether; the addition of a stretchy canter circle has been a hot topic online since the announcement of the new tests, and riders will have to start practicing flying changes on medium and extended canter diagonals.

Marilyn began the session with an emphasis on the steps of the Training Scale, and told riders that it is the judge’s bible and should be theirs, too, with the overall goal being to develop a horse that is through and willing to obey the rider’s aids.

Judging is a hard job, and one of the challenges is judging a movement that you cannot see well, like a flying change going away from you or a half-pass on the opposite side of the ring. The new four-star test indicates which letter the side judge must be placed based on the visibility of certain movements in the tests. So certain events may find themselves using test A or B based on how their arena is set-up at their venue. For instance, Rolex will have to use Test A, which places the side judge at E, because of where the grandstands are located. Otherwise, a judge’s box at B would block the view of spectators who pay no small sum for a front-row seat.

Another challenge is consistency between judges. It is not good to have a big swing in the scores from multiple judges watching the same ride, but it is an all too common occurrence at international events. To address this, Marilyn said there is going to be an upcoming three-day judge’s session in Germany where the 3/4* judges of the world will discuss the new tests and get on the same wave length when it comes to scoring.

Here are some additional notes from Marilyn’s session on the new movements. You can review the 2017 FEI 4*-A test here and the 2017 FEI 4*-B test here.

  • In Test A, the shoulder-in is on the quarter line, so while the judge won’t know if you’re riding exactly on the right line, it is important that when you turn the corner to begin the movement that the hind legs do not swing out but stay in position while the front end moves over.
  • Also in Test A, the extended walk is best viewed by the judge on a half circle from S to R, but don’t stop the extended walk until the movement actually ends at M. She reminded riders that the extended walk should cover more ground and show a longer frame, but rhythm remains of the utmost importance (the first step in the training scale). “Jigging” at the walk is a loss of rhythm and a worse offense than showing less stretch, so if you think your horse will jig in a longer frame it is better to keep the frame shorter and focus on the quality of the walk. It’s also best not to loop the reins in the extended walk. Also, the medium walk is often too restricted; it is supposed to be marching.
  • There are two flying changes at the end of the medium and extended canters on the diagonal. Marilyn said the change must be done while you are straight on the diagonal (but well past the three-quarter line) and not after you are in the corner. In other words, show a straight change; don’t use the corner to get the change.
  • Marilyn said the 20-meter stretchy circle was “brought in because there was so much thought that event horses can get tense, ridden too much by the rider’s hands and forced into a frame.” Of course, a horse should be able to stretch over its back and reach for the bit, and that is what this movement proves. The horse should stretch to below its shoulders and should not change the length of stride or quality of the gait. If you can do this movement well, Marilyn said, the general impressions on the collective marks will be high because the horse is through its back, confident, relaxed and shows off the rider’s ability as well.
  • There are some movements, like a half-pass ending right before a corner (Test A) or a half-pass followed by a flying change on the quarter-line (Test B) where Marilyn suggested completing the lateral movement a stride or two early so that you have time to get straight and prepare for the next movement.

We can’t wait to watch the world’s four-star horses and riders tackle the new tests in 2017! But until then, you can watch dressage rider Melissa Taylor and Nichole Polaski’s Ansgar practice both tests (for SPF Video Services to film the tests, Melissa had to ride “backwards” in the arena, so A is C and C is A. Just ignore the letters and watch the pattern). See if you can spot which movements she does well and which could be done better. What do you think of the new tests after seeing them in action?

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