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Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride


About Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride

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Argentina: An Eventing Nation!

This month, Valerie Pride took up an offer of a lifetime to officiate the South American Games in Argentina — and she’s been kind enough to send us a blog detailing her South American adventure. Take it away, Val!

A few months ago, I received an email on behalf of the FEI inviting me to officiate at the South American Games. It was so simple and straightforward I couldn’t help but think it was fake! I received a few succinct emails thereafter from a Colonel in Argentina, again wondering if this was too good to be true.

I’m a planner, a control enthusiast, Type A… you name it — and yet off I went, rather haphazardly, on the biggest judging assignment of my life to date!

I owe the FEI and my U.S. official’s training program and mentors a million thank yous for the opportunity of a lifetime. I learned more in a week than perhaps I have all year. I set out as an ambassador for our sport and I came back a humbled, inspired eventaholic! In just one week I learned how big and small the world really can be.

With just an hour’s difference in time, I couldn’t explain why my flight was over 10 hours long — and then I looked at a map! I needed to pack for the beginning of summer. I managed to get it all into a carry-on bag (minus my jammies — #fail — and a power adapter — #bigfail!), and off I went across the equator with prayers, a USB cable and a power pack from my LRK3DE swag bag two years ago.

My office for the first part of the week!

Thank goodness a (rather good-looking) man at the airport was standing outside of customs with my name on a piece of paper. I went to shake his hand; he went to kiss the side of my cheek. Why didn’t I google ‘greetings in Argentina’? So awkward!

I hopped into a military van with him and a driver and we assessed rather quickly that I had forgotten all of the Spanish I used to speak while in high school and college. We drove in silence with my eyes wide open as I watched the city of Buenos Aires unfold in front of me. Alongside the highway were horses grazing, people riding bareback, horses tethered outside of 70s-era high rise apartment buildings and working in makeshift arenas amongst city buildings. What a first impression!

An hour or so later, we ended up on the military base of Campo de Mayo. The equitation school has its own side to the base and that was my home sweet home for the next week.

The view of the judges’ box.

I didn’t really know what to expect — however, this wasn’t it! Campo de Mayo is home to the army cavalry as well as a huge lesson program. There are hundreds of stables, hundreds of horses and mules, multiple arenas both indoors and outdoors, paddocks, cross-country courses, a hot walker… the list goes on.

I was given a tour and met so many people within the first hour that my mind was blown. My biggest tour guide was the course designer for the Championships, Eric Winter — you may recognize him as the Badminton designer, as well. I probably should have looked at the FEI schedule so I didn’t embarrass myself on so many levels! The poor guy didn’t know this American was going to shadow him for the rest of his day.

My other ground jury members weren’t arriving until the next day. The CDs and TDs like to do their thing and have everything all set for the arrival of the ground jury so I wasn’t trying to disturb them — but I wasn’t sure what else to do!

Eric was so class and took it all in stride. This venue is hosting a whopping four (!) 4*-S events next year and he was trying to create these tracks in his mind. I got to get my steps in walking around the venue, talking course design theory and just generally being a tourist for the rest of my day.

I was #sorrynotsorry for taking so many pictures. It became a running joke. The TDs were two super experienced guys I’ve had the privilege of working with before. They have worked the Worlds, Olympics, and multiple top events around the globe. I think I reminded them all of what it was like experiencing an event of this caliber for the first time and traveling so far outside of one’s comfort zone!

On Wednesday, the whole gang arrived. I had the honor of working with officials from Europe and South America, with experience of judging the Pan-Ams and comparable competitions.

At an FEI event, the officials become your family for the week. You do everything together — literally. We loaded a bus every morning and afternoon to be transported to and from our bed and breakfast hotel after working together all day. You eat meals together; you can’t really even go to the loo without telling someone that was your next destination!

The event was smoothly run, with unsurprising military precision.

Our mission for the day was to walk courses. The competition hosted a 2*-L, 3*-S, 3*-L and the 3*-L Championships. We were busy! Not everyone knows what it takes to be an official, but assessing the cross country course and its questions is about the most important behind-the-scenes thing that you do.

The venue rivals that of any event I’ve ever been to in my life: varied terrain and a vast array of fences and questions at each level that absolutely met the international standard, if not raised it. Not to mention, I walked amongst parakeets and monarch butterflies… so many firsts! I was reminded of how easy it is to take eventing life in the States for granted.

These course designers from Argentina have made major sacrifices to live and study abroad in the UK and Europe learning from the best in the world, everything from building to design, so they can bring it back and teach it to their crew. The TDs don’t have the number of competitions like we do in the States, so they study courses on the apps and the previews on websites like Eventing Nation to keep themselves updated and challenged with what is going on around the world.

A peek at what Eric Winter laid out for cross country day!

I consider eventing my job and my passion and my life, and I’m sitting here wondering if I want it and deserve it as much as these guys — they are inspiring! (Ok, true confession, most evenings I watch YouTube videos of like Burghley dressage tests and judge them and see how I compare with the actual judges, so maybe I’ve just found my family amongst eventing nerds. Moving on!)

Thursday brought the horse inspection. It was just all class. Not only did I receive an order of go, I had a chair under a pavilion with snacks and proper china serving tea and coffee! Our job as FEI officials is to determine the horses’ fitness to compete.

These horses ranged from European models flown over to compete alongside horses purchased from abroad as well as those bred and raised by the militaries of Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. When I tell you these riders presented their horses, I can’t stress enough the presentation. There they were, mostly in uniform, standing at attention announcing their name, horse name and competition number. I felt like I needed to salute them back before sending them off to walk and trot down the inspection lane!

I have a secret obsession with everyone’s farrier work and after I’ve done a onceover of the animal, I fixate on their feet. I stumbled upon a finding for the first time in my life: the military horses have etched into their left front hoof their soldier’s ID number. I had to inquire. It was like the original microchip!

One of the water complexes on course.

After the inspection, we had the draw for the order of the teams. It was such a fun session involving champagne bottles being labeled at the bottom with a number and the Chefs d’ Equipe picking the bottles to determine the running order. I didn’t see anyone open one at that moment — but I’m sure it also made for a fun afternoon for the teams cheers-ing the start of their competition!

The pressure is on in this Team Championship, and trying to qualify for Pan Am and subsequently the Olympic Games is in the front or back of everyone’s minds, so the sights are set high! We had a very special afternoon arranged as well; while the TDs and stewards held down the fort, the rest of us got to sneak away to La Dolfina, home of polo superstar Adolfo Cambiaso. In layman’s terms, we went to David Beckham’s house.

We got to tour Adolfo’s stables and facility, and he talked openly about his training regimen. This all happened in front of his controversial team of cloned mares that won the Open; they all stood patiently for us to admire them and for me to ponder how it is that cloned horses always have different markings. He invited us to watch an afternoon game between his horses and players that now include his daughter and son, who can hold their own on a world stage.

Touring the show jumping track with Argentinian designer Ivan Tagle.

Polo is probably literally the only horse sport I have not attempted. I’ve vaulted, rode cutting horses, I can drive a cart, steeplechase and race ride. But this — I fear I’m not even coordinated enough to attempt it on a bicycle let alone a horse! Halfway through, however, I was getting a total adrenaline rush and would have totally jumped in if he needed a substitute — plus their helmets are super customized with colors and logos and his daughter played with fluorescent pink sticks… maybe this could be my fall-back plan.

Friday was the day we all had dreams or nightmares about: judging the dressage! We are all supposed to assess the performance from our own position around the arena and yet are scores are all supposed to be within five percentage points of one another. These scores lay down the penalties that every rider dreams of finishing on and they have all been training for PBs.

My scribe was an incredibly talented female civilian rider who has represented Uruguay at the Pan Ams and volunteered to scribe because she’s hurt her back and couldn’t ride. She’s also an FEI official and judged at Great Meadows this summer. How lucky could I be?!

We had the most amazing time together, discussing each ride after the test. It’s just so fun to speak to someone who sits next to you all day and really gets it, riding the test along with you and the rider, the same highs and lows as you do when someone does a fantastic extension across a diagonal or picks up a wrong lead coming out of a simple change.

A special shout out to the team from Chile who competed in white uniforms — I don’t know who thought this was practical for a sport surrounded by slobbering furry animals, but my goodness was it an impressive picture as they traveled around the outside of the arena!

On Friday night, I’m as nervous for the next day’s cross-country when I’m judging as I am when I ride! I’m afraid I’m going to forget a fence or even worse, where the gaps are in the roping so that I can get quickly in and out of the galloping lanes without causing a scene.

As lucky as I was, I had a military vehicle and driver while the other two members of the ground jury sat at control because they could speak Spanish and have a more real-time feel of what was going on via radio communication.

What this organizing committee was able to offer was second to none in the world. Control was unbelievably, well, controlled; their radio mannerisms were precise and clear. Each fence had a soldier with a stop watch to resolve any timing issues and they had all drilled for days previously on what to do with runouts, stops, flags, pins — everything.

Fulfilling my true destiny.

With only 40 starters, each rider got his own time around the course and the public came out in masses to spectate and cheer. There was a natural amphitheater provided by the hillside along control and starting at 9am they were playing club music that couldn’t help put you in the mood ready to tackle anything and everything out there!

It’s just so heartwarming, the things that are universal. Grooms and girlfriends were running around from combination to combination with their phones out videoing. One father started crying as his son made it across the finish line and shook my hand because I was wearing a radio and holding a clipboard. The announcer got everyone into a frenzy announcing the time penalties (not a single rider made the time, it was so competitive!) and current standings. One rider had the absolute save of the year as he fought his way from his horse’s head all the way back to the saddle. I don’t care what language you spoke, the fist pumps and hollers he received were universally understood!

Prizegiving was a celebration for all!

The Sunday morning horse inspection always seems to come up too soon. I think the horses felt the same way; so many of them pranced and danced their way down the jog strip I think they wanted to run cross country all over again! But it was on to the final phase, show jumping, in the most beautiful grass arena I might have ever had the honor to walk upon. They haven’t had any rain in literally five months but had been watering this arena daily. I could have walked the course barefoot!

The fences were absolute works of art. The designer was a pure show jumper and I really enjoyed talking theory with him as he presented his courses. I was tucking away all of these tidbits to build the course in my own arena as soon as I got home.

Eventing proves to be a humbling sport no matter which hemisphere or continent you participate. Rails go flying or don’t move at all, even when they should. The gasp and clap are understood universally, and I think at some point in the day everyone in the stands or the judging booth did one or the other or both.

It was the most fantastic end to a great week of sport. As the final horse left the arena, the marching band entered and all of the fun and pomp and circumstance of the prize giving followed.

The festivities continued without the horses, with the teams taking the podiums surrounded by friends and family and food and drinks getting passed around like there was no tomorrow — because today was all about today. And the years that it took to get to today. And the kids swarming the steps to remind you about the future and that eventing has an incredible tomorrow to look forward to and believe in and train for, no matter your role or your federation. We are all eventers, and the time was now to celebrate all that is and will be about this amazing life that we all live and share together. This sport unites us, energizes us and helps people put away, even just for one moment, our differences and instead celebrate everything about the horses and our sport that is fantastically understood and unspoken amongst us all.

Thank you to Eventing Nation for letting me share my experiences. Thank you to the FEI for all you do to promote eventing and horse sport around the world. Thank you to the USEF for my training and thank you to all of my support system back home that keeps me at a competition one way or the other every week. I am one incredibly lucky girl.

Achievement Unlocked: Valerie Pride Reflects on Blenheim Palace

This has by far been the hardest memoir to write. I want to get it so right! Somehow it feels like everything happened so quickly forever ago and then other times I’m slowly daydreaming about my rides and it feels like it was just this morning.

Leading up to the event, my mental toughness was most certainly challenged. At first there were rumors that it would be canceled altogether for the Queen’s funeral. A compromise was made of continuing the competition as a mournful one. No parties, no palace receptions, everything shut down by 9 p.m. every evening. We wore armbands when we rode to honor HM and every day at noon there was a two minute silence. On Sunday, they asked all riders to enter the main arena dressed and the silence was broken by this completely bedazzled angel singing God Save the King. It has taken a little getting used to!

Blenheim is close enough from the yard that I did a jump and sprint on Tuesday, finished packing the lorry with Georgia, and off we went. But first not without one small grooming hiccup: no one at Wood Lane knew how to clip a tail! I haven’t done it in years and it had gone au natural over the past six weeks. I was brave and cracked on, as they say, and I admit it turned out nicely! Trying to make my girls at home so proud!

It’s been a very long time since I’ve gone to a 4* for the first time — again, a mental mind game.

No idea about the lay of the land, where you want to do anything from pick up your numbers to how exactly does one live out of a lorry? Caravans? What are those, sounds like gypsies not something that would be at Blenheim Palace! Luckily Favian felt right at home in the same FEI stables that we have at U.S. competitions and he immediately velcroed himself to his neighbor, Noodle. James was in attendance racing (and doing an epic cross country course walk — see here!); but alas they weren’t able to stay together. We were in a very quiet corner of stabling, however the flip side to that was I couldn’t conveniently overhear anyone talking about anything through the competition. The stabling buzz is priceless!

Wednesday morning felt like the event was full on and finally here. Weeks of preparation and now it’s go time. But where exactly do I even go?? In a tremendous effort, Willian met me for a dressage lesson that morning. We worked hard, William Favian and Valerie! A solid plan on finishing touches for the ring and what exactly to focus on in my next several rides. And how to even get to the arenas — Favers was feisty. He knew something was up! From there Georgia got him plaited and primped for the inspection.

And learned how to walk the nearly half hour up to the palace! Meanwhile, William, Kevin and I walked for the next two hours the cross country track. It was so insightful, William having been successful here on so many horses over the years. There were also some surprises — like a brand new water complex after the first lake crossing! As though galloping through 100 meters of lake wasn’t enough splishing and splashing! Having seen pictures and videos and had numourous friends compete here over the years, nothing does justice to seeing it in person. Walking across the palace lawn knowing that soon we would be ripping across it at 650 meters per minute! The questions kept coming, the second to last fence was even a combination. William did a great job of preparing me without overwhelming me, as he had to hop a place to Patroni for the World Championships and I had to present at the horse inspection!

I am so grateful for all of the Blue Clover Eventing supporters. They came from everywhere: the States, the UK, Ireland. I had friends, clients, physios, vets, even Favian’s farrier from his baby horse days was here in person to cheer him along! Dear Toots once again saved me in the clothing department, giving me a tremendous jacket to wear from her own sponsors, Guinea London. Carolyn and Tess packed their own suitcases full of outfits as well and met us at the end of the inspection with Prosecco and bags of carrots. We parties at the lorry and then walked to town for dinner. Couldn’t figure out how to get out of the palace gates until literally you buzzed the main gate box and like magic they let us on and off the palace grounds. What a way to end the first day! The whole thing really was like magic!

Thursday was a day of recon. I stalked dressage. I stalked cross country. I sorted out the jump warm-ups in the morning and we did arena familiarization that night. Favian spotted several Jumbotrons along the horse path up to the main arena, much to his horror. I talked him off the ledge and we had a respectable school. In fact, it worked perhaps to our advantage, making the main arena the happy place where he couldn’t see any Jumbotrons! Funny to have to talk about studs for dressage but indeed we left no detail unturned the night before our biggest British debut to date!

William had pointed out a good gallop for Friday morning that they had spiked. I tricked Faves into a little dressage amongst his gallop at the crack of dawn and then let everyone do their thing to get him in the zone. Got on for real and trotted him past the Jumbotrons like I was on a mission! I was ready for them this time!

He looked and felt like a million bucks going into the main arena that afternoon. Certainly like he was worthy of performing in front of the palace! He did everything I asked in there, had a ton of presence. We went for it in every mark, and I was rewarded with some beautiful extensions and flying changes. While I Felt like it was a PB, the scores were very close and rather average. One judge marked me lower than the others and it was costly. These things happen. Just wish it hadn’t happened here! I would say it was a personal victory because I was riding in the arena with all of my newfound inspiration and I was riding for everyone supporting us and this journey. Indeed, that was the theme of the weekend: to do so well and prove to the international stage what I horse and team I have!

Saturday I tried to sleep, but let’s face it that was never going to happen. The universe tried by canceling all of my cell phone service at the lorry and the stables. I could bike up to the main arena and hope for a bar or two before the crowds gathered each day. God bless Lauren and Connor for handling everything at home! Cross country started at 11 and I was out of the box at 3:46. Makes for a very long day! Had to pace myself and time it right. There were six screens in the riders’ lounge, five of them were playing WEG! Eek! I was really missing William when problems started happening all over the course. I was rewalking my lines and wondering if they were best. I watched others go but I didn’t know them — is their horse like mine? Do they ride fast? What distance are they walking — meters, yards, feet? How do I even count their strides to see what they are thinking now?

All I can hear in the back of my head is William’s infamous “What ARE you thinking?” In some ways I’ve never felt so alone. I almost walked up to Pippa Funnell and asked what she was going to do at 18 ABCDE but then that seemed to absurd. I considered texting William to text her. Even more absurd!!

As soon as I started warming up, Favian gave me the confidence that I needed to stick to my plan. He was dialed in from the start. What a view, living life through his big (genuine) ears as they prick and lock on to every obstacle! Out of the box, we went on a mission to get back to those finish flags as soon as we could. The much-debated first combination we breezed through in the direct four strides — what a start, but no time to celebrate! I had 10 minutes and 37 seconds of serious work to do.

Favian was definitely affected by the crowds galloping up to and then into the main arena. But once he saw an angled two strides of brushes, he totally kicked it back into cross country gear. From there, you did the loop in front of the palace. For one fleeting moment, I thought I should look up towards the palace; but I didn’t dare do it and kept staring at my roping and blades of grass instead! Around the lakes was intense, but by then Favian had figured out the crowds were there admiring him! Lots of horses were choosing not to jump the angled brush into the first lake and my brave boy dove right in. That was the most tiring part of the course and he did need a breath climbing the hill out of the new water.

He caught a second wind and soared through the coffin, which is notoriously difficult here. I think after Kentucky this spring, I will never consider any coffin difficult ever again. Through the lake again and to a significant turning table skinny question. I was chasing the clock at that point with my horse full of running. We rode bold lines and he was just running and jumping his heart out. There was a flat section with just one combination and the final fence to go and Faves found a new gear and finished like a cross country champion through the flags. I had an incredible team of vets and physios that adopted this American and they really rose to the occasion — these are the moments that they train for! Luckily the conditions could not have been more perfect between temperatures, footing, shade, and Kevin is getting really quick at filling up water buckets in the box!

It’s so hard. You want to celebrate. You want to relive every moment. I wanted to find ways to have saved more time. I wanted to watch every video and wait for all of the Instagram tags to start coming your way. But you have a groom who hasn’t eaten all day because she’s been devoted to your horse, and you worry about her and you have sponsors who want to take you to dinner and want to share the excitement of years of work paying off. And you worry about them. And you have your vet team who are going to entirely miss dinner because they are selflessly devoted to a horse they just met three days ago. We do this all for the love of these horses of who this so much!

Somewhere on course, Favian pulled his right front shoe. I don’t even want to know where! I didn’t feel a thing and he didn’t miss a beat. Even though everything seemed spot on, we were set to jog as soon as the stables opened at 6:30 just to make sure there were no Sunday morning surprises. He looked perfect. Georgia proceeded to plait and I proceeded to practice running next to the lorry with a poncho on, making sure in the reflection it didn’t look like I was getting swallowed alive by it! Somewhere in there Alice, William’s wife, came in and like the complete ray of sunshine she is is made me feel confident and excited to finish strong.

I ran around the course after the jog — ok, I was in very high heeled boots, so I walked with a purpose — made it back to the stables to do a pre-warmup, a new strategy that William encouraged me to try. One of my biggest takeaways is that this man, as extremely accomplished as he is, has absolutely no fear about doing new things! And so I tried it and felt like I had Favian in a great place mentally and physically to jump in the afternoon. The course was very technical but the time was doable, I thought, with some smart rollbacks and an inside turn. The line to the triple was a bit steady and it was an extreme question of scope. It came early, a bending line off of fence 3 to a vertical at 4A, one stride oxer 4B, one stride oxer 4C. At least it didn’t look huge, but they were very square and very wide. I had my work cut out for me!

Two embarrassing moments. As I went into the arena on a mission, I was told to remember to salute the Duke’s flag. Egads. Which one was it?? I looked desperately around for any flag that didn’t look like a nation. But my horse was ready to jump. I saluted the air from the middle of the arena and cantered off like I knew exactly what I was doing. Fake it ’til you make it! It did take the judges a bit to sound the tone, and I feared that they were going to make me stop and wait and find the right freakin’ flag!

Other embarrassing moment was that I couldn’t have given Favian a more terrible ride to the triple! He felt so good and so strong, still I bombed down the line in 6 instead of 7 strides. The last two strides I made a pathetic adjustment and my poor horse had to fight his way in and out over the triple. In literally 1.5 seconds, I had added 8 penalty points to my score. I wanted to crawl into a very small ball, but alas there was no time for that as we were only at fence 4! I kept my pace, kept making my aggressive turns and Favian kept jumping higher and higher. What a brilliant feeling he gave me! He wanted to jump clean! I wanted this so badly for Richard Sheane as well. But we made the time.

That’s, I think, more rare for Favian than a clean round. I knew Richard would have been proud.

I wanted to make everyone proud. I was rather dumbfounded and wanted a redo. I wanted a Top 10 finish. I wanted to do so much for everyone who has done so much for Favian and I. I wanted him to have this on his record. To see 31st place as a final finish doesn’t seem like a six-week lifetime journey accomplishment. But out of 112 starters and barely 70-some finishers, I needed a few hours and a glass of Pol-Roger rose champagne to find some positi and perspective. I watched the second and third-placed horse and riders completely biff the same combination. Maybe misery loves company, or maybe what we do is really, really hard. My horse thinks he’s a champion. And he is! And I’ve made so much out of an opportunity that few in the world have a chance of making. I’ve managed to enjoy the highlights of an incredible competition and use it to inspire me to take more opportunities for the future. Walking out of the Palace pavilion, I was surrounded by these young Pony Club girls asking me to sign their books and bags from the weekend. What a feeling. What an Eventing family. What a bright future.

Walk Through the New Olympic Eventing Dressage Test with Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride

At just under four minutes long, the new, shortened FEI Olympic Games Eventing Dressage Test is stuffed full of technical movements and new challenges. With several interesting questions being asked in what’s essentially a short five-star test, we asked “S” certified National judge and Level 2 FEI dressage judge Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride to walk us through the movements.

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg. Photo by US Equestrian/Taylor Pence.

The shortened dressage test for the Olympics comes as an effort to make the phase more spectator friendly. Additionally for these Games specifically, where the summer heat and humidity promise to be formidable, the reduction of length will lessen the time the horses must spend working in the heat. To further alleviate any weather-related stressors, the dressage portion of competition will take place in the mornings and late afternoons, avoiding the hottest parts of the day.

This updated test also makes for a higher level of pressure on the riders. While the whole goal was to make the tests happen quickly – which is great for the sport – as a rider it’s easy to get behind and very difficult to catch back up. You’ll have a hard time preparing for the next movement if you’re still surviving the last movement, so this adds a lot of mental pressure for these riders.

Here’s a link to the test sheet. To follow along with the test while you read, a view from A of Team USA members Doug Payne and Vandiver is embedded below. There are a few other views of this test further down, but this will give you the best angle from which to see the movements.

Movement 1:
A: Enter collected canter
X: Collected trot
C: Track right

The thing here is that most upper level horses expect to halt a I in these tests. They will be schooled on this test, of course, but they still have quite a bit of expectation coming into the ring. So while the horse may be anticipating a halt, riders know they’ll need to ask for a ‘bright’ trot. This is where the judges on the side of the arena will be able to differentiate if the horse is slamming on the brakes and dropping into the trot versus reading the rider’s mind. This is still a collected trot, but this is a chance to put on your horse’s fanciest trot to really ‘razzle-dazzle’ the judges in those first few seconds.

Movement 2:
M-X-K: Extended trot
K: Collected trot

Movement 3:
Transitions at M and K

Here, the rider gets to really go for it early with the extended trot. That’s actually going to be easier for some riders than a test that has a halt on the first centerline. Most of the time, you halt at I so you don’t have much time to get the horse going. So I think this will help a horse that doesn’t have a great extended trot; they will get themselves feeling more like they already have a flow versus stopping and starting.

Also notable here is the fact that the transitions in and out of the extended trot are scored on their own. So, while a pair could have a brilliant trot in the middle, a good score can be marred by lower marks on incomplete or unclear transitions. They will judge on how the pair goes in and comes out of the extended trot, and this is a score that will help separate the cream from the crop.

Movement 4:
After A: Turn down quarter line, shoulder in left

Movement 5:
At B-E Line: Half-pass left at H

This being a movement coming down toward the judges, riders will feel like all eyes are on them. This is the harder direction to start with because there’s not much room for error. All three of the judges will be staring, up close and personal!

Transitioning from the shoulder-in to the half-pass will be very influential. Riders will need to hold the shoulder-in for a long enough time and then be very creative on how to get the horse off their outside leg to turn into a half-pass. It will feel like an aggressive angle in the half-pass at the end of the ring, coming out of the shoulder-in.

Movement 6:
C: Halt

Movement 7:
C: Rein-back 5 steps, proceed collected trot

The halt and rein-back is always challenging. As a rider, you never know how much to practice this, as you don’t want the horse to anticipate but there’s also the fear that they’ll cross their jaw and stick their head up in the air.

Especially at this level, the dressage is a true five-star so every little piece counts. The rein-back should look like a trot in reverse: diagonal pairs, toes off the ground, the horse staying forward and up to the contact while going in reverse. The horse isn’t supposed to drop its head and poll down. This is a place where if you don’t have the fanciest horse there’s a possibility to get 8s, 9s, even 10s, making this a very important movement for our steady, workmanlike horses.

As an aside, this is probably the one place in the test where these pairs will get to take a breath!

Movement 8:
M-Far quarter line: Half-pass right
At quarter line between B&E: Shoulder-in right to end, then track left

Here’s something that I don’t believe I’ve seen in a dressage test, at least not in recent memory: going from a half-pass to a shoulder-in. This is a difficult movement – it might work well for some riders that you’ll be going away from the judges here!

For this movement, the judge at H won’t be a friend because they’ll be able to best see how well the rider holds the line. If the rider can get out of the rein-back nicely, they’ll get to use the corner to get started before departing for their half-pass at M. If they don’t get the necessary angle in the half-pass, they’re going to need a sharp half-halt and then almost halt the horse on those aids to create a shoulder-in. They will really need to get the horse to sit and wait in order to bring the shoulder around. All of this makes this movement exceptionally tough – it’s really a unique movement of its own. For certain, this will have changed the way some of these riders are practicing at home!

Movement 10:
P-S: Extended walk

Movement 11:
S-M-C: Medium walk

Any time you have to walk in this sort of atmosphere – even without spectators – it’s just tough, especially for these event horses. Riders will want to work to show relaxation and that their horse can have a nice, big stride. Hopefully, the walk comes as a reward for the horses who are staying on the aids. Unfortunately for our event horses, this is often the first place where they begin to get tense, anticipating the canter work when the rider begins to gather the reins. This anticipation will become an even more important factor for the next movement.

Movement 12:
C: Collected canter right lead

What the horse doesn’t know is that they’ll be picking up the “wrong” lead. This is something everyone will be schooling. This was quite clever on the test writers’ part; talk about needing to have the horse on your seat! And not only this, but you have to be able to go right into your changes. Riders will want to feel they have confidently picked up the canter, able to ride through the corner and turn to prepare for that first lead change. Riders feeling like their connection is fragile or their horse is still behind the leg from the transition will have difficulty making their first change clean.

Movement 13:
H-X: Flying change on quarter line

Movement 14:
X-F: Flying change on the quarter line

Now, these aren’t tempi changes because there is no explicit requirement for the number of strides between these two changes. I’m hopeful that this will reward better riding and better horsemanship because a rider is able to ride the best stride for their horse, not trying to crank or push for a set stride.

All eyes will be on these movements and they will be very exciting for the horses and riders. While you’re watching at home, watch for the riders who move their bodies the least during these changes. You’re going to see some people collect in between and others gallop in between. If a rider flubs the first change, it’s easy to get desperate and, as a result, crooked. Riders will want to focus on keeping their hands in front and a straight line so they can nail their second change. Here again is a benefit of not having a set number of strides; a rider can adjust according to their horse to have the best shot at a clean second change.

Movement 15:
After A: Turn down quarter line, half-pass right quarter line to quarter line

Movement 16:
Flying change on the quarter line

Movement 17:
Between B&E: Half-pass left quarter line to quarter line

Movement 18:
Flying change on quarter line to end, then track right

The rest of the test is where we see elements that we’re traditionally more used to seeing at this level. Here, riders may have a horse that just got excited by the changes, requiring some thought about how to ask for the final change. Again, the test puts a lot of pressure on both horse and rider because there’s essentially no downtime. If you think about the standard 5* test, you at least get a stretch circle in the middle of the canter work. In this test, there is no moment like that.

These final changes might feel a little calmer compared to the first set. Riders will breathe a little sigh of relief that they can use the bend from the half-pass to facilitate the change, as opposed to the changes on the straight line that are much more reliant on the rider’s hips and seat.

Movement 19:
M-F: Extended canter
F: Collected canter

There is some mindset that the extended gallop can be a bit of a release for an event horse. But some of these riders will have a horse that’s gotten a bit lit up and will need to err on the conservative side here. The best bet for a good impression is to go for as much ground cover as possible.

Movement 20:
A: Down center line
L: Halt, salute

Riders will want to use the 10-meter turn onto the center line to help get the horse sitting and ready to make one last great impression. Now’s the chance for the rider to breathe – and try to remember what on earth they just did in those intense few minutes!

Collective Mark: Harmony of Athlete and Horse

As judges, we’ve been marking using just the harmony score for a few seasons now. It’s quite nice, honestly, and I feel it levels the playing field away from subjectivity and bias by asking one simple question of whether or not the horse showed a confident partnership. To score well on this collective mark, you don’t have to have the fanciest horse. With this change, a horse that might not have scored well on the collective mark for gaits or a rider that is not quite as polished still have a chance to earn a high mark here if they can display that their partnership adheres to the scale of training.

This collective mark really brings to light the big picture, emphasizing the importance of the scale of training. Horses should be allowed to do dressage, not made to do it. This mark is a way of underscoring this concept.

In all, this should be a really entertaining test to watch. As viewers on the live stream, remember that the camera angle isn’t always showing you what the judges are seeing. The coverage is presented to show the prettiest picture, maybe not the most technical aspects of what the judges are supposed to be weighing.

This is the Olympics. A fraction of a point will determine medals. Look for the riders with quiet hands, who use their seat and legs with a listening horse. It’s just so satisfying to watch someone who rides like this. I’m particularly excited to watch Michael Jung and fischerChipmunk FRH. That horse is incredible and I think it’s fascinating that he was first brought on by Julia Krajewski. I think it’s incredible that Chipmunk has competed so brilliantly with her and now seems to have the same relationship with a different rider. It’s a testament to both riders and also to a very special horse.

Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride and Favian. Photo by Shelby Allen.

When she’s not competing with her top partner, Favian, coaching students under her Blue Clover Eventing moniker, or bringing along young horses, Valerie VIzcarrondo Pride can be found in a judge’s box handing out dressage scores. Valerie is an “S” certified USEF National judge, a Level 2 FEI dressage judge, and is currently in the process of obtaining her Level 3 certification. Blue Clover Eventing is based at Sudley Farm in West River, Md. To learn more about Valerie, visit