So, when the horse before you has left the competition arena at A you can start to ride around the outside of the arena. There is no need to stop at the judges’ car unless you are perhaps taking a late scratching or are out of order after gaining permission and need to ask the judge if they have been given that notification. You must try to trot in front of the car if outdoors or in front of the judges’ desks if indoors, as they need to check the number on your horse and it must be on both sides — and make sure it’s the correct one. Being stopped to find you have the wrong number is a bit embarrassing!
You must also keep in mind what level you are riding, and that this isn’t the time to show off. This isn’t the time to be riding movements way above the level. The time is designed for the riders to have the chance to settle and get in the zone of the test so it’s not a time to wave to the fans and smile for the camera! It’s a time of dedicated concentration and the only thing that matters is that you and your horse are on the same page and focused and attentive to you for doing the best test you can.
By the same token, it’s a time to show off to a modest and certain degree. Never bite off more that you can chew and the most important thing is to make sure that your horse is on your side; ride appropriate exercises going around the arena to show and check this. A friendly pat never goes astray and do not show any annoyance with your attitude even if things are not going to plan. Judges, too, pick up on riders’ vibes, so you must appear focused and happy with whatever it is, ’cause it just is!
Of course, if your horse has a great trot and not such a good canter, it is good to show the best pace, whichever it may be. The first movement is straight down the centerline and halt, then trot off and a big mark here sets the stage for the rest of the test. If you warm up around the competition arena with lots of lateral work with a young one, the centerline may well be wobbly. Keep it simple and remember not to make the warm-up exciting if you have a hot horse, as the impression may be ‘wow, look at this fancy one’, but when you can’t halt and get a 3 it’s disastrous. Of course, you know your horse well and what he is capable of.
While there are no marks for going around outside the arena and it only officially counts when your test begins, by the same token first impressions do count for something. It’s not a great idea to show an exaggerated deep frame, nor is it good to see a rider making the horse more lively or exaggerating any aid or movement, as this is not wanted and is not in keeping with the spirit of the test.
It is not necessary to stop at every judge and introduce yourself; in fact it’s a no-no really. By the same token it’s always polite to say ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ as you pass by if the moment is right, or simply a small nod of acknowledgement. One hate is riders who ride really close to the front of judges’ cars with stirrups at a height to scratch the duco… not a good start!
It is always nice for judges to see a horse that is willing, happy and adjustable on the way around the arena before starting. For the more experienced horses, medium to collected, shoulder-in to renvers, transitions, and half-passes with good changes of bend are all great to see. Above all, show the judges the harmony, the elasticity and the control. Get their attention so they want to watch what is going on. Do not be brash and over the top. Set the scene for the test and own the arena. Make the most of it and take your time above all, as frantically trying to do piaffe, passage, one tempis and a few pirouettes before you enter is not the way to create a relaxed and harmonious introduction to the judges.