Dressage is fundamentally about rhythm and balance; two attributes that are essential to achieving a glittering test score. Riding the centreline from A to C occurs at least twice in every test – although seemingly simple (how hard can it be to ride in a straight line, right?), you can easily bring your mark from a soaring 10 to a 6 when riding the centreline. With 10 points to potentially score, your centreline performance can make or break your test. This is the first impression that you will make on the judge, and as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. We’ve put together some tips on riding the centreline, to help you get that perfect 10 in your next Dressage test!
One of the main issues that many riders encounter when riding the centreline is accuracy – make sure you don’t fall at the first hurdle with this easy mistake. Prioritise the accuracy of your line over roundness, try not to worry about the perfect outline as you are more likely to lose marks due to inaccuracy. Your horse should be forward off the leg, demonstrating an active rhythm in the trot from A to C. Make sure your horse is always moving forward between your legs from your seat - losing momentum may see you veering away from your line and this is not the time for ad hoc leg yielding!
Top tip:Aim for the judge rather than C, your judge may not be sat directly at C and this way you know that your judge is seeing a straight line being ridden towards him/her!
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail… Preparing your horse and giving yourself as much time as possible is essential when it comes to riding the centreline in a dressage test. You’ve probably heard your instructor shouting half halt at you before - we’re sorry to tell you that they have a point. Half halting communicates with your horse and prepares them for the next transition or movement, in the case of riding the centreline you should prepare your horse to bend and move off the leg, moving deep into the corner so that you can give yourself as much space and time to organise as possible. When entering the arena at A, come off your horse’s stronger rein if possible and make sure that you give yourself room to execute your turn, especially if you are riding a juvenile horse that may fall in.
The beauty of dressage is seeing horse and rider work in perfect harmony; it should appear effortless, but you can’t expect your horse to put on the perfect performance if you are not. Your shoulders should be square and you should be sat centrally, looking ahead (not at the floor!). Sit tall and engage your core whilst driving your horse forward with your seat. The contact should be spongy and elastic, making it interesting for the horse rather than rigid, keeping them interested and working on the bit. Control your horse’s rhythm with your seat, not with your hands!
Unfortunately, there is no substitute for hard work; practising certain exercises at home to perfection will prepare you and your equine friend for showtime! If you are struggling with the accuracy of your centreline, try placing guide poles down your centreline path when training to help you maintain straightness. Whilst training, try not to perform a square halt every time you ride the centreline – you will teach your horse to anticipate the halt, falling behind the leg and losing a consistent rhythm.
Top tip:When training, try riding the quarter line rather than always riding the track, this will keep your horse from holding the fence line and using it to balance.