The Scales of Training
At each dressage competition level, the judge will consider to what extent the horse has developed through the Scales of Training, which are:
As you progress upwards, there are four basic qualities that are connected and work together – rhythm, suppleness, balance and relaxation. Through the early dressage levels, like Introductory and Preliminary, it will be difficult to bring them all together at once purely because the horse won’t have developed the muscle structure and understanding. You may find that rhythm and balance don’t always work together, relaxation comes with time and confidence, while suppleness is built with strength and training.
What’s required at Medium dressage level?
It can often feel a big step upwards when venturing into competing at Medium level. This is because the judge is not only looking for the four basic qualities mentioned above, but horses are now required to demonstrate collection and perform lateral movements.
They will be expecting the horse and rider to have developed the important foundations of good equitation in line with classical dressage training principles, as well as incorporating natural equitation systems. The more demanding lateral work that’s expected at this level of dressage is an extension of the leg yield that is developed through Elementary level.
At this point, the judge is also looking for more controlled but natural engagement from the horse’s hind quarters. You may well have seen the terms ‘self-carriage’ or ‘carrying themselves’ and this is established by the horse using their core and engaging the quarters, with their hocks more underneath them, so they can carry their own weight and movement.
This allows you to clearly demonstrate marked differences in tempo, within a pace, such as showing extension and collection within the three paces. The four basic qualities – rhythm, suppleness, balance and relaxation – now incorporate impulsion, collection, straightness and contact from the Scales of Training.
What does the judge look for at Medium level?
So, at Medium level, the judge is looking to see that the horse has developed the necessary level of rhythm, balance, suppleness and impulsion to be able to extend and collect themselves in all paces. The movements should be light, i.e. they are developing self-carriage, and uphill to demonstrate cadence and greater quality through better engagement. But it isn’t just how accomplished the horse is in performing the movements. The judge is also looking for the correct amount of bend but not being overbent in any direction, and accuracy.
In fact, no matter which level you’re competing at, accuracy is always an important aspect of test riding to be taken into account. For example, riding into the corners gives you one or two extra strides into the long or short side of arena, thereby improving straightness. Making sure your circles are of the correct size and shape will help to improve the horse’s bend and suppleness through its body, and put you in the right place for the next movement.