Peter Dove has written about the principles of dressage and good competitive test riding, in a very accessible way that will benefit the many riders who either aspire to ride competitively, or who already do so at the lower levels. Even upper level riders will find great advice in this book.
I have known Peter for over twenty five years and have admired his smart, logical brain, that jibes unusually well with his feel and intuition. As well as being a rider and coach, he has played chess in international tournaments and is a maestro in computer programming. These skills combine a step-by-step understanding of the task with the vision of a desired long-term outcome, just as he has done in this book. (I, in contrast, have never even managed to learn the rules of chess!)
Peter has judged a huge number of lower level tests and has maintained the ability to perceive those tests and the challenges they present, from the viewpoint of a rider who struggles to perform well at those levels. He does not write as someone who thinks that these lower levels present so few challenges that they ought to be easy. He breaks down the various aspects of riding the test in helpful ways that you may not have thought of, starting with accuracy and fluidity. He then considers your understanding of the school movements, how you practice from day to day, and how you review your rides, both at home and after competition.
Peter describes the geometry of a test so well that if you do throw away marks through inaccuracy, it will not as a result of misunderstanding the pattern you should be riding! Sadly, almost all riders make the same mistakes when they ride corners, circles, diagonal lines, serpentines, etc., so judges see these again and again. Riding the movements accurately takes an understanding of the ‘hows and whys’ of the pattern you are riding, good riding skills, and focussed concentration (or presence of mind). Skilled riders prepare the movements well, flow smoothly between them, and demonstrate the harmony between horse and rider that judges love to see.
Peter’s practical guidelines include an introduction to my own field of rider biomechanics, which elucidates the ‘how’ of riding. Without this, you are more likely to make the same mistakes over and over again, even though you know that you should be getting a different result by now. With it, you are more likely to develop the skills that (for instance) prevent your horse from falling in or out through his shoulder and allow you to ride him on the line that is your choice, rather than his!
In your day-to-day training, it helps enormously to meld an understanding of the biomechanics of the rider/horse interaction with an understanding of the purpose of the school movements. How you practice at home has a huge bearing on whether or not you are able to improve your horse’s carriage and movement, thus improving his ‘ridability’, his athleticism, and the scores your receive in your tests. But this can only happen if you improve too! Sadly, the power of the habits that would limit your learning (the lure of those same old mistakes) is very, very strong.
Peter helps to clarify how riding skills mesh with training skills, suggesting an approach to learning that also helps you to develop an appropriate, benevolent attitude towards your horse, yourself, and your riding. This honours the challenges you face and does not gloss over difficulties. It puts you and your horse on the same team and makes you a fair task-master. It enables both of you to benefit from step-by-step learning.
The school movements set a specific series of challenges both individually and in the many possible sequences that you might ride both at home and in competition. The way they are put together in a test are designed to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of your training to the judge. The feedback you receive on your test sheet can really help you plan your training, as can the feedback you are receiving from your horse in each moment, and within each ride as a whole. Few people work as well with this feedback as they could, mentally reviewing their rides and learning from them. Peter makes this easier, by helping you to improve your focus, and by giving you specific tools that have value for riders at all levels.
Read this book to help you understand and develop the skills that good trainers often take for granted. Students and teachers all benefit when these are made explicit, giving a road map that can take us from point A to point B. This is a journey of increasing skills and scores, designed to bring more satisfaction to your riding.