How To: Score 8s and 9s in dressage

Good competitors know not to “leave any points on the table,” meaning they pay attention to the small details that add up to big point gains. Lila Gendal shares some test-riding tips.

From Lila:

Have you ever been feeling pretty good at a competition until you saw some lovely floating horse go down the centerline right before or after your own test? Don’t sweat it–you can give them a run for their money with these strategies that we can all use to improve our overall scores… so listen carefully!


  • 1)                  Geometry

We are not talking about 9th grade homework. Here, I am specifically referring to the geometry in your dressage test. An accurate test, if nothing else, will improve your overall score. So, ride deep into your corners. Ride perfectly round circles, whether they are 10 meters or 20 meters–make it accurate! Ride straight down centerline straight, as there’s no hiding straightness when the judge sits directly in front of you. Spend time in a dressage ring prior to going to an event. Learn your letters and ride accurate dimensions. Judges will absolutely take points off for messy, or randomly ridden tests. Know your geometry!

  • 2)                  Straightness

This cannot be stressed enough: Keep your horse straight! Your horse ought to acquiesce to your inside leg when bending or turning; never try to bend your horse at the neck. This will only result in a crooked horse that is not coming through. Straightness is key. If your horse isn’t straight he is not going to be stepping evenly which often leads to unsteady behavior. Keep your horse straight and gather those extra points!


  • 3)                  Balance

Balance is also very important no matter what level you are riding. So many horses want you to carry them–they feel heavy and can lean on their riders. Horses that bear down in front and have their hocks a mile out behind them are not in “self-carriage,” or simply put are not balanced. A horse that is light in front, on the aids, that comes under with its hind end exemplifies balance.

  • 4)                  Quality of the gaits

If you’ve ever really studied a dressage test, or looked at your test after you’ve been scored, you’ll notice each movement starts with “the quality of the trot” or something along those lines. This refers to exactly what it sounds like–the quality of your horse’s gait is how your horse moves. Some horses are big, fancy and scopey movers, while others have to try much harder and are more man-made. Whichever category your horse falls into, always pay attention to how your horse is moving. If your horse has an accurate test, is steady, forward and accepting in the contact, quality movement can make the difference between a good score and the winning score.

Lila riding a Novice level dressage test on Minglewood’s Contesstress last weekend at Huntington Horse Trials–they scored in the 20s!


There are countless tips for riding a dressage test, but these points are crucial and can absolutely add to your dressage score. Learn by watching others who ride beautiful tests. Also, just keep practicing and perfecting your riding and training–it will come, I promise!


About the Author

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.


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