Preparing for Your First Medium Dressage Test

First Medium Dressage Test Preparation with Sarah Malpas

Preparing for Your First Medium Dressage Test with Sara Malpass

In this article, international dressage rider and instructor, Sara Malpass delivers tips on how to prepare for your first medium dressage test by explaining more about the movements expected at this level, alongside uncovering some common mistakes made.

Guest Author: Sara Malpass

Stepping up to ‘Medium’ in dressage is really exciting as it brings about some exciting new movements, like the half pass for example – which is also seen at the top levels of dressage. This, however, can also be a bit daunting and there are some common mistakes made by riders that feel the added pressure of the new, more advanced movements.

  • The Collected Trot

At Medium level, we welcome the introduction of ‘collected’ paces which sees many riders slow the trot – which isn’t actually the aim of this movement. In a bid to show a big difference from the working trot, it is easy to and very common to see a slow, short trot – but remember, this is a Medium and not a Grand Prix and the level of collection does not need to be that seen in a piaffe or passage.

working trot
The Working Trot

This is a step towards the more advanced collections and so it is important to keep the activity here. The British Dressage rules define the collected trot as:


“Collected trot. The horse, remaining ‘on the bit’, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged and flexed, must maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility, thus demonstrating complete self-carriage. Although the horse’s steps are shorter than in the other trots, elasticity and cadence are not lessened.”

First Medium Dressage Test Preparation with Sarah Malpas
The Collected Trot – note the activity in the legs, the hind quarter engagement and lift in the head and neck

So instead of slowing your trot, think about those legs being like engine pistons, moving quicker but shorter – keeping the elasticity and cadence is key here.

  • The Half Pass

When done right, the half pass can be a real pleasure to ride. However, as with any movement, there are common mistakes riders make when attempting the half pass for the first time.

British Dressage defines the half pass as “a variation of travers, executed on a diagonal line instead of along the wall”, so really practice at home; on the long side, diagonal and even on the circle. To really get control of your horse’s bend and suppleness, practice going from the travers to shoulder-in, then back to travers – you can do this between each marker when going large or again on the circle. Try varying the pace within this too for added strength and suppleness!

 A Good Half Pass
A Good Half Pass

Three things to remember when riding the half pass during the test:

  • Keep the bend – it can be easy to drop into the familiar leg yield when riding the half pass in the test. Really use the corner to set up the bend, ready the half pass.
  • Keep it moving forwards – it’s really easy to slow down when lateral work is introduced, so aim to keep riding that activity.
  • Keep the shoulders leading – it can be easy to let those pesky quarters get in front of those shoulders, especially if you have been practising all the lateral work above at home. Quarters leading will get penalised more heavily than quarters trailing! When using the turn to set up the bend for the half pass, think of a stride of the shoulder in before you head sideways.
A Half Pass Lacking Bend
A Half Pass Lacking Bend
  • The Walk Pirouettes

Attempts at walk pirouettes can often lead to funny shaped half circles, or horses being stuck on the spot which can be especially tricky for horses with a large walk. The most common mistake I see here is the rider over collecting the walk when ultimately they need to think about keeping the horse marching. Similarly to the half pass, it can be easy to override the quarters which results in the horse getting stuck, so think about turning the shoulders around the hind end.

Some good exercises to practice for the walk pirouettes are:

  • In the walk, riding the should in and travers on the circle, if you find the walk getting stuck move out to a larger circle before bringing it back in again.
  • Ride half pass to the centreline, then ride a half 10m circle in travers before returning to the half pass again. As above, if the walk is good you can bring the half 10m down to smaller circle sizes.
  • Ride the pirouettes where they would be in the test, but if the first half isn’t good, stay in it and ride a large working pirouette to encourage the hind legs to keep walking and shoulders to keep turning.

Final Tips for the Medium Dressage Test

Don’t forget to breathe! Riding at Medium is great fun – don’t forget it is a big achievement to get there. The movements do come up faster than they would at Elementary, so I find it helpful when learning the test to remind myself at points in the test to breathe – generally at the start of a new movement. It helps to keep the flow and relaxation.

Good luck with your first test, I hope these tips help!

With thanks to Sara Malpass – you can find Sara on Facebook here

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