How many of you have been at a competition either as a rider or as support crew and five minutes before the test had a friend scream ‘I can’t remember my test you’re going to have to call it!!’. Sometimes being thrown in at the deep end isn’t such a bad thing. There’s no time to worry about what could go wrong when you’ve just got to get in there and do it!
However it’s usually best for your nervous system if you have some clue about what you’re actually meant to be doing in these sorts of situations so here’s a bit of a guide to how to be a champion at calling dressage tests.
1 Use your very best ‘outside voice’! A rider at the other end of the arena can be 30 metres away, they need to be able to hear the instructions you’re giving. Factor in wind or other weather conditions and you need to be LOUD!
2 Enunciate. I can’t stress this one enough. It’s no use being loud if what you’re saying can’t be understood. Slow your normal speech down a little so it’s as clear as it can possibly be.
3 Call each movement with time for the rider to prepare. As they’re riding past C isn’t the time to call ‘at C trot a 20m circle’! In a perfect world the rider should pretty much know their test and you’re simply there for insurance. If a rider doesn’t know their test at all you obviously can’t perform a miracle but you can call their movements with time for them to prepare for it.
4 Ensure you stand at B or E to call the test and not S or R…trust me. I recently didn’t double check and was looking at a student trying to convey that she should be circling at E, not trotting past me as she muttered out of the corner of her mouth ‘you’re standing at S’. Very. Red. Face.
5 Stand a couple of metres back from B or E whilst calling. This means you’re safe if a horse has a ‘moment’ and should cut down on the chances of the horse being surprised by you standing there or the tests flapping in the wind.
6 If you have the opportunity with the rider, run through the test a couple of times with them. If it’s a last minute thing try to at least read through the test a couple of times so you’re at least a little familiar with it.
7 Because you’re watching the rider AND calling the test keep your thumb or a finger tracking where you’re up to. You’re there to make sure the rider doesn’t get lost, this means you have to stay on track!
8 If you’ve advance notice you’re calling you may like to enlarge the font on the test or even laminate it. A number of my students keep laminated copies of tests for the level they’re at by their arena for easy reference.
9 You’re only allowed to call each movement once. If you’ve already called it and the rider’s looking at you with panic etched on their features you’re not allowed to call it again. This is why numbers 1, 2 and 3 are SO important! You’re also not allowed to use your voice for anything except calling the test. Don’t correct the combination or encourage them. You may think that advice is unnecessary but trust me, I’ve seen it done!
10 Even if you’re not a rider learn your arena lessons if you’ve a person you’re calling for regularly. If you know the test and the arena geometry you’re going to be of much more help.
Finally, have fun! Don’t worry about what people will think, there’ll be more than one of you yelling what would appear to the outsider to be very strange instructions to riders so get out there and help your rider to do the best they can!