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Copy of How to Learn Your Dressage Test Like a Pro - Repost

Show Season 2024 is underway so we wanted to share this post again. Happy Riding!

Learn the Dressage Court Layout

Dressage tests are not only a way to showcase your skills and harmony with your horse, but also a great opportunity to improve your riding and training. However, learning a dressage test can be challenging, especially if you have a busy schedule, a limited attention span, or a tendency to forget things under pressure. In this blog, I will share some effective strategies to help you memorize and perform your dressage test with confidence and ease.

Before you can learn your test, you must learn the dressage court layout. This is important to anyone who wants to practice or compete in dressage. A dressage court is a rectangular or square-shaped arena with a flat, level surface, marked with letters around the perimeter at specific intervals. These letters are used to define specific points and movements during a dressage test. The letters also help the rider follow the correct path and maintain the right distance and direction.

There are two sizes of dressage courts: a small or “short court” that is 20 meters by 40 meters, and a large or “regulation court” that is 20 meters by 60 meters. The court is marked with letters of the alphabet positioned as a visual reference for the rider and the judge, to assess down-to-the-meter accuracy of the figures, transitions, and movements. The short court has eight “major” letters. One on each short side and three on each long side. The regulation court has the same letter as the short court, plus two more letters on each long side. The major dressage letter mark the endpoints, the corners and the midpoints of the arena. Beginning at A and continuing on the right rein (clockwise) around the arena to K, E, H, C, M, B and lastly F. The in between perimeter letters are, R, S, V, P. And lastly there are 5 “imaginary” letters on the centerline. Beginning nearest to C is: G, I, X, L, and D, where X marks the center.

In such an orderly and systematic discipline which is all about precision, you may ask why the letters are seemingly so random. While entering at A makes sense, and X marking the centerline is also understandable, what about the rest? The answer is no one knows for sure. There are a couple of unconfirmed theories. I think this one is very interesting: Many of the perimeter letters once marked where in the arena each horse in the Imperial German Court was to be positioned, with each letter signifying a courtier’s title. (in German)

As far as the purpose in today’s modern time, the letters have no rhyme or reason, and so there is no alternative but to memorize them. A common way that riders remember the letters is to rely on mnemonics. Example: All King Edwards Horses Can Make Big Fences. And, RSVP, as in response to a party invitation.

In addition to the letters, a rider will need to know the geometry of the court. Let’s start with the imaginary lines running parallel with the “long side”. Five meters-in on each side is the quarter line. Ten meters in is the center line. The short side of the court is 20 meters, so imagine dividing the court into 4 sections of 5 meters each.

The first letter on each of the long sides is 6 meters from the corner of the court. The distance between the remaining letters is 12 meters. With 5 letters in the Regulation Court that equals 60 meters in length on the long side.

Now that you have learned the dressage court layout, it is time to learn your dressage test. Try out one or both of these strategies to get you riding your test like a pro.

Spaced Retrieval Practice

One of the most proven methods to enhance your memory is to use spaced retrieval practice. This means that you recall the information from your memory after some time has passed, rather than repeating it over and over until it feels familiar. Research shows that retrieving information from memory strengthens the neural connections and makes it more resistant to forgetting.

To apply this strategy to your dressage test, you can use different ways to recall the test from memory, such as:

  • Writing or drawing the test on a piece of paper

  • Riding the test in your mind, or walking on foot imagining how your horse feels and what aids you need to use.

  • Riding the test on a simulator or a hobby horse

  • Riding the test on your horse, but only once or twice a day. Do not ride the test over and over again.

The key is to space out your retrieval practice sessions, so that you allow some forgetting to happen before you recall the test again. This will make your memory more durable and flexible.


Another effective way to boost your memory is to use dual-coding, which means that you pair words or concepts with images. This helps you create multiple mental representations of the information, which makes it easier to recall and apply.

To use dual-coding for your dressage test, you can:

  • Use diagrams or videos to visualize the correct geometry and movements of the test.

  • Use colors or symbols to highlight the key points or transitions of the test.

  • Use mnemonics or acronyms to remember the sequence or letters of the test.

For example, you can use the acronym BEND to remember the four elements of a good corner: Balance, Energy, Nudge, and Direction.


Learning the dressage court layout and learning your dressage test can be a rewarding and enjoyable process if you use the right strategies to enhance your memory and understanding. By using spaced retrieval practice or dual-coding, you can learn your dressage test like a pro and perform it with confidence and ease. Happy riding! 🐴

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