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About Sentient Riding

Sentient Riding Tests are dressage tests that focus mainly on the skills of the rider, regardless of the type of horse. We believe that excellent riding in conjunction with well thought out exercises result in a better overall performance. With the combination of correct, sympathetic riding and exercises that promote balance and lightness, we hope to make dressage beautiful and pleasurable for horse, rider and spectator.


The tests have been formulated to support the French school of training – working on balance and lightness first. This means that lateral work is introduced sooner, and fast work is introduced later, than in traditional dressage tests.


The tests are marked using a revolutionary new method which objectively grades specific rider skills. This provides consistent marks and targeted feedback, so you can clearly see how you need to improve, and can monitor your progress between tests.


What is the difference between Sentient Riding Tests and normal dressage?


  • More consistent and objective method of marking.

  • Emphasis on correct riding not performance of horse.

  • Exercises tailored to French training methods of balance and lightness at a slower tempo.

  • More early lateral work, less fast work.

  • Tests are more varied and interesting from an early level.


The Marking

Each exercise is marked on up to 4 criteria. Each criterion is given a simple mark: 1,2 or 3. In this way, you can see exactly how you are being assessed on each movement. The criteria have been carefully selected to reward good riding regardless of the type of horse. The system also enables you to monitor your progress between tests. To view the marking criteria, click here.


The Riding

One of the big differences is that you will not be expected to ride as “forward” as in traditional dressage. Traditional dressage tests are suited to big moving warmbloods, so often normal horses are pushed out of their rhythm to get marks for being “forward”. We use the French school of training, which we believe is more suited to the everyday horse. This puts balance before speed. We would prefer to see a movement executed slowly rather than rushed. We like to see a horse which is “on the aids” – responds quickly to light or invisible aids, but you will not be penalised for riding at a slow tempo within any pace, as long as the horse is on the aids. We do not expect the horse to always be tracking up – the ability to do this and remain in balance depends on conformation, level of training and speed. There are no extra marks for flashiness or "wow" factor - each horse needs to simply work correctly. Consistent rhythm and tempo are important, but we feel that the majority of people need to slow their horses right down to bring them off the forehand and work on balance, lightness and self carriage. In general, we want to see the rider synchronising with the horse not pushing, allowing the horse to work within his natural tempo – which is generally a lot slower than you think! Some excitable horses or those which have been ridden a lot forward, may need to be calmed and slowed down until they find their natural calm tempo.

The exercises

“Riding forward” is a commonly used remedy for crookedness. However, we find this can mask the problem – a fast moving horse gives the illusion of straightness, but the underlying problems with balance and suppleness may not have been addressed and will crop up again later in training. 

We introduce lateral work from an early stage, in walk. Most horses find this easy to manage, and it teaches balance and lightness, and enables the rider to precisely correct crookedness. This means that there are quite a few walk only tests. We expect that you will trot and canter in straight lines in open spaces from early training, but in the arena, we introduce trot gradually and in small bursts, focusing on correct transitions to begin with. Canter is not introduced in the tests until the horse is balanced and able to do lateral work and smooth transitions in walk and trot. We introduce walk to canter fairly early on once canter work has been introduced, because we find it is easier for the horse and rider to maintain balance through the direct transition. Trot to canter is harder because the rider has to maintain sitting trot, it is harder to time the aids correctly, and there is less time to plan the transition calmly because you are moving more quickly. To pop into canter from a calm, balanced walk, makes for a crisper transition and therefore a more balanced canter strike off. Trot to canter is used in the first canter test just to give the horse the idea of cantering in an arena.



Sentient Riding Online Competitions

These inclusive online video dressage competitions aim to enable anybody to compete in classical dressage.  We aim to provide tests that are  interesting and conducive to producing balance and lightness even at the lower levels. The tests and feedback can be also be used as part of a training program.


Sentient riding aims to bring out the best. We believe that online competitions are great because horses and riders often perform better in a familiar environment. There are no general restricitions on gear as we believe that every horse is an individual and should be allowed to wear whatever works well. However, if we feel there is a welfare issue, we may ask you to resubmit the test with a change to gear. An example of this would be an over tight noseband.

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