When Michele asked us to do a ‘Shop Talk’ at her Show Chic store in Wellington recently, we at first weren’t sure what angle to take in presenting some insight into the judge’s perspective....Michele came up with ‘The Two Bills Share Their Two Cents’ and that paved the way for developinga presentation that covered a little bit of everything! There was a standing room only crowd that night with much enthusiasm and great questions that led to lively discussion!  And now it has led to this…. A regular addition to Michele’s  ‘Show Chic Times’.  We want to extend what we started that evening into this monthly format so it might address showing topics that you want to hear about. We encourage you to drop your questions off at Show Chic and we will do our best to offer feedback here!

For this month we want everyone to be thinking about starting with success in mind for the upcoming 2015 show season! Of course it hopefully goes without saying that in preparing for the show ring, we have to start with the proper training at home. Don’t wait for show day to think about riding correct lines and figures. They are the foundation in which transitions and movements are built upon.  So let’s talk specifically here about riding centerlines.  This is a place that every horse and rider has a chance for a top score.  Even if your horse isn’t a ‘10’ mover, a well presented centerline can earn high marks. Look at the directives (written on every test for every movement!)… For the centerline, the wording changes according to the level, but the main theme is straightness and the quality and willingness of the transitions. The quality of the gait is of course a factor also, but the impression that the rider makes with their horse with an accurate centerline, can still earn a high mark. You want to project to the judge a picture of harmony and confidence that you are well prepared for the test you are about to ride! 

A horse must feel at home on the centerline.  Practice at home walking and trotting (Canter after 3rd Level)  centerlines first without transitions to focus on straightness and willingness to go forward in a relaxed manner.  Rider should always look up and to the judge as line of vision helps straightness and balance.  It could be helpful at home to put cones at ‘X’ to develop the feel for placement of halts at ‘X’. The shoulder of rider should be on the ‘E’ – ‘B’ line.   Make note of the specific wording on the new 2015 tests, that the directives also now state that the halt must remain immobile for a minimum of 3 seconds (at all USEF levels).   At home it would be better to practice halts (and salutes!) on the long side where the railing can help the straightness. Often when there are too many corrections made to the horse on centerlines, it can create more anticipation and tension defeating the purpose.  The horse must learn to stand still with the rider placing the reins in one hand for the salute and remain accepting of the contact and maintaining attention to the rider. 

To help the final centerline, at home it can be helpful to place two cones at ‘D’ to develop the correct feel for the turn at ‘A’.   This turn is part of the centerline score, even when (as an example:  in Third Level Test 2) where you canter the turn and then trot at ‘L’ and halt at ‘I’.  The turn at ‘A’ is always part of the score. 

In thinking of how to enhance one’s scores, always remember the saying, ‘Practice alone doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice (at home) makes perfect’.   Best wishes for a successful and Happy season….See you at ‘X’! 


Bill Warren, FEI 3* and USEF ‘S’ Dressage Judge, USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medalist.

Bill McMullin, USEF ‘r’ Dressage Judge (currently in ‘R’ Judge’s Training Program)

        USDF Certified Instructor and Faculty, USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist. 

The Bills are based at Drywater Farm in Stoughton, MA from May through November 

And at Altersgait Farm in White Fences, Loxahatchee, FL December through April.