Get Ready For Medal Finals!

As the weather starts to turn, many riders are preparing for some of the biggest horse shows of the year. These months can be full of stress as local and national riders gear up for their own medal finals… and dare I say it… the dreaded “medal tests” DUN DUN DUNNNNNN! 

A medal test is a set of movements chosen by the judge that is sometimes used at the end of a large equitation class to help determine the top placings. These tests cause anxiety because riders do not get to know them beforehand and only have a few moments to get their bearings before they are being judged. Trust me, I am right there with ya, but the key to entering medal finals is to be prepared, and to do that just means practice, practice, practice! And great news, any medal test has to be composed from a list of 19 predetermined movements, so you can practice the movements ahead of time and create your own practice tests to prepare!

Movements that may be selected:

  1. Halt (4 to 6 seconds) or halt and back. When riders working collectively are asked to halt and then back, they must not be penalized if they walk forward a few steps and halt after backing. 

  1. Hand gallop. A hand gallop may be used on the approach to a jump. 

  1. Figure eight at trot, demonstrating change of diagonals. 

  1. Figure eight at canter on correct lead, demonstrating simple change of lead. This is a change whereby the horse is brought back into a walk or trot (either is acceptable unless the judge specifies) and restarted into a canter on the opposite lead. Figures to be commenced in center of two circles so that one change of lead is shown. 

  1. Work collectively or individually at a walk, trot and/or canter. 

  1. Jump low obstacles at a trot as well as at a canter. The maximum height and spread for a trot jump is 3’ for horses, 2’ for ponies in classes restricted to ponies. 

  1. Question(s) regarding basic horsemanship, tack and equipment and conformation. 

  1. Ride without stirrups, riders must be allowed option to cross stirrups.

  1. Dismount and mount. Individually. 

  1. Turn on the forehand done through the walk or the halt. 

  1. Figure eight at canter on correct lead demonstrating flying change of lead. 

  1. Execute serpentine at a trot and/or canter on correct lead demonstrating simple or flying changes of lead. 

  1. Change leads on a line demonstrating a simple or flying change of lead.

  1. Change horses. (Note: this test is the equivalent of two tests.) 

  1. Canter on counter lead. (Note: no more than twelve horses may counter canter at one time.) A canter on the counter lead may be used on the approach to a jump. 

  1. Turn on the haunches from the walk. 

  1. Demonstration ride of approximately one minute. Rider must advise judge beforehand what ride he plans to demonstrate.

We got together with some of our current (and former) Eq riders around the store and on our social media to give you some of our favorite exercises to practice so you can go into your finals feeling cool and confident!

Focus On the Fundamentals

My biggest piece of advice is to focus on the fundamentals. Go through each of the movements, figure out where your trouble spots are and then practice with those until you’re feeling comfortable. I’m all about drilling on the flat and then bringing in the fences later.

My go-to exercise is anything that involves the figure 8 pattern. You’d be surprised how easy it is to mess up this pattern when under pressure (#beentheredonethat). The biggest thing to remember about figure 8’s is that you want to make your circles round and intersect them in a straight line across the arena (not on the diagonal)! I like to practice them in both the trot and canter because they help hone your bend, straightness, and accuracy… everything you need to have a successful trip!

I also think demonstrating two changes of lead on a line is exceptionally beneficial! You have to plan out your spacing and figure out the best way to set up your horse. Then if asked to counter canter while on course, you’ve adequately practiced the base of the skill. 

The Age-Old Favorites

Don’t forget to give some love to everyone’s favorites… the trot jump, hand gallop, and no stirrup work. These are a go-to for most judges and will most likely make an appearance at some point. 

There is no better fix for your position than riding without stirrups and while it’s not the most fun exercise, it is super beneficial. My advice for no stirrup work is to build up in small increments. There is no point in riding for the entire ride without stirrups only to have sloppy position and execution. Instead, drop your stirrups for shorter periods of time or a single course and focus on the best and most accurate equitation that you can!

In terms of the trot jump- this is a question that will end up in most tests and while it sounds simple, it can also be an easy place to lose points. What makes a great trot jump is an even rhythm, straight track, and quiet position. While schooling, focus on maintaining an even rhythm up to the base of the jump (lots of horses will try to canter the last stride), keeping your horse between your legs, and staying soft and quiet over the fence (it’s very easy to throw your body forward to stay with the horse as it jumps).

When it comes to the hand gallop, it’s important to really show the change in pace. You don’t want the judge to be wondering if that is supposed to be a hand gallop or not. But on the opposite spectrum of things, you don’t want to overly gun your horse and make him shoot straight up in the air (again #beentheredonethat), it should be a smooth but prompt transition forward. Also, make sure to slightly balance a few strides before the fence so you get a nice round jump.

Quick Tips:

- Listen carefully! You are allowed to ask the judge to repeat it one more time for you if you need.

- Start and end your test with a halt. This is the signal to the judge that you are beginning and ending.

- If the judge doesn’t completely specify something (for example, which direction to track, or whether to show a simple change through the walk or trot) you are free to interpret it however you like. So this is your opportunity to be different from everyone else or showcase you and your horse’s strengths. If the judge doesn’t say to do a posting or a sitting trot and your horse is the equivalent of a bouncy ball? Then don’t sit the trot, put yourself in your best light. 

- Make sure to know the numbers assigned to the jumps. When the judge reads off their test, they will refer to the jumps by the order you jumped them in the original course. They’ll say “ Please jump fence 3,5,6” not “jump the white gate, to pink flowers, and roll back to brush.” (I’m super guilty for not knowing my jump numbers… so don’t be like me!)

- It’s not always about who has the flashiest test, but the most accurate! So don’t get too caught up with trying to be “slick” but rather try to ride the most accurate test you can.

What are some of your favorite ways to prepare for finals season? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by Lizzie Leng

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