Memorize your test! Duh! I can testify to the fact that it is possible to memorize your test and have a reader and still go off course. How embarrassing!
Knowing the dressage square is essential for memorizing your test. You should know the location of all the letters and the measurements between the letters. There are lots of techniques for memorizing the letters of the square and your test. Here are some of the ones that have worked for me:
1. Break the test into components to help you memorize the whole. Usually, one movement flows into another movement or one movement sets you up for another. Try memorizing the walk, trot, and canter tours of your test separately; this will help you from becoming overwhelmed with trying to memorize the entire test at once.
2. Diagram your test from start to finish. The act of diagramming will help with memorization. Drawing movements like circles and serpentines will help you locate them within the square in relation to the letters and will help you visualize your test.
3. Try walking through your entire test (on your own feet!) in the arena. Hopefully, you will have a dressage square set up to practice in, but if you don’t, you can still walk the test.
4. Pair up with a friend and verbally go through your test. Create verbal and visual shorthand for test movements, so that you do not memorize the test as literally read. Use phrases like: “halt in front of the judge” for “halt at C” and “half circles through X” for “E-X half circle right 10m and X-B half circle left 10m”.
5. I am not sure where I got the mnemonic device for the letters, but here is the one I used to memorize the outside letters: All King Victor Edward’s Show Horses Can Make Really Big Pretty Fences. And for the letters down center line: C Green Idiots Laugh at Dressage. Memorize your standard lines of letters like your diagonals: HXF, FXH, MXK, and KXM. Other standard lines include the short diagonals, walk lines, your serpentines, loops, etc.; KNOW the START and END letters of your lines and shapes.
If you feel that you can’t keep your test in your head and ride it at the same time at a show, don’t worry, you can have a reader for Introductory through 4th level unless you are riding in Championship classes.
Memorizing your test is essential - even if you choose to have a reader. A memorized test will help you feel confident and leave room in your head for the effective use of rider aids throughout the test.
Other sources for test memorization success: