Riding dressage is a lot like baking– the outcome is determined by the preparation.
There is little a baker can do to control the outcome of the baked good once it is placed in the oven. Similarly, whatever you ask the horse to do, whether it is a flying change or a simple walk-trot transition, how you set the horse up for the movement determines its quality. There is very little you can do to make a mediocre flying change great once the horse’s legs are in the air. By that time, it’s too late.
It blew my mind when I learned that all of the moves I found tricky to ride well– expressive flying changes, fluid half-passes, clean canter-walk transitions were simply outcomes of how I prepared the horse. At last, all of the judge’s comments on my dressage tests made sense! “Needs expression,” “better preparation needed,” “rider needs better use of corners and half-halts.”
Riding into corners and riding a clear, clean half-halt where the horse redistributes his weight onto his hindquarters for a brief moment are certainly helpful, but preparation doesn’t begin there.
Preparation begins when the horse first learns to carry a rider, and in Training Level. It occurs as the horse moves from Training to First Level, then onto Second. Unless you are on a solid Grand Prix horse, you are always in preparation.
It goes deeper than moving a horse up the levels, but is in the minutia of how exactly you move up the levels. The more you teach the horse to do things correctly from the beginning, the less time (and wear and tear on the horse’s body) you spend correcting him. It separates the good riders from the mediocre ones.
The art is in how you prepare.
Are you riding the movement only– or are you riding the preparation?