Ask the Judge – Attire Hot Topics

Dear Amy,

I am planning to compete at recognized dressage shows this summer in Aiken. I have a few questions that I hope you can answer for me. 

First, with this heat, I am not planning to wear my show jacket, which I know is legal, assuming that jackets are waived at the show. But is it mandatory to wear a belt? If I do wear a belt, are there color restrictions? Also, the sun bothers my eyes, and I wonder if wearing sunglasses and/or an oversized visor is OK. That white dressage arena footing has a lot of glare!

Next, I know a caller is permitted when riding your test, but do judges frown upon that? Will it affect my score? Lastly, is it true that you can be eliminated after you finish your test? Why would that happen?
Hot Topics

Dear Hot Topics,

You bring up some interesting questions!  

I can understand not wanting to wear a jacket on these hot summer days, and that is perfectly fine as long as jackets are waived at the show in which you are competing. There currently is no ruling on the wearing of a belt. Surprisingly, there isn’t a rule that you have to tuck your shirt in, either. Ultimately, you want your appearance to look neat and professional, however.  If you are comfortable with a belt, you should absolutely wear one, whether you’re wearing your show coat or not. A belt that matches your helmet, coat (if you are wearing one), or saddle pad would look lovely, but there is no ruling on this. I would stay away from too much bling, though – glittery things distract the eye and you want your judge to focus on your ride. But whether you wear a belt or not will not affect whatsoever on your score, so this is completely optional.

As far as sunglasses go, yes they are permitted since there is no rule banning them. If you do wear a pair, please make sure they fit securely and are not falling down over your nose, because this would be distracting for everyone. However, there are some rules about helmet visors. A legal ASTM safety helmet that is securely fitted may have a wide brim as long as the brim is an integral part of the helmet. Unfortunately, you cannot add any visors, sunshields or anything else to your helmet. In fact, any added attachment is illegal and may be a reason to be eliminated.

Regarding having your test read to you as you ride, you are correct that you are allowed a caller for tests fourth level and below. (They are illegal for tests over fourth level.) The use of a reader will have no influence on your judge or on your score. There may be an issue, however, if your reader does any talking other than reading the test as written or makes noises such as clucking as you ride by. This could be considered outside help and possibly be a cause for elimination. Another interesting note: your caller must read you the test as written in English: you are not allowed to use a different language unless you have obtained permission in advance.

Even if you do have a reader, be sure that you are familiar with your test so that the reader is reminding you where to go, not telling you for the first time. Your reader should be knowledgeable about the arena, and especially to know where the letters are. Try to have someone who reads loudly and clearly and is an asset to your ride.

Finally, and unfortunately: it is definitely true that you could be eliminated after the completion of a ride, even if it was a great one. This could happen for a variety of reasons. One possibility could be because of using illegal equipment. For instance, your whip could be too long, or you might forget to take off your horse’s boots or bell boots, which are legal in the warmup, but illegal in the arena. Rider attire can also be an issue, for example not wearing a coat when coats are not waived, having bold patterns on your clothing, not having a collar or sleeves on your shirt. Sometimes, something you innocently put on your horse, like a lucky feather or good luck charm in the mane, or a questionable design or bling on your saddle pad can be an issue. If there is any blood on your horse, whether from spurs, a cut in the mouth or even if your horse kicks himself, this could be a reason for elimination. Any type of outside assistance is not acceptable. 

Why would you be allowed to start and complete your test if there is something about your horse, equipment or presentation that calls for your elimination? There are several possible reasons. First, the problem might be recognized by your judge during your ride, in which case he or she has the option to stop your test and excuse you immediately. Or, he or she may stop you and give you the option to complete the ride, but not have the score count. Or the judge might not recognize the problem until the end of the ride, or might contact the technical delegate to look into any issue, and tell you the bad news after your ride is finished. Another possibility occurs when the ring steward performs a tack inspection after you ride. 

I hope this does not happen: No judge wants to eliminate you! It is always advisable to read the dressage section in the USEF Rulebook as well as the handbook offered from USDF and USEF called the Visual Guide to Attire and Equipment. This is very informative: It even has colored pictures of everything that is allowed and not allowed.

I hope this helps you to be confident and comfortable in you presentation, while staying as cool as possible, keeping the sun out of your eyes, and remaining in compliance with all the clothing and equipment regulations. Feel free to have a reader, and always stay updated on the rules.  

Enjoy your shows and good luck!

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