Ask the Judge – Dressage rule questions

Dear Amy,

I am new to dressage, although I have done some eventing. I am planning to stop jumping and show straight dressage from now on, so I have a few questions about equipment. First: is it acceptable to ride a dressage test in my jumping saddle? I don’t currently own a dressage saddle and I feel safe and comfortable in the saddle that I have. Second, am I allowed to use a neck strap for “just in case” at the show? Third: my horse prefers to go without a noseband. Is this allowed? Thank you for your help.



Dear Newby,

Welcome to the dressage circuit. These are great questions and the answers are important to know as an equipment violation could mean elimination. Let’s start with your saddle.

You are in luck with your jumping saddle. In all levels of eventing dressage, any English-type saddle is compulsory according to USEF EV 115.2a. In straight dressage up to Fourth level, any English saddle is also allowed as long as the saddle has flaps and stirrups with closed branches. When you ride at the FEI Levels (anything above Fourth Level) a dressage saddle then becomes compulsory. You might be interested to know that saddle pads are optional at dressage shows, but I don’t recommend riding without one.

However much you like your jumping saddle, if you continue your pursuit of dressage you may want to try a dressage saddle because it will encourage your body to be in a more correct and balanced position. This will make is easier for you to be effective and you will find it more comfortable to do sitting work with the dressage saddle’s deeper seat and strategically placed stirrup bars.

Next, let’s address the issue of the neck strap. Neck straps are permitted in eventing dressage as there is not currently a specific rule about their use as a “gadget.” It’s a different story entirely in straight dressage competitions. Under the penalty of elimination, a neck strap is strictly forbidden as it is considered a “gadget.” You can’t use it in your test. Of interest: other gadgets that are illegal according to USEF rulebook DR 121.7 include martingales, bit guards, nasal strips, tongue ties, and bearing, side, running or balancing reins. Any kind of boots, bandages, blinkers, ear muffs, ear plugs, and seat covers are also illegal.

Finally, let’s consider the noseband. In all dressage levels, a noseband is a requirement. There are many styles to choose from. When you are using a plain snaffle bridle, you can use one of the following nosebands: a regular caveson, a drop noseband, a flash noseband, a combination of a caveson and a drop, or a crossed noseband (also known as a figure eight noseband.) Of interest: a padded noseband is allowed, but you cannot use a noseband that has any metal on the inside touching the horse’s flesh. Other equipment that is required includes a browband which can have as much decoration and “bling” as you like. You are also required to use a throatlatch or its equivalent, such as the jowl strap that is a feature of a Micklem bridle.

With so many nosebands to choose from, there should be one that suits any horse. Also, remember that there is no ruling on how loose a noseband may be, only on how tight it may be. The noseband may be fitted snugly, but not so tight that you can’t fit two fingers beneath it. Your ring steward may check the fit of the noseband after your test when he is examining your bit. He may also check the length of your whip, the length and severity of your spurs and the sides of your horse for blood. If your horse is wearing a bonnet, you will have to remove it so that its ears can be checked for noise-canceling devices. If the steward discovers any violations, you may be eliminated.

I hope this answers all of your questions. So, come on down the centerline in your jumping saddle while maintaining a correct dressage position with a perpendicular straight line between ear, hip and heel. Find a noseband that suits your horse and fasten it loosely if that makes him happier. You will have to leave the neck strap at home; when you feel comfortable doing this, that would be a good indication that you are ready to start showing. Enjoy!

1 Comments on “Ask the Judge – Dressage rule questions”

  1. Hello, I’m new to dressage and am a ‘do-it-yourself’ person for now. At a recent schooling show the warm-up prior to the test was inside the ring (not enough room to go around the outside). Should I have stayed along the track by the letters once I checked in and prior to the bell or would it have been ok to cut across the ring and even perhaps make a circle? Thanks I had no idea what to do and I saw people do it both ways.

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