Ask the Judge – Proper Salute

Dear Amy,

I recently started competing at the Prix St. Georges level at dressage shows and I am now riding with a double bridle. In the entry of my test I come down the centerline, and halt and salute with a nod of my head. In the final centerline, I halt and salute with a nod of my head and drop my right arm to the side. At my last show I was surprised to see I received an error for my entry salute, even though the judge did not ring the bell to signal it. I have been saluting this way ever since I started using the double bridle because I don’t want to lose my hand’s proper position on the pair of reins at the outset of the test. I have never gotten an error for this before.

I also didn’t realize that at this level an error would take two whole points off my final percentage. Is this correct? Also, I noticed that the final collective mark, which used to be for Rider Position, is now called General Impression. I seemed to have scored a bit lower than I have in the past on this final mark. Is the judge looking for something different now? 


Dear Salute,

It is very exciting to be competing at the FEI level as well to be riding in a double bridle. It is useful to know that a double bridle is allowed (but not required) once you are competing at Third level and above. According to the USEF 2021 rule book DR 3.10.2, for Third and Fourth level a snaffle or double bridle are permitted in the warm up and in competitions. According to DR for all FEI tests ridden at a national level, a snaffle bridle or double bridle are permitted in the warm up and competitions. So you could have started using the double bridle in previous levels, but it is perfectly acceptable to wait until you reach Prix St-Georges, or stay in the snaffle. 

Let’s start with your salute. According to the USEF 2021 rulebook DR 122.2, 3. “At the salute riders take the reins in one hand. All riders let one arm drop loosely along his/her body and then incline his/her head in a slight bow.” The 2021 USEF rulebook states in DR122 5.f; “At the salute if the rider does not take the reins in one hand he must be penalized as an error of course.” DR122 5.c.1 states. “In FEI tests every error of course must be penalized whether the bell is sounded or not.” So you can see that your judge was absolutely correct to give you an error for saluting by simply nodding your head, and was not required to ring the bell. If you have been saluting this way habitually and you have not received an error in the past, you were just lucky!

When you are riding with a double bridle, it can be a bit tricky to salute and coordinate the four reins in one hand and then immediately take them up again and move off, but it is mandatory. Never fear, it will become easier with practice. And as you can see it is quite costly if you don’t do it. This is because there is a difference in the way error points are deducted at the FEI levels versus the way they are counted in tests Fourth level and below. If you have an error in a test at Fourth level and below you would see a two-point deduction off your gross score prior to calculating your percentage. In the FEI Levels, however, if you make one error you incur two points off your final percentage score. For instance if you were performing Fourth Level test 1, and your gross score was 253.5, your final percentage would be 65%. (There are 390 maximum points in this test.) If you had an error, two points would come off that gross score, leaving you with 251.5, and your final percentage would be 64.5%. In practice, therefore, that two-point error would only cost you half a point off your final score.

Now let’s look at Prix St-Georges. If you have an error at this level, the two points are deducted off your final percentage, so that if you would have gotten 65%, now you will get a 63%.  So you can see an error is much more costly at these levels.  If you have a second error at the national levels, you will have another four points taken off your gross score. At the FEI level, however, a second error would entail elimination.

Now let’s talk about the final collective mark. As before, FEI tests continue to have one final collective mark, but it has changed slightly for the 2021 competition year. The name was changed from “Rider’s Position and Seat; Correctness and Effect of the Aids” to “General Impression.” The new mark has the following directive:  “Harmonious Presentation (harmonious presentation of the rider/horse combination; rider’s position and seat, discreet and effective influence of the aids).” 

This final collective mark is a representation of your ride and should be similar to you final score. For example if your final percentage was a 62%, you would likely see a 6.0 to 6.5 for your General Impression mark. Your riding position is still taken into consideration, but it is just part of your score. This collective mark, as before, has a coefficient of two. 

I hope this helps to clarify how to perform a correct salute and avoid a costly error, as well as how tests are scored at the FEI level. It is always a good idea to practice your halt and salute at home, especially if you are new to handling the four reins of a double bridle. With a little work, picking up those reins should become second nature to you, and nothing to worry about at all. Keep striving for correct equitation while influencing your horse in a harmonious way. 

Wishing you much success at the FEI levels!

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