Ask the Judge – Ring Etiquette

Dear Amy,
I recently went to a recognized dressage show as a spectator to observe before I attempt competing. I was curious about some of what I saw. I was wondering if you could explain some things to me.

First: After finishing the test, everyone seemed to have a different way to get to the exit at A. Some people just turned around and left, some approached and thanked the judge, and some even added a circle before the exit. Is there an appropriate way to leave the arena when your test is completed?

Second: Is it common for judges to call you and talk to you at the end of the test? The judge called several riders to the booth at the completion of their test and reprimanded them for using their voice while competing. What are the consequences of using your voice? 


Dear First-timer,
What a great idea to observe how a recognized show will be run. This will give you some insight on what to expect when you are ready to compete.

In answer to your first question, I agree. As a judge I do see riders leaving the arena after their salute in many different ways. There actually is no real rule for leaving the arena other than the way stated on every dressage test: After the final salute, leave the arena at A in a free walk. In theory, it should not matter what you do: According to the USEF rulebook DR122.78, a test begins with the entry at A and ends after the final salute. Everything before the beginning or after the end of a test has no effect on the marks. 

So, after your final salute, your test is officially over. There is no time limit for leaving the arena. There is no correct way to turn – you may turn left or right at your discretion. However, a polite way to leave is to take a few walking steps forward toward your judge at C. It is then appropriate to thank your judge and even to smile before turning back onto the long side and exiting at A at the free walk.

People sometimes do make a circle before leaving the arena, presumably for schooling purposes. Judges are usually not appreciative of this. Remember, once you have saluted, the next rider will be waiting their turn to enter. It is courteous to leave the arena promptly to help keep the show running on time. Stay focused and purposeful until you are out of the dressage arena. Once you are out, you may wave to or acknowledge any friends or spectators who are interested in your ride. Do remember that the judge can hear what you are saying at this time, as they will be finalizing their comments and scores.

As for your question about the voice and the judge calling riders to the booth, the judge has the right to call any competitor to their booth to talk to them, for any legitimate reason. You do not see this often, but it does happen. The judge is generally not reprimanding riders, but pointing out reasons they may have some deductions on their test, and trying to help them do better next time.

In this case the judge was clearly making a point about deductions on the test for the use of voice. According to USEF DR 122.3., the use of voice, clicking the tongue once or repeatedly, is a serious fault involving deductions of at least two marks from the movement in which it occurs. In cases where the movement has a coefficient, judges may choose to deduct only one mark off the movement.

If your judge hears you using your voice in any way, they may cross the number awarded for the movement out, and then write “minus 2, voice” and put in the new number. For instance, if you would have had a 7 on your trot lengthening but judge hears you cluck, they might cross out the 7, make it a 5, and write the word “voice” in the scoring box. A voice deduction is not considered an error and there is no limit to how many deductions can be taken for voice in a test. However, there can only be one deduction per scoring box. Remember, voice can be any talking or sounds used to influence your horse’s way of going. Be very careful about using your voice – riders sometimes do not even realize that they are doing it, especially those who have a habit of talking to and clucking to their horses in their regular schooling. 

I hope this helps you be confident on how to exit the arena and not to be worried about the judge calling you over after your test – this does not happen very often, but when it does it is to help you. Good luck at your first show.

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