Ask the Judge – Upper Level Novice

Dear Amy, 

I recently imported an FEI dressage horse from Holland. I am planning to compete with him starting at Prix St. Georges this season in Aiken. I have competed at dressage shows in the past but never at this level, or done any upper level tests. I have a few questions I am curious about, and I have asked around but gotten mixed answers. So here you go!

A big concern is that I will not be able to remember these long tests. Is it too embarrassing to have a caller at this level? Are there any restrictions on equipment and attire at these levels? I heard spurs are no longer required? Finally, is the passport my horse traveled with from Europe sufficient for competing? All advice is greatly appreciated.

Upper Level Novice

Dear Upper Level,
How exciting and congratulations on the purchase of your new horse. Rules can be confusing and can often change so it is wise to be current on the latest information. All your questions are interesting and the answers are important to know.

Let’s start with your first question in regards to having your Prix St Georges (PSG) test called for you while you ride; it can be intimidating to memorize such long tests. In the National levels (Training to Fourth level) all riders have the option to have their test movements announced so they can have less worry about forgetting what to do next. Prix St. Georges, however, is a Federation International Equestre (FEI) level test, and the rules for the FEI are different. Although I don’t think it would be embarrassing to have an FEI test read for you, it is illegal at these levels, so you must perform the ride by memory only.

Here are some suggestions to help you gain confidence in memorizing. At home, practice your test with a caller until you can perform it successfully. It can also be helpful to draw the test on paper and go over the movements in your head, or to do your test on foot, or even mounted at the walk – whatever works best for you to find your way. On a good note, I rarely see riders go off-course at the PSG level.  

If you did go off course, you would receive an error. As in the lower-level tests you would be corrected and allowed to continue your ride. What is different, however, is how many errors you are permitted, and how they factor into your score at this level. At the National level, you are allowed two errors but are eliminated if you have a third one. In the FEI tests you would be eliminated if you had a second error. In the National level, an error would subtract two points from your final raw score. For example, if you earned 240 points and had one error, two points would be taken away for a total of 238 points, and your final percentage would be calculated from that number. (So if, for instance, your test had 360 maximum points, your final score would drop from 66.7 to 66.1.) In the FEI, an error is a lot more costly. Here you would have two full points taken off your final percentage score. For example, if you earned 60%, your score would adjust down to 58%. Therefore, knowing your test is imperative!​

When it comes to attire and equipment, there are many significant rules to be aware of. If you are competing in Aiken, although you would be riding FEI-level tests you would be competing under USEF rules, not FEI rules. The FEI rules only apply to official Concours de Dressage International (CDI) competitions. At this time, Aiken does not yet have any CDI dressage competitions, so for now, you would be following the rules for FEI tests at a National show.

Here are the dress rules for riding PSG and above. It is mandatory to wear protective headgear with a secure harness. Although I have rarely seen it, a short riding coat or cutaway, modified tailcoat is permitted. A tailcoat is only allowed in classes above Fourth level. Be sure your jacket is of a single color. It may have subtle pin-striping,checks, or tweeds. Stripes or multi-colors are not permitted. Tasteful and discreet accents, including modest piping and crystals are acceptable. When competing above Fourth level, tall English-style riding boots, including dress or field boots or variations thereof, are required. There are also guidelines now for gloves. At these levels gloves are required – this is a new rule for 2024! The gloves may be white, off white, or the same color as your coat. The rumor you heard about spurs not be required for FEI is true except that at this time it only applies to CDI competitions. At National level shows, spurs are still mandatory in FEI level tests.

There are a few equipment requirements when competing above Fourth level. It is now compulsory to use a well-fitted dressage saddle that is close to your horse with long, near vertical flaps, stirrups, and a girth. As far as bridles go, you may use a snaffle bridle or double bridle in competition as well as in the warmup.

On your scoresheet, you will see a major difference in the collective marks at this level. Previously, you had five collective marks to sum up your test. Now there will be only one final mark. The final collective mark is called General Impressions. This encompasses the harmonious presentation of the rider/horse combination, the rider’s position and seat, and the discreet and effective influence of the aids. This score has a coefficient of two, meaning it is worth double points. It is a reflection of your ride and will be similar to your final percentage.

Finally, let’s discuss the passport. At this time, you will not be required to present or have any passport for your horse when competing at a National level show even if you are competing in an FEI test. This would be different for CDIs where a passport would be required.

I hope I have given you some insight.  The USEF 2024 rulebook is available as a resource, and I always recommend reading it.  If you have questions when you are at the show, the competition’s Technical Delegate (TD), can help you clarify a rule.

Enjoy this new journey, and tests, put on your tailcoat (if you choose), wear a big smile, and dance away.

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