Dressage Training in Aiken, SC
Amy McElroy

Ask the Judge – National Championships

Dear Amy,
I heard you were on the panel of judges at the U.S Dressage National Finals this year at the Kentucky Horse Park. Congratulations! I’m hoping someday to be able to participate as a competitor in the finals. I was wondering, how does riding a test in the Nationals differ from riding a test at a regular rated USEF/USDF show? Is it also different from riding a test at a Regional Championship?  

Ambitious!

Dear Ambitious,
It was certainly an honor and very exciting to be one of the 13 judges selected for the Nationals, which is a Level Five Competition, the highest level under USEF rules. To answer your question, you will find many differences between riding in a regular show and competing in a Regionals or a Nationals. Let’s take a look. 

At the Nationals you will be competing against the country’s best horse and rider teams at each level, from Training through Grand Prix. There are also Freestyles at all the levels except Training, Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire II, and these have become very popular. Championship classes at all levels are divided into Open and Adult Amateur divisions. The Championship test will be the highest test of each level. For instance, if you compete at the First Level, your test will be First Level Three. In addition to the Championships, the Nationals also offer non-championship classes at most levels. These non-championship classes are run according to the same rules as a regular recognized dressage show. 

Here are some differences between the three types of competition:

• For a US Finals class, your ride time is done by a draw, and you will not know the exact schedule of the class until the draw is complete. However, you will know, for instance, that the First Level Championship starts at 8 am and runs until 12. At a recognized show and a Regionals you will have an assigned ride time that you will know it well in advance. 

• If you are riding in a US Finals class, you the only one allowed to ride your horse during the show, except to walk on a long rein. This rule is strictly enforced: if someone else rides your horse, you will be eliminated. At a Regionals, the same rule applies, but at a regular recognized show, anyone can ride your horse with no penalty.

• For a US Finals class, all tests must be ridden by memory. This rule also applies at Regionals. At a regular recognized show, a caller is allowed with no penalty. 

• For a US Finals test, carrying a riding whip is forbidden and will entail elimination. The same applies for Regionals. At a recognized show, a riding whip is allowed with no penalty. 

•For a US Finals class, you will have three judges: at C, at M or H, and at B or E. All the judges will have S or FEI status. At a Regionals, you will have two judges: at C and at B or E. At a regular recognized show, you will only have one judge most of the time, stationed at C, although there are some qualifying classes that do require two judges. (The second judge will be at B or E.) When there is more than one judge for any class, the judges’scores are averaged to arrive at your final percentage. After your test, you will be able to have copies of all the individual score sheets from each judge.  

• All US Finals classes are scored electronically. Most arenas do have an electronic scoreboard, where you will be able to see your name in lights and all the judge’s scores when your test is complete. At some Regionals, you might have electronic scoring and a scoreboard. At most recognized shows, you are not likely to see one.

• For a US Finals class, there is a mandatory awards ceremony with ribbons to tenth place. Your judge at C will be one of the award presenters. At a Regionals, the awards ceremony is also mandatory and there are ribbons to eighth place. For a regular dressage class, there are ribbons through sixth place, and there is often no awards ceremony. 

• Any horse competing in a US Finals class must be stabled at the showgrounds. At a Regionals, the same rule applies. At a regular recognized show, you can trailer in and out with no penalty. 

The US National Finals has an electric atmosphere and beautifully decorated arenas. It feels very special and it may be as exciting to be a judge at this competition as it is to be a competitor. Riding in the finals is a great goal. If you don’t qualify next year, I recommend going as a spectator, or, better yet as a volunteer – no dressage show can succeed without dedicated volunteers, and you will have the opportunity to participate in one of our most important and impressive events!

Wishing you luck in your journey! Ride forward.

Ask the Judge – Dressage Newbie

Dear Amy ,

My horse and I will be competing at our first recognized dressage show this month. We will be trying out the Training Level. Can you give me some tips to avoid making beginner mistakes and ride a winning test? 

Dressage Newbie 

Dear Newbie,

I am excited for you and your horse: welcome to the dressage world! This is such a good question, because the small details are an important step towards a competitive ride. I see many riders losing points and even getting eliminated for some situations that are completely avoidable.  

Attire and Tack

Most important, make sure your helmet is correctly fitted and secure. The chinstrap should be adjusted to hold the helmet on your head: it cannot have a loop in it. An improperly fitted helmet can mean elimination, because it is a safety issue. 

Be sure you are wearing your number. The number should preferably be on the left side although there is currently no official ruling on this. The left side is the traditional side. You will not be allowed to compete without a number.  

Be ready to go into the arena on time. After the judge has signaled you to enter the arena and start your test there is a time limit of 45 seconds for you to come down the center line, whether you have had a chance to ride around the arena or not. If you do not come down the center line within 45 seconds, you can be eliminated. Being on time is the responsibility of the rider and not of the ring steward. If there are two or more rings at your show, be sure that you know the signal for your ring: sometimes one ring uses a bell, and another one a whistle, etc. Check to make sure you are listening for the right one. You are allowed to enter the apron of the arena once the rider ahead of you has performed their final salute.  

Be properly dressed for your level, because you can also be eliminated for improper attire. At Training Level, you should wear: 1) a short riding coat of a conservative color, with a tie, choker, stock, or stand-up collar. 2) White or light colored breeches or jodhpurs with boots or jodhpur boots. You may also wear half chaps, gators or leggings in solid black or brown, with no fringe, and matching the color of your boots. If you choose to wear leggings or gators, be sure they are of smooth leather or leather-like material. 3) A protective helmet that meets or exceeds USEF standards. 

Your horse must also wear the correct tack and equipment for your level. At Training Level, he should wear: 1) an English type saddle with flaps and stirrups; 2) a plain snaffle bridle with a noseband. The noseband can be a regular caveson, or a dropped, flash, or crossed noseband. The bit must be some type of snaffle, and it must be smooth with a solid surface. There are many types of snaffle, some of which are legal and others are not permitted. If you have any doubts or concerns, consult the USEF rulebook (DR 121.) 3) Fly hoods are permitted. But remember, no martingales, bit guards, gadgets, ear cotton, bell boots or bandages. Any illegal equipment could cause you to be eliminated.  

Riding Your Test

The purpose of Training Level is to confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, is supple and moves freely forward into a clear rhythm with a steady tempo, accepting contact with the bit. All trot work may be performed rising or sitting unless otherwise stated. You may choose to rise the trot in some movements and sit it in others, but you will present a more harmonious picture if you don’t switch from one to the other in the middle of a movement.  

Once you have entered the apron of the arena, it is courteous to tell your horse’s number to the judge/scribe along with a short word of acknowledgement, i.e., “Good morning, I am number 23.” In all Training Level tests, you will enter the arena at a trot and halt at X. Be sure to hold the halt for three seconds. Make sure you clearly salute by putting both reins in one hand and letting the other hand drop to your side while you bow your head. There is no ruling on which arm to use, but saluting with the right arm is more traditional. Forgetting to salute is an error, which means two points off your final score.  

During your test, be sure not to use your voice, which means any words, sounds, clicks, clucks, etc. If the judge hears you using your voice, this will mean two points off each scoring box in which a sound was heard.  

Make sure that you use your corners and pay attention to the letters and your accuracy and geometry. Be aware of your canter leads and know what to do if you get a wrong lead. If your horse strikes off on the wrong lead, do correct it with a transition and try again as soon as possible so that it will only affect one movement.  

After your final salute, you must leave the arena mounted in a free walk at A. Do not get off your horse or you might be eliminated. If you do something like drop your whip and need to get it, or your horse has lost a shoe, or something like that, tell your judge or your ring steward and they will organize getting it picked up and returned to you. If you feel like you need to get off for some reason during your test, you should pull up, salute and ask to be excused. This will end your test and you will get no score.  

Here’s hoping this is the start of many successful shows. Be prepared, try to relax, smile, and enjoy the ride. 

Ask the Judge – What to Wear?

Dear Amy.
I was recently a spectator at a USEF Dressage show. I enjoyed watching all the rides but I saw so many different outfits. I always thought dressage meant a black coat and white pants. At this show I saw many people not wearing a coat; someone was in a military uniform; there was a rider in a vest; there was someone with grey boots, and I saw lots of sparkly accents on everything from bridles to gloves and helmets. I though dressage dress was supposed to be traditional and conservative, but I guess not! I was wondering how you know what is acceptable. 

Surprised by Variety

Dear Surprised,

I am so glad you are enjoying watching the dressage shows. It is nice to have interested spectators. I would be happy to help you learn more about the dress codes. 

Times have definitely changed when it comes to what is acceptable. Riders now can put a personal touch on their competition attire, within certain parameters, depending on the rating of the show and in what class and at what levels they are competing. The rules for what you are permitted to wear can be found in the USEF 2019 rulebook under DR120 Dress. Let’s look at what kind of turnout is acceptable. 

1. National Level Show with dressage tests and classes Fourth level and below.

  1. A short riding coat. This may also be a cutaway coat, which is like a modified tailcoat, with no tails. The color should be a solid conservative color, but riders are no longer required to be in solid black. Popular colors are navy, brown, grey and burgundy. Contrast coloring and piping as well as tasteful accents on the collars and pockets are also acceptable as are tasteful crystal accents (“bling”), which are popular and permitted. 
  2. A tie, a choker, a stock tie and/or an integrated standup collar is mandatory unless coats are waived. 
  3. There is no ruling about the coloring or style of the rider’s shirt since it will covered by his or her jacket and neckwear (unless jackets are waived.)
  4. White or light-colored breeches or jodhpurs are permitted. White still seems to be the most popular color, but cream is also very common. 
  5. Belts: there is no ruling about wearing a belt. It is always optional. 
  6. Gloves of conservative color are recommended, but not mandatory to wear. White, which is the traditional color, is the most popular. Other popular colors include black, and colors that match the jacket.
  7. Boots or jodhpur boots are permitted. Half chaps, gators and leggings are not allowed. There is an exception: if you ride First Level and below, you may wear half chaps, gators or leggings, but they must be in solid black or brown, without a fringe and matching the color of the boots. They must be smooth leather or leather-like material. Boots today are allowed to have detail. You are even allowed to wear colored boots. Popular boot colors are similar to popular jacket colors: navy, brown, grey or burgundy. Many riders have their boots in the same color as their jackets. Boots can even have interesting patterns and designs, especially on the boots’ “toppers” or cuffs, which may also be in a contrasting or complementary color. Patent leather is currently very popular. Boots can even have visible or hidden zippers. Field boots (with laces at the footbed) are also acceptable.
  8. Protective headgear is mandatory. The helmet must fit securely and the strap under your chin must be taut. A loose-fitting helmet could lead to elimination. Today, helmets may also be in various colors and be decorated with bling. 

2. National Level Show with dressage tests and classes above Fourth level (FEI classes) 

  1. A dark tailcoat. Riders may also wear a dark short jacket. The color options are the same as for Fourth Level and below: navy, brown, black, and so on. 
  2. Stock tie, tie, or integrated stand-up color is required. These can be the same color as the coat. 
  3. There is no ruling about the coloring or style of the shirt since it will covered by the jacket and neckwear (unless jackets are waived.)
  4. White or light-colored breeches are acceptable. Jodhpurs are not permitted.
  5. Belts: there is no ruling about wearing a belt. It is always optional. 
  6. Gloves are a must. White is the most popular color, but they can be the same color as the coat. 
  7. Boots should be a black riding boot or they can be the same color as the coat. Contrasting cuffs, decorations and zippers are also permitted.  
  8. Protective headgear is mandatory.

3. Exceptions

A. Current or retired members of the Armed Forces or a police unit may ride in the dress uniform of their service. In extreme heat, they may wear their summer uniform. Protective headgear is mandatory.

B. In case of extreme heat, jackets may be waived. In this case, it is up to the rider whether to wear a jacket or not. If you choose not to wear a jacket, the following rules apply: Riders must wear a shirt with sleeves, (long or short) and with a collar (no t-shirts.) There is no specific color for the shirt, only that it should not have decorations, except modest piping and color accents. Conservative is best. 

C. Cooling vests or lightweight vests may be worn under or over a riding shirt. The vest should be of a solid color. Vests are common when jackets are waived. 

Judges like to see neat and well-turned out riders, because it gives the impression that they are prepared to do their best. It is a pleasure to see riders who have taken care of all the details, and maybe even expressed their own taste and style in their outfits. But in the end, it is not the clothing or the turnout that will get a score. It is all about how the horse performs. 

Thank you for being so observant. Please come back and watch again. The riders appreciate your support.

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? 

First-timer

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.

Ask the Judge – Can you ask the judge?

Dear Amy,

I was recently at a two-day dressage show. I rode the same test both days, but for two different judges. I thought the second day I did so much better, but my score was about the same. I didn’t agree with the marks, and I was so disappointed. Is it ever possible to discuss your scores with the judge?

Disappointed.

Dear Disappointed,

That brings up a very interesting question. According to the USEF rulebook, DR 122.10, a member of the jury may not discuss a ride with a competitor before or after the final salute. However, it is sometimes possible to talk with your judge during a break, if you have arranged a meeting through the technical delegate (TD). 

If you feel as if there might be some discrepancy in your test (a comment doesn’t match the number, or the number seems like it is incorrect) the first thing you would do is contact the TD, who is required to be present on the grounds of all USEF shows during the competition. (If you don’t see the TD, you can inquire at the show office.) You would explain the problem with your test and why you wish to speak to the judge. The TD is allowed to ask judges if they would be willing to have a meeting. Judges are not required to meet with competitors, but most judges will if they can. Sometimes time restrictions make meetings impossible. 

If the judge agrees to talk to you, the judge and the TD will come up with a convenient time and place. Many judges will likely keep the TD within ear’s range during your meeting. If permission is granted, I would try to make your meeting no longer than five minutes and I suggest bringing a copy of the test in question. This will help the judge remember your ride. 

Unfortunately, using a videotape to dispute a judge’s decision is illegal, according to USEF DR 123.7. Keep in mind that a discussion does not imply a change in your test scores. You should approach this kind of meeting as a chance to gain insight into your ride. Remember to be polite and thoughtful.

I would suggest reading your judge’s comments thoroughly, especially anywhere that you might have concerns. Pay special attention to the “further remarks” which you will find at the bottom of your test below the collective marks. This is where your judge will point out the highlights of your test and give you advice about what needs to be improved and developed to enhance the ride. Your judge is not permitted to teach you in these remarks, and will not give you specific directions on what to do: this will be up to you and your coach. Your judge will tell what needs to improve, not how to make that improvement.

If you find your judge was very helpful to you, whether just from the comments on the written test, or from a conversation, you can praise them by filling out an official judge’s evaluation form. In fact, anyone who has ridden for a judge can fill out one of these forms. These may be found in your show packet, or at the show office, or even online. Of course, if you are unhappy with your judge’s observations or manner, (we hope not), you can also use this evaluation form. These forms are submitted to the USEF licensed officials committee, and become part of the judge’s record. 

In addition to feedback from your judges, there are many other ways to learn more about how to ride a successful dressage test. For instance, the Internet has many sites with question and answer forums with trainers, who can give you many tips and insights. If you don’t already have a coach, consider finding one. Judges really try to be fair to all the competitors. They want you to do your best, and they hope that their evaluations will be an asset to your riding.

So, to answer your question, it can be possible to talk directly to your judge. But this kind of conversation should be reserved for a clear discrepancy or error, because, unfortunately, judges do not have time for personal discussions with every rider. Remember to go over your test thoroughly. Consider having your ride videotaped so that you can match the comments to your movements. Make sure you are riding at an appropriate level for you and your horse’s stage of training. Possibly seek a professional, who can help you improve your test and achieve your goals. Good luck!

SUMMER SIZZLER DRESSAGE 3 8/3/2019 – 8/4/2019.

Dear Amy,

We have received a “Member’s Confidential Evaluation Form” from a Federation member commending you on your officiating at the SUMMER SIZZLER DRESSAGE 3 competition that took place 8/3/2019 – 8/4/2019.

While we cannot disclose the name of this member or their exact comments, we can share with you the substance of their comments. This member reported that you did an excellent job performing your duties as a Judge at this competition.

USEF would like to thank you for upholding the high standards that we set forth for our officials and for helping to promote the pursuit of excellence in equestrian sport.

Thank you,

Alina Brazzil, Director, Licensed Officials

Licensed Officials Department

New Silver Medalist

Congratulations Mikaela Engert on earning the scores for your silver medal!

First Time Competitor Questions

Dear Amy,
I was recently at a recognized dressage show as a spectator before I attempt competing. I
was curious about some of my observations. I was wondering if you could explain some
things to me.
First: 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 about using their voice. What are the consequences of using your voice?

Dear First-Timer,
What a great idea to spectate and 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.
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 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 do salute, the
next rider will be awaiting 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 and 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. There is no limit to how many deductions can
be taken for voice. 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.