Dressage Training in Aiken, SC
Amy McElroy

Atlanta Labor Day Dressage Show successes!

Congratulations to all who had a great show. Nan Campbell earned her bronze medal with Tavish at the Labor Day Show. Lisi Tibrea and Talisman won their Fourth Level Test 1! Doris Westoff won first place in 1-3 on Sunday and great scores on Saturday in 2-3 and 1-3 with her horses, Dakotah and Fortunate.

Amy attends Lamplight Dressage Festival

Lamplight Dressage Festival
August 2018

Amy added two more distinctions to her S judges license: Young Horse and Dressage Equitation. This brings the total to three, as Amy previously earned her Freestyle distinction.

Ask the Judge – Upper Level Newbie

Dear Amy,

I have just purchased an FEI dressage schoolmaster and I am hoping to be able to show at the Prix St. Georges level locally very soon.

I want to know, if my horse was born in the United States does he need a passport to show at this level? Also, people keep asking me if I am going to do the “Small Tour,” and I don’t know how to answer them. What is the Small Tour?

-Upper Level Newbie


Dear Newbie,

Congratulations on the purchase of your new ride. You are lucky to have a schoolmaster to bring you up the FEI levels (Prix St. Georges through the Grand Prix.) For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a schoolmaster is a horse that is already trained and confirmed at the level at which you are riding. Because the horse is well-versed in the movements, you can concentrate on your own development. You are not both learning at the same time: in fact the horse can teach you and help to show you the way.

Although you will be showing at the Prix St. Georges level, which is an FEI (international) level, if you are showing locally, you will still be showing on the national level, because we don’t currently have an international dressage show here in Aiken. Because of this, you will not need a passport, whether your horse was born in the U.S. or in another country.

If you show in the United States (or any other country) at an international show, a horse passport is mandatory, whether your horse was born in the country in which you are showing or somewhere else.

There are differences between national and FEI tests. In America, the USDF has dressage tests from Intro through the Fourth Level. These national tests are for our country only: Other countries have their own versions of these lower level tests. For example, in Germany, our Third Level tests are equivalent to an M (Medium) level test, but the tests themselves are not the same even if they have many of the same elements. However, all countries use the exact same FEI tests and the exact same scoring system.

So, if you compete at the Prix St. Georges level in the United States it will be the same test as the Prix St. Georges level in Germany. According to the FEI rulebook, the official dressage tests are published on the authority of the FEI, and in no case can they be modified or simplified without the approval of the FEI.

Interestingly, there are other FEI tests beside the upper level test. To name a few: the FEI Young Rider, Junior, Children’s, Pony, and Young Horse tests, which are all standardized internationally.

Let’s address your question about the Small Tour. There are four FEI tours: the Small Tour, the Medium Tour, the Big Tour and the Under 25 Tour. The tours are groupings of tests that can be ridden at the same show: remember you can compete at two different levels, but they must be consecutive. The Small Tour comprises the Prix St. Georges, the Intermediaire I and the Intermediaire I Freestyle. The Medium Tour includes Intermediaire A, Intermediaire B and Intermediaire II. The Big Tour is made up of the Intermediaire II, the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Freestyle and the Grand Prix Special. The Under 25 is exclusively for riders aged 16 to 25 years old. This tour includes combinations of the Intermediaires A, B and II, the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Freestyle.  

So if someone asks you if you are planning to show the Small Tour, you can say that you are just getting started with the Prix St. Georges. If your goal is to progress to Intermediaire I, you can say you are working towards the Small Tour.

Here is a comparison of the lower levels and FEI levels at national and international shows.

(Regional and national championships have different rules and these comparisons might not apply.)

USDF National Level (4th Level and Below) FEI Tests at National Show FEI Tests at International Show
• Can have a reader or perform by memory • Ride by memory: Callers prohibited • Ride by memory: Callers prohibited
• May carry a whip • May carry a whip • Whips are prohibited
• May use a snaffle bridle: Double bridles optional Third Level and above • Snaffle or double bridle allowed • Double bridle required
• Spurs are optional • Spurs are mandatory • Spurs are mandatory
• Must wear a safety helmet • Must wear a safety helmet • Safety helmets optional: top hat allowed (Military riders in uniform may wear military cap.)
• Any English saddle with stirrups allowed Third Level and below: dressage saddle required for Fourth Level • Must ride in dressage saddle with stirrups • Must ride in dressage saddle with stirrups
• You don’t need to turn in a copy of your Freestyle test before you perform. • You don’t need to turn in a copy of your Freestyle test before you perform. • You must submit your Freestyle test before you perform
• No horse passport required • No horse passport required • Horse passport required for all horses.
• You may have your trainer warm up your horse for you. • You may have your trainer warm up your horse for you. • No one may ride your horse but you while on the show grounds. (Exception: your groom may ride at the walk on the buckle.)
• Only one judge is required (“r” at Second Level and below; “R” at Fourth level and below. All higher ratings permissible.) • May have one or more judges. “S” or above required. • A panel of three to seven judges depending on the rating of the show. All must be FEI judges.
• First error: -2 points off your rough score; Second error:-4 points; Third error: elimination • First error: -2 percentage points off your final score; Second error: Elimination! • First error: -2 percentage points off your final score; Second error: Elimination!

Good luck to you riding at Prix St. Georges. I hope you will work your way through the Small Tour and perhaps to an FEI sanctioned show in the future, maybe even here in Aiken!

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!

Ask the Judge – Studying Dressage

Dear Amy,
I know that the eventing dressage tests have changed this year, while the USDF tests are still the same. But I have heard that there are also changes that were introduced in the FEI tests. Can you tell me what they are?
Studying Dressage

Dear Studying,
You are absolutely correct. There is a big change in the scoring of the FEI tests. They have also introduced a new freestyle at the Intermediare A/B level. Let’s take a look at these modifications.

In the FEI tests starting in 2018 (except young horse and freestyles) the existing four collective marks (paces, impulsion, submission and rider position) have been reduced to a single collective mark for the rider. The rationale for the elimination of the paces, submission and impulsion scores is that each of these factors will be assessed in every movement of the test and reflected in each scoring box. Although there was considerable opposition to this change, it was voted on and approved at the FEI general assembly in Geneva in November 2017.

From now on, at the bottom of your FEI tests, you will see a single box for rider position and seat, correctness and effect of the aids, and this will have a coefficient of two. The rules and the directives for awarding the rider mark remain the same as before. Judges will be taking into account the rider’s position and seat and the way in which he or she is able to influence the horse in order to produce an expressive, harmonious and fault-free performance. This score will be diminished if the test has many faults, there is obvious tension or resistance, there is discord between rider and horse or there are other negative factors, such as the use of voice.

Because the only collective mark is for the rider, this means your equitation is more important than ever. I encourage everyone to really work on developing a strong core so that you are able to have independent aids and an elegant and effective seat. The new Intermediare A/B freestyle is an exciting addition. This test is at a higher level than the Intermediare I freestyle, but not as advanced as the Grand Prix. For this test, horses must be at least 8 years old. The Freestyle has a 5- to 5-minutes- and-30 second (5.30) time limit. The freestyle will include half passes right and left in the trot and canter, extended trot and extended canter, a minimum of five tempi changes every second stride and a minimum of five tempi changes every stride. There is a single canter pirouette right and left that has a coefficient of two (in the Grand Prix, double pirouettes are allowed, but at this level they are not.) There is a minimum of 12 meters of passage, also with a coefficient of two. There is a minimum of eight straight steps of piaffe – at this level the horse is allowed to move forward as much as two meters, whereas in the Grand Prix the horse should not travel and ideally performs on the spot. The freestyle also includes an extended walk and a collected walk. There are also separate scores for transitions into and out of the piaffe.

These are the two main innovations on the FEI level this year. Here are some other things to consider, especially as we look forward to the World Equestrian Games, which will come to the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina in September.

From the USEF rulebook: “Intentionally taking the reins into one hand to produce impulsion or to promote applause from spectators will be considered a fault and reflected in that movement and in the collective for rider position.” It is, of course, still permitted and in fact mandatory, to take the reins in one hand when you salute the judge. All horses must wear a browband and a noseband.

A competitor may not withdraw or scratch from a class after a final salute – some people might want to do this after a disappointing ride so that they would not get a bad score. If for some reason you feel you cannot continue your test, you must ask the judge at C to be excused, and he or she might grant your request.

Another reminder: in the FEI tests, your first error is worth two percentage points off your final score, and your second error is elimination. This means that an error is much more serious at this level: at lower levels, an error is two points off your raw score and you are allowed two errors – you would be eliminated after a third error.

Also, remember at all levels that you are not allowed to use your voice at all – no talking, whispering or clucking. There is a two-point deduction for each movement where you can be heard.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to explain some of the changes at the FEI level in 2018. I know there are many riders who are looking forward to competing in the new Intermediare A/B freestyle, which will give more opportunities to riders who are not quite at the Grand Prix level yet. From a judge’s point of view, it will be interesting to see how the new, single collective mark will affect the final percentage scores. This change may result in higher scores overall, and certainly reward riders who take the time to work on their equitation. We shall see!