Competition Questions

Dear Amy,

I am looking forward to competing in dressage shows this season. I am new to competition and I have a few questions. First, is there a proper side on which to wear your number? I have seen many variations. Second, if I choose to have a reader, do they need to have any qualifications, and do they need to sign up or do anything else to be permitted to call the test for me? Where should the caller stand? Finally, I am planning to ride with a whip and I will be carrying it in my right hand. I understand it is not appropriate to salute with your whip. So, can I salute with my left hand instead of my right one?

Dressage Newbie


Dear Newbie,

The new dressage season has begun with the revised tests in effect on December 1, 2018. These are all interesting topics to review before the shows begin. They are also important, because if you don’t abide by the official USEF rules in these areas, you could get an error, and might even be eliminated.

Let’s start with the proper placement of the number. Most shows will give you one number to wear; although some shows do provide two numbers, only one is mandatory. According to USEF rule DR121.12: “Numbers must be worn at all times when a horse is being exercised or ridden.” This means you must be wearing a number or you will not be allowed into the show arena; technically, you should not be allowed in the warm-up arena either.

Not wearing a number as you enter the competition arena will entail immediate elimination: you will not be allowed into the arena and elimination is mandatory in this situation. Where you wear the number is a matter of personal preference: Legally, there is no assigned place or side for it. Traditionally, if you choose to put it on your bridle, you would put it on the left side, at the juncture of the headstall and the browband. It is also acceptable and often popular to have your number pinned or sewn neatly onto your saddle pad, usually on the bottom corner of the left side. Most important, your number must be visible at all times when you are mounted. As a courtesy to your judge and scribe, when you pass the judge’s booth before entering the arena, confirm with them your competition number.

You bring up an interesting point about having a reader. You do not have to tell the show in advance that you are planning to use one or who it will be. Anyone you choose may perform the service for you: currently there is no qualification system or any other official requirement for readers. But do choose your reader carefully and make sure he or she reads the test accurately and succinctly. It is important that the reader does not add instruction or read movements more than once. This could be considered “unauthorized assistance”, in which case, it would result in elimination. It would be advisable to have a reader with a loud and clear voice, with some knowledge of dressage, of your test, and of the letters of the arena. There is no ruling on which side your reader should be stationed, unless specified by the show management. However, standing at either E or B (midway on the long side) is the appropriate position. The reader should start calling with the rider’s entry, after the judge has signaled that the test can begin. Readers are permitted (with no scoring deduction) at all national tests, Fourth level and below.

If possible, you might want to have a practice session with your reader before the show. It is important that the reader not call movements too far ahead in your test, or fall behind your performance. You need to have sufficient time to prepare for the next movement, but if the reader gets several movements ahead of you, it can be confusing. When called out, the names of the letters can often sound similar (“B”, “E”, “C”, etc.) so your reader needs to speak clearly and enunciate well. A voice that carries is also a prerequisite since no amplification devices are allowed. Even if you are planning on having a caller, you should still have your test memorized and be very familiar with it. The rider is ultimately responsible for performing the test correctly: unfortunately, you will have no dispensation if your reader gets late, or calls the wrong movement, or does not speak loudly enough for you to hear the directions. The success of your ride is always up to you.

Finally, your salute is an essential part of your dressage test: it appears twice, at the entry and exit of every test. According to the USEF rules, not releasing one hand in your salute is considered an error. The first error is two points, the second error is four points, and the third error is elimination. So make sure that your judge sees and acknowledges your salute. It is required to put the reins in one hand and to let the other hand drop loosely by your side, while slightly inclining your head in a bow. It is easy to forget your initial salute, possibly just from nerves. People sometimes forget at the end of the test because they are so pleased with their ride that they are too busy patting and praising their horse. Thanking your horse is wonderful and many judges like to see it, but be sure to salute first. Keep in mind that in case of a missing salute, your judge does not need to ring the bell to give you an error.

As far as the salute itself goes, it is more traditional to put your reins in your left hand and salute with your right one, similar to a military salute, but this is not a requirement. You are certainly allowed to use your left hand and there will be no deduction or error for doing so.

Bear in mind that when you cannot find a regulation in the USEF rulebook, then it is not a rule. However, tradition and elegance is always a positive, contributing to a successful ride. Always be mindful about possible elimination situations. Don’t forget your number, and if you realize that you have forgotten it on the way to the arena, go back and get it as soon as possible. Benefit from having a reader, but always assume responsibility for your test. Don’t forget your salute at the beginning or the end of your ride.

Thank you for these interesting questions. I hope you have a wonderful showing season!

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