Dressage horse show etiquette

Dressage Horse Show Etiquette


Reprinted with permission, written by Martha Koehnlein and Caryl Faso

Caryl and I have both been scribing for many years. After every show, we usually talk about mistakes that riders make, many times the same ones over and over again. So we decided to write an article about things that competitors do wrong (or poorly) that would be easy to fix. Some things are very simple and could easily raise your scores by a point or more. Some things are not very simple to fix and you will have to get with your trainer for more help. But these things happen all the time and we thought that writing an educational article from our point of view might be of help. So here goes!

1. Don’t be late for your test. The judge and scribe sit and wonder where you are. It is your responsibility to know who is right before you and for you to be ready when that person is finished.

2. Before you start your test, ride in front of the scribe and tell her your name and number. This is a simple way for the scribe to make sure she has the correct test. The judge will ring the bell (or blow the whistle) and you have 45 seconds to enter at A. If you are late, you may be eliminated.

3. Be sure your entry is straight and on centerline. Learn how to get your horse straight, then practice. The judge should only see the two front legs at the halt as the hind legs should be right behind the front, not off to one side.

3a. Don’t forget to salute! You must salute when you first enter to start your test and you must salute when you are finished with your test. The salute is telling the judge that you are ready to start your test and that you are finished with your test. If you are riding a test that does not have a     halt at the beginning of the test, then you only salute when finished.

4. KNOW YOUR GEOMETRY! If you are doing a 20 meter circle between E & B, and your circle touches I and L, your circle is TOO big! 4 meters too big. Be sure you know where the quarter lines are. The arena is 20 meters wide. A & C are located half way, at 10 meters. Therefore, quarter lines are at the 5 meter mark, half way between the long side and A & C. When a test tells you to do something at a particular letter, it means when the horse’s shoulder is at the letter. Remember, there are no square circles!

5. If you go off course and the judge rings the bell, stop, turn around and face the judge. He or she will tell you where you went wrong and will tell you where to start again.

6. If you pick up the incorrect lead in the canter, come back to the trot or walk and ask again for the correct lead. If you do the entire movement on the wrong lead, the judge will give you a very low score, meaning movement not performed. If you fix the lead, then the judge will know that you knew you were wrong and you will get a higher score because you fixed it.

7. At the canter, be sure that the hind limbs stay on the rail. Many times the hind limbs drift to the inside, therefore the horse is not straight. Learn how to fix this if your horse canters like this.

8. We can NEVER control the weather. You never know what it will be like. So when schooling at home, teach your horse to go through puddles. If you don’t do this at home, the horse won’t go through puddles at a show. If you are schooling at home and you let your horse stops to poop, he will stop during your test to poop also. Don’t let him stop!

9. On the stretch down circle, don’t just throw your reins away. Allow the horse to stretch down, taking the reins with him. The stretch down circle does not mean without contact, you should maintain contact while allowing the horse to stretch. And above all, do not spread your hands wide. This is a no-no!

10. You should use the corners to your advantage. They help you either get or maintain the correct bend. And unless you are doing a circle at A or C, you must ride into the corner. If you can’t ride into the corner, get some small cones (you can get them at Amazon) and put them in your corners, forcing your horse to go between the rail and the cones.

11. When the test calls for a lengthening, you MUST show a difference between your working gait and the lengthening. A lengthening is created by the horse taking a longer stride and pushing more from behind, not by the horse going faster. This is true at both the trot and canter.

12. After you halt and salute at the end of your test, proceed, walking, towards the judge. Sometimes she will say something to you, sometimes she won’t but you will never know if you don’t ride towards C. As you get closer to C, you will be able to tell if she is watching you or if she is busy writing. If that is the case, just turn and exit at A.

13. Only exit at A. All the tests say “Leave arena at A in walk on a long rein”. If you exit the arena in a spot other than A, you are teaching your horse that it is ok to leave the arena at any spot, not just at A and you will have trouble during your test should your horse decide to exit in one of the open areas. If your horse leaves the arena with all 4 feet, you will be eliminated.

14. During practice for your test, either the day before or the day of the show, there are rules of etiquette for the warm up area. The first rule is to be respectful of others in the warm up. Just because you are riding a higher level test does not mean you have the right to take over the warm up area. Warm up is just as important to a lower level rider as it is to an FEI level rider. If someone is practicing an entire test, please let that person finish the test before you enter. Riding in the warm up is like driving a car, pass on the right, yield to someone if you can see that you will be in the way of a certain movement. Watch out if someone is crossing the diagonal.


Thank you Carol and Martha….these are great suggestions and your timing was perfect! I read this article the night before the ALPHA schooling show and gained a ton of confidence in knowing a few simple changes could make a huge difference!

Good luck to all competitors in any discipline!

Natasha & Xapado

How to Use a Dressage Whip

My previous post focused on how to hold a whip. That’s all fine and good, but unless you know how to properly use one, it can do you more harm than good.

The Wrist is Wright:

Despite the image of a jockey furiously whipping his horse to be the first across the line, the use of a whip in dressage is all about finesse.

The leverage point for a whip is not in the elbow or shoulder, but rather in the wrist. The pinky closes and opens to adjust the angle of the whip.








You should be able to rotate your wrist without the use of your elbow.

If you want the whip lower, you open your pinky. If you want the whip higher toward the croup, close your pinky. That opening and closing may seem subtle but has large changes down by the end.
Now turn your wrist just like turning a doorknob. That is the same rotation to use when applying the whip. You could turn the doorknob sharply and suddenly and therefore give a sharp tap, or you could turn the doorknob gently for a slight touch.

Meanwhile your elbow is busy opening and closing with the gait movements, maintaining the rein length and essentially doing NOTHING with the whip.








A good exercise for practicing this movement without the elbow getting involved is to put your back and upper arm against the wall, with your elbow bent and forearm sticking out in front of you. Rotate your wrist and judge for yourself how much or little your elbow wants to help.  When in the saddle you can then mirror the effects of your at-home exercise.

Ride on,

Tim and Eros

The First Timer’s Guide to Competing Dressage from a First Timer

Tim Russell, March 10, 2017

I’m no expert rider. But I am an expert at being a beginner rider. I’ve been a beginner for about four years now, which makes me uniquely qualified to dispense expert advice on how to be a beginner.

I just completed my first dressage competition, and yes, I won the blue ribbon. The fact that I won first out of a field of two, is beside the point. Everybody has to start somewhere. And like many things in life, it doesn’t matter how well you do but that you just do it. Like Nike says.

So with the first one done and under my belt, here are some wisdom-inspired experiences and tips for those considering or about to go through their first dressage test.

Like you, I admit to having been a bit nervous. I was riding Eros, my 6yo Lusitano gelding in his (and my) first show. Ever. Eros is a pretty mellow guy and it takes a lot to rattle him. That said, he has blazingly fast reflexes. If he spooks, he can go from Keanu Reeves-mellow to Jim Carey-hyper in about 0.004sec and leave a rider flying through the air if one’s core isn’t fully engaged. So I wasn’t sure how he’d react in such a new experience and environment.

Perhaps he could sense my nervousness, but he was nervous too. During warm ups he struggled to get going, he wasn’t collected and had a few diaharrea episodes (much to the delight and mock-disgust of my 10 year old son). But we eventually got ourselves together and did our stuff, earning a respectable 65.4…just enough to beat out the poor 12 year old who was near tears at having lost.

It wasn’t our finest performance. In fact, I was disappointed afterwards since we had ridden the test much better so many times before. If I was getting a 65 on that test, imagine the glory and adulation had we ridden it the way we did in practice the day before! It would have been a 75 minimum, and then I would have been high-point champion!

I think the judge gave me a few freebies too…but that’s the great thing about the introductory tests, and why I’d recommend you just do it. The judges know it’s your first time out there, and generally appreciate the effort and enthusiasm for the sport. They were judging me on a whole different level than they were judging Natasha on her Level 4 test.

The winner:

Accept going into it that something will go wrong
When it does, remember that it happens to everybody. Charlotte Dujardin (http://www.fei.org/bios/Person/10028440/DUJARDIN_Charlotte) on Valegro never got a perfect score, Laura Graves on Verdades (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/10/sport/laura-graves-dressage-fairytale-equestrian/) doesn’t. Neither will you, and don’t expect to. Knowing you won’t be perfect takes some of the pressure off.
Memorize your test. It sounds simple, but this is one of the most important things you can do. Ride the test over and over in your mind so that it’s second nature and you don’t have to think about it. This has two benefits:
Horses react to the most imperceptible movements of your body. And even if you don’t know the exact aids and commands yet, your instinctive body movements coming from having memorized the test will lead your horse’s movements.
You have enough to think about during the test- shoulder position, heels, grip, etc that the movements shouldn’t be one of them.
Talk to your horse. A lot. Before the event and during warm ups, leading into the arena, and even during the test…softly, and away from the judge. It will calm him down and you.
Smile. Like talking to your horse, just the act and effort of smiling will help you (and thus your horse) relax. And the judge will notice.
Review the judge’s comments with your trainer. In no other sport do you get such a detailed critique of your performance afterwards, it’s like getting a free lesson. A judge may have a different perspective than your trainer and it’s a good opportunity to learn from a very skilled evaluator. That’s why they’re a judge.
Have fun and enjoy the experience regardless of your score or standing. I know, that’s trite. But the introductory tests are meant to introduce the sport to horse and rider. You’ll have an entire career to be worried about your standings if you choose to pursue the sport. But for now, enjoy the experience and the bond a competition can instill between you and your horse.
Support and cheer for the other riders! You’ll appreciate it when they support and cheer for you when you’re done 🙂

What about you? Any other tips you can share for those about to go through their first test? Leave your suggestions in the comments field. See you at the next Introductory Test B in a couple of weeks! In the meantime, Love Your Horse! (Www.duchessequine.com)