Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bugged by Bugs | Ask The Judge

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.


Dear Amy,

I am new to the Aiken area and hope to be showing late this summer and this fall. I have a problem: My mare is very reactive to bugs on her head. We are not used to the gnats that you have here! When I school my horse, she wears a fly hood with ear keepers and this solves my problem. I was wondering if fly hoods are legal at recognized shows? I have seen horses in magazines wearing fly hoods. My friend says I should just ask the judge before I go in for my ride. Could you please clarify?

- Bugged by Bugs


Dear Bugged,

Welcome to Aiken. I am delighted that you will be competing in this area. The gnats can be a bit bothersome this time of year, so I do understand your dilemma.

First, let's look at the USEF rulebook for both the dressage and the eventing divisions.

The 2011 USEF Dressage Rule DR121, Saddlery and Equipment, contains two relevant sections.

DR121.7: Fly hoods (ear covers) will only be permitted in order to protect horses from insects. The fly hoods should be discreet and should not cover the horse’s eyes and will only be permitted in extreme cases at the discretion of the presiding judge(s). Permission must be granted prior to the class, and applies to all competitors in the class.

DR121.8: Fly hoods (ear covers) that do not cover the horse’s eyes are permitted in warm-up and other training areas.

The 2011 USEF Eventing Rule EV115, Saddlery, also has two sections that pertain to fly hoods.

EV115.1: Exercise Areas. The following restrictions begin @ 3 PM of the day prior to the start of the entire competition: . . . Fly shields and nose covers are permitted.

EV115.2e: Dressage Tests. Any form of blinkers, including earplugs, hoods, fly shields, nose covers, are under penalty of elimination, strictly forbidden. However, under exceptional circumstances, fly shields may be permitted by the ground jury. 

So according to the rules in both dressage and eventing, it is possible to ride with a fly shield under certain circumstances, if you have been granted permission. I would recommend checking with the show management or the technical delegate the day you arrive at the show, before the competition.

If you have been granted permission to use a fly hood on your horse, make sure your judge knows this before you go in to ride your test. You can talk to the technical delegate or show management about how to confirm with the judge. If the judge does not know that you have permission to use a fly hood, and you use one, you might be eliminated.  Just because you see other riders competing in fly hoods, do not assume that they are legal at that show, even if the riders using them are professionals. For all you know, the other competitors using fly hoods may be being eliminated!

It is definitely not advisable to wait to ask for permission to use a hood as you go around the apron of the arena awaiting the signal to enter for your test. Having this discussion when you are just about to show takes time and could throw off the schedule, especially if you have to dismount and remove a fly hood. This is not fair to the show management or the other competitors.

 If you do use a fly hood, I recommend that it be tasteful, conservative and neat. If you are wearing one in the warm up, where it is always legal, but not in the test itself, do leave ample time to remove it. You do not want to have a late entry, which is another possible reason for elimination.

I think that many shows are willing to accommodate fly hoods. Judging around Aiken and neighboring areas, I have seen permission granted to use these hoods in the dressage phase of several events. So far, however, I have never seen a fly hood at a dressage show. In fact, the first time I ever saw a fly hood at a dressage show, it was in a recent photo of the professional, Gunter Seidel, competing in an FEI class in Austria. His fly hood was well-fitted and color-coordinated to his attire. 

Here's wishing you much success. Remember, fly and gnat season will be gone sooner than you think.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.