Friday, May 9, 2014

Ask The Judge | 5/9/2014

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,


We recently went to a dressage show in Aiken to watch our granddaughter compete in her first recognized show, and while we were there we had the opportunity to watch our first Grand Prix. We marveled at the fancy trot the horses performed. It looked great to us, but we wondered what it was, and if the judge was as impressed as we were.

                                                                                       - Just Spectators

Dear Spectators,


I’m glad you were able to come out to our local USEF dressage show and that you enjoyed the Grand Prix. The Grand Prix is the highest level in dressage, and is the level that you see at the Olympics. The fancy trots you are referring to are called the passage and piaffe. These are impressive movements. Not all horses have the ability to perform them, because they take great strength, coordination and balance. This is why they are only asked for at the highest and hardest levels of dressage.

Let’s look at the passage first. If you saw the horse performing what appeared to be a slow motion trot around the arena, this is called a passage. The passage is a very collected, highly elevated, cadenced trot, with prolonged periods of suspension. A good passage should have the hindquarters well engaged and active. The height of the toe of the raised foreleg should be level with the middle of the cannon bone of the other foreleg. The aim of passage is to demonstrate the highest degree of collection, cadence and suspension in the trot.

Here is what judges like to see in the passage:

1. Rider sitting in harmony with the horse. The rider should hardly be moving at all.

2. Clear moments of suspension with prolonged engagement of hindquarter. The horse should appear to have significant “air time” with all four legs.

3. The horse is steady on the bit. The neck should be raised and the poll (the top of the horse’s head, between his ears) should be the highest point.

4. Regularity of each lifting leg. Each leg should perform equally and evenly.

5. Impression of controlled power.

6. Expressive, confident and effortless.

If you saw what appeared to be a horse trotting in place, this movement is called the piaffe. The piaffe is a highly collected, cadenced, elevated trot on the spot. In a good piaffe, the horse should not move forward or backward, although at some levels horses are allowed to move forward slightly. Each diagonal pair of feet is raised and returned to the ground alternately, with an even cadence. The height of the toe of the raised foreleg should be level with the middle of the cannon bone of the other foreleg. The toe of the raised hind leg should reach just above the fetlock joint of the other hind leg. The aim of the piaffe is to demonstrate the highest degree of collection, while giving the impression of remaining in place.

Here is what judges like to see in the piaffe:

1. The rider is sitting quietly and in harmony.

2. The horse is willing and lively with forward intent, without moving forward significantly, performing the required number of steps.

3. The horse remains steady on the bit, with consistent elastic contact. The neck should be raised and the poll should be the highest point.

4. The haunches should be lowered, and each step should have elasticity and spring.

5. The movement should demonstrate cadence and regularity.

6. Expressive, confident and effortless.

Other aspects judges look at are the transitions from passage to piaffe and from piaffe to passage. This is the ultimate demonstration of submission and self-carriage, and shows the well-trained dressage horse at his most spectacular. When executed well, it is pure beauty, a thrill to behold, and a joy to judge. At the Aiken shows, we are lucky to have horses performing at the Grand Prix level, so spectators can enjoy and experience the pinnacle of dressage.


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