Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ask the Judge

Questions about Dressage
With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor and 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 between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers’ questions about dressage. Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at McElroyDRM@, or visit her website:

Dear Amy,

I was recently spectating at a dressage show where there were some unusual incidents during three dressage tests. The first: A rider fell off while going around the perimeter of the arena. The bell had already rung, but the rider remounted and entered the ring and performed her test. She won! How does this make sense?

The second: A rider fell off while performing her test. The horse and rider never left the arena. The rider remounted and finished the test. It turns out she was eliminated. Why was she eliminated when the first rider was not?

Finally: During a test, one of the horses slipped out of the arena at the opening at A. Then the rider just kept on going out of the arena, riding away and never coming back. Obviously, this horse and rider combination was eliminated. But, if the rider hadn’t ridden away, and her horse had just come partially out of the arena, would she have been eliminated?

Could you explain the rules on what will get you eliminated and what won’t? I am confused.

Confused at the Show

Dear Confused,

You never know what to expect when you are riding and showing a horse. Even though we practice, horses aren’t always as reliable as we would like them to be. Things happen; horses spook; people fall off. What if you fall off in a show? What if you horse makes an unscheduled exit from the arena? It depends on the circumstances: sometimes you will get eliminated. Sometimes you won’t. Let me explain.

In the first instance, where the rider fell off before entering the arena, the judge would normally advise the rider to remount, as long as there are no injuries and the rider wants to continue. Riders have the right to excuse themselves if they so choose, and judges have the option of excusing the rider if they feel that the horse is dangerous

If the rider chooses to remount, she may enter the arena as though nothing had happened, as long as she does so within 90 seconds of the signal sounding. According to USEF Rule #DR122.5: “Exceeding 90 seconds will entail elimination except where a valid reason is accepted by the judge at C.” Therefore, even if it takes the rider longer than 90 seconds to remount and enter the arena, she still could continue to compete at the discretion of the judge.

Because the scoring of a test begins with the entry at A, falling off while going around the apron of the arena would not eliminate the rider, nor would the rider incur any penalties. If this team had a great ride, then they definitely could be the winner, even with the inauspicious start.

In the second situation, where the rider fell off the horse in the arena, this, sadly is an automatic elimination, even if the horse does not leave the arena. According to USEF Rule DR 122.7F: “In the case of a fall of horse/and/or rider, the competitor will be eliminated. A competitor is considered to have fallen when he has separated from his horse in such a way as to necessitate remounting or vaulting back into the saddle.”

In this case, although elimination is mandatory, the judge has the power to allow the horse and rider combination to finish the test if there are no injuries, the judge does not feel that the horse is too dangerous and time still permits. The judge might even score the remainder of the test for the rider’s education, even though the scores would not count in the standings.

The final case, where the horse slipped partially out of the arena, is not at all uncommon. According to USEF DR 122.7G; “If the horse leaves the arena with or without the rider (all four feet outside the fence or line marking the arena perimeter) between the beginning and end of the test, the competitor is eliminated.”

The judge has the right to give you permission to complete the test for your experience, but is not required to do so. However, you will only be eliminated if all four feet have left the arena. If the horse only goes partially out (one or two legs), as long as the rider brings the horse back in, she would not be eliminated. This would simply affect the score for that movement.

Therefore, if you are not sure how many legs have left the arena, you should keep performing your test. If you have been eliminated, the judge will make a signal to let you know. In the case you observed, the rider would not have been eliminated if the horse did not go entirely out of the arena and she was able to get him back in. Once she left the arena, however, her test was over.

In all the situations you observed, riders should remember to pick up their test sheets from the show secretary after the class has been posted. Even if they were unable to finish their tests competitively, they will still have the opportunity to read the judge’s scores, instructive remarks and comments.

Unfortunate situations happen to everyone from time to time. The good news is that elimination at a dressage show only affects that ride: you are still free to show in the other classes you have entered, and your previous mishaps will not affect your future scores. Judges hate to eliminate riders as much as riders hate to be eliminated and usually feel bad for anyone that must be excused.

I hope this explains how the judge handled scoring these tests and why some riders were eliminated and some were not. These were good questions, and I appreciate the opportunity to give you more insight on the rules surrounding these unusual incidents.

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