Monday, July 3, 2017

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, a USEF R judge, and a USEF S judge candidate. She is qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fair Lane 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, or visit her website:

Dear Amy,

I was recently at a dressage show where I watched a musical ride with two riders performing together. It looked like fun. Is this a recognized class? Can anyone participate?


Dear Curious,

Yes, a musical pair ride is a recognized dressage test, formally known as a pas de deux. A pas de deux is a program created by two riders to present their horses to their best advantage in an artistic musical context. It is certainly enjoyable to watch, because it is meant to be an audience pleaser.

 There are no qualifying requirements and anyone can enter this class. It may be offered at all levels from Training to Grand Prix. This class is most similar to a standard musical freestyle ride. As far as the test scoring goes, there is a technical execution side, and an artistic side. The technical side is scored in full or half points (7 or 7.5 for instance.) The artistic side is scored in increments of one tenth of a point – you could get a 7.3 or a 7.6, for instance. Under the technical side, the required movements and the forbidden movements for each level are the same as in the USDF freestyle test for that level. For example, if you did a First Level pas de deux, you would be required to show leg yielding, but you would be forbidden to do flying changes (these are legal at Third Level and above.)

Scoring: the technical side

 The technical side has five scoring boxes, each worth a possible 10 points.  

1. Required elements: each level has certain movements or transitions that must be included in any freestyle or pas de deux at that level. For instance, in First Level there are seven required elements: free walk and medium walk (20 continuous meters of each); leg yielding at the trot (right and left); 8-10 meter trot circle (right and left); lengthening the stride in the trot; 15-meter circle at the canter (right and left) and a change of lead through the trot (right and left.)  The required elements scoring box has a coefficient of three (it counts three times.) 
2. Performance as a pair: this score takes into account the spacing of the two horses, their alignment and their synchrony. This scoring box has a coefficient of four. 
3. Gaits. This score reflects the rhythm and quality of the gaits of both horses. (There is no coefficient for this scoring box.) 
4. Impulsion. The energy, elasticity and engagement of the horses, which should be appropriate for the level at which they are competing. (Again, no coefficient) 
5. Submission. The horses’ willingness to respond to their riders’ aids. The scores for each of these boxes will be tallied for your technical score. The technical scores may be adjusted if you omitted any required movements: you will get a one-point deduction for each omitted movement. If you included any forbidden movements, you would get a four-point deduction for each one. 

Scoring: the artistic side 

The artistic side has four scoring boxes, each with a maximum of ten possible points. 
1. Harmony between horse and rider. The judge will be looking for the fluency of the performance. This scoring box has a coefficient of three. 
2. Choreography. The judge will be assessing the cohesiveness, the use of the arena, the creativity, the difficulty and the balance. This scoring box has a coefficient of four. 
3. Music. The judge will consider the seamlessness and the suitability of the music to the routine and the horses. This box has a coefficient of two. 
4. Interpretation. The judge determines how well the music expresses the gaits, taking into consideration the use of phrasing and dynamics. Your artistic score includes the sum of all the boxes, with a deduction of one point for going overtime. The maximum time for Training through Intermediate I is five minutes. The maximum time for the Grand Prix is six minutes. There is no minimum time. 

Your final score is a combination of the total technical score and the total artistic score, divided by the maximum points available. 

Interesting Facts about the Pas de Deux 

1. Any type of music can be used, including vocals. 
2. You can use leg wraps (these are strictly forbidden in other types of dressage test.) 
3. You are encouraged to use similar equipment: the similarity of the horses’ and riders’ turnout is taken into account in the artistic score. 
4. Horses that look alike and have similar movement will naturally present a pleasing and harmonious picture, but it is not mandatory that the horses resemble one another in color, or even in size and shape. 
5. You can enter the arena in single file or as a pair. 
6. You can compete side by side, as mirror images, in tandem, on opposite sides of the arena or in any combination of these configurations. There is no set requirement for how to present the two horses. 
7. Letters of the arena serve as markers only, so movements do not need to be executed at specific letters as long as their placement is clear and logical. 
8. Horses are not required to be the same level. The lower level horse determines the maximum level at which you can compete. For instance, you can match your First Level horse with a Fourth Level horse, as long as the test you perform is at the First Level. 

When creating your test, remember to show your horses to their best advantage, maximizing their strengths. Try to use the entire arena in as imaginative a way as possible, with balance between the left and right directions. Be creative: do not use a standard dressage test as the basis for your routine. Don’t be too creative, however: make sure that your performance is composed of actual dressage movements and that it is clear to the judge what movement you are performing. 

So find yourself a partner, pick some enjoyable music and start practicing. These tests are becoming more and more popular, especially right here in Aiken. If you are at a show here, be sure to catch Laura Klecker and Sara Odom and their well-matched mounts, who perform the pas de deux at many of our shows. Hope to see you out there!

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