Monday, July 10, 2017

Questions about Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor, a USEFS judge, and a USEF 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 am an eventer who competes at the Training Level. It was recommended to me to try some dressage shows to help me improve my scores in that phase. Could you give any suggestions, and tell me what differences I might expect between a dressage test in eventing and at a USDF dressage show?

Eventer Chick

Dear Eventer

Entering a USDF dressage show is a great way to help you concentrate on the dressage portion of your sport. We see many event riders competing at our USDF dressage shows – I have even seen the wellknown Advanced Level event rider Jan Byyny competing at USDF shows in Wellington, Florida.

If you are riding at the Training Level in events, you would be able to compete at First Level in dressage; First Level Test 1 is most similar to Training Level Event test A or B. Let’s look at which things are the same and which things are different between the two sports in these tests. 

What is the same; Eventing Training A &B; USDF First Level Test 1: 
1. All trot work may be done rising or sitting unless otherwise stated. 
2. All tests include 15-meter circles in the trot and canter. 
3. All have trot-canter and canter-trot transitions. 
4. All have trot and canter lengthenings. 
5. All have a 20-meter “stretchy” circle (a circle in which the rider allows “the horse to stretch forward and down while maintaining light contact.”) 
6. In all tests, half points can be used for scoring. 
7. In all tests, you are eliminated if you have three errors. 
8. All allow 45 seconds to enter the arena once the bell has sounded. 
9. In all tests, you are required to wear protective headgear.  
10. Your judge will be evaluating your ride in your event test in the same way as in your dressage test. This means that your judge will confirm that your horse demonstrates correct basics and has developed some thrust to achieve improved balance and “thoroughness” while maintaining a more consistent contact with the bit. 

What is different: Eventing Training A &B; USDF First Level Test 1: 
1. The eventing test is held in a small (20 meter by 40 meter) arena; the dressage test is held in a large (20 meter by 60 meter) arena. 
2. In the eventing test, you always enter down the centerline and start your test immediately. In the dressage test, you always enter down the centerline, halt at X and salute your judge before you continue with your test. 
3. In the eventing test the only coefficient (a movement where points count double) is for the free walk. In the dressage test there are three movements with a coefficient of two. These are the free walk, the stretchy circle and the transition from trot to canter going to the left. 
4. In the eventing test, the entire test needs to be performed by memory. In the dressage test, you may do your test by memory, or you may have a caller at ringside to read your test aloud, and there is no deduction in points for this. 
5. In the eventing test, there are four scoring boxes with collective marks 
(gaits, impulsion, submission and rider position.) In the dressage test, there are five boxes with collective marks. There are two boxes for the rider, one for the position and seat, and the other for the correct and effective use of aids. The remaining boxes are the same (gaits, impulsion and submission) except that impulsion and submission each have a coefficient of two. 
6. In the eventing tests the average ride time is four minutes. In the dressage test, the average ride time is five minutes. 
7. In the eventing test, you are striving for the lowest possible final score which is expressed in penalty points: in the 20s, for instance. In the dressage test you are looking for the highest possible final score, which is expressed as a percentage, in the 70s for instance. 
8. In the eventing test, if a horse or a rider falls, the rider will be penalized but will not be eliminated. In the dressage test, if a horse or a rider falls, the rider is eliminated. 
9. In an eventing test, you have 45 seconds to enter the arena after the bell has rung: if you enter after 45 seconds but before 90 seconds, you will get a 2-point penalty. In a dressage test, if you don’t enter the arena within 45 seconds after the bell has run, you will be eliminated. 
10. You are never allowed to perform a dressage test while your horse is wearing boots or bandages. If you forget to take them off in an eventing test, your judge will stop you and allow you to remove the illegal equipment; you will be penalized 2 points. In a dressage test, if you accidentally ride into the ring with illegal equipment, you will be eliminated immediately. 

The good news about dressage shows is that they are often multiday competitions and you can ride the same test once each day. You can enter up to three different dressage tests per day, as long as you are riding under Fourth Level. (In eventing, you only get one chance to do a dressage test per horse, per show.) Even though First Level Test 1 most resembles your Training Level eventing test, you would be qualified to try any of the USDF Training Level Tests, of which there are three. You might want to try First Level Test 2 or 3, which have some movements you might see in your eventing Preliminary Level tests. You are even allowed to compete at two consecutive levels in the same dressage show. 

I hope you take advantage of all the dressage shows available here in Aiken and in our neighboring cities and states. All the extra rides down the centerline are sure to give you and your horse much exposure and experience, which are bound to help you achieve your eventing goals. After all, a good dressage score can set the stage for exceptional performances in the jumping phases, giving you a solid boost up the leaderboard.

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