Friday, June 20, 2008

Switching Disciplines - Finale

Switching Disciplines – Finale

It has just occurred to me that I had completely forgotten about this last post to finish the series for Switching Disciplines. I suppose a little forgetfulness is allowed at my advancing age. I hope you find it helpful if you are considering switching from hunters to dressage or just might like to try something different to spice things up a bit in your riding.

Through the Judges Eyes

The judging at a dressage show obviously is different from your hunter/jumper shows. The U.S. Equestrian Federation designs most of the tests used in the U.S.; these tests change every four years. Each test is divided into a number of movements. The walk-trot test consists of nine movements and will more than likely be what you will be competing in as a beginner. There is no need at this time to worry about more numbers and movements, which will eventually be 38 at the Grand Prix Special Tests used at the Olympics. Since most of us will never compete at the Olympics, I would not worry about the more difficult tests just now and take one level at a time.

The tests come with directions for each movement, and this is what the judge will be looking for in your round. The judge will score each individual movement separately on a scorecard. What this means for the rider is that, not only will you receive a detailed evaluation of which movements you’ve done well, and which need work, but it also means that if you happen to completely screw up one element of your test, it doesn’t ruin your entire ride as it might in the hunter ring; you will receive a lower score for that element only. There are also collective marks at the bottom of the scorecards for overall quality of gaits, impulsion, submission, and the rider. A score of 0 to 10 will be given for each movement and collective mark by the judge. Your points are added up and divided by the total to arrive at the final percent scores that determine placings. You always get your score sheet after the class so you will see how the judge scored your performance and why.

The judges have scribes that they dictate to during the classes. By doing this, it allows them to see the whole ride and comment on improvements you can make in your riding.

Need to Know

At home, you should practice in a ring similar to a dressage ring. Set up a riding arena, this is 20x60 meters or 66 feet x 198 feet. This is the same dimensions as a large arena. The smaller dressage arena is 20x40 meters. Any flat space can be used and marked out with cones, spare buckets, jump rails, white paint etc. Use the cones for letters too. Diagrams can be found on the USDF site or other online web sites.

It is important for you to practice your tests and patterns before entering a show. In addition, you will need to memorize your tests, even though a reader is allowed, it is always better to be prepared. There is no coaching allowed only your reader may talk, trainers giving input will result in your elimination. No use of your voice is allowed or you will get a deduction in points. Dressage judging is forgiving if you fix your mistakes right away. For instance picking up a wrong lead or diagonal only affects that one box score, so if you make a mistake, don’t dwell on it – fix it if you can, or just move on to the next element of your test. You can go off course three times before elimination; the first two mistakes will cause a deduction.

Before your classes you will most likely school in the warm up ring, you should know some of the basic rules, which are:

Lunging is not allowed in the warm up ring.

Passing left to left is essential.

It is considered rude to walk or halt on the rail.

If you plan to practice lines of flying changes or extensions across the ring call for a clear line.

Dressage shows run on a set schedule. Your ride times will be learned in advance of shows, sometimes online. If there is a scratch ahead of you, it is your choice to go early. If the ring runs late, stay in line and be ready. Each beginner round usually takes about 4 minutes.

You must enter the ring on time. I love this particular rule. If any of you have ever been at the hunter/jumper competitions you should be able to appreciate the set times for showing. It is nothing like waiting a half an hour because a trainer has a “conflict” in another ring. I would love to see this rule implemented in all competitions, as I feel it is just rude to make a whole class wait until one person is ready.

This series has been a general overview of what to expect if you think you might be interested in switching over from hunters to dressage. It by no means takes into account all of the things you will need to know to compete. I would suggest attending a few shows and, if you are interested, find a knowledgeable trainer to help you or else find a local schooling show you can go to by yourself your first time out. In the meantime, the two web sites below offer a lot of useful information. Good luck! If you decide to try Dressage, it could be more fun and challenging than you think!


United States Dressage Federation –

United States Equestrian Federation –

Until next time

Quote for Today

By reason of his elegance, he resembles an image painted in a palace, though he is as majestic as the palace itself.
- Emir Abd-el-Kader

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