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Your First Dressage Competition


You have finally found your perfect horse, but riding around at home has started to get a bit boring. You have had a couple of dressage lessons and it seems to be the style of riding that suits your new best friend. Your instructor has suggested that you start entering a few competitions, what a great idea; you may meet some other horse mad people and have a bit of fun.

First off you need to find a competition that is being held in your area and that is at your level. The beginning level of dressage is Preliminary, but most clubs will also hold walk/trot tests (no canter) which are great for first timers. Your instructor maybe able to help out with finding a competition to attend, otherwise talk to your local saddlery shop or local riding clubs.

Once you have selected the right one and entered (most competitions are almost always pre entry, usual about 2 weeks in advanced), you should have a practice of your required test (tests are conducted in a set area called a dressage arena with designated markers, your instructor can help you out with this).

Don’t over practice as your horse may start to anticipate the transitions (change from one gait to another on his/her own), but instead practice the individual movements. Make sure that when you ask your horse to trot, it does, like wise with halt, canter and any other movements required.

Some times you maybe able to have a “caller.” This is someone who stands beside the dressage arena (usually they stand on the outside of the arena at the markers E or B), and calls out, the required movement before you perform it. Even if you know your test really well, it can be a great comfort to have someone there beside the arena with the reminder, just in case. It is great if you have someone you know. But at most competitions there will be someone available, if you can’t find someone willing.

Make sure you have all the correct equipment/turnout and clothing required. Once again your instructor, knowledgeable friend or saddlery shop will be able to assist you.

Sometimes the club (or organizing committee) will post out to you a copy of ‘the draw.’ The draw will set out all the competitors’ names, tests to be ridden, arenas and approximate competing times. If the club does not post one out, then check to ensure your entries were received and didn’t get lost in the mail! When you receive your draw check to see that you are entered in the correct test. Take note of your approximate starting time and arena number.

When first starting out, I would suggest that you arrive to the competition grounds early in the morning too allow you to find out where you will be competing (you may have to pick up your competitors number). This lets your horse relax in a strange environment and allows you the opportunity to see other people competing. Keep an eye on the time, your arena and the draw, so that you know where they are up to and how close to time they are running. You may need to be ready to ride a bit earlier or they maybe behind time.

Everyone’s horse is different and will require a different amount of warm-up. Your horse needs to be relaxed, calm and responsive before you start the test. Between you and your instructor you should be able to prepare a warm up program. Remember to warm up in the designated area; there should be signs or someone to tell you.

Most clubs also require you to have a “gear check” completed before you enter the competition area. This is a simple check that allows them to make sure you have the correct equipment and that your tack is in good working order. If there are any problems the “gear check steward” will tell you what the problem is and whether it requires immediate attention. Don’t panic! If there is a problem, just try to rectify it quickly, most of your fellow competitors will have spare equipment/tack to help you out in a emergency.

Generally each arena will have 2 judges in attendance, usually sitting in their cars at the far or C end. When the competitor before you has finished and has left the arena, start to ride your horse around the outside. This gives you and your horse the opportunity to relax and see the area you will be riding in. It also gives the judges the chance to finish up the last competitors test sheets. Some judges can be slow at this while others are fast, have a look at previous competitors to gauge how much time you will have.

Once the judge (usually the middle one) is ready for you, they acknowledge you. But keep an eye on them too see when they are ready. When they are ride over to center car in a timely fashion. Remember that first impressions count. Generally it is best to side up to the car, facing the arena.

You will be asked you name and horses name, try to be clear and courteous. From this point the judge will tell you that they are ready. And you will normally have 60 seconds to enter the arena after they toot there car horn (or bell).

Ride down the out side of the arena, then start to circle (usually about a 15 to 10 m radius) at the gate (ride so that you are aiming straight at the gate way, this allows you to make a good entrance).
By this stage your ‘caller’ will be in place and may have called the first movement (E.g. A enter working trot, X halt salute). You should of previously practiced you salute at home, watch some other riders to get an idea of what is required.

Take a deep breath, relax and ride confidently into the arena. If things go wrong don’t panic, it’s not the end of the world. Remember to breath – I have hyper ventilated in a test! If the judge toots there horn while you are still competing, it means that either you have done something incorrectly or there is something the judge is concerned about. Ride to the judge (while still in the arena) and see what the problem is. Try not to ride out of the arena till you have finished, as this will incur elimination.

Once you have finished your test, leave the arena at a walk and reward your horse. Some judges will take note of you leaving and the way you treat your horse. Remember to thank you ‘caller’ for a great job and return to your float (depending on what other tests you may have to do).

At the end of the day (or earlier if you are lucky) your test results will be available. Both of the judges will have filled out a test sheet on your performance. There will be comments and a score out of 10 for each movement.

You may need you instructor to help with reading some of this.

Most commonly you will receive a total percentage % for your test (both judges marks combined), the highest percentage score will be deemed the winner. Awards for all the prize winners will be awarded at the end of competition. Even if you don’t win anything, it is still nice to support those that did!

Now that you have successfully negotiated your first dressage competition you can look forward to competing at many more.

Remember to enjoy yourself! Relax and smile throughout the day. Good Luck!

Happy Horsing,
Tina Williamson BAppSci (Equine)
Editor of Horse Lover Gifts

Tina is a professional horse trainer and horse lover. She has a degree in Equine Science and is absolutely passionate about everything Horse. We are happy to welcome Tina to Gifts-for-the-Horse-Lover, where you can find a great range of Horse Lover Gifts.


About Author

Devoted pet owner and now, devoted pet editor, Judi worked in traditional offices, keeping the books and the day-to-day operations organized. Taking her dog to work every day for over a decade never seemed odd. Neither did having an office cat. She knows what it's like to train a new puppy and she's experienced the heartache of losing beloved companions. Retired, she currently lives with her spoiled dog and four chickens (who are, interestingly enough, also spoiled).

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This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a commission for sales referred from links on our site. We're also Amazon Associates, so we may earn from those qualifying purchases, too. Learn more!