“Ask the Experts: Showing After a 15 Year Hiatus” (Dressage Today, November 2011)

Congratulations on your decision to start showing again after 15 years!

You will be happy to know that our sport has grown tremendously since you last came down the centerline.

At today’s shows, we tend to see higher-quality horses, better riding and training, and larger classes at all levels. More riders, both amateurs and professionals, are moving their horses up the levels, and we see greater numbers of entries at the FEI levels than ever before.

We also have a plethora of quality shows to choose from, run by more experienced, knowledgeable management staff. Shows tend to run better on time and have better stabling and footing, due in part to USEF rules, USDF educational materials, and more comprehensive feedback systems.

Due to the greater number of shows being offered, riders can be pickier about which ones they wish to attend, so the higher-quality, better-managed shows have prospered.

Judging has also become better and more consistent, due to an ever-growing and improving judges training program, of which we have one of the best in the world. Don’t be surprised if you find more comments on your test sheets than you had in the past, as judges are encouraged to give riders more feedback, especially for scores of 6 or below.

As far as rules changes are concerned, I strongly suggest you consult a copy of the new USEF Rules, as many have changed considerably over the years.

Some notable changes are: one may use a double bridle in third level tests, or a snaffle in FEI tests* at national competitions. (Exceptions are published in the USEF Rulebook) Whip length has changed, and then changed again:  currently whips may be up to 120 cm long. The time allowed to enter that arena after the judge rings the bell is now 45 seconds instead of 60, and riders up to first level may now wear half chaps, as long as they are brown or black, and of smooth leather/leather-like material.

Errors have also changed: you may now accrue only two errors, with elimination upon the third.

Another notable change is that protective headgear, although always allowed in the past, has become more popular and accepted among both amateurs and professionals.

It is not unusual to see an FEI rider performing a test wearing a tailcoat together with a helmet.

As for the new tests, effective December 1st, 2010, several changes have been made.

First, we now have only three tests per level. Riders may post the trot in all tests up to first level, and the difficulty of the fourth level tests has been reduced, making them more “horse-friendly” and not as close in difficulty to the Prix St. Georges.

Also, the Collective Marks have changed. The “Gaits” score no longer has a coefficient, and the “Rider” score (still worth a possible 30 points) has been divided into three sub-scores, worth a possible ten points each: Rider’s position and seat, Rider’s use of aids, and Harmony between rider and horse .This gives judges a way to more thoroughly assess a rider’s performance, and to give the rider more accurate feedback.

In short, much has changed in our sport in the last 15 years, and you are wise to educate yourself on the rule and protocol changes. I wish you luck at your next show, and hope that you have a wonderful experience. Happy showing!

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