[Please Note: This post was written by a British Dressage judge and although these rules will be very similar to the rules of other governing bodies, please check the rules and requirements with the governing body that you intend to compete with.]
Although there are no extra marks awarded for turnout in dressage competitions, a smartly presented horse and rider do give a professional image to the judge.
For British Dressage competitions, there are a number of rules governing the rider’s attire and the horse’s tack that must be adhered to. Transgression of these rules can result in elimination, so it’s worth taking note of this brief overview.
Unless the weather is extremely hot and the organizer or judge has expressly given dispensation, you must wear a riding jacket when competing.
Jackets should be dark in color, and although brightly-colored augmentations, such as piping or collar trim, are acceptable, bold stripes or multi-colored designs are not permitted.
Tweed jackets are also permitted, provided that the color is not bright.
If the weather is very wet, you can wear a dark-colored waterproof coat, provided that it’s plain and does not bear any advertising logos.
For classes above advanced medium level, you may wear a tailcoat if you want to.
You may wear a dark-colored body protector over your jacket.
Shirts should be primarily white or cream, without visible, brightly-colored augmentation.
Stocks or ties should be worn and must be white, cream, or dark colored.
Whenever you’re on horseback at a competition, including in the warm-up area, you must wear a hat that has a three-point harness and conforms to the standards laid out in the current rulebook.
Beagler hats are not permitted.
Jockey skull hats may be worn but must have a dark-colored cover that matches your jacket.
Competitors in classes above advanced medium level may elect to wear a top hat.
Breeches or jodhpurs must be plain white, cream, or beige.
You must wear gloves, which may be light or dark, but not brightly-colored.
You can opt to wear either long boots or Jodhpur boots, but they must be predominantly black or brown in color.
You can wear gaiters with short boots, but they must not be brightly colored and should be black or dark brown.
Jewelry, hair, and makeup
Unobtrusive items of jewelry may be worn at your discretion, but dangly earrings can look untidy and also present a health and safety hazard!
If you have long hair, it looks tidier when restrained in a hairnet or in a bun. Subtle makeup is acceptable, but do bear in mind that dressage riding can be hot work and a layer of sweaty foundation does tend to attract dust!
Plaits … or not?
One question asked by many riders is that of, “to plait or not to plait”. The answer is simply that it’s a matter of personal choice.
A smartly plaited horse with a neatly pulled or plaited tail undoubtedly makes a pleasing picture as you come down the center line, but a tidy, pulled mane and tail can look just as good; it’s really up to you.
You may compete in any type of English or Continental saddle, including side saddles.
Seat savers are not allowed, although dark-colored gel seat pads are.
Your saddle may be synthetic or leather, but it must not be brightly colored.
You must ride with stirrups and stirrup leathers, and they must be fastened to the saddle in the conventional way. Gadgets that attach the stirrups to the rider’s boots are not allowed.
Saddle cloths are preferably white, cream, or dark in color.
For all tests up to and including novice level, a snaffle bridle must be worn.
Tests from elementary level and upwards may be ridden in a double bridle or a snaffle.
Bridles should be dark in color and without brightly-colored attachments.
Sheepskin cheekpieces or nosebands are not allowed.
Blinkers are not allowed.
Nosebands must be used and the following are permitted:
- cavesson (compulsory for double bridles)
- combination bridles with no throat lash
- grackle nosebands
Basic snaffle bits only are permitted at all levels and can be made of metal, mixed metal, rubber or nylon.
Please refer to the British Dressage rulebook for the stipulations regarding permissible bridoon and curb bits if you intend to compete at elementary level upwards.
Rubber bit guards are not allowed.
Martingales, draw reins, side reins, or any form of balancing rein are not permitted.
Nose nets and fly fringes are allowed when competing outside.
Boots or bandages are not permitted, although you can use them if you’re prepared to take a six-point deduction from your score.
A neckstrap is allowed at all levels.
A few words about ‘bling’
The current trend for bling is tolerated under British Dressage rules, provided that you don’t go totally OTT; it can be rather distracting for the judge, especially under lights at indoor events, to see a horse and rider decked out in sparkling crystals from head to toe entering at ‘A’!
Presenting yourself and your horse smartly and correctly when competing in dressage competitions not only gives a good impression to the judge, it also ensures that you won’t fall foul of the rules and risk elimination.
The rules of tack and equipment change frequently, so be sure to check the latest free downloadable copy of the rulebook, which is available from the British Dressage website.