The best way to impress a dressage judge is to put in the work at home, train your horse correctly along the dressage Scales of Training, and then demonstrate that in the arena on test day.
However, there are a few other things that you can do to help impress the judge.
In this article, we show you how to give your test that elusive wow factor that can make the difference between a high score and an average one.
(Tips from a British Dressage List 4 judge)
Tip #1 – First impressions count
When it comes to riding a dressage test, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so you had better make it a good one!
Although the judge doesn’t begin judging your test until you ride your first centerline, it is true to say that their first impression of you and your horse is what they see when you’re riding around the outside of the arena.
Tip #2 – Don’t be late!
If the dressage judge has a large class to get through, they won’t appreciate it if you arrive late and then expect to be allowed a few circuits around the outside of the arena before the bell! So, keep an eye on your watch and be ready to present yourself on your time or slightly before.
Before you start warming up, ask the steward or organizer if your class is running on time. If they are running early and you have time, get yourself ready, and be prepared to go in ahead of your time. That strategy always impresses the judge, especially if that means they get a longer break!
Tip #3 – Turnout
You don’t get any extra marks for your appearance in dressage, but smart turnout does impress the judge.
It’s not essential that you plait your horse for dressage competitions, but it does create a professional image if you do. So, groom your horse, trim his feathers if appropriate, and plait or neatly pull his mane. Wear a clean shirt, gloves, and a smart, well-fitting jacket and do polish your boots! Make sure that your tie or stock is securely pinned in place so that it doesn’t flap around, and, if you have long hair, wear a hairnet. Jewelry and heavy makeup are inappropriate and distracting, so don’t wear any.
You should also clean your horse’s tack and use a freshly washed saddle cloth, not a grubby, frayed one!
Tip #4 – Say, “Hi!”
Although you should be wearing numbers, it’s a good idea to present yourself to the judge and introduce yourself. That avoids any mix-ups on the scoresheet and is also extremely helpful for the judge’s writer; some numbers are tiny and can’t be seen clearly from the opposite end of a 60-meter arena!
After your test, smile, and thank the judge. That’s not essential, but it does show good manners, and judges do appreciate politeness.
Tip #5 – Before you start
Rather than riding around the outside of the boards waiting for the bell, put in a few circles, some shoulder-in, and plenty of transitions. That keeps your horse focused and shows the judge that you mean business.
Tip #6 – Riding the test
Make sure that you enter on the centerline, not to the right or left of it, and keep the horse straight.
A bright smile and a straight entry never fail to impress!
Related Read: How to Ride a Good Center Line
Tip #7 – Know your level
Don’t be tempted to enter a test that’s above your level. You should always aim to compete at a level below that at which you’re riding at home. Competing is stressful for both you and your horse, so don’t put even more pressure on yourself by picking a test that contains work in which you are not 100% confident.
The dressage judge would much rather see a confident, polished performance at a lower level than a horse and rider struggling and having a disaster by attempting a test that is beyond their current ability.
Tip #8 – Use the whole arena
Don’t cut corners or allow your horse to fall in away from the boards. Not only does that look unprofessional and sloppy, but it makes your job harder, as the arena suddenly seems to shrink to the size of a postage stamp!
Tip #9 – Be accurate
On a similar theme, make sure that all the circles, loops, and transitions that you ride are executed accurately and at the prescribed marker.
Accuracy is demanded by the tests for a reason, and being precise in your presentation of the test is a surefire way of impressing the dressage judge.
Related Read: How to Improve Your Dressage Test Accuracy
Tip #10 – Keep your temper
Horses being horses, they do try your patience at times. For example, why do pots of flowers go unnoticed in your home arena but become super-scary at a competition? But whatever your horse does or doesn’t do, never lose your temper.
Although the judge will be sympathetic, they do not want to see harsh riding and will penalize that accordingly. If your horse gets upset and won’t concentrate on the job, you are best advised to retire from the test and save your horse for another day.
Tip #11 – Salute!
You’d be amazed by how many riders forget or deliberately omit the salute at the beginning and end of a dressage test! Failure to salute correctly brings an automatic two-mark deduction and also looks sloppy as far as the judge is concerned.
When you salute, establish the halt first. Sit up straight, look the judge in the eye, and give a crisp, proud salute. And smile!
Also, after your final salute, do pat your horse and praise him. Judges like to see a rider who makes a fuss of their horse, and that also demonstrates harmony, which is included in the collective marks!
Related Read: How to Salute in a Dressage Test
Tip #12 – After the test
Although it can be tempting to ambush the judge after the marks are released, especially if you’re not happy with your score, don’t do it! Always add up the score yourself. Mistakes do happen, and you don’t want to berate the judge only to discover that the scorer missed out a mark or two.
If there’s a comment that you don’t understand, then by all means politely ask the judge if they have a moment to clarify their remark. But if you think that you’ve been undermarked, it’s best to just accept your score without complaint and move on. Judges generally have long memories, and you don’t want to become known as a complainer!
Aside from schooling your horse properly before you enter a dressage competition, you can also impress the judge by presenting yourself on time, looking smart, riding an accurate test, and being polite.
Do you have any other tips on how to impress a dressage judge? If you do, we’d love to hear about them in the comments box below.
- How to Prepare for a Dressage Competition
- Judge’s Comments Commonly Found on Dressage Score Sheets
- How to Become a Dressage Judge (British Dressage)
- How to Judge a Dressage Test