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Rules You Must Follow When Warming up at a Dressage Competition

Rules of the School when Warming up at a Competition how to dressage

Warming-up effectively for a dressage competition is probably equally as important as your performance in the arena when the bell goes.

Related Read: How Long to Warm up for Before a Dressage Test

When it comes to competing in British Dressage competitions, there are some rules that must be followed when working-in.

It’s extremely important that you are fully conversant with these rules, as failure to abide by them could see you and your horse eliminated from the competition before you even venture down the center line!

It’s worth noting here that many riding clubs and unaffiliated events also use these rules.

Here’s what you need to know when it comes to warming-up at dressage competitions.


If you remember to use only saddlery that is permitted in the actual competition itself for warming-up, then you won’t go far wrong.  However, there are a few exceptions to this.

  • You can warm your horse up in boots or bandages (do remember to remove them before you enter the arena, or you risk elimination!).
  • If it’s the middle of winter and your horse has a rug draped over his quarters whilst beginning your warm-up, you can only use rugs that are designed for riding in.
  • If you are visually impaired, you are permitted to wear a white armband whilst working in.
  • If you want to, and you have a sensible horse, you can work-in without stirrups.
  • In some championships and championship qualifying classes, you are not permitted to carry a whip during the test itself, or when entering the space around the competition arena, although you can use one for working-in. (However, this sometimes backfires as a clever horse will realize that you’ve dropped your whip as you leave the warm-up arena for your test, and he may happily sit behind your leg for the duration of it!  It’s really much better if you can put your horse in front of your leg without the need for any artificial aids so that this problem will never arise.)

You absolutely must not use any of the following aids for warming-up:

  • draw reins or side reins
  • martingales
  • any bit other than a snaffle for classes below British Dressage Elementary level
  • a double bridle, if you are intending to compete in a snaffle

Note that competitors are encouraged to report riders who are seen working-in using inappropriate tack or saddlery.  Organizers are then duty-bound to eliminate offenders.

Rider attire

Riders may work-in in attire other than their competition clothing, although a hat of the appropriate standard must be worn at all times when riders and their associates are mounted anywhere on the showground.

A full list of acceptable hat standards is included in the British Dressage rulebook and on the BD website.

Who can ride your horse?

In all local competitions, your trainer may work-in your horse if you want them to.  However, at the following events, only the person competing in the class itself is permitted to ride the horse:

  • winter and summer regional championships, including music
  • winter and summer national championships, including music

The only exception to this rule is for disabled classes for grade I and II competitors.

If you do require help while working-in, you can use a headset via which your trainer can offer advice, although you obviously can’t use this when you go in to ride your test.


If you want to lunge your horse as part of your warm-up routine, you may do so, provided you obtain the organizer’s permission.

You may use side reins attached to the girth, but not running or balancing reins.  If you wish, you may be lunged by an assistant whilst mounted, and you are allowed to hold the reins.

Related Read: How to Lunge Your Horse


There are a few general rules of working-in etiquette that should be observed, largely to ensure the safety of all concerned.

  1. You should always pass left hand to left hand. The exception to this is if you are riding in counter canter, in which case other riders should circle away from you.
  2. When walking around, remember to walk on an inside track to allow those working at a faster pace to pass you on the tack.
  3. If you need to stop in order to adjust your tack, always do so away from the track and so that you are not obstructing the diagonal and center lines.
  4. Don’t halt on the track or make abrupt downward transitions if someone is riding right behind you.
  5. Always announce that you are intending to enter the working-in area.
  6. Make sure that your whip is not so long that it could upset a passing horse.
  7. Trainers and grooms are not allowed in the working-in area. It’s not acceptable to have someone give you a riding lesson in the warm-up area prior to your test!
  8. If your horse becomes extremely overexcited and disruptive to other competitors’ horses, do the decent thing and remove him! The last thing you want is to end up on the floor while he cavorts around the arena causing chaos.

In conclusion

Many of the rules for warming-up at dressage competitions are designed to make the whole process safe and pleasant for everyone.

If you are unsure of what’s allowed at a competition you’ve entered, always double-check with the organizer beforehand.

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