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How to Use Your Dressage Scoresheets to Improve Your Next Test

How to Use Your Dressage Scoresheets to Improve Your Next Test

Every time you ride in a dressage competition, you will receive a scoresheet at the conclusion of the class.

So, what do you do with your scoresheets?

Some people keep dressage scoresheets simply for posterity if they are awarded especially good marks. Other riders keep sheets that they need to retain as qualification material for championships.

But the most successful, savvy riders use their dressage scoresheets to improve their next performance, and you can do that too.

In this article, we show you how!

Test analysis

After every competition, take time out to analyze your dressage scoresheets in-depth to get the most benefit from them.

Sit down with a cup of coffee and a notebook (or you can use our Dressage Performance Analysis Book – see below), and go through your scoresheets with a fine-toothed comb. You’re looking for anything that you can use to immediately improve your next test and devise a plan for long term goals.

Remember that dressage judges are highly trained and very experienced, usually as competition riders and trainers. So, their comments should be regarded as helpful and constructive, not merely as an excuse to deduct marks from competitors!

For your analysis exercise to be most effective, you’ll need to use the scoresheets from your last two or three competitions.

If you have video recordings of your tests, use those too. Watching the video and comparing your performance and scoresheets movement by movement can be a great way of seeing problems that you might not have been aware of before.

Understanding your dressage scoresheet

Before you can use your dressage scoresheet to improve your next performance, you must first understand how to interpret the sheet.

Marks and comments

First of all, it’s very important that you don’t get too hung up on the actual marks and the overall score that you receive for the test.

Here’s why.

Essentially, the marks you’re awarded for each individual movement will correlate to the comments that the judge makes. The marks that are awarded should reflect the definition given in the Scale of Marks that’s printed on the top of the scoresheet.

For example, if the judge thinks that your 20-meter circle was quite nice, you’ll most likely be given a mark of 7, which equates to “fairly good,” according to the Scale of Marks.

Judges are not required to make a comment unless they give a mark of 6 or below, and that can make it a tad tricky to interpret your sheet, especially when some judges’ interpretation of the Scale is slightly at odds with others. In other words, what one judge might think is worth a mark of 7, someone else might only view as deserving of a 6.

Therefore, you can see right away that where one judge might award you 70%, a different judge may think that your performance was only worth 65% for exactly the same test, even though both judges’ comments are very similar.

So, although points make prizes, it’s the judge’s comments that are the most useful to you when using your dressage scoresheet to improve your future performance in the arena, rather than the score you were given.

Collective and overall comment

Of particular interest are the comments that appear alongside the Collective Marks at the bottom of your scoresheet.

The Collective Marks are awarded for paces, impulsion, submission, and for your riding position and the effectiveness of your aids.

The judge’s comments in this section of the scoresheet relate to your horse’s overall way of going and the way in which you rode and presented the test. You can use these comments to create a framework for future improvement in all these areas.

Understanding the judge’s comments

Most riders who have been competing for any length of time will have a good understanding of the judge’s comments that appear on their dressage scoresheets.

However, if you’re new to the sport, you might find a few of the often-used phrases are somewhat confusing. Check out this article for clarification on just what those comments mean.


Dressage Performance Analysis Workbook

Here at How To Dressage, we created a workbook specifically designed to help you analyze your dressage scoresheets.

For more information, click below to view the book on Amazon. Alternatively, for more interior photographs, you can visit our Facebook Page.

Dressage Performance Analysis: Record and Evaluate Your Dressage Tests Results, Identify Ways to Increase Your Scores, and Improve Your Future Competition Performances.
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Dressage Performance Analysis: Record and Evaluate Your Dressage Tests Results, Identify Ways to Increase Your Scores, and Improve Your Future Competition Performances.
Record and review:

  • Dressage test details
  • Collectives, errors & penalty scores
  • Judge details & comments
  • Personal bests
  • Warm-up notes
  • Highest scoring movements
  • Lowest scoring movements
  • Quick improvements
  • Long-term improvements

Step 1 – Quick wins and quick fixes

Before you analyze your scoresheet in-depth, begin by taking a quick look over the sheet to see if you threw away marks through making silly, unnecessary mistakes.

Many marks are lost through a competitor’s lack of understanding of the basic rules of the competition. So, before you rock-up at the event, make sure that you’ve read the rules from cover-to-cover first!

Here are a few common oversights that you can avoid next time:

  • incorrect dress
  • incorrect tack
  • saluting incorrectly
  • carrying a whip/wearing spurs when not permitted

Related Read: Correct Turnout for Horse and Rider in a Dressage Competition

Wrong course!

Another common slip-up that’s made by a surprisingly high number of competitors is taking the wrong course.

Learn the test beforehand or have it called for you on the day, just in case you go wrong.

Most event venues offer to provide competitors with a test caller in exchange for a small donation to a local charity, so you needn’t worry about not having someone to call for you if you go to a competition on your own.

Related Read: What to do if You Make a Mistake During a Dressage Test


Look for comments relating to a lack of accuracy on your part.

So, if you notice remarks such as, “circle too small,” “circle not centered,” “left of centerline,” or “early to the track,” then you know that you need to smarten up your act as far as being accurate is concerned.

Step 2 – Common denominators and long-term training

As you read through each scoresheet, you will most likely find a few common denominators.

For example, are you always marked down for not halting square? Perhaps every centerline you ride is left or right of center. Does your horse always hollow and rush during the medium trot, or does he drop behind your leg every time you ride a free walk?

Compare the comments that you receive for all the work on each rein. Do all your circles and turns on one rein lack bend while you have too much bend on the opposite rein? Does the judge always remark that you are leaning to one side or continually looking down?

These are all clues to fundamental factors in your horse’s way of going and your own riding that should be addressed during your daily schooling sessions.

Make a list of everything that’s highlighted more than once, and use your notes to create a training plan that will gradually improve your overall performance.

It’s also extremely helpful to go through the list you’ve made with your trainer, who will then be equipped to help you in devising an ongoing training regimen that will address the points raised.

Tortoise and hare

You will now have two sets of notes or lists. One set will contain “quick wins” that you can address right away.

The other list will contain observations on the horse’s basic way of going that will take more time and systematic training to improve.

Competition level

Something that will quickly become evident when studying your scoresheets is whether you are over facing your horse with the level at which you are competing.

A good way of checking that is by comparing the comments with the basic Dressage Scales of Training. The Scales apply to every level of competition and must be securely in place before you move from one level to the next.

For example, if you are competing at elementary level and you are continually being given comments such as “lacking bend” or “circle too big” on the smaller circles that are demanded in the test, it’s likely that your horse is not yet sufficiently submissive and supple to the bend to be able to perform the movements adequately at that level, especially if those remarks are accompanied by “on the forehand!”

In that case, it may be advisable to step back a level in competition while you are working on developing the horse’s lateral suppleness.

Related Read: How to Know When to Move up to the Next Level in Dressage

Next steps

Each time you compete, read through your scoresheets and compare them with the lists you made. All the “quick fix” items on your list should be gone!

Gradually, you will see some of the comments that kept cropping up that related to the horse’s way of going begin to disappear, as your revised training program takes effect, and your horse progresses in his schooling.

Don’t panic if you start to see different comments appearing on your scoresheets! That’s to be expected as you and your horse progress up the grades. All you need to do is apply the same analysis technique as before, and use your findings to take your performance to the next level.

In conclusion

Your dressage scoresheets can be a goldmine of information that you can use to dramatically improve your performance in competition.

When analyzing your scoresheets, remember to pay more attention to the judge’s comments than to the marks you receive. As the horse’s way of going improves, your marks will automatically go up.

Do you have any other tips on how to use your dressage scoresheets to improve your next performance? If you do, share them with us in the comments box below!

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