Horse Riding Lessons Blog

Preparing for Your First Show: Part 2 – The Horse’s Dress Code

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We’ve checked out your show day outfit. Now let’s look at what the horse needs to wear.

The Horse
If you don’t have a dressage saddle, don’t worry. Until you know for sure that you want to ride pure dressage, stick with the saddle you use in your horseback riding lessons since you’re comfortable in it. Saddles are expensive, so you don’t want to rush into a new purchase before you’re ready.


Although saddle blankets come in interesting colors these days, don’t use them in a test! A white one looks more polished, and you want to make a good impression on the judge.

The bridle and bit need to be English not Western style. You’re safest with a snaffle bit or a Happy Mouth (which I use). Make sure you and your horse are used to an allowed bit in your horse riding lessons.

A comprehensive list of permissible dressage show bits can be found in Rule DR121 of the USEF Rule Book at

Rule DR121 covers the dress code. Paragraph 1 covers the saddle, Paragraph 2 covers the bridle, and Paragraph 15 covers bits permitted in dressage.

Even though the rules don’t mention the Introductory Tests – as they were created by the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and not the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) – USEF regulations also apply to the Introductory Tests.

Here are some other simple rules to bear in mind:

  • You cannot use a martingale in a dressage test, but a breast plate is allowed.
  • You should remove martingale stops from your reins.
  • Remove ALL bandages, over reach boots, exercise boots, etc. from your horse.
  • YOU WILL BE ELIMINATED if your horse is wearing anything on his legs!
  • Make sure your riding whip is no longer than 120cm

Check Paragraph 7 of DR121 for a full list of prohibited equipment.

By watching riders at a competition before you enter one, you’ll see how their horses are tacked up. Don’t be afraid to ask competitors questions: they are usually very happy to help.

Next we’ll be looking at how to prepare for show day. 







Preparing For Your First Show: Part 1 – The Rider’s Dress Code

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This month we’ve been assessing your readiness to enter a horse show, and how to successfully compete at the beginner rider’s level of dressage tests.

You can also take a look at the ebook Horse Riding Lessons: Training Yourself to Ride. This is an excellent how-to manual plus explanatory video and a useful horse riding online tool showing how to ride the way the tests require.

The Show

Today we’ll look at how you need to be outfitted for the type of show you should start competing in.

You need to find ‘schooling shows,’ locally run competitions designed to encourage the amateur rider. Look up your area’s dressage association by searching online. At the barn where you take horseback lessons, ask other riders where they compete. Your instructor will be able to help you, too.

The local tack store is another source of information on shows in your area.

The Rider

Since you’ll be starting out by going to schooling shows, the dress code for riders will be more relaxed than at the nationally licensed competitions. Your local horse riding association will give exact details online about their dress code, but you will be safe if you wear the following:

  • a black riding helmet which meets ASTM standards and is SEI certified
  • a polo shirt (white is best)
  • light or white riding pants
  • long black boots, or short boots with chaps (but not the Western kind)
  • white gloves

For this level it’s not necessary to purchase a show jacket, especially since most shows are in the summer when the weather is hot. It’s a useful item to have, but if you use it in dressage or jumping competitions, you also need to wear a stock tie with stock pin on a proper riding shirt.  Save this expense for when you know you’ll be competing a lot.

Go to local shows as a spectator before competing and see what the riders are wearing to get a better idea of what is acceptable.

Next we’ll be looking at the horse’s dress code.

How to Ride the Introductory Tests: Part 3

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This is the final part of our three part series on how to ride your first dressage test at Introductory Level, something you can do early on in your horseback riding training.

You’ve ridden up the center line and saluted: here’s what you do next.

Proceed Medium Walk/Working Trot

Take up the reins while taking a deep breath. Ask your horse to move smartly into the next gait (walk or trot, depending on which test you’re riding) and keep a straight line until you need to turn left or right at C, in front of the judge.

Give your horse plenty of warning that you are going to ask him to turn. At this level it’s acceptable to ride a half 10 meter circle before going down the long side, instead of riding two corners in quick succession. This helps you ride more smoothly.

Circle 20m
Both tests ask for a 20 meter circle in rising trot halfway down the long side of the arena.


The directive ideas say you’ll be judged on the roundness of the circle. Even though it’s not mentioned, you’ll be marked down if the circle is too small or too big. Be sure to touch the track on the far side of your circle accurately at either E or B as required and again when you return to the side you started on.

Keep a good rhythm going, without slowing down. One of the key ways to get good marks in any dressage test is by maintaining a consistent rhythm and tempo throughout the test.

Remember, your marks will be doubled for the circle!

Free Walk
This movement also scores double marks, so it’s worth giving serious attention. Here’s another instance when most competitors dawdle along on a loose rein and take for ever to finish the movement. They get poor marks, throwing away the chance to get extra points for a very easy gait.


Again, be the competitor who impresses the judge with your energy as you really lengthen the reins (keeping light contact) and allow your horse to stretch his neck and stride. In the free walk your horse’s hind prints should reach ahead of his forelegs’ prints.

You’ll be judged on the straightness, quality and freedom of the walks. The more energy you put into them, the straighter you’ll ride and the more freely the horse will move.

This is something you can practice in your horseback riding training every time you get in the saddle. Use your warm up time, walk breaks and trail rides to train your horse to stride out. This way he learns to move well every time you ask for walk.

Medium Walk into Working Trot
Shorten the reins smoothly for the medium walk after the free walk : don’t suddenly pull on the horse’s mouth. Practice going from free to medium walk at home.

You’ll need to shorten the reins again for the transition to walking trot. Practice this, too, so that you don’t surprise your horse with sudden hand actions in the test.

MXK Change Rein
In Test B you’ll be changing direction in trot diagonally across the arena. Keep an even contact on both reins, and start to turn your horse before M, not afterwards. Ride across the arena purposefully, to keep your horse straight, and arrive at the other side before K to give yourself time to negotiate the turn smoothly. Remember to change your trot diagonal as you ride over X by sitting out one stride.
A:  Down Centerline
The most common error is to overshoot the centerline when turning at A. The judge can see how far off center you are, and this will lose you a lot of marks, no matter how good your halt is.


Make your movement accurate by turning a half 10 meter circle from the long side onto the center line, instead of trying to ride two corners. This will keep your turn smooth too, as long as you don’t allow the horse to slow down. Use extra inside leg to keep his energy going in the turn and up the middle line.

X Halt Through Medium Walk


Just as at the beginning of the test, make a smooth transition from an energetic trot down to an energetic walk, and just hold the reins against the movement to achieve a good halt.

You salute in the same way as at the beginning of the test.

Now you can smile (!), pat your horse, and make sure you leave the arena on a free walk on a long rein.

Next time we’ll look at ways to prepare yourself for your first show.





















How to Ride the Introductory Dressage Tests: Part 2

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How to Ride the Introductory Dressage Tests: Part 1

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You’ve decided to use your horseback riding training in a dressage competition and downloaded copies of Introductory Test A and Test B from the link in my last post.

Now you’re staring at the test sheets and wondering how to make sense of them. What do the numbers mean and what are the capital letters for? What are ‘medium walk’ and ‘free walk’? What is ‘working trot’? This looks complicated!

Read on and you’ll find out how simple it really is. You’ll also discover that you’ve already learned the different walks and the correct trot during your horseback riding training.

The Numbers

The numbers in the left column of the test sheet refer to the movements. There are 9 of them and the judge will give you a mark out of ten for each one.

The number 2 appears at intervals on the right side of the page: this indicates that your score out of ten for that movement will be doubled. At the Introductory Level the trot circles and free walk carry double scores.

The Letters

The letters refer to the markers on the outer perimeter of the arena where you’ll be riding the test. You may have these letters already placed at intervals round the arena where you usually ride, especially if your horse is at a boarding barn with competitive riders. From now on, you’ll be paying more attention to them, as you need to perform each movement exactly where the test tells you.

Here is a link to diagrams of the dressage arena. You’ll see two sizes: the small arena and the standard arena. Normally you would ride your Introductory Tests in the small arena, and for your first few shows it’s a good idea to make sure this is the case at the competition venues you choose.

It’s very helpful to go on foot to a show and see how the tests are ridden.

Next we’ll be looking at the test movements (including medium and free walk, and working trot) and the directive ideas on the sheets.











 Here is a link to diagrams of the dressage arena. You’ll see two sizes: the small arena and the standard arena. Normally you would ride your Introductory Tests in the small arena, and for your first few shows it’s a good idea to make sure this is the case at the competition venues you choose.