What to expect at your first dressage show

So I wanted to write this post for Melinda, who is going to her very first dressage show this weekend. I know that some of these things sound silly, but I didn’t start riding dressage all that long ago and I remember all the things I didn’t know my first time around. I hope that this post is helpful and feel free to comment and add if you think of it or ask questions if you want to know something!

1) The classic dressage look is all white and black. You can visit my post on dressage show apparel here. If you are a hunter and already have tall field boots, beige breeches, and a navy coat I would recommend just wearing that your first time out with a white shirt and stock tie. Save your money if you are not sure dressage is the right thing for you. The only purchase I recommend you making even if you are just doing a single show is to buy a white square pad. You do not need dressage tack to start with, but the white square pad versus a contoured pad really does make a big difference in the looks department of your horse.

2) Do you have to braid? The answer is…it depends on what type of show you are going to. If you are going to a USDF show, even if you are doing Intro, you really should braid. If you are going to a schooling show I would recommend you braid because it looks better, but you do not have to do it. Just make sure your horse looks tidy and neat and not as though you grabbed them out of the field.

3) Intro? What did you mean by that? Dressage has levels. Ten of them. They go Intro, Training, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Prix St. George, Intermediate, and Grand Prix. Each level has a certain number of tests that go along with it. For example at intro there are 2 tests, at training 4, at 3rd there are only 3 tests, etc. When you go to a dressage show you must sign up ahead of time for your level and what tests you want to do in the level.

4) Test? I am sure you will all get a good laugh at this, but I started riding dressage through the Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA). At my very first show freshman year my team asked me if I was ready for my test. I answered back that I didn’t know we had to take a test. What was I supposed to have studied! They all laugh so hard. In dressage, the pattern you ride is your test. And yes, you really should memorize it because it just looks better impression wise. As though you really put some effort into the show.

5) Check for your times. More than once I have seen someone who came over from hunters not know that times are always posted before the show. These people show up when they think there time should be. Which is often no where near when they were scheduled to ride. You will either call the secretary or check the shows website about 3 days ahead of the show and you can find your time down to the minute.

6) Once you get to the show and go warm up a big faux pas is having your trainer go to the center of the ring. That really is just not done in dressage. Most trainers have a walkie talkie system that they use, or they ask you to ride in a certain part of the ring. There is nothing wrong really with your trainer going to the center of the ring to warm you up, but we dressage riders tend to use the whole ring and you will just stick out like a sore thumb.

7) Once your time has come go to the show ring and ride around the outside of the ring. As long as there is space you are expected to ride around the edge of the ring and not enter the dressage ring itself until the judge indicates to you that it is time. Now, if there is no space around the edge of the ring you can enter the dressage arena without the judges indication, but you cannot start your test yet. You must wait until the judge signals that they want you to start.

8) How is the judge going to signal? With a whistle or bell. Once you hear the judge either ring the bell or blow the whistle you then have 45 seconds to head up the center line and salute.

9) Saluting in dressage is not a military salute unless you are in the military and wearing your dress uniform. Normal saluting in dressage is taking the reins and whip in you left hand, dropping your right straight down to your side, then putting your head down so you are looking at the ground, looking back up and picking your hand up to pick the reins up again.

10) If your first show is a schooling show, the judge might have time to give you a few quick hints after the test, so once you do your second salute proceed at a walk and walk towards the judge up the arena. Once you get close enough to C, say thank you and if the judge wants to talk to you they will do so at that time.

So those are my 10 easy tips so you all fit right in at a dressage show. If anyone wants to add any please feel free to comment!


16 thoughts on “What to expect at your first dressage show

  1. That was really great.

    One thing to add, because this threw me the first time…

    There will be 2 people in the judge’s booth. One is the judge. She/he will stand up after you start up the centerline (for both salutes and the beginning and end). The judge should be lined up at C. Next the judge is a scribe (may be on the right or left depending on how the judge’s box is set up). It is that person’s job to write down everything the judge is saying about your test. That person should not be lined up with C and will not stand. Make sure to pay attention to the judge only, except when you are first going around the parimeter. When you past the judge’s box, the scribe may ask for your number. Even if she/he does not ask, it is a good idea to say good morning and provide your number.

    One last thing that Onthebit is very good at…Have fun even if it looks like no one else is (really we are).

  2. I have a few things to add…

    You cannot use any kind of boots on your horse in a dressage test. Also no extra equipment like a martingale is allowed. You can also only use a single rein until you get to the upper levels. There is also a rule on whip length. There are bits that are illegal so check the rules. You can also not talk during your test. Any of these can get you disqualified.

    You should know your test, but you are allowed to have someone read it to you at the lower levels. This is great if you are a little nervous. It helps you remain calm about the test and it is also nice to have a friendly face at B or E smiling at you.

    At the one recognized show I did it was wet and the judge was in his truck. They used the horn to signal when to start your test. When you register the day of the show ask what they will be using so you will be prepared.

    Smile Smile Smile! It really does make a difference at any show! And don’t forget to breathe!

    • This helped so much! I am doing my first dressage show (schooling) and it is in two weeks. I am super exited for the experience but also super nervous. Thank you!

  3. just a few thoughts:
    -you can wear “leather like” half chaps through first level
    -when you enter the ring say hello to the judge and tell them your number.
    -you only have 45 seconds to enter at A once the judge rings the bell
    – only lunge in specified areas
    – TAKE OFF YOUR POLOS OR BOOTS BEFORE ENTERING THE RING!!! happens all the time but u’ll be dq’ed
    – If your test is being read for you make sure your caller is sanding at B or E and is only calling out the bolded “called” movements.
    -if you make a mistake and the bell is rung, it is ok! the judge will tell you where to pick up again.


  4. Thanks everyone!

    I will be braiding. Farley’s mane is rediciously long and even during lessons the trainer has requested I braid so she can actually see the horse!

    I have problems with smiling. My goal is to SMILE and NOT STARE AT THE HORSE”S EARS!!!!!!!!

    I’ve decided not to use a reader. At the intro level I should be perfectly capable of memorizing the test. If I don’t, it means I didn’t spend enough time thinking about it. That’s why my only goal at this schooling show is to NOT GO OFF COURSE!!!!!!!

    There will be a post on my blog Sunday, while I’m on the show (I have it scheduled) about all my pre-show jitters… 🙂

    LOL – unfortuantely I am not doing dressage after doing hunters. I’m coming from endurance. Trainer? what trainer? What do you mean I can’t wear my purple tights and athletic shoes? You mean my colored biothane tack is NOT allowed? Yeah…..I’ll be presentable, and I’m investing in the small things, but there are going to be some stuff that is missing. For example, I’m going to buy a black helmet cover, hair net, etc., but I’ll be going sans-jacket. I happen to have dark tan breeches, so I’m wearing those. Hopefully by the time I do a recognized show I’ll have white breeches, a jacket, stock tie, and a dedicated dressage helmet.

    Honestly – this is going to be so much FUN! Off to check my ride times….

  5. I did a dressage show in high school (I am a hunter princess through-and-through) and all of these tips would have been really helpful back then! There were so many things that confused me. And I had no idea I couldn’t talk to my mare and kept up a lovely little conversation with her during the test which the judge was kind enough to excuse and score me anyway, since it was a schooling show and I was obviously a fish out of water. Good luck Melinda and have a great time!

  6. Robin – How colored of a colored shirt are we talking about? If you buy a stock tie with a bib (or that is just large enough to cover any shirt) it should not be a big deal what color your under shirt it because no one will see it. At intro tan breeches and black gloves are fine for now until you are sure you really want to do dressage. If you are already set on it I say buy white breeches first and then if you have money left over you can get gloves. Plenty of people ride through training level in hunt clothes so you will not be alone.

  7. I used to ride hunter for most of my life and I’ve showed hunter all my life, I’m entering my first dressage show, but its only a schooling show. It’s hosted at my barn and I’m not sure what to wear.
    I have a coat, beige breaches, white shirt, tall boots(not field), black helmet, and black gloves.

    I’m not sure if I need a stock tie or not, I’m very nervous so if possible could you help?

  8. this is gonna sound weird but how do you know you win. do you come back in the arena as a class like you do in showing? Do i untack straight away after the test? HELP MY FIRST SHOW IS COMING UP AND I DONT KNOW WHAT IM DOING.

    • So I JUST had my first show and I was super nervous but I researched some breathing exercises and trust me, that helped a lot. STUDY A LOT! And your question: I think that it is different for every barn. At the place I showed at, they had this special table in the center of the HUGE barn all our horses were and then they would announce “Training 3 ribbons are on the table, go see how you did!, etc.” So, everyone who did Training 3 would go to the table and they had in order 1st-6th (or 7th or whatever) on a blue or white sheet of paper, that had you and your horse’s name on it, saying what place, what percentage, and what your final score was. This blue or white sheet of paper also had your test on it, and an empty box to the right of it that was filled in with some notes the judges took on how well you did. Now, since it is your first show, make sure you stay calm, and be proud of yourself NO MATTER WHAT your score/place was. I got 3rd for one test, and 4th for the other and I am incredibly proud of how well I did for my first show. So, here are a few tips: BRING YOUR OWN HOSE! At the place I was at, I didn’t know that I had to bring my own hose?!?!???! I had to wait an hour while grazing my little pony, Hannah JUST to bathe her :/ SOMEONE SHOULDVE TOLD ME!!! So, I recommend buying one JUST in case because it was very stressful and we didnt get to leave the show grounds until 10:00PM AHHH! Another thing is, stay as organized as possible, JUST so you don’t loose anything. My tack trunk was sooooo unorganized, and i was trying to get my horse treats, and then (funny story) I got a horse treat, and then tried to find my phone (which bad descision, don’t put your phone in your tack trunk it will scratch) and Hannah (my pony) was like whinnying at me cuz she smelt the treat, and i put my hand up with the treat in it to give it to her and she bit me! So, moral of the story, try to stay organized. AND… oh I just re read the other question wowie… so it depends on your next ride. I wasn’t able to untack her after my first test because my second test was so soon after it, so it just depends on your next ride! Another thing is bring a lent roller because horse hair WILL get on your nice white or black saddle pad and it wont look as pretty in your second test 😦 Hopefully this helped a lil bit! Reply to this so I know how you did 🙂 (I will get an email if u reply so please reply) And remember these tips, and also breathe! Stay calm, and have the time of your life! Give your horse lots of treats, and bring extra money if you can because there were some REALLY yummy fries that you could buy at the place I was at so yeah, you might wanna snack a bit when you have nothing to do! PS; having a caller for calling out your test does not make your test better. It will not take points off of your test, but if you do have a caller, you might get attached to having a caller and be EVEN MORE scared you next show becuase you might not have a caller. So, thats why I said STUDY! There was a girl who goes to my barn who has never had a caller and is SIX YEARS OLD! WAHHT?!?!!?? So, stay calm, be proud of yourself and have SO MUCH FUN! (the hose thing might not apply to you if your bathing you horse at you barn.)


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