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Rules Q & A

This page is a consolidation of Suzanne Inglis' Nelson Dressage Facebook posts around explaining the Rules for dressage competitions.

The full ESNZ Dressage Rule Book is at the following link :

1. Explanation of the rules around presenting to the judge.

So firstly, be on time. Keep an eye on the arena, and be ready to go onto the competition arena when the previous person has finished. You are allowed onto the surface as soon as the previous person has completed their final halt and salute.

It is respectful to stop in front of all judges cars on your arena, so the writer can check your number and make sure they are filling out the test paper for the right person. Don't just assume they know who you are, the judge will usually have their head down completing the previous person's paper, so it's the writer who needs to check.

Please be respectful of other riders on the competition surface, while you can walk, trot or canter around the arena, please keep an eye out for others doing the same, especially young riders.

If you are the first person in the class, especially after a break, you are not allowed onto the competition surface until the judges are in their cars. This is because it isn't fair if the first person gets 8 laps round the arena, but the rest only get 1.

Should you choose to ride earlier than your time, once you have entered the competition surface, the judge can ring the bell at any time they choose.

Once the judge rings the bell you have 45 sec's to enter your arena, most judges will try and ring the bell as you are going past E or B, heading towards A, however if the judge is on a tight schedule sometimes they just have to ring it regardless of where the rider might be. While you have 45 second to start, it is expected that you take the shortest route back to A.

Anything that happens before entering at A is not taken into consideration by the judges, and once you are through the gate A, take a deep breath, smile and enjoy the ride for the next 6 minutes.

2. Where can I ride and park at Nelson Dressage?

Referring to the image below:

  • You can park anywhere in the yellow areas.
  • Blue area at the A end of arena 1, please ride at walk and trot only.
  • Green area, in front and behind the building is off limit for horses, due to electrical cables and other hazards.

The area between arenas is also not allowed, other than for walking from between arena 2 to arena 1, please do not ride behind the judges cars.

The rest of the park at your disposal.

3. Basic rules for around the arenas.....

You must be a minimum of 10 metres from the arenas at all time, this is for everyone, riders and spectators. This is simply to ensure the person riding their test has a better chance of not being disturbed by outside forces. So please be mindful when around the arenas that you are not doing anything to disrupt those riding their tests.

The area between judges cars is also a quiet zone, please do not sit on the fence of arena 2 behind the cars, the judges and writers are trying to concentrate, and it can sometimes be distracting when there is a lot of chatter happening behind the cars.

You can warm up anywhere on the park, and can enter the competition arena, either at the A end of the arenas, or at the C end from arena 2. Again please be respectful as you come on to the surface to those riders already in the arena riding their tests. Instructors are not allowed on the surface, they must stay outside the fence. If you are being warmed up by someone, please remember other people are also sharing the space, so try to find a quiet corner well away from the judges.

Once you have finished your test, please move away from the arenas. If you are wanting to carry on and do some further training, please only go back into the warm up arena if it is not too busy, the riders still to compete have priority over those who have already ridden. Please be aware that you are only allowed to continue training for 10 minutes after your test, however you can warm down, on a long rein for longer.

Basically horses in the arena should be given every opportunity to show themselves off to their fabulous best, so just be aware of your surroundings, so everyone gets have the best day they can.

4. Course errors – we have all made them! 

For a full rundown of rules regarding course errors and the penalties incurred see page 39 of the ESNZ Dressage rules.

At most local competitions, tests up to and including level 5 are allowed to be called, however there are some instances such as the super 5 class at Regionals, HOY or Nationals that can’t be, but these are usually well advertised.  If in doubt ask someone on the organising committee before the competition so you don’t get caught out on the day. 

Once the test has started, you cannot have someone start calling from part way through if you have forgotten where you are going. If this happens, go and talk to the judge, and they may allow someone to call for you, but you will have to ride as HC (non competitor), as this then becomes outside assistance. 

There are two types of errors during the test, “course error”, which is if you turn left at C instead of turning right.  Then there are “errors of test”, which is for example, rising trot in your medium trot instead of sitting. 

Course errors, basically if you deviate from the plan, then the judge will ring the bell and hop out of the car... Don’t panic!  If you know exactly where you went wrong, either go down to C and speak to the judge and let them know you have it under control, or clearly signal to the judge you are under control, come round and carry on from the movement before you went wrong, but do make sure the judge is back in the car first.  If you are having a complete mind blank, ride down to C to talk to the judge, they will tell you where you went wrong, feel free to ask where the judge would like to you start again from, which should give you a few more moments to compose yourself.  Just remember it's only 2 marks off (per judge in DNZ national tests) and you can make that up somewhere else. 

For an error of test the judge may opt to not ring the bell if it will spoil the flow of the test, however if it is a mirror movement and they don’t stop you after the first one, they can’t mark you down for the second one.  But regardless of whether or not the judge rings the bell you will still receive a penalty for a course error. 

If you have started a movement, and it turns to custard, and you decide to re-ride that movement, you will be given a course error and the judge will only mark the first attempt, however it may then mean you get a better flow onto the next movement. 

In DNZ National tests, for the first course error you receive 2 penalty points per judge off, second course error 4 penalty points per judge, and third is elimination. For ALL FEI tests it’s a little more costly, with 2% for the first error, and elimination for the second. 

The biggest obstacle is to not let the error take over the test, the best riders in the world make course errors, just take a deep breath, let it go and carry on, many people have still gone on to win a class with a course error.

5. Saddlery – too bling or not too bling that is the question

Firstly, for a full list of legal saddlery and the penalties for illegal saddlery go to page 57 of the ESNZ dressage rules.

But the main ones are –

Saddles - yes you must have one on, and no it doesn’t have to be a dressage saddle. You can use, dressage, jumping, GP, side saddle, or treeless providing it looks similar to an English type saddle. It can be black, brown, navy or grey… sorry no pink. You also must have stirrup leathers and stirrups.

Bridles – Any traditional snaffle bridle can be used in all levels, and a simple double bridle from level 5 up in National tests. They must have a noseband and throatlash. Bridles can be black, brown, navy or grey, again sorry no pink…. but they can have discreet bling. Just a wee warning about using bling on your bridle, while it might make your horses head look even more gorgeous, it also draws the judges eye to your horses head, and if your contact is not the best, all the judge sees is the horse's head moving, so sometimes plainer is better.

Bits – There is a full list of bits on the ESNZ website, basically if you can’t find a picture of your bit.... then you probably can’t use it. But do make sure you read the rules around the bits in conjunction with the pictures. And you can’t change how you use your bit to fit the pictures, for example a dutch gag is still a dutch gag, just because you have your reins on the “big ring”, doesn’t turn it into a loose ring snaffle… true story!

Saddle cloths – Any plain colour is allowed, it doesn’t have to be white.

Boots and bandages – anything goes in the warmup, but all must come off before entering the area around the arena or you may incur penalty points, or if you still have them on once you have started your test, you will be eliminated. These aren’t allowed in the test, simply because they could be covering up a wound or blood.

Monkey straps – yes

Toe cages – yes

Neck straps – yes in levels 0, 1 & 2 only

Breastplates – yes

Nose nets – yes

Ear hoods – yes

Ear plugs – no

Martingales – no

Bit guards – no

Running reins – no

Body Bandages - no

With the exception of boots/bandages and running martingales, you can only use equipment to warm up in that is allowed in the test. So you can’t warm up your level 3 horse in a double bridle and then swap to a snaffle just before your test.

For most shows the start of the competition is usually midnight the night before the show. For the bigger shows it could be 24 hours before the first class, usually this will be stated on the entry form. Obviously what you do at home is your business, but when on the competition ground the rules will start to apply.

With all rules it is ultimately up to each competitor to know which gear you can and can’t use. And be aware that rules change with the different types of classes or competitions that you’re riding at.

At the end of the day, having the sparkliest flashiest gear will not stop you from doing a creepy halt.

6. Accuracy – prepare, prepare, prepare!

Not everyone who comes to dressage is riding a purpose built dressage machine. In fact many riders are riding home built, backyard specials, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t produce an awesome dressage test.

If you’re not blessed with a horse with an excellent 10 trot, but instead a fairly good 7 trot, then it’s up to you as the rider to make sure you are doing everything you can to stay on that 7. Some riders can lose up to 10% of their marks just down to inaccurate riding, which is throwing marks away.

If you aren’t sure just how big a 10m/15m/20m circle is… work it out, put some poles out to help you get the feel of the size of the circles, then practice riding those circles round the arena, in the corners, at various markers, so at any point you know exactly how far into the arena you should be going.

Use the corners and short sides! A vast number of tests have movements starting at a quarter marker, and immediately before that quarter marker is a corner, and if you have just let you horse slob around that corner, is unlikely you are going to be well set up for the movement coming up fast. So go as deep into the corner as you can while still maintaining a good rhythm and balance, get your horse straight and set up for the next movement, so when you hit that quarter marker you are giving yourself the best chance of doing that movement to the best of your ability.

While your horse might be quite a superior being, its most likely not a mind reader, so warn it when something is about to happen, make sure they are listening and ready for your aids before giving them the signal.

All movements start at the first letter of each movement, so movement 1 carries on until the first letter in movement 2 etc etc. Each movement starts when the riders shoulder goes past the marker. When movements are on the diagonal, the movement must be performed on the straight line of the diagonal, before the horse’s nose reaches the markers. For example if the movement is across the HXF diagonal in canter left lead, and trot at F, the trot transition needs to happen while still on the diagonal just before the F marker, while the horse is still straight.

Read what the test actually wants you to do. MXK Show 5-7 lengthened strides in trot, does not mean use the M corner to wind the horse up, do as much as you can across the diagonal and then use the next corner to come back. The judges need to see clear transitions in and out on the straight line, don’t ask for too much, as soon as you think this feels great… stop asking! The horse’s natural momentum will carry on for a few more strides and then come back.

Practice halts and free walks. Every test has at least one halt in it, as it goes up the grades maybe three halts, so teach your horse to stand square at home, so on competition day there is a fairly good chance they will just automatically square up in the halt, and try and keep on the contact. Every test also has either a free walk or later an extended walk, and they always have a co-efficient, so practice your walks, practice letting the horse take the contact down and out and bringing it back without jogging or getting distracted.

It takes 10,000 repetitions for something to become a habit, so practice practice practice at home so it just becomes second nature in the competition, so on the off chance the nerves kick, your horse will have it all under control!

Don't settle for a 6 for that centreline, keep practicing till you can do a 10 every time.

7. Did you know…..commonly asked questions

Plaiting – It’s not actually compulsory to plait at any level for national classes. “Normal plaiting of the horse’s mane and tail, however, is allowed”, is what it says in the rules. However having the mane plaited does show off the horses frame a lot better, and just looks tidier in general. Any kind of mane plaiting is acceptable, whatever shows off your horses neckline the best. False tails may be used, but may not contain any metal parts.

Turnout – while having a sparkly clean horse in not a requirement of the test, putting in a little effort is appreciated by the judges. You want the judges to be sitting up and taking notice, and a smart turnout gives the impression you are ready to put on a good show and have come well prepared… hopefully!

Horse leaving the arena during the test - All four feet must leave the arena to be eliminated, so if you’re quick enough to catch the horse with 3 legs out and 1 in and you can get all feet back in, you aren’t eliminated. If you have a horse that is skilled at leaving through the entrance at A, you could ask your organising committee if it’s possible for a gate to be used, however what happens for one rider must happen for all riders, so you may need to find your own volunteer to do the gate for the whole class.

Callers – when having your test called, the caller is only allowed to say what is written in the test, they are not allowed to add comments or you could be given course errors or eliminated. It is fine however to ask the caller to repeat a movement if you didn’t hear it clearly.

Horse Identification – during an event, at all times while on the grounds, a horse must be wearing an ID tag or bridle number. If tied up to float, or in the stable or being grazed out, the horse must have a ID tag on, and at all times when being ridden must be wearing bridle numbers. This is simply so your horse can be identified at all times, and should they decide to go for a wander round the grounds without you, the organisers know who to return the merry traveller to. ID tags should have the name of the person responsible for the horse, their phone number and the horses name.

Other people riding your horse – from midnight before the competition till the completion of the competition, no one else may ride your horse. You may though have a groom ride your horse, at walk only, on a long rein. If someone does ride your horse during the competition you will be disqualified for the rest of the competition, you may be allowed to ride the rest of your tests HC, if you go and ask permission from the organising committee first.

Saluting - You can salute with either hand, but it needs to be the one not holding the whip. When doing your final halt and salute, just remember this is the final thing the judge sees before summing up your test… so don’t rush it! Make sure the halt is established, do your salute, put a big smile on your face and pat your horse. We like to see people make a fuss of their horses at the end of a test. We like to have the image in our minds that Harold is going back to the float to get a carrot, rather than a smack with the carrot stick.

8. A slight deviation from the usual rules post. I attended DNZ Conference last weekend, and was asked to be part of the panel discussion, on my view as an official. Which got me thinking, in what ways can the riders help your local area... so here goes.

What can you do to help your local group?

Behind every dressage group is a usually small bunch of hardworking individuals, whose main aim is to make sure you as the rider have the best day you can…. So what can you do to help?

Get your entries in on time. There are a substantial number of jobs that need to be done once the entries close, and for each person who asks if they can put in a late entry, that is a delay in getting that job done. Tell us at the time you are entering if you have some special requests, we are happy to oblige if we can. It’s easier to alter things before the draw is started, than after.

Pay your entries on time. Again, it is time out of someone’s day to contact you to remind you.

Check you are in the right class. With most entries being done on Equestrian Entries now, it’s very easy to pop back in and check you have entered the correct classes, don’t leave it till the draw comes out to contact us to tell us you’re in the wrong class.

Don’t complain about your start time. Someone has to go first, and there is usually a long list of people who have to ride at a certain time to work around their jobs they are doing to help the group, so if you are not one of these people, then offering to do a job just might get you a more favourable start time. “I don’t want to go first, the judges need time to get there eye in”…. actually no, our eyes are fine thanks, they tend to have started working as soon as we wake up.

Offer to help. Many areas are struggling to get volunteers, so to keep the events running they are having to pay people to do the jobs, which means entry fees go up. So bringing a packet of bikkies along on the day is lovely, but not really helping the problem. Offer to write for an hour, offer to pick up test sheets, learn how to do the scoring, help wash the dishes, the list is endless…..

Thank the sponsors. Most groups rely on sponsors to keep the groups afloat, and all they want in return is a thank you. Again without these sponsors, entry fees would soar, so if nothing else thank them for helping keep the fees down.

Stay for prize giving. Yes we know you have had a long day, and you want to get home…. So do the organisers of the show who have been on the grounds since before any riders have arrived, and will be there after the riders go home, having to clean up. So stay and support the prize giving, you just never know when the sponsors might be in attendance.

Don’t gripe about your score or the judge who gave you that score. Just remember, judges are just like you, they have off days, they make mistakes, they get tired towards the end (aren’t you pleased you rode early now!), try sitting in a car for 8 hours + and still be able to concentrate as well as you did at 10am. Don’t assume that judge you moaned about is not also kicking themselves for making a mistake.

Thank your hard working committee. After a long day, a smile and a thank you goes a long way. We are all involved in the sport because we love it, but unless you look after and support your committee’s, you just might find one day they aren’t there anymore.

If you are walking past the office, call in and say, is there anything I can help with? Maybe a test paper needs to go back to a judge to get a mark, or a paper is not signed. You have no idea how a smiling face at the door asking if you need hand can turn a pretty shite day / moment into something amazing. We feel the love!

I know it seems daunting and that everyone looks like they have jobs or know what they are doing but just the offer to help is great and plus you may just meet some pretty amazing new people who could be your besties for ever!

I would just like to give a wee shout out to Rachel Burns for her help with these posts, she is my rules/grammer/spelling guru.

Happy training everyone.

9. Graded Riders Dress – Does my bum look big in these breeches?

Firstly, for a full list of legal dress and the penalties for illegal dress go to page 71 of the ESNZ dressage rules. These rules are for our own national tests, they may differ to requirements for FEI.

Jackets – It can be any darkish colour. Up to level 5 wear a short jacket, and level 6 and above may wear short jacket or tails. A contrasting colour can be used on the collar, and accents.

Breeches or Jods – don’t have to be white, can be any pale-ish colour like, cream, banana, grey or beige. They may have a contrasting full seat, but the contrasting colour must be a dark colour, like black, brown or grey.

Shirt – Stock or tie/choker collar. Any colour, but don’t go to wild.. Bear in mind that should the OC permit that you can ride without jackets on a hot day, your shirt shouldn’t be blinding the judges. Also if you are wearing a stock or tie and are allowed to ride without your jacket, the stock or tie must be pinned down, so keep a few wee safety pins in your tack box.

Boots and chaps/gaiters – They don’t have to be leather, but need to look like leather. You can either wear, short boots, shorts boots and gaiters or long boots. If wearing short boots and gaiters, they should be the same colour.

Helmet – MUST be of current standard and reg tagged. Can be any colour and have bling. A helmet must be worn at all times when mounted at a competition, from the start of the competition till the end, and it must be securely done up. If you happen to have a groom riding another horse of yours in the warm up or arena familiarisation sessions, they also must be wearing the correct helmet.

Gloves – compulsory from level 1 upwards. Can be same colour as the jacket, or black, white or off white, but unless you have very still hands stay away from the white…

Spurs – are not compulsory in any level run under ESNZ/DNZ rules, but also can be worn at any level, please check the rules to ensure your ones are legal.

Whips – Can be used in all tests level 5 and below, above that, it depends on what competition you are riding at. Maximum length is 120cm including flapper for hacks and 100cm including flapper for ponies. It doesn’t have to be a dressage whip.

Just the same as saddlery, there is a lot of bright, shiny flash gear available now, but you are there to show the judge how well you have prepared and trained your horse, not to blind them with colour and bling. Having said that, arriving well presented sets a good tone.

Happy training everyone!

10. Warm up Etiquette… the do's and don’ts 

You can only use equipment while warming up, that is allowed in your test, with the exception of a whip, boots and bandages or a running martingale. Remember you must have your bridle numbers on. 

Find out exactly where you’re allowed to ride. If there is a blocked off warm up section on the competition arena, usually there would a restriction of how many riders can be on there at a time. This would usually be advertised either in the program or in the event info. 

Look around you. This is a warm up arena, not a game of pinball, so stop looking down at your hands, (trust me they won’t fall off because you’re not looking at them), and look around your surroundings. Try to avoid doing an emergency stop, without checking if there is someone behind you first. 

Keep left shoulder to left shoulder, but be aware not everyone knows this rule… (well they will now) 

Using your voice. Your horse might do his canter transitions a millions times better with you clicking vigorously at him, but the horse/s next to might also have the same signal, and you maybe don’t want a pile of horses doing their enthusiastic transition’s all at the same time, so try to keep any verbal commands discreet and in your own bubble. 

Coaches/Trainers. If you are being warmed up by someone else, anyone on foot is not allowed on the warmup surface, so If you don’t have a set of ears on, it might pay to go over to a quiet corner to get your instruction, you don’t want to be giving everyone a free lesson. 

Keep your distance. As from the 1st August the new rule about having ribbons in the horses tails comes into effect. Red for a kicker and green for a young/novice horse. If you see someone having issues with a upset horse, give them space, but at the same time the onus is on the person with the misbehaving or upset horse to move away from others, for obvious safety reasons. 

Riders riding at the higher levels get right of way. If you see a rider doing lateral work, try and keep out of their way. However, if you are the higher level rider, please be considerate of others when doing extended canters, and do them on the outside track, once you have a clear path. No one needs a horse thundering up behind them. 

If someone is helping you removing boots or adjusting items, come off the surface so they can do it without playing dodgems, or if you are adjusting your girth don’t do it on the outside track. 

When lunging, single direct side reins, or double sliding side reins (triangle) are permitted. Lunging is allowed with one lunge line only. You are not allowed to ride a horse or pony while it is being lunged or to ride in single direct side reins or double sliding (triangle) side reins. Find a quiet area to lunge your horse, preferably away from where people are riding. 

And remember, everyone is having their own kind of struggle in the warm up. For some it might be getting the best transition, or maintaining the contact, for others it might just be coping with riding in a group. 

Be mindful of the fact, that you’re not the only rider in the warmup area. If you cut someone off, say sorry. Share the space and be respectful. Be kind…it costs nothing. 

Happy training everyone!

11. How to ride the ...

Perfect centre line  - Unless you are a GP rider on a GP horse riding at level one, chances are you can’t go the full sixty metres of an arena keeping the horse straight and having a bit of flexion. Yes you are quite right that you have a corner to go round once you get to C, but you have a lot of straight line (and a halt from level 2 up) to negotiate first, so just have your horses head in front of its body, you can ask for a little bend once you hit G. Kids are experts at riding centre lines, because their one thought is to go from one end to the other, where adults unfortunately have a million thoughts going through their minds, which creates wiggles. As you are entering the arena, pick a spot off in the distance behind the judge car, stare at it and just do an active trot down to C, it’s a lot easier to stay straight when doing a more active trot. 

Give and retake the reins – this does require a little bit of practice. So to start with, in most of the DNZ tests where this is required, it is both hands must go forward.  Now I realise some of the judges might look a little blind, but trust me we can see when you only move one hand forward, we can also see when you just lift your hands up. Your hands need to go forward up the neck line to the point where there is loops in both reins. When you move your hands forward, do it slowly, your poor horse is not going to stay relaxed with your hands shooting up behind his ears without warning. The judges are wanting to see that your horse is in self carriage and is not being held in the frame. 

Stretchy circle at trot – the number one thing this tells us as judges, is if stretching your horse is something you do on a daily basis. Ideally the horse should follow the contact down as you let the reins slide through your fingers, they need to maintain the same balance, rhythm and tempo. If this is not part of your daily routine, start introducing it at the end of the ride when the horse is tired and will be more willing to stretch. 

Leg Yielding – Before the leg yield movement, you turn a corner at A, so practice the corner and then going straight. Don’t start the leg yield from the momentum of coming round the corner, or all you will achieve is the horse falling out through the shoulder. Come round the corner, show a few strides of straightness and then start. The whole idea is to show that your horse can move away from your leg aid and that you can control the movement, so it’s not how fast you can get back to the track, but how well you can control the amount side motion so you get back to the track at the correct marker. 

Final halt and salute – I’m just going to mention this again, as a reminder….. don’t rush it! While this final part of the test, might be the first time some riders have taken a breath since starting, just take a few moments to do it well. Make sure the horse is standing securely, make sure they are attentive and on a contact, take a deep breath, do your fabulous salute and smile, drop your reins and give your wee star a big pat. Just remind yourself you have paid a lot of money to be in front of those judges, so make the most of your money and don’t rush it. 

We are coming toward the end of the Winter series, so if anyone has any other rules and things they would like explained, feel free to let us know.

12. Following on from last week’s how to….

Free walk on a long rein.  Unfortunately this is not a well-timed rest break mid test. Your horse should be able to walk faster than you can, so if it takes you five minutes to go across the diagonal at walk, then it’s a safe bet that your horse isn’t marching. Teach your horse to walk actively at home, every time you give him a rest break, make sure the transition to walk is a good one, and then practice letting the reins out and make him march, think purposeful steps, and then practice gathering the reins back up again. What you do at home is what you will get in the arena, and you want to be able to do as little as possible and leave it up to your trusty stead to do the work for you. Just remember every free walk or extended walk from level zero to grand prix is a double coefficient, so it’s worth practicing and getting right. Just like in the stretchy trot, the horse should take the contact down and out with the nose being the most forward part. They should have ground covering steps and swing over the back. Do not bring your hands wide and down to pull the horses head down… judges aren’t keen on that picture.

Show a few lengthened strides.  Whether in trot or canter, the judges need to see clear transitions in and out on a straight line.  So sorry, but that means you can’t or shouldn’t use the corners to accelerate or brake. Make sure the horse is straight before asking, the power can’t come through from behind if the horse is crooked. If the test says show 5-7 lengthened strides in trot, we are not sitting in the car counting, but it does give you an indication of how much we expecting to see. So try and centre it in the middle of the diagonal which should give you plenty of space to do clear transitions either side. At the point when you think it feels amazing, STOP ASKING or you will be in canter by the time you hit the track. Lengthening does not mean going faster, if you’re struggling to find the lengthening button, try doing it over trot poles, and just gradually move the poles out so they have to stretch more for them, and then try and continue that trot on. Also until you have found the button, try doing it along the wall of the arena or a fence line, it helps them balance more.

Just one more thing to ponder, do you reward your wee precious for getting things right or simply for trying. Many riders never give their horses any positive feedback, they might be quick to tell them they have done it wrong, but not so quick to reward for a good try. Just imagine next time you have a lesson if your trainer said nothing all day but “do it again”, 99% of us would be assuming we are getting it wrong and would try a different approach, even though we may have actually got it spot on, but they just hadn’t told us. Horses are no different they don’t know if they are doing it right or wrong unless we tell them. Everyone likes to be told they are doing a good job... posh dressage ponies are no different!

13. Unexpected incidents. 

Just when we think everything is going perfectly… Boom! Something happens. So what do we do when unexpected incidents happen? 

From the time you enter the arena at A till the time you leave the arena at A, you are not allowed to dismount, or you may be eliminated. So if during your fabulous final halt and salute you drop your whip, don’t jump off to fetch it. Should you drop anything in the arena, or if you spot an unexpected item in the arena, finish your test, leave the arena and either give someone your horse and you run back in, or send someone else in to grab it. 

If in the middle of your test, a loose horse decides now is the time to have a play on the arenas, just stop and wait for the wee cherub to be captured again. Then go and talk to the judge and ask what they would like you to do. It is at the discretion of the chief judge at which point the test will be restarted. If your horse is quite unsettled by the incident, you may be able to ask if you could represent later, should the schedule allow it, but you will only get marked from the point in the test where you stopped, the portion of the test already marked would stay. 

Same conditions applies for musicals, should your music fail during the test, or if your music is not playing correctly, stop and go and speak to the chief judge. Should the problem not be able to be fixed immediately, you may be sent out and another time decided to come back and carry on with the test. It is up to the rider where they restart from either from the beginning or from where the music failed, but again the marks for movements already given would remain. 

Should you have an equipment malfunction before starting your test, go and find the steward or someone in charge immediately and see if it’s possible to move your start time to give you more time to fix the problem, even at the big competitions there is usually some flexibility if you ask nicely. 

As much as we would like everything to be perfect all the time, things do go wrong and with horses they can go wrong quite often. Just remember everyone there helping is doing their best so the riders can have an enjoyable day, and that you get a lot further ahead by asking for help than demanding it. 

It's just over five weeks till the first regional show of the season… happy training everyone! 

14. FAQ for entering the summer shows at Nelson Dressage

What time will I be riding? 

The morning classes will be in the morning and afternoon in the afternoon etc, but what time each class will be ridden is solely dependent on entries, and we can't answer that until entries have closed and we start putting the draw together. If you want an early start (or late, with a good excuse), we will do our best to accommodate, but there is no guarantees, we have a lot of factors that determine where a class is in the schedule for the day.

What do I wear in the ungraded classes?

You can either wear the same as in the graded classes, or you can wear pony club or riding club uniform.

There is a run down of correct clothing the the dressage page on July 18th which will go through all the various items you need.

What fees do I have to pay for ungraded classes?

Obviously the entry fee for which ever classes you are wanting to ride in. The admin fee per day, this covers all the fees that we as a group have to pass on after the event. Membership for the rider, you can either become a ESNZ Introductory member which is $40 per year, and covers you for all ungraded classes for all ESNZ disciplines, the horses don't have to be registered with ESNZ. Or you pay a causal day levy of $10, per day. So if you think you might come to a few dressage days, becoming a intro member is the better option.

Can I ride just one day?

You can ride just one test, or just one day, or both days, totally up to you, just enter the classes you want to do, just be aware once the draw is done, we are unable to switch classes should you change your mind.

Do I need to plait?

Its nicer if you do, but its not a rule that you must.

For those who haven't seen the rules posts, have a scroll back, they started about June, and have a read, most of your questions will be answered, but feel free to keep asking more

15. Who do I talk to about questions/queries/concerns?

We all have best friends, but friends don’t always have the correct answers, so if you have a query, the best people to ask is a judge or steward or someone on the organising committee of the show you’re going to, because chances are they know the rules, and if not, they know where to find them.

The full dressage rules are on the ESNZ website, they are easy to follow, and here is the link

ESNZ Dressage Rules

If there is a rule you are unsure about… ask! Unfortunately saying you didn’t know after the fact, won’t get you off the infraction. Whatever saddlery/dress you are using, run it past an official so you know absolutely you are not using illegal gear that could get you eliminated.

On competition day, should something go wrong, for instance your bridle snapped as you’re getting on, go over to the secretary’s office and they should be able to send you in the right place for help. If there is a steward on the grounds go and find them, and then they can see if you can possibly ride in a later spot to give you time to get the problem fixed.

Once you are at the arena, the minute you set foot onto the surface you are under the control of the judge/s. The judge sitting at C is the chief judge for that class, and should you need to tell them or ask them anything, this is the person you need to speak to. Same applies at the other end, if you have questions or concerns about your test. Go and ask at the office if you could speak to the judge/s and they can organise a time with you for this to happen. Most judges are more than happy to sit down with you and go through your test, but just be mindful that they may have been working all day and might not be available till the end of the competition. Bring your test paper with you, and please don’t be offended if you don’t immediately know who you are, they may have judged 40+ horses that day. All judges want to be giving out 8’s & 9’s instead of 3’s & 4’s, so if we can help you in any way, we will.

If you feel you have ridden the test of your life and your 5 friends also watching felt you are ready for the level 2 olympic trial… but the judge’s comments and marks differ from what your friends saw, go and discuss with the judge, they are the one person who can tell you where you’re going wrong and how you can improve, because unless your friends are scoring 90% then they might not have all the answers either.

The best saying I heard recently was don’t ever complain sideways, only complain up. Moaning to your 5 friends that you disagree with the judge, other than getting you some sympathy, won’t actually help, but going to talk to the judge just might.

Outside of the arena, you are under the control of the stewards. They are the loveliest bunch (and quite possibly the hardest working) at any competition. They are there to ensure that everyone is following the rules, that everything is safe for horse and rider, and that the welfare of the horse is the foremost in everyone’s mind.

Just remember everyone there in an official capacity… judges, stewards, TD’s, organising committee are all there to ensure you enjoy your riding and have as a successful day as possible, and are always happy to help, so please remember to be respectful and a thank you goes a long way.

This will be the last in the series, so I hope everyone has enjoyed it, and wishing everyone every success with the upcoming season.

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