How Judges Score Dressage Horses in Competition

By: Phil Wiskell

While most dressage (a French term meaning “training”) horses are warm bloods – Holsteiners, Trahkeners, Dutch Warmbloods, and Oldenburgs – some American Quarter Horses have also been very successful in dressage competitions. Whether the intent is to participate in basic dressage competitions with your horse or you have goals of reaching international competitions or even the Olympic games, selecting the right horse for the job is important.

In the search for a good competitive dressage horse, the horse must be trained in terms of rhythm and regularity. The horse should be able to maintain a steady and regular gait whether in a pure walk, a pure trot or a pure canter, down a straight path or a winding trail.

Pay close attention to that definition and note that dressage competitions are all about the horses and not the rider; the same is the case with other elements of dressage as well. When it comes to the judge’s decisions about how to score dressage horses, it is up to the horse to perform well against its competitors.

Another factor that judges score is the relaxed and confident behavior of the horse. The evenness of the horse’s gait, a lack of tension and soft chewing of the bit, smooth transitions and a swinging of the tail demonstrate these important factors of the horse’s performance in the dressage competition.

Judges in these events also look at the contact that the riders have with their horses; dressage horses should not pull the hands of the rider and the reins should be held evenly – in other words, the horse should be able to come up into the bridle and should be carried forward in a natural motion.

Just as the pull of the dressage horse is measured, so is its push – the thrusting power that propels a horse forward with correct muscle and joint use. Part of the horse’s push is measured in the straightness of the dressage horses gait, the horse’s ability to move forward with its hind legs following the same path as its front legs.

If you are looking to acquire a dressage horse for future competition, you will want to consider the abilities and traits of the person for whom the horse is intended. While the judges critique dressage horses in competition more than the rider, it is equally important for the rider to be able to guide the horse and to lead it through the judged events. If you are naturally uneasy atop a horse, then you will want to find a horse that is very intuitive and calm. If you were really tall and lanky, you would not want to get a shorter horse, no matter how successful the horse has been in previous competitions.

If a horse being considered is champion dressage horse, then perhaps the horse will not be a good choice for little Suzie to ride, even if little Suzie wants to compete. Little Suzie is still quite young and a champion dressage horse is very expensive. Perhaps more to the point, a champion should compete regularly, rather than occasionally. Another thing to consider is the bond that will develop between little Suzie and her horse, and how Suzie’s participation in the dressage training of the horse will only add to the experience for Suzie.

In other words, when you look at dressage horses, it’s important to recognize that all breeds of horses that are used as riding horses can be trained in the techniques and principles of dressage. If you are an experienced rider who does not have a great deal of experience with dressage – or any experience within the dressage ring for that matter – you’re likely to find that the same American Quarter Horse that you’ve been riding in pasture or on the trail can learn the basics of dressage. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll find that a bit of training as a dressage horse will lead you to a more enjoyable, everyday ride.

Dressage horses are less likely to refuse to do as the rider asks and is comfortable with bit contact. The flow of motion between riders and dressage horses tends to be consistent and will exhibit a constant communication between the two. Dressage horses are balanced and better able to draw on the strength of their hind legs, and have experience keeping a steady pace whether walking, trotting or cantering.

When, as a rider, you are able to focus more on the ride than on controlling your horse, you’ll take more pleasure in each outing that you make. Dressage horses – or, at the very least, horses that have had some experience with dressage – make great horses for kids and less experienced riders: while the rider remains in control, dressage horses are responsive, and that can have a huge impact on the pleasure of riding a horse.

About the Author

Phil Wiskell is a writer for, popular classifieds of horses for sale, used trailers and ranches for sale.

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Article Source: Judges Score Dressage Horses in Competition

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Equine Spring Care Notes

Daily InspectionSpring is officially here in Western Colorado, which is great for two reasons: grass is sprouting, and hay is finally starting to go down in price. With that being said anytime between now and first hay cutting is a great time to find some hay deals. Horse owners will need to anticipate hay prices continuing to be high as many areas in the west are already restricting water due to the drought. Buy your hay early this year during first cutting. In the event that producers are unable to get a second cutting this season or in the event of drought in the south and to the east of us in the Midwest hay prices will only go up.

My favorite time of the year to buy my hay is typically August. Waiting until August this year could be risky if droughts continue. The supply may not be available and the cost may rise higher than it already is. I plan to ramp up my fodder production this year, but more than likely will continue to offer hay to the horses to allow them something to chew on throughout the day. Currently I am feeding 75% fodder and 25% hay, more than likely after I buy hay this year I will go to 50% hay and 50% oat grain fodder. Cost wise it will cost more with the increased hay, but for maintaining the herd health and preventing cribbing I feel it will be a great balance for my horses.

As the grass is coming in remember to gradually allow access to pastures starting with a few hours per day allowing horses to graze freely and only allow horses out onto pastures during the late evening hours into the early morning hours of the day. This best management practice will reduce the likely hood of horses falling victim to grass founder.

With much of the region in drought, remember noxious weed mitigation is crucial right now to your pastures health. Noxious weeds often times spread the fastest in overgrazed, dry pastures. Rotate pastures frequently, keep up on your noxious weed mitigation, and be mindful of how many weeds are in your hay supply. If you cannot rotate pastures, fence off a pen, and feed your horses hay, or forage alternatives such as complete feed, grain fodder, hay pellets, or beet pulp. Keeping horses off a small pasture will save you more money in the end, than the increased feed bill that you initially incur. Preventing noxious weed problems in the first place is always the cheapest form of noxious weed mitigation. Allowing weeds to propagate can not only decrease the amount of forage your pasture can supply your horses, it can also affect your herds health due to ingestion of poisonous noxious weeds, and can get incredibly costly getting the problem under control, then re-seeding pasture areas.

Remember pest control for your horses such as fly spray, fly mask, and sunscreen for our fair-skinned equine friends. Break out the curry brushes, get outside, and enjoy the spring season!

By Jennifer_Hampson