There are some things in the dressage rule book that I'm sure most of us are aware of. For example, whenever I'm thinking about buying a new piece of tack or show clothing I check the Dress, Saddlery and Equipment chapter to make sure it's show legal. There are other rules or guidelines that I think are less well known though. Here are some I found during a recent perusal of the rule book (all excerpts in purple are taken from the Equine Canada Dressage Rules 2016 found here):
Object and General Principle of Dressage
Always worth looking at the big picture:
1. The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education.As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the athlete.These qualities are demonstrated by:The freedom and regularity of the paces;• the harmony, lightness and ease of the movements;• the lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion;• the acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or resistance.2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular, and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.5. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be "on the bit". A horse is said to be "on the bit" when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the athlete.6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter, and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.
This is why I love dressage. The fact that these lovely concepts are the core of the sport is something pretty awesome IMO.
The halt must be shown for at least three seconds.Not everyone seems to realize this. Even if your halt is perfect and square, you'll be marked down if you move off too soon. Read the rest of the sections on the paces and movements too though.
In a movement which must be carried out at a certain point in the arena, it should be done at the moment when the competitor's body is above this point, except in transitions where the horse approaches the letter from a diagonal or perpendicular to the point where the letters are positioned. In this case, the transitions must be done when the horse’s nose reaches the track at the letter so that the horse is straight in the transition.I had wondered about where to do the transition on those across the diagonal movements, now I know!
The scale of marks is as follows:10 Excellent
9 Very Good
7 Fairly Good
3 Fairly Bad
1 Very Bad
0 Not executed
We know the numbers, but sometimes a reminder of their meanings is useful. There's a pretty big difference between a 4 and a 5.
Penalization and Error of Test
- each error of course must be penalized
- first error is -2, second error is -4, third error results in elimination (new for 2016, in some FEI tests, your second error will get you eliminated)
- the judge may or may not ring the bell when an error occurs, but it will still result in penalization, see below
Error of course. When a competitor makes an "error of course" (takes a wrong turn, omits a movement, etc.) the judge at C rings the bell. The judge at C shows the athlete, if necessary, the point at which he/she must take up the test again and the next movement to be executed and then leaves the athlete to continue by him/herself. If ringing the bell would unnecessarily impede the fluency of the performance, it is up to the judge at C to decide whether to do so or not. One example of this would be if an athlete made a transition from medium trot to collected walk at V instead of K. Another example would be a canter pirouette on centre line ridden at D instead of L. In principle, a competitor is not allowed to repeat a movement of the test unless the judge at C decides on an error of course (rings the bell). If, however, the rider has started the execution of a movement and attempts to do the same movement again, the judges must consider only the first movement shown and, at the same time, penalize for an error of course.a) If the bell is not rung and the same error occurs again because the same movement is required to be repeated in the test, only one error is recorded.b) If an athlete performs a rising trot when sitting trot is required, or vice versa, the judge must ring the bell and warn the athlete that this is an error that accumulates if repeated, leading to elimination at the third occurrence.The decision as to whether or not an error of course/test has been made will be that of the judge at C. The other judges' scores will be adapted accordingly.
Error of test
- these are other mistakes that result in -2 but they can't cause you to be eliminated:
Not taking the reins in one hand at the salute
Early entry before signal
Entry between 45 and 90 seconds after the signal
- voice is a special case. The use of voice is to be penalized, but instead of it being an error that results in -2 for the test, the judge is supposed to mark down the score for the movement itself. i.e. if you had a really nice transition that would have been an 8.0, but you clucked, then it would go down to a 6.0 instead.