So, what is a good dressage score? As a rule of thumb we can say that:

Adequate - 50+%
Very Good - 60+%
Exceptional - 70+%

The percentage score is arrived at by the marks being added together then dividing that number by the total number possible marks for that test and then multiply that figure by 100.

For example:

99 160 = 0.61875
0.61875 x 100 = 62% (rounded up).

The judge scores each movement on the test sheet out of 10 and the standard definitions for these marks are:

10 Excellent--------Very rarely given. It means as good as it gets.

Very Good-------Not often awarded; you can be very proud when they appear on your score sheet.

Good------------An appropriate level of engagement for the level.

Fairly Good-----  Still a good mark, maybe a minor inaccuracy prevented an 8 being given.

Satisfactory-----The movement was obedient and accurate, marred by outline, perhaps.

Sufficient--------Horse did what he should, but maybe lacking engagement or on the forehand.

Insufficient-------A serious inaccuracy occurred; counter bent; rough transition; head tossing.

Fairly Bad--------A serious problem occurred; lack of control, very late or fluffed transitions.

Bad--------------Now we’re talking severe disobedience; bucking; rearing; napping.

Very Bad--------The horse must have bolted through the movement to receive this!

Not Performed--Self explanatory. Horse didn’t perform any of the required movement e.g. failing to strike off in left canter and continuing on in trot.

OK, you’ve checked your score, so let’s move on to deciphering the judge’s shorthand comments that appear next to the numbers. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but will include some of the most common remarks seen. We’ll ride through a hypothetical lower level dressage test and look at the comments a judge might make about each movement. You won’t actually ride a test like this; it’s just an example of the movements that will be asked for at Novice level. A test is usually ridden as a mirror image with each movement being shown on the left and right rein.

A - Enter at working trot.

X- Halt. Immobility. Salute.

Not on centre line The rider undershot or overshot the centre line.

Halt not square (can be shortened to Halt not ). Forehand and hind quarters not in alignment.

E - Circle left 20m diameter

Circle not round. Fairly self-explanatory. There are no straight lines in a circle!
Circle too large / too small / square. Know what size the circle in your test should be!

E K A - Working trot

Losing rhythm. The clear two-beat gait of the trot is broken, usually through the horse being ridden too fast.

A - Serpentine 3 loops, each to go to the side of the arena finishing at C on the left rein.

Loops not equal. Loops of unequal size. They should be half circles connected by straight lines, not egg-timer shaped.

Between C & H Working canter left.

Jumped into canter. Horse starts his first stride with a visible ‘jump’. Some judges, confusingly, may write ‘needs more jump in canter’ to describe a horse that is flat!

Flat canter. Usually means the horse has no suspension in his canter.

A - Circle left 20 metres diameter

Loop on two tracks / quarters leading. Horse lost straightness and moved his quarters over. (Shows loss of balance and ‘throughness’.)

A F B - Working canter

Between B & M - Half circle left 15m diameter returning to the track between B & F.

Loop on two tracks / quarters leading. Horse lost straightness and moved his quarters over. (Shows loss of balance and ‘throughness’.)

F - Working trot.

Leaning in transition. Judge can see that the rider has too much weight in the reins as the horse bears down on the hands through his neck.

A - Medium walk.

Early to walk. Horse has anticipated the transition and walked before the marker.

K X M - Change rein at free walk on a long rein.

Not enough stretch shown. Horse may have lowered his neck but has not extended it forwards.

Wandering. Not staying on a straight line from K X M.

Tending to lateral steps / Two-beat walk. Incorrect walk when left hind and right fore move almost together and then right hind and left fore, so that the horse is ‘pacing’ rather than walking.

Not tracking up. Hind feet are not stepping well over the hoof prints of the fore feet.

C - Working trot.

Above the bit
. Horse came high in the head with nose too far in front of the vertical.

E - Circle left 15m.

Falling in. This can apply to corners as well as circles and means that the horse is putting to much weight on his inside shoulder and is lying on the rider’s leg.

Falling out. The horse is escaping through his outside shoulder.

Quarters out 
means that although the forehand was following the prescribed line, the quarters had deviated.

K A F - Working Trot.

F X H - Change the rein and show some medium trot strides.

Tight -or short - in neck. The neck is either being held back by the rider’s hands or the horse is very tense.

No lengthening shown / No difference. Judge is unable to discern a clear difference between the transition from working trot to medium (lengthening) and back to working trot.

Running / Rushing rather than lengthening. Horse taking quick short steps instead of slow long ones.

C M B - Working trot.

Unbalanced. Weight too much on the forehand.

B - Half circle right 10m diameter to X.
X - Half circle left 10 m diameter to E.

Irregular half circles. One half circle too big making the other one too small or vice versa.

A - Down centre line.

Horse HollowingHorse’s head came up and his back dipped; no longer on the bit.

G - Halt. Immobility. Salute. (Despite what you may see at top level competitions these are required!!)

Unsteady halt. Horse fidgets; shuffles legs; tosses head.

Resting leg. Horse standing on three legs and resting a hind one.

I hope you will never receive a score sheet quite as negative as this one, but it never ceases to amaze me that many marks are literally thrown away because the rider hasn’t paid enough attention to exactly how the movement should be ridden and so they are penalised on technicalities such as size and shape of circles.

We’ll look at the test again in the next section on Arena Geometry —and this time see how to keep those, so easily lost, points.

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