Taking your horse to a ‘Party’ is dressage-speak for getting you and your horse spruced up and going off to a proper dressage competition.
This section is to enable you to go out and compete against others and to dispel the myth that those who ride classically tend to be “People in fancy dress poncing about on fat white ponies” (!)
We’ll take a look at:
What to Wear—you don’t need an expensive new wardrobe.
Arena Geometry—How to gain those extra marks without even trying, by correct use of the arena as it applies to the dressage test.
Judge’s Comments—A fuller explanation of what the judge means by the necessarily brief comments they write on your score sheet.
Freestyle Dressage to Music aka The Kür —the fast growing part of dressage.
The rules below apply to the UK. You’ll need to check with the organising body in your own country for what is expected there.
Turnout for the Horse
Do I have to plait / braid my horse?
Plaiting the mane isn’t compulsory, but as you make your entry down the centre line, a clean and tidy horse shows respect for the judge and tells them that you are taking the occasion seriously. If your horse has a long mane (an Iberian or Friesan) a French / Running plait is an acceptable alternative.
Do I have to use a dressage saddle?
A General Purpose (All Purpose) saddle is fine for your first forays in Preliminary level tests. However, if you’re bitten by the bug and intend to compete regularly, a purpose made dressage saddle will make quite a difference and would be worth the investment.
It must be a conservative colour: black, brown, grey or navy, but it doesn’t have to be made of leather; a synthetic one is perfectly acceptable. It is also permitted to ride in a side-saddle.
Must I use a white dressage square pad?
No, any dark or white standard numnah / saddle pad will do.
Can I ride in a seat saver?
If it is of the gel-type memory foam, then these are allowed, but sheepskin / fur fabric ones are not, unless written dispensation has been sought from BD (for affiliated competitions) or the show organiser.
What about the bridle?
This can be leather or synthetic, but it must have a bit. The Micklem multibridle is permitted as a snaffle bridle but it must not be used with bit hooks. The ST Zaum Poll Relief bridle is also permitted. Discreet padding at the nose and poll is acceptable. Bit guards (rubber discs) are not allowed.
Must it have a noseband?
Yes, a noseband is compulsory. With a snaffle bridle it can be a cavesson, drop or flash. Grackles (figure eight) nosebands are not allowed (except in dressage for eventing). With a double bridle only a cavesson is permitted.
What bits are allowed?
You can ride in a variety of straight bar and jointed snaffles, and even some Myler bits are now dressage legal. BD rules state:
Bits of rubber, nylon or other synthetic materials are permitted. Bits must be used in their manufactured condition without any addition to/on any part. Only the bits that are illustrated are permitted (see below). A mix of metals in the mouthpiece are permitted. A plastic snaffle with a cylindrical rotating mouthpiece is permitted. Minimum diameter of the mouthpiece should be 10mm. Snaffles used in Young Horse classes must have a minimum diameter of 14mm.
In the UK you are allowed to compete in a snaffle right up into Advanced level (including National PSG, Inter I, Inter II & GP) unless a double bridle is requested by the selectors. Double bridles must be used for all international FEI tests.
Bit guards (rubber rings on the side of the bit) are not allowed.
Can I warm up in a bit (or tack) other than the one I will use in the test?
Yes, as with all tack regulations, if it is on the accepted list, for your level, you may use it for the warm up and then change to your test tack. You may only use a snaffle bridle for the warm up and test in Preliminary or Novice classes. However, from Elementary up you can warm up in a double bridle and switch to a snaffle or vice versa.
My horse is a ‘headshaker’€¯, can he wear his nose net in the test?
Under BD rules, in certain circumstances headshakers may receive written dispensation to compete in a nose net / nose gauze. A copy of this dispensation must be sent to the show organiser with each entry. For unaffiliated competitions check with each show secretary (unless you are a BD member and already have a ‘note’).
Fly fringes, ear covers and fly veils may be worn in the warm up, but must be removed for the test. A nose net may also be worn (without permisssion) if it is to be removed for the test.
Can I use a martingale?
No running or standing martingales are allowed. You may use a neckstrap in Introductory and Prelim or whilst riding-in at other levels. Balancing straps are allowed (a loop on the front of the saddle attached to the dee-rings).
Breastplates and breast girths are allowed and so is a crupper unless the test is run under FEI rules.
Are boots and bandages allowed?
You may warm up in them, but they must be removed prior to your entry into the arena. Failure to do so can result in elimination.
I’ve seen a red or green ribbon on a horse’s tail, what do they mean?
The red ribbon tells other riders that your horse might kick out if they come too close, and a green ribbon signifies that the horse you are riding is very young, and might be inexperienced in company.
My horse needs to be lunged, can I do this?
Many shows do not allow lungeing in the warm-up area on the grounds that there just isn’t enough space and permission must be sought from the show organiser before you attempt to do any lungeing.
Where it is allowed, the lunge rein must be attached to the bit or lungeing cavesson, and the only auxiliary reins permitted are conventional side reins; no running or balancing reins.
Is it OK for someone other than me to ride my horse in the warm-up?
Yes, this is perfectly acceptable—and it can be useful, if lungeing isn’t an option, to let your trainer, or a more experienced friend, sit on your horse first if you don’t think you can deal with any unexpected behaviour.
The times when only you are allowed to ride the horse are in the Winter, Summer, & Music Regionals and at championships when no one other than the competitor may school the horse from the saddle for the duration of the show; the exception being for disabled classes grade I and II.
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Classical Dressage Notebook