Understanding How Dressage Scores Work

Dressage Test Scores

The sport of dressage is growing in popularity, which means more people are practicing the sport and preparing for competitions and shows. More people are discovering dressage as spectators as well. Whether you are practicing for your first schooling show or want to understand the scores being given in televised competitions, here is a guide to help you understand dressage scores.

What is a Dressage Test?

A dressage test is used to measure the performance of the horse and rider in a dressage competition. Dressage mastery is measured in levels (sort of like belt colors in martial arts), and the horse and the rider can only move to the next level by acquiring a score of 60% or above in the

previous level. This way, the rider, and the horse improve on the dressage basics and gain skills required before moving up to more demanding and complex movements that make up the higher levels of the sport. For example, when you watch dressage in the Olympics, those competitors are at the “Grand Prix” level, the highest level that can be achieved. This means the rider and horse are confirmed as being able to correctly perform all movements.

Who are Dressage Judges?

Each country has its own licensing and training requirements to become a dressage judge. In the USA, the national governing organization for dressage competitions is the United State Dressage Federation, USDF. For international competitions, judges must be licenced through FEI, the Fédération Équestre Internationale. Judges are accomplished riders themselves

and strive to be as objective as possible when evaluating competitors and assigning scores.

What are Dressage Judges are Looking for?

Mainly, a dressage judge looks for harmony between the rider and horse. At the lower levels, a judge will want to see a solid foundation of the basics of dressage training based on the dressage training pyramid. Each movement has a directive of what a judge should consider the ideal standard of that specific movement.

How are Dressage Tests Scored?

A dressage test involves riding a prescribed pattern and sequence of movements. Each movement gets a mark of 0-10 points. Certain parts of the test will be designated as coefficients, meaning they count double. It’s important to know what part of the test is the coefficient so that it can be prioritized when practicing for the test. There are also scores given at the end of the test, called collective marks. In USDF competitions, collective marks are scores for gaits, submission, impulsion, rider’s position, and correct and effective use of aids.

Your movements and collective marks determine your overall scores. All points are added together, divided by the total possible points, and multiplied by 100 to create a percentage score. The rider and horse with the highest percentage is the winner of the class. The dressage scores are assigned by the dressage judges on a
scoring scale of 0-10 as follows:

  • 0 – not performed
  • 1 – very bad
  • 2 – bad
  • 3 – fairly bad
  • 4 – insufficient
  • 5 – sufficient
  • 6 – satisfactory
  • 7 – fairly good
  • 8 – good
  • 9 – very good
  • 10 – excellent

What is Considered a Good Dressage Score?

A dressage score should be 60% and above to be considered appropriate. This means that you scored a scale of 6.0 on each movement the horse makes. Thus, if you have a 60% or more score, your score may range between satisfactory and excellent.

What is the Dressage Pyramid of Training and What does Each Level Mean?

The dressage pyramid is listed principles required in training a horse to understand the dressage basics. The pyramid of training is vital in the proper exercise of the horse at all levels of the sport. According to the U.S. Equestrian Federation, dressage of pyramid training has several levels, including:

  • Rhythm: The horse should express rhythm with energy and tempo and maintain balance depending on its level of training. Each movement should be clear, pure, and follow a consistent cadence.
  • Relaxation: According to USDF, relaxation refers to a horse’s physical and mental state during a series of movements. The horse should move with elasticity and suppleness and cooperate with the rider during each activity.
  • Connection: Steady and consistent connection from the rider’s hands, through the reins to the horse’s bit. The horse should show acceptance of the bit by quietly chewing, and may produce a foam around the mouth.
  • Impulsion: The horse should thrust with energy despite being controlled by the rider. The thrust during training and exercise helps the horse develop strength in muscles and self-carriage in each stride.
  • Straightness: Refers to the alignment and balance when the horse’s forehead and hindquarters are straight when the rider is riding. The gymnastic exercises allow the crooked horses to straighten and maintain contact with the rider, even when riding in circles or corners.
  • Collection: Your horse shows collection whenever he goes low, engaging his hindquarters to support his base. In return, this increases the lightness of the forehead and self-carriage. Thus, the mass of the horse shifts backward, his topline is straight, his neck raised, and he offers strong steps.

Ways to Improve Your Dressage Scores

Riding is a challenging sport because the rider and the horse need to work in harmony. However, gymnastic training and exercises of the horse and the rider ensure quality dressage test scores in every completion. You need to learn the dressage basics to have good dressage test scores. Here are ways to improve your dressage scores in any event.

Be Prepared

You should prioritize practicing, and find an educated and accomplished instructor for lessons and coaching. Repeat your test several times and watch others do the same test to ensure you have the correct pattern and movements memorized.

Choose the Right Test to Ride

When training, you need to select an appropriate test for you and your horse. Each test requires different movements and requires you and your horse to differentiate all steps. Thus, choose a test that your horse can easily engage in and perfect.

Put the Test to Work

After picking a test that seems suitable for you and your horse, you need to put it to work for better results. This helps you understand the challenges your horse is facing and how to improve each movement.

Ride an Accurate Test

The rider needs to understand the markings in the arena and how the horse should move in the marked alphabetical letters.

Bottom Line

An understanding of the training pyramid, diligent practice of the test, and help from a qualified instructor will help any rider and their horse achieve respectable scores in the dressage arena.