(Almost) everything you need to know before you compete (or volunteer!) at a “recognized” show
By Kim F. Miller
Reprinted from the April 2019 USDF Connection magazine
This is the first of three parts. Look for the second part next week.
Thinking about your first US Equestrian-licensed/USDF-recognized dressage competition is exciting—and daunting. Beyond the necessary training, there are the non-riding challenges: learning the show-entry process, untangling the membership requirements, memorizing the tests, and packing the right stuff for yourself and your horse, to name a few of the biggies. Or perhaps you’re interested in volunteering but worry that you don’t know enough about dressage to be able to contribute.
We’re here to help make your first recognized-show experience, either as a competitor or as a volunteer, a positive one. Read on for a head start.
Know Before You Go: Rules and Prize Lists
Spend some quality time reading the United States Equestrian Federation’s (US Equestrian) dressage rules and the prize list for the show you plan to enter.
Rules. The entire US Equestrian Rule Book is huge, but the dressage section is manageable. It contains explanations of movements and other dressage terminology, which will help to clarify what the judges are looking for and to guide your training (useful even if you don’t plan to show). From the US Equestrian website (usef.org), navigate to Compete, Rules & Regulations, Rule Book. The dressage-division rules are in section DR.
Prize list. You’ll find this document posted online—often on the competition organizer’s or host organization’s website—at least six weeks before the competition. (Need help finding a show to enter? Visit your USDF region’s website, or check USDF’s competition calendar at usdf.org.) Judges and other key positions, from competition manager and official veterinarian to the show photographer and videographer, all are named in the prize list. Note the opening and closing dates (the first and last days entries are accepted) and the show secretary’s name and contact information, as well.
Prize lists include important facility information—driving directions, stabling details, arena types and footing, nearby hotels, how to order hay and bedding, whether dogs are permitted, food availability, and so on. And, of course, they list the classes offered, with dates, divisions (e.g., adult amateur, open, junior/young rider), and entry and other fees.
All About Entries
As the competitor, it’s your responsibility to complete the entry form correctly, including furnishing all necessary membership numbers, signatures, and documentation (examples: a horse vaccination record is required; proof of having earned prerequisite scores must accompany most freestyle entries), and paying all required fees. For some riders, dealing with this red tape is the single worst aspect of dressage competition. If you’re confused, don’t be shy about contacting the show secretary with questions.
“Most secretaries are more than happy to help,” says Meaghan Mallory, secretary for the southern-California-based Cornerstone Dressage shows. “A show is for exhibitors, and we want to make it as exhibitor-friendly as possible.”
☞ Tip: Ask your entry-related questions in advance and you’ll help avoid the dreaded check-in bottleneck at the show office, caused by incomplete or incorrect entry submissions.
Today, although show entries can still be submitted by snail mail, most organizers offer the speed and convenience of online entry (see the prize list for details). You may be charged a small fee for entering online and paying by credit card, but many competitors feel it’s worth it for the automatic fee calculations, the auto-fill of information from the US Equestrian and USDF databases, and the peace of mind knowing that the entry was received immediately.
Even if you’re entering online, read the prompts carefully and take your time, to help avoid such goofs as entering the wrong class or division, failing to ensure that your score will count as a qualifier for a championship or other goal, or over- or underpaying.
Signatures. Entry-form signatures are a critical yet often misunderstood step. US Equestrian requires three separate signatures—from the rider, the horse owner, and the trainer—even if all three are the same person. “Trainer” means the adult responsible for the horse while it’s on the show grounds. If the exhibitor is a minor, then the trainer must be a parent or other adult. A fourth signature blank, for “coach,” is only required if that person is paid to instruct you at the show.
☞ Tip: Don’t procrastinate! Popular shows can fill well before the closing date, so enter early.
Memberships and Horse Registrations
With the exception of certain no-memberships-required classes, all dressage-show entries require proof of your membership in whatever organizations, and at whatever categories, are required for the classes you’re entering. At the 2019 California Dressage Society Annual Meeting in January, an entire education session was devoted to a discussion of memberships and registrations—and most of the attentive attendees were not dressage-show newbies. CDS executive secretary Paula Langan lamented the number of disappointed veterans who didn’t have the year-end qualifications they expected because all was not in order with their show entries.
Read on for an overview of what’s required for the lower levels of recognized dressage competition. Be aware that, as you progress toward regional and national goals or have a horse pursuing certain breed distinctions, these requirements get more complex. Find the complete membership-requirement rundown in the USDF Member Guide and on usdf.org.
☞ Tip: Check your USDF and US Equestrian memberships and horse registrations at eqverification.org, where you can print a “master verification” card listing all the memberships to include with your entry or supply if the show office requests.
Before you send in your membership dollars, “my number-one tip is for the rider to identify their goals,” says Mallory. “Are you just looking for the experience [of showing], or do you want to try to qualify for a year-end competition or award? Otherwise, you can spend more money than needed or get a great score that won’t count for the right thing.”
Membership choices for humans: To compete in a US Equestrian-licensed/USDF-recognized dressage competition, you’ll need either to be a member of both US Equestrian and the USDF, or to pay the per-show nonmember fees ($45 and $35, respectively). Unless you plan to be a one-show wonder, it’s cheaper to join the organizations.
US Equestrian membership is pretty straightforward. In order to participate in US Equestrian activities, both the competitor and the horse owner (if not the same person) need a “competing” membership of the appropriate age group, senior or junior.
USDF membership is trickier because there are multiple membership categories. Pick one or more to suit your competitive objectives.
If your goals are limited to participating in recognized dressage competition and to earn USDF rider awards, group membership (membership in a USDF-affiliated dressage club, known as a group-member organization or GMO) is sufficient. But if you want to be eligible for Adequan®/USDF year-end awards or to qualify for Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championships, you’ll need to join the USDF directly—what’s known as participating membership. Many USDF members hold both group and participating memberships, to avail themselves of GMO offerings as well as to strive for USDF year-end awards and other recognition.
Membership (registration) choices for horses: For many types of dressage classes, horses are not required to be registered (“recorded”) with US Equestrian. However, to qualify for Great American/USDF Regional Championships or to participate in many US Equestrian dressage programs, horses must have US Equestrian annual or lifetime recording.
USDF does require a form of horse registration. The entry-level option is the USDF Horse Identification Number, or HID, with which scores will count toward USDF rider awards (including rider medals). If you want your scores to count toward year-end awards and championships, spring for USDF lifetime horse registration.
☞ Tip: If your horse is USDF lifetime-registered, he doesn’t need a USDF Horse Identification Number (HID).
Safe Sport Requirement
New “Safe Sport” rules effective January 1, 2019, add a new layer of mandatory compliance. All amateur sports organizations are required by law to comply with US Olympic Committee Safe Sport regulations, developed to safeguard participants—especially minors—from sexual, mental, and physical abuse. All US Equestrian adult members with “competing” memberships must complete Safe Sport training in order to be eligible to participate in US Equestrian activities. Learn more at usef.org.
Next week: How to Memorize Your Dressage Tests and more