Dressage Showing From A to X – Part 2

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WILL THIS BE YOUR YEAR? For many dressage riders, competing in a recognized show is an attainable goal. (SusanJStickle.com)

(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 second of three parts. You can find the first part here. Look for the third part next week.

How to Memorize Your Dressage Tests

Even Olympians have been known to struggle to remember their tests, but first-timer nerves can make it especially hard. Happily, there are plenty of tools and tricks; it’s just a matter of finding the ones that work best for you.

IDRESSAGE: With the USDF Dressage TestPro app, you can study the tests on your mobile device

The tech option. The USDF’s Dressage TestPro app debuted last fall and is available for iOS devices now, with Android compatibility expected this summer. The app gives users access to the 2019 USDF and US Equestrian dressage tests (Introductory to Fourth Level), even without wi-fi or cellular service. You can listen to an audio transcription of each test movement, review step-by-step movement diagrams, or draw the test pattern yourself, with corrections from the app as needed.

Visualize your ride. Some riders learn best by visualizing riding the test as if they were watching themselves on video. Or watch actual video: Look for videos of well-ridden, high-scoring tests on YouTube. USDF’s new On the Levels series of DVDs or streaming videos shows how to ride the tests, complete with expert commentary and training tips. Others like to trace the pattern on paper or in the air with a finger. Still others “ride” the test on foot in a marked-out “arena” in a back yard or a parking lot.

Take comfort in knowing that most competitors ride off course at one time or another. If it happens to you, try to shake it off and focus on riding the rest of the test well, advises New Jersey-based trainer and FEI-level competitor Amy Howard.

“Don’t ruin the whole test by dwelling on one mistake,” she says.

RIDER’S HELPER: In some cases, having your test read can soothe show nerves (Jennifer Bryant photo)

If a student is clearly nervous in the warm-up or struggling to manage an unruly horse, Howard may advise having someone read or “call” the test. A reader is permitted at recognized shows with the exception of championship classes (check the prize list).

“If you’re having to focus on something else, like a spook, it can be really hard to remember the test,” says Howard, who adds that competitors still should endeavor to memorize their tests. Using a reader “should never become a crutch,” she says.

Your Show Packing List

HOPE I BROUGHT EVERYTHING: Showing takes careful planning, packing, and time management to ensure the best possible trip down center line (Andrea Waxler Kaplan photo)

Dr. Susanne “Suzi” Lanini says that it took her about two years of regular showing to arrive at the right list of what she needed when hauling her 19-year-old Arabian, Just in Kayce, to a dressage competition. The small-animal veterinarian from Rancho Cucamonga, California, who hopes to move “Justin” up to Prix St. Georges this year, shared her list with USDF Connection. Use “Dr. Suzi’s” list as a starting point for creating your own packing list, which you may wish to modify depending on your needs and the weather. Your veterinarian may be able to suggest additional items to pack in a portable equine first-aid kit.

  • Hose and large water bucket
  • Smaller bucket for water at trailer if hauling in
  • Hay net and grain bucket or grain pan
  • Mounting hardware, double-ended snaps, bucket hooks, etc., if stabling overnight
  • “Ugly” halter and lead to leave on the stall door (nice ones may “walk away”)
  • Step stool
  • Emergency contact info for horse and rider. If stabling, bring something that can be taped to the stall door. 
  • Duct tape 
  • Grooming supplies: brushes, clippers, hoof oil, fly spray, fly roll-on for ears
  • Show saddle pad, extra pads
  • Leather conditioner
  • Saddle, bridle, and girth
  • Portable saddle rack
  • Show clothing (with spares if available); scrubs, skirt, or apron to keep show clothes clean
  • Helmet, white gloves, riding boots, spurs, and whip
  • Copies of dressage tests, including large-print versions for test callers
  • Proof of vaccinations for horses and any dogs traveling to the show
  • Copy of horse registration papers and all membership cards.

How to Plan the Ride-Time Countdown

No competitor likes to feel rushed in the crucial minutes just before riding down center line. Lanini calculates how much time she’ll need for each show-prep step, then works backward from her ride time to determine when she needs to pull in to the show grounds for a one-day show out of her trailer. She allots time for the following steps (modify as needed if you’re stabling overnight):

  • Check in at the show office; get competitor packet and number
  • Unload horse
  • Groom
  • Braid
  • Change into show clothes with cover-up on top
  • Tack up horse
  • Shed cover-up, mount, walk to warm-up, and check in with ring steward
  • Warm up
  • Walk from warm-up to on-deck area just prior to ride time.


Next week: Volunteering 101

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