10 Tips for Dressage Seat Equitation Riders

Photo by Susan J Stickle

Submitted by USEF “S” and FEI Judge Mike Osinski 

With the popularity of Dressage Seat Equitation (DSE) classes, the numbers are rising in these classes across the country. It can be helpful to be better informed in order to ensure a positive outcome. Here are a few tips for riders to understand what the judges are looking for in an Equitation class.

1 Remember to review your USEF Rule book. DR 133 is a quick check on equitation, but also look to DR 120 for the newest rules regarding attire.

2 The principles regarding classical equitation refer to the alignment of the rider’s body, trying to line up the ear, shoulder, hip, and heel. There also should be a straight line from the rider’s elbow to the bit in the horse’s mouth. Additionally, refer to the rule book for further descriptions of the position and aids of a rider.

3 In addition to correct alignment, emphasis should be on how the rider uses their core muscles to follow the motion of each gait of the horse. This helps to influence the horse in a positive way to maintain or improve the horse’s way of going.

Photo by Susan J Stickle

4 With increasing popularity of these classes, sometimes the class can be rather large, up to 25 combinations. Please understand that the judges are limited on how much time they are allotted. Often judges get less than a minute or two per combination in order to draw conclusions and rank the class. If time allows the judge can give basic impressions at the end of the test to individualize the performance.

5 With that thought in mind, please understand that the judge’s notes are often cryptic, and analytic to help expedite the timing and placement of the class. There should not be an expectation of receiving comments on every movement and every detail of the rider’s performance. There simply is not enough time to work a class, organize ride off patterns, pin the class, and write detailed notes.

6 In addition to correct position, effectiveness of the rider’s aids also lends to the score. The standard of proficiency would be equivalent to a First Level test. Transitions, leg-yields, circles, as well as walk, trot, and canter may be asked for. Assessing the connection of the horse to the rider and the ability to put the horse on the bit is also a critical component.

7 Patterns or tests. After working a group in walk, trot, and canter, the judge may find it necessary to further evaluate the competitors. There are set patterns already on file that may be used, but in addition the judge may create their own version, again drawing from the components of a First Level test. These patterns can be critical in assessing the effectiveness of the rider’s aids.

8 In the USEF Dressage Seat Medal Finals, all riders are required to perform these patterns or tests. However, in local shows, USDF Dressage Seat Medal Semi-Finals and USDF Adult Amateur Equitation Regional Finals presented by Big Dee’s Tack and Vet Supply individual tests are not mandatory. 

9 Judges are encouraged to provide verbal comments, but the comments of the judge and scoresheets are not posted for the public to view. The final score for each rider must be posted at the conclusion of the class.

10 Remember riding in a group requires a special awareness for safety and passing rules. We are not as critical if there are minor disruptions in maintaining a gait, but we do watch for a pervasive inability to keep a gait or sustain a connection, alignment, or lateral suppleness.

Riding in a Dressage Seat Equitation class is a great way to encourage better posture in your riding, and to be able to compare your progress with other athletes. It gives a herd creature some chance to be with other horses, while working in a safe and controlled environment.  Here’s to seeing more of you out there!

Photo by Susan J Stickle

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