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The most common errors dressage judges are looking for

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Isabell Werth at Indoor Brabant // Photo: Kamila Tworkowska

You might have participated in a dressage competition and afterward disagreed with the judges’ evaluation and grades of your performance. We have created a list to inform you on the matter: what do the judges look for when you ride? To do so, we have firmly looked into the rules made by Dansk Rideforbund – the Danish version of FEI. These rules are part of the education to become a dressage judge, and they are the foundation for most dressage competitions in Denmark – whether you are competing on a “normal” level or a very high one. And for your information, they are simpler than one should think.

You might also like to read: Vet and head judge: "The competition format has to change" 

When you are an educated dressage judge the most central part of the education is to discover whether the horse is ridden correctly by the rider. This is both the case at the small competitions as well as the big ones. In connection with levels are also different demands in terms of the horse’s performance. But more or less, the judges are looking for the same kind of errors no matter the level. For example, they look if the horse develops relaxation, and if the different exercises are performed correctly.

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Riding dressage is part of most people's training. Photo: Malgré Tout

Let us have a look at the judges rating scale: 

10: Excellent
9: Very Good
8: Good
7: Pretty Good
6: Satisfying
5: Approved
4: Unsatisfying
3: Quite bad
2: Bad
1: Exercise not shown


Overall, the judges distinguish between two types of errors: The ordinary ones and the basic errors.

Ordinary errors:

  • Inaccurate riding
  • Few exercises performed with errors
  • Random and mistaken placement of the horse's head or body
  • Momentarily overexcitement
  • Few errors in connection with tact  

Ordinary errors only occur sometime during the performance. The judges are instructed that ordinary errors will accommodate a lower grade with 1-2 points in the specific exercise. Ordinary mistakes do not affect the grade in the overall impression. The overall impression is the last part of the judge’s statement. But if the riding is continuously incorrect several times during a dressage program, it will affect the overall impression.

Basic errors: 

  • Irregular gaits
  • The horse is pulling or hanging in the reins
  • The horse does not accept the bit 
  • The horse is showing obvious signs of performing behind the vertical line
  • The horse's body is constantly placed wrongly
  • The horse's tongue is over the bit
  • The horse has a remarkable crooked tail guidance 
  • The horse is showing repeatedly disobedience 

Overexcitement, galloping on two tracks, or a tongue out of the horse’s mouth are considered basic errors, if this is shown throughout the program. It's the same if a horse is consequently performing behind the vertical line or has crooked tail guidance. This is an indication that something is challenging or that the horse is ridden wrongly. A basic error will cause a drastic reduction of the grades – most commonly 2-3 points in an exercise or series of exercises. The difference between ordinary and basic errors is that basic mistakes also impact the overall impression. In other words, a basic error is sometimes the reason for an exercise not being approved at all. 

Correctly performed exercises are shown by a calm, indulgent, and flexible horse. It has to follow the riders’ instructions with trust and willingness. The rider has to show calmness and ride the horse with gentle signals. If you can show this at your next competition you have trained well. 


You might also like to read: The details that make you a better dressage rider


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