Dressage Show Rules: A Consumer Issue

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I am returning to some thoughts I had in earlier blogs last year – really, things just don’t change that fast in dressage. (Well, maybe they do change fast with what riders are wearing right now. I seemed to blink and everything in the ring went from black to bling!)

The USEF Rulebook specifies that both reins must be held in one hand during the salute.

The USEF Rulebook specifies that both reins must be held in one hand during the salute.

I conduct a lot of showmanship programs, and when I do I always talk about rules, not from a “You gotta know the rules” standpoint but from a consumer standpoint. You spend so much time and money in training and caring for your horses and then so much money and effort when you show, that it is just plain silly to lose points or even be eliminated for a rules violation.

I judged a schooling show last week where three riders didn’t salute during the halt at the start of the test. In that instance, I am required by the rules to blow the whistle, have them do the salute as specified, and then also count off for an error. These did not appear to be noobie riders either but were otherwise competent and confident. I chalked it up to “first show of the year” distractions.

Afterward, though, one of the riders told me that I was mistaken, that she had indeed saluted by nodding her head during the halt. I asked if she had also taken both reins in one hand and dropped the other hand by her side, as specified in the rules (DR122.2 of the USEF Rulebook). She said no, that she thought the halt and head nod constituted a salute. Really, the difficulty of the movement – and why, in fairness to the other riders this has to be counted as an error – is that the horse should stay immobile when the rider takes one hand off the reins.

There is no grey area at all here. And, the disquieting thing to me is how often I talk to riders who really are not aware of straightforward rules, rules that have existed for decades and are clearly printed in black and white in the Rulebook. Yes, I agree that the bit section of the Rulebook can be confusing, but bit questions can be solved in advance of shows by double checking with the USEF office, NOT by going to an online message board the day before a show and getting the varied opinions of anonymous people, many of them not having shown in years, if ever.

Accessing the Rulebook is easy – it’s online at the USEF website. Three clicks and you’re there. The crucial sections are DR 120 to 124, covering such areas as dress, equipment, conduct of tests and elimination. That’s just 20 pages, which can be printed out and carried to the barn or show for quick reference. Yes, there are frequent rule changes, but those are always printed in red, so an occasional review online makes those easy to follow. The 20 pages are a fairly quick read, and you can skim through some of the areas that might not apply to you.

Show officials shake our heads over this all the time – people don’t read the Rulebook and it comes back to bite them. Heck, people don’t read, period. However, if you don’t know the rules, you are really just wasting your time and money when you go to a show that is run by those rules.

If you are a rider or a trainer or someone paying the bills, go print out those 20 pages right now. After you read them, you will be basking in your own virtue. This should then call for you to treat yourself (and your horse): As a reward, stop by the tack shop for a bag of Mrs. P’s cookies and some Dark Horse chocolates or a new pair of gloves. 

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