It’s very straightforward: There are no do-overs in dressage. For practical purposes, that means you shouldn’t take a deliberate error to set your horse up again if a movement starts poorly. Not only do you get a deduction for the error, but the remainder of that movement is also scored down in line with the problem that it had at the start.
The intent behind the rule (USEF DR122.5.g) is to keep the playing field level for all the riders. We often used to see (oh, a decade or two ago) people taking a deliberate error. If it meant the difference between a movement scoring below a 5 or above a 6, then the deliberate error made a sort of sense. However, in both the spirit and letter of the no do-over law, it wasn’t fair to the other riders. Once judges were directed by the USEF to score down the remainder of the specific movement, in addition to the penalty for the error, deliberate errors happened much less often.
The FEI has another solution to this question, which ties into the recent change in the way scoring happens for those tests. In many FEI tests now, the deduction for the first error is 2 percentage points for the whole test, not just two points. That is a huge hit, plus a second error means elimination. (USEF tests cost 2 points for the first error, 4 points for the second error and elimination for the third.) While that may not have been the main reason for the FEI change this year, it effectively eliminates any benefit to taking a deliberate error.
Even so, I think a 2 percent deduction is a really horrid penalty for a brief brain lapse, if that is what caused the error. It may be my imagination, though, but I seem to be noticing fewer errors in FEI tests this year. Maybe the riders are really taking notice and doing a more thorough job of learning the tests. At the same time, I don’t think going off course is just a matter of not knowing the test – perhaps more often it’s likely a matter of nerves.
While most of the dressage world was focused on the World Cup in Omaha last week, I was in San Antonio judging a show for the Alamo Dressage Society, which had an enthusiastic group of members and volunteers there. The show put a whole new slant on the phrase “Don’t Mess With Texas” for me. We had a line of thunderstorms and potential tornadoes blow (and I mean blow!) through on Sunday. The show had planned ahead and rescheduled three rings down to two so the whole day could be under cover. The rain was so loud on the metal roof of the arena that I had to scream to my scribe. Warm-up for each of the two remaining rings was on the small side, but the riders handled it fine. The sun was out by 11 a.m., and I was grateful for the good planning of the show and the carry-on attitude of everyone there. Lucky me, though: I got to experience the storm twice, since I drove right into it heading home from the airport in North Carolina Monday morning.