Dressage Rules: Read ‘em or Weep

I was a rock star with dressage rules last weekend – and that’s just a pretty weird statement. I was speaking at the Weekend Educational Program at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, CT, put on by Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids. One of my topics was “Dressage Rules that Make a Difference to You and Your Score,” and I packed ‘em into the Band Room. There seemed to be a hundred kids or adults sitting among the Sousaphones and drums, with more out in the adjoining room.

The topic of dressage rules turned out to be a hot one for a winter educational program in Connecticut.

I don’t know how I managed to draw so many to this session. We got a lively discussion going and there were lots of excellent questions. The topic of rules isn’t very sexy, but I always try to include it whenever I am talking about judging or showmanship. The approach I take is a consumer one: With all the time and money you spend training and showing, it’s a really expensive mistake if you are eliminated or lose points due to a rule that you didn’t know about.

The USEF Rule Book can be hard going, but about 95% of the rules you really need to know are in just five subchapters, covering 25 pages. The Rule Book is available online at the USEF site You can print out those 25 pages, stick them in a waterproof baggie, and just stuff it into your show bag for quick reference. The subchapters are numbered DR120 through DR124. They cover Dress, Saddlery and Equipment, Execution and Judging of Tests, Scoring and Elimination. That last subchapter is a neat summary of the most dreaded rules, the ones that will get you kicked out of the class.

I recommend reviewing the rules at the start of each season. There are often changes to the Rule Book over the winter, and the USEF website makes it easy to track anything new since those are printed in red. But it’s also just easy to forget stuff, and a review is useful. Here are some examples:

How long (in inches) is the maximum length of a whip allowed in the competition ring?

Are you eliminated if your horse slips and gets one or two feet outside the rail?

Are you eliminated if you feed your horse a red peppermint before your test and then some reddish foam appears near his mouth during the test?

Your boot splits just before the show. Can you wear your half chaps instead?


The maximum length is 47” (well, a tad over in metrics) and that includes the entire whip with lash. Make sure the lash hasn’t frayed beyond 47”. Note: When you buy a whip, measure it yourself before paying for it, because the stated length on the label often just includes the solid part of the whip and not the lash.

All four feet of the horse have to leave the ring before you are eliminated.

Yes, you will be eliminated for red foam near the bit because it cannot be distinguished from blood. The moral of the story is to not take any treats to the show that have red coloring, and even be careful with carrots if you feed them before a class.

Yes, there are instances where you can wear half chaps, but the circumstances vary. Check the Rule Book.

Okay, if you are reading this online at your home computer, go to the USEF site right now and print out those 25 pages. Note, it’s the USEF, not the USDF. The USEF is the agency that writes the rules. 






Connect with Your Horse through Biomechanics
5 Videos to Watch for Better Balance
5 Videos to Watch Before Your First Show
pam stone lucas medium walk
A Not-So-Secret Key to Seamless Walk Transitions


How to Motivate Low-Energy Horses
Are lumps or swellings under the jaw reason for concern?
help your horse recover
Help Your Horse Recover From Intense Work
Ashley Holzer USA Valentine
Updates to U.S. Dressage Team Short List for Paris 2024 Olympic Games