What to do on Competition Day

The idea of entering a dressage show fills many riders with terror.  It’s normal to be apprehensive about competing in public, but the following preparation will significantly calm your nerves and improve your performance on the day.

Be a Spectator

Go to a few dressage competitions on foot before you ride in one to learn what goes on at a show. Helping out is an ideal way to do this. And if you volunteer as a scribe for the class you later plan to enter, you’ll discover exactly what the judge is looking for.

Your local dressage association will have details of nearby competitions and volunteer opportunities. If you’re in the US, check which region your state is in at USDF, which will have a list of riding clubs or ‘GMOs’ (Group Member Organizations) near you. For competitors in the UK, go to the British Dressage guidelines for choosing a competition, and you’ll find a venue map, including shows in your area.

Ride as a Non-Competitor

For a small fee, most show managers allow you to ride at the venue without actually competing. This is the perfect way to introduce you and your horse to the competitive environment without any pressure. A word of caution: the warm-up arena can get very busy, so be sure to learn ring etiquette before you go in!

If you can obtain permission, ride your horse around the dressage ring to show him the judge’s box, the white arena boundary and any decorations.

Learning Your Test

You’ve now sent in your competition entry. Don’t be tempted to ride through your test continually before the show. If you do, your horse will anticipate the movements on the day and lower your scores by starting them too early.

Practice the test in your head, but only ride through it a few times, concentrating on accuracy. If it calls for a 20-meter circle at C, ensure you start it right at C and make it the correct size and shape. Don’t lose points through carelessness.

Show Day

Upon arrival at the venue, collect your ‘packet’ from the show secretary. This is an envelope containing your bridle number, which must be attached to your bridle at all times while you are on the grounds. Then locate the warm-up arena and the ring where you’ll be competing.

Once you’ve mounted your horse, go through your regular riding routine. This will settle your horse and lower your stress level. Focus on yourself and don’t be intimidated by other riders who appear better than you. You’re here to do your best.

Before performing the test, remove all boots and bandages from your horse, or you will be eliminated.

Bring a horse-savvy friend along for moral support. You can have someone call out your test movements at the lower levels, and hearing a familiar voice will soothe your nerves.

When you’re called in, ride around the outside of the arena until you hear the judge’s bell.  Take a deep breath, enter the ring at A within 45 seconds and show off your horse!

With intelligent preparation, you can significantly improve your show experience. Over time you’ll become more relaxed and maybe even enjoy competing.



British Dressage
USDF (United States Dressage Federation)