Dressage isn’t always just about what goes on in the arena during the test, it’s about manners and common courtesy too. Sadly in these times where horses can be worth megabucks and failure is seemingly not an option, riders do sometimes forget that manners are important too. Don’t forget that the judge has given up their morning/afternoon to officiate (usually for very little reward) and will be hoping to enjoy their day as much as you do.
Here are a few little things to bear in mind next time you compete, along with a few random dos and don’ts from a judge’s perspective.
First of all, make the effort to plait your horse up or at least pull his mane and present him smartly. Your judge will appreciate that you’ve made the effort and it shows respect for the traditions of classical dressage and the person officiating. When you are riding around the arena waiting for the judge’s signal to begin your test, ride past the car/box and say “good morning” or “good afternoon” and smile – even if you feel sick! When the judge gives you the signal to start your test, don’t ride round the arena a few more times admiring your reflection in the café windows before you begin; that’s not only rude but will also make the class run late.
If you are riding a test in which you must halt and salute at X before proceeding, make sure you wait for the judge to acknowledge your salute with a nod before you begin. Don’t salute with your whip hand – this is not only incorrect and could lose you 2 marks, it’s also slightly alarming for both the judge and the horse!
At the end of the test when you’ve halted and saluted, wait for the judge to acknowledge you before leaving the arena. Always ride forward towards the judge for a few strides at least before turning away. There’s nothing worse than saluting a competitor’s receding back as they scuttle out of the arena at a rate of knots! Although the test proper actually ends with the final halt and salute, maintain your form as you leave the arena. There’s nothing worse than a rider who kicks away both stirrups, drops the reins on the horse’s neck and informs their entourage that their test was “fabulous”, “disastrous” or “worth at least 75%” before they’ve even left the arena. Don’t forget that the judge has still to write up their comments and your collective marks.
If things go wrong during the test, don’t panic. The chances are that the judge competes too and will totally understand how you feel. What the judge won’t forgive however is riders losing their temper and abusing their horses. I’ve kicked out a number of such people over the years and it really is unnecessary, not to mention unprofessional. Another pet hate of judges is riders who enter a class which is too advanced for their current ability. Usually this results in the horse being pulled, pushed, spurred and whipped through the test which is enjoyable for no-one; horse, rider, judge or spectators. Always aim to shine at a lower level in competition and work to progress at home rather than overstretching yourself and ruining both your confidence and your horse’s in public.
Lastly, do learn your test. If you think you might go blank (it happens to us all) ask someone to call it for you. You can bet that the judge will have spent time studying the test the day before and it's only right that you should too. It's a recipe for disaster to have a quick glance over the test five minutes before you are due to ride it!
Lastly, don’t forget that dressage judges are human too. We appreciate that riders are nervous but we appreciate courtesy, professionalism and thoughtfulness too!