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What Makes a Dressage Rider 'Effective'?
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What Makes a Dressage Rider 'Effective'?

The collective mark for the rider is defined on the dressage score sheet as, ‘position and seat of the rider; correctness and effect of the aids.’   But what constitutes an ‘effective' rider’?  This is a dilemma faced by dressage judges and is something often contested by riders who feel the mark they are awarded for their riding was lower than they deserved.

What does ‘effective’ mean?

Many riders sit very quietly and do nothing to interfere with the horse’s way of going during the test.  This can be preferable to watch compared with those who push, shove, kick and poke their horse all the way through the performance.  However, what is more effective, the rider who does nothing other than steer the horse through each movement without really demanding anything of them, or the ‘busy’ rider who gets the best tune out of their horse?

Dressage is not an equitation class where the bulk of the credit is awarded for the rider’s correct position.  The majority of the collective marks on a dressage sheet are focused on the horse’s performance, i.e. the correctness of the schooling in line with the scales of training as defined by the FEI.  Judges are looking for the ‘happy athlete’ who moves forward willingly, swings over the horse's back and relaxes into an even, elastic contact whilst negotiating the movements with suppleness, balance, and freedom from tightness and tension.  A rider whose position is perfect but who allows the horse to go around with his head in the air, bent the wrong way around every circle and out of balance in all the transitions is surely not ‘effective’?

The judge’s job is further complicated by the rider whose horse is very tense, difficult and sometimes downright naughty during the test.  If this rider sits quietly and nurses the horse home despite its behavior, should they be rewarded for their patience or penalized because they ‘allowed’ the horse to come off the aids and misbehave in the first place?  And what about the rider who refuses to sit and do nothing when the horse is spooking or clowning around?  Should they be rewarded for getting hold of the horse and making it get on with the job, or penalized for positively backing up their leg aids with the whip to get the horse's attention?

In Conclusion

The rider mark is something that divides the opinion of both dressage judges and competitors.  Perhaps it’s such a subjective area that there is no right or wrong angle from which to look at things.  What do you think?


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  1. Mark Calvo
    Mark Calvo
    This is interesting. I am far from being an expert on dressage, but I will ask a question. If dressage has it's roots in military discipline on a horse shouldn't a higher score go to a rider who corrects bad behavior even if they need to be a bit more animated than the rider that allows the bad behavior even if they don't appear to be reacting to it? I'd be interested to hear from others what they think. Thanks for this article you have given me some questions to ask the judge at the next even that I attend.
    1. autumnap
      Thanks for commenting. I think it depends on the behaviour of the horse and what the rider is doing about it. I would rather see a rider quietly but firmly persuading the horse to get on with the job than someone who sits very prettily on a horse that's above the bit and bent the wrong way through all the corners for example. The collective mark for the rider refers to 'correctness' as well as 'effectiveness' of their aids which leaves room to reward both or either. Dressage these days is very much about the horse being a 'happy athlete' and the the partnership being 'harmonious', and that's what judges are looking for. I personally prefer to see a really naughty horse being retired rather than a rider having to discipline it during a test.

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