California Riding Magazine • June, 2013

USEF Introduces New
Dressage Rider Tests
New Dressage Equitation Challenge offered at Del Mar Horsepark in October.

by Kate Shuster

Did you know that the USEF has developed a totally new test category for dressage? There are now brand-spanking-new "Dressage Rider Tests," created with the cooperation of the U.S. Dressage Federation. Here's the answer to that frequently-heard lament "I can never get good scores because I don't have a fancy horse." If you are a good rider with correct basics, this is your chance to shine! It's also a great way to get specific, helpful feedback from the judge to keep you on the right track.

There has long been a debate in this country about how to ensure riders are appropriately moving up the levels, and arguments have been made in favor of European-style prerequisites. This has proven an unpopular idea. The introduction of "Rider Tests" is intended to provide riders a way to measure their progress and correct use of basics. These new tests are offered at Training, First and Second levels.

What a great idea to have a dressage test that puts the emphasis on correct riding instead of an expensive dressage horse. After all, dressage is about improving the gaits and responsiveness of any horse, not just the gifted ones. While USEF has long offered dressage seat equitation classes (group classes similar to those in the hunter milieu), an individual test that is judged on the rider did not exist. And judge's comments were limited. So USEF has kicked it up a notch by allowing riders to get feedback in a very meaningful way.

These tests are a wonderful tool for developing correct riders. According to the USEF Dressage Department, the "tests are designed to evaluate the proficiency of the rider relative to the requirements of the given level, without giving extra credit for the horse's gaits, impulsion and submission." Five scores are given for the test: rider's position, correct and effective use of the aids, the horse's response and performance, accuracy of the exercise and harmony between rider and horse. Riders will also receive a brief written commentary intended to help them improve their skills. Now riders will have a better understanding of where their strengths lie and what to focus on to become an even better rider.

Almost 150 dressage judges from all over the country recently convened on Las Vegas for the 2013 USEF Dressage Judges Forum in March. What a great excuse to party in Vegas! It was a party with a purpose, though: to educate judges on the new riders tests. USEF takes education of their judges very seriously, and the weekend was packed with lectures, video presentations and lively discussion. (When you get that many dressage judges together the atmosphere is
highly energetic!) When I returned home, I was on a mission.

The new testing format is an excellent philosophical idea, but it is useless unless riders participate. So I approached show manager Lisa Blaufuss with an idea for a Dressage Equitation Challenge and she loved it. "What a great way to encourage riders to hone their equitation skills," she enthused. This three-phase competition will be offered at Lisa's October ­­­­26-27 USEF/USDF/CDS rated show at Del Mar Horsepark. It will be offered to Adult Amateurs at Training and First levels and consists of the standard Dressage Seat Equitation class, a new Rider Test and a standard dressage level test. The winner will have the highest average percentage score over the three tests. They will also be eligible for awards in each phase of the competition. Medals and prize money will be offered as well. (You can reach Lisa Blaufuss at 619-665-6463/ for
more information.)

Lower level Adult Amateur riders are often intimidated by showing at USEF/USDF recognized dressage shows. This exciting new competition, offered in a friendly atmosphere, will hopefully encourage them to test the waters!

Author Kate Shuster, of San Diego, is a USEF licensed "r" dressage judge, and a USDF Gold, Silver and Bronze medalist.