Disruption: what if dressage tests had THIS score included?

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 4.29.14 PMMy husband is a horse person only by marriage, but he has, under duress, observed a fair number of dressage tests over the past few years. Today he suddenly suggested:

“Maybe they should have a score for “How Much Did This Horse Cost? And How Much Is Your Monthly Training Bill?”

Those horses usually win everything anyway.”

Well, yeah, usually. There is something compelling about those horses who cost Six Figures. They just do move differently. I find it a bit unfortunate that Dressage competition has become somewhat of a breed show. In other words, the most spectacular horse may win over a better trained (and ridden) horse. Although that’s a subjective statement, isn’t it? I call this “Breed Show Dressage.”

Embed from Getty Images

In Breed Show Dressage, natural gaits and ability are heavily weighted, often much more so than correct training. The judge is so taken by that amazing walk, that showy trot, that he throws out 8s and 9s with abandon, waving off theDSC01944 “little problems” of being behind the vertical, jammed in the neck, rushed, with the hind legs trailing. The next horse, a more ordinary citizen, elicits a yawn and a bunch of 5s and 6s. She just doesn’t have the razzmatazz that Spectacular Gaits had, although her tempo is good, her figures correct, she’s steady on the aids and using her back correctly. Who wins the class? Leg flicking Spectacular Gaits, by a long shot. Spectacular Gaits beats Correct Training, in other words.

Proponents of breed show dressage say that we should reward good gaits. Indeed we should, WHEN they are the result of correct training and riding.

Should we reward them simply because they are natural to this athletic being? Not if this is truly Dressage. Regard the web definition for Dressage:

  1. Haute école (“high school”)
  2. the art or method of training a horse in obedience and in precision of movement.
  3. From the USDF site:Dressage is a French term meaning “training” and its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.

Perhaps our judges are being trained to interpret this as meaning that the more naturally talented horses should be rewarded more highly: start with the gait and add on from there. But to me, Dressage means training: to improving a horse’s natural movement, suppleness, obedience, etc. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my horse is not inexpensive (although not six figures), and I do get help from a trainer and clinicians. I’m not doing this on a super tight budget (although I have in the past). I’m just noting that maybe dressage is losing its way as it becomes more about Super Athletes and less about correct training.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 4.32.45 PMPerhaps my husband is right: let’s add on estimated PRICE under “collective marks,” just for jollies.

13 thoughts on “Disruption: what if dressage tests had THIS score included?

  1. I have to say I agree with you. As an equestrian photographer, shooting dressage events I find myself waiting for certain horses that I know will have the high step and “dance” around the ring. The judges must be doing the same thing. I can pretty much predict the outcome purely from my shots.


  2. Yes. An uphill battle for all of us with horses with “less” of everything. Less suspension. Less ground cover. Less flash… Less tempo, or speed, or cadence, or whichever named preferred.
    More pokey. More putt putt. More strut.
    But, and we all know this, a really good score is worth SO much more on a less than “impressive moving” horse. So let’s go for that 🙂
    The expensive side of the sport is there, glaringly real.
    Braving the arena anyway should have a little extra score somewhere on the score sheet I think 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If competitive dressage was interested in actually rewarding well-schooled horses ( and interesting a slightly larger percentage of the horsey world) they could try the Westminster dog show best of breed concept, including the best of show from the breed champs. Making a quadrille mandatory for the top 8 placed horses would also change who takes home the blue ribbons!


    • Personally, I would find it very amusing (and instructive) to have some of the riders have to change horses for the final round. Can you imagine? Of course, there are safety and liability issues to consider. In the college equestrian competition circuit, they have to “catch ride” horses and it’s just the luck of the draw whether you get a decent horse or not. Imagine if dressage were like that? It sure would be a different sport.
      Love your idea of the mandatory quadrille, too! I think most of the top horses might fail miserably. Having ridden quadrille, I KNOW how hard it is!


      • In theory swapping horses is a great idea. In practice I personally would be utterly appalled to let most of the riders I see on the circuit any where near my horse. My first horse, who introduced to the heart of dressage, was an angel with me and intolerant of anyone else. I let my sister get on him once, and he promptly bounced her out of the saddle so she was sitting on his croup, and made it perfectly clear she was only allowed to climb back into the saddle and perch there out of the kindness of his heart. He forgave me for putting some one else up once, but it was clear he did not like it. Upper level dressage IS a partnership between horse and rider. Totilas and Edward Gal come to mind as do Dujardin and Valegro’s, whose supporters seem to understand that the horse is living being NOT commodity is the basis for a true partnership.


      • True. But I wonder if we did the occasional horse swap if people would learn to ride differently? Probably not (sigh). So you are right: not worth the trauma to our horses. One wishes, though, that everyone had the opportunity to ride a variety of horses – both schoolmasters and those that teach by being exceptionally difficult and obtuse. Only by riding many horses of many levels and sorts do you really become a rider. Sometimes.


      • that’s why I got into re-schooling troubled horses early on. Take the horse no one likes, work with it as best you can and let it go on when the time is right with some basic human handling skills that will improve its chances at having a good life.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am glad that you give horses a second chance. Because of you and your work with them, they may have a happy life with a new person. It is a good thing that you do! Hopes and prayers for all the horses out there, especially the ones that have been mistreated in the past. May they find someone to love them and care for them well.


  4. I love this post. Our sport is so frustrating sometimes, but there ARE classical judges and riders and trainers out there fighting the good fight, too. It does seem that their ilk thin at the higher levels of competition, however…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think there should be a score for those horses that do really well with owner/rider/trainers who don’t have any money and work 2 jobs in order to pursue the sport.


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