What to Expect Fom Your First Dressage Show

There is a dressage league after starting just down the road from me and I'm gutted I can't go. Liath has been out of action for about 6 months now - being a full time mammy to Setanta - and I'm reaaallly bored to say the least. I've ended up becoming a taxi and groom for people at the yard. I figure if I can't go to the shows I may as well offer them the chance to go!

I have a girl coming with me this weekend and it's her first dressage show ever - and she's pretty nervous and full of questions. I was exactly the same going to my first show - you worry about everything! I hope that this post is helpful and please comment if you think you have anything to add!


  • Dressage is typically about looking monochrome and wearing only black and white. I wrote about What to Wear for Dressage here, which runs through your entire wardrobe. There is no point in buying new clothes or tack for your first dressage show, just root around and see what you can find and borrow. The only thing I would invest in is a white saddle cloth. This can then be used for other riding disciplines :)

  • Generally speaking it is correct for you're horse to be plaited. Non-affiliated shows (those not run by Dressage Ireland, riding clubs etc) will be more relaxed about the rules. I think it's worth spending an extra half an hour grooming and plaiting so that you will look even more 'polished' and presentable. Your horse should be as clean as possible and not like they were just hauled in from the field!

  • There are different levels in dressage. They go Intro, Preliminary, Novice, Elementary, Medium, Advanced Medium, Advanced, Prix St. Georges, Intermediare I, Intermediare II and Grand Prix. With each level increase there are more moves to perform and judging gets tougher. At each level there as tests that you learn and perform for the judge. At lower levels the test may be called out, but I try to avoid this as it can end up distracting you. The more you practice at home the more you'll memorise it!

  • Check your times! These usually appear online a few days before or you can ring the secretary/organisers. This time will be down to the minute so be ready and warmed up waiting to go into the ring at your allocated time :) 

  • Once your time has come, go into the arena and ring around the edge of the arena. You will not be abblowed to enter the actual dressage area until the judge indicates you to do so. You must wait for the judge to signal you to start. This is normally done with a bell or whistle, you then have 45 seconds to head up the centre line and begin your test. 

  • If you mess up a movement, don't fret - you'll only be marked down for that one movement. If you forget the test or do an incorrect movement the judge will ring a bell. They will usually tell you what movement you should be doing so you can get going again. Don't click or talk to your horses (out loud!) as this will result in penalties. 

  • At the end of the test remember to salute and smile. I wrote for a judge before and it makes a huge difference when someone finishes a test and looks happy - no one likes to see someone scowl! Oh and make sure you leave the arena at A, you cannot simply walk over the boards and leave ... I learnt the hard way with that one!

  • Results are put up once the last rider has completed their test ... which can take a while. You will get your test sheet back with comments. It's worth having a look at it and seeing what areas you excel at what and areas you need to work at. And as soppy and clich├ęd it sounds, just enjoy yourself! 


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