USEF Dressage Rider Tests a Hot Topic at Judges' Forum

When the new USEF Dressage Rider Tests were introduced last fall and offered online at, they presented a revolutionary concept in dressage competition and generated a wealth of interest, curiosity, and discussion among exhibitors and officials. As a result, the purpose and judging of these tests was the major topic of discussion at the 2013 USEF Dressage Judges Forum, held March 19 - 20 in Las Vegas, NV. USEF Rider Tests at Training, First, and Second Levels may be offered at any dressage competition and judged by any level of USEF-licensed dressage judge ("r", "R", or "S"). "The biggest difference from standard dressage tests is that the focus of the Rider Tests is shifted to the rider, and we're looking at the horse's performance only as a reflection of the rider's ability," noted forum attendee, USEF "S" dressage judge, and judge Kristi Wysocki.

"Many riders and officials have not been exposed to the new format used in this type of test, whereby the judge no longer gives a score for each individual movement but instead addresses five specific categories as the test progresses."

The five categories evaluated during the test are rider position; correct and effective use of aids; horse's response and performance; accuracy of exercises; and harmony between horse and rider. Scores between 0-10 are given for each category with decimals to 10ths allowed; during the forum, attendees reviewed new scoring scales which were developed by the USEF Dressage Committee to guide judges in determining the correct scores for these new tests. "These five categories and the scoring system were chosen to clearly assess the rider's strengths and weaknesses and be able to give feedback accordingly," explained Wysocki. "This will help riders to better learn where their strengths lie and where they need more help in their ability as a rider." 

Much discussion has centered around the difficulty of the test patterns themselves. "The patterns chosen were designed to give the judge the best possible evaluation of the horse's response to the riders aids," Wysocki said.  "These tests are designed at a high degree of difficulty for their respective levels to challenge the rider and minimize gait influence on the scores given.  The emphasis instead will be on the rider's control and the horse's resulting submission and impulsion. Each test requires accurate and quick responses between horse and rider as a team." judge and USEF "S" dressage judge Janet Foy, a former member of the USEF Dressage Committee which wrote the rider tests, further explained the tests' philosophy. "Yes, they are harder than the highest test of the level," Foy said. "However, this is not a test of the horses quality but rather the training and the skills of the rider. These tests are for average horses with good training - there is no mention in the test of the gaits.

"Transitions are close together and always placed where the judge at C has full view of the horse and rider," continued Foy. "Scores are given for the rider's ability to correctly prepare the horse for the movements, and indirectly test the rider's knowledge of the movements. Competitors should be sure to know and understand the rule book definitions of the movements. For instance, does the rider know that a turn on the haunches must be bending in the direction of the turn, and does that rider also have the skills to ask her horse to perform the movement correctly?"

Without a doubt, the new USEF Dressage Rider Tests introduce a new concept to traditional dressage competition, and present a challenge to both riders and judges. But both Foy and Wysocki hope that competitors and officials give the tests a chance. "The Dressage Committee's goal was to encourage proper development of riders' skills, and have the judges look at the entire performance with a positive outlook," noted Foy. "Unfortunately I have heard negative comments from some judges, with one even telling me that her Grand Prix rider could not do the Second Level Rider Test. In my opinion, then that rider needs to have a few more technical skills!" Foy laughed. "I hope my fellow judges will try to be positive and see the whole picture, and not be overly critical of little mistakes. Education is the key but if we want to improve our riders' skills, we must help them and not be so tough that they give up and stop riding these tests."

Riders who are interested in the new USEF Dressage Rider Tests can utilize online videos from to better prepare for their first live performance. Practice videos may be uploaded to and receive personalized feedback via real-time voiceover commentary from Foy. In addition, sample videos of each Rider Test (Training, First, and Second Levels) featuring Foy's voiceover critique are posted on the website for riders to view. "Since these tests are so new, I know there will be questions from trainers and riders about how to present some of the movements, and with the opportunity to watch sample videos and submit practice rides for evaluation and feedback on, I can't think of a better way to prepare," said Foy. "I have judged some very good rides so far on, and their Rider Test clinic is a great way to try these tests for yourself. I hope more riders will give them a try."

For more information about's online programs, review sample videos, sign up for a free member profile, and easily upload a video, visit the website