Showing 102 - Dressage Shows

The Month Before

The early bird gets the registration

Unlike the hunter/jumper show world, dressage shows’ registration opens at least a month before the show. Registration is usually online, and all fees are paid in advance. The best part about showing at a dressage show is that you receive your ride times 2-3 days before the show. This lets you plan your day in advance, and gives any relatives a good idea when to show up for photo opportunities.

Local shows are often hosted by:

Get Your Attire in Gear

It’s important to make sure your rider has all the required attire for the show.  You can borrow, buy used, buy new, or even check Goodwill for various items. There are also plenty of Facebook groups that people list on with amazing deals on used items. Here is a list of the basics:

No question is too silly

Really talk with your trainer. Be honest with each other. Is your child truly ready for a show?

Make sure they are fully prepared and confident that they are ready.

Read the Rule Book

If your child is competing in dressage, there is a complete set of rules from the US Equestrian Federation here. Schooling shows follow the same set of rules, with some relaxed rules around attire.

The Week Before

Two Days Before (for Riders)

The Day Before (for Riders)

The Morning Of

Arrive on Time and Prepared

If you can’t eat before you leave home, bring your breakfast with you and eat on the drive to the show. Make sure you eat protein for slow release energy, carbohydrates for fast release energy. And plenty of fruits and fluids to take along and keep you going.

When you arrive at the show location, take your horse for a nice hand walk around to loosen up.  

Make sure to give yourself time to give your horse a light groom and get tacked up for schooling before your test time. You should be fully dressed and ready to show when you arrive in the schooling arena. You can wait to put on your show coat right before you go in to ride your test. Otherwise it may get dusty/dirty from the warm-up arena.

During the show (for Riders)

Warm Up Ring - Riders Beware

Your trainer will have you school in the warm up arena before the show begins. This can lead to many riders and many horses moving around in any direction at any time. Be aware of where you are at all times. Don’t stop on the rail to chat or rest. Walking horse should keep to the inside track, where faster horses have the right of way on the rail. Always pass left shoulder to left shoulder. Call out your intentions so others can hear you. Make sure you are listening to your trainer for instructions of where to go.  

Pay Attention to the Schedule

Ride times are precise at dressage shows, so be sure you know your exact ride times.  If there is a scratch, you have the option to go in earlier than your assigned time if you and your trainer feel you are ready. You also have the option to wait until your assigned time.

When you come out of the test, go to your trainer so you can discuss your test and things to work in while you prepare for your next test.

Paddock Master: The Emcee

Each arena is called a paddock, and the person coordinating the riders is the Paddock Master. When your time arrives, the paddock master will inform you to enter the arena.

Terms used by the Paddock Master:

Enter the Arena

Once you enter the arena, turn to the left and walk around the arena past the judge and scribe. Give them your horses name (or number for recognized shows) and the test you will be riding. This small verification has saved embarrassment for riders and judges in the past.

The judge will usually signal to begin with a whistle or bell. Once you hear the whistle or bell, you have 45 seconds to head up the center line and salute.

Normal saluting in dressage is taking the reins and whip in your left hand, dropping your right straight down to your side, then putting your head down so you are looking at the ground, looking back up and picking your hand up to pick the reins up again. The judge will usually stand to acknowledge your salute, and your test begins!

Enjoy the Experience

SMILE! Judges like to see that riders are having fun - let them see it on your face! When your test is finished, it’s always nice to thank the judge - they want to see you succeed and your quick thanks is appreciated.

Have Fun and Do Your Best. Be aware that you represent your barn and trainer, so your behavior is important. Be prepared for a very long day. Don't get so wrapped up in ribbons that you forget to have fun. Cheer on your team mates and always be encouraging - they will do the same for you!

Showing should be the opportunity to "show" everyone what you have accomplished with yourself and horse partner and should be approached just as relaxed as that and the only way to be relaxed about it is for the rider to be confident and ready. It should be a competition with yourself so that each show is simply about improving from the previous one. Horses and riders learn with each turn around the ring...and you keep on. As you get more experience, then you establish goals of "qualifying" for this and "winning" that...but that comes later as confidence and ability improves to then enter different levels of shows (schooling, open, rated, etc.). It’s about the love of the horse as a partner and that should always be in the mind of the rider. Once the rider realizes it’s not really about them as an individual, the nerves tend to settle for most.

Be Professional at All Times.  Treat your horse with respect and take care of him/her at all times.  

Dressage Levels and Scoring

For each division, there will be an overall winner and runner up for the horse and for equitation. The overall winner in the division is called the Champion, and the runner up is the Reserve Champion. There will be larger ribbons and sometimes prizes for these awards. Those are usually available in the show office. Pick these up with score sheets.

Ribbon Colors:


If you are watching other competitors, please clap at the end of their test (after the salute)... whether they are your friend or a complete stranger. Horse showing can drum up a lot of nerves and anxiety and there's nothing better than hearing people clapping as you finish your test (even if it wasn't perfect - after all, who is?).

During the Show (for Parents)

Feed your kids. Not snack food but a lunch of some kind. Full happy tummies make for happy children. Your kids are already going to be exhausted so at least help a bit by getting food in them. Try to avoid heavier foods and stick with fruit and lighter fare.  Water and Gatorade/Sports Drinks are a must, especially during  the hotter months!  Your child will be physically active, please plan accordingly.

Carry a show towel. Bring a clean towel that can be used to wipe down your rider’s boots and anything else that may need it prior to entering the ring. Microfiber towels are great as they can also rub out dirt on clothing. Lint rollers are also your friend. It is very important for both rider and horse to look clean when entering the ring. You might even need to wipe the soles of your rider’s shoes!

Let Your Trainer Do their Job. Do not go to the warm up arena, this is riders only due to insurance requirements. Please refrain from coaching your child.  The show environment is confusing enough and your child needs to listen for their trainer.  Let your trainer do their job and please support from the sidelines.

Cheer from the Sides. Due to the hectic atmosphere at the in gate, keep clear of the area. This is where your trainer will be with your child. Your best option is to support your rider from the sidelines.  Your trainer has enough going on with coaching several students without parents standing behind them making comments. This also distracts the students from focusing on the trainer and their horse.    

Interaction with the Paddock Master. Your trainer will handle interactions with the Paddock Master.  They have many responsibilities regarding the riders in the arena and need to be left to do their jobs.  Your trainer is responsible for coordinating all communications with the Paddock Master.

Don’t Talk to the Judge. Parents should never walk up to the judge and ask them a question. The best part about dressage tests are the written comments from the judge on each part of the test. This is the best feedback for any rider, but feel free to ask your trainer if you have any questions about the meaning of the comments.  

Enjoy the Show. The trainer will make sure your rider is where they need to be at the right time, as well as provide instruction as needed.  It’s best if parents cheer and take photos from the sidelines and leave the coaching to the trainer.  All you should worry about once the rider begins their rounds is photos and water!  

Talk to people and ask if you’re not sure, it's a great way to meet new people. However, it’s best to avoid commenting on other rider’s rounds out loud, since you never know whose parents are sitting right behind you.

After the show

Many Hands Make Light Work. All horses, tack, equipment need to be loaded into the trailer.  Once back at Grace, all horses should be unloaded, along with tack and equipment. Clean out both the tack compartment and the horse compartment so they are ready to go for the next show.  Everyone should pitch in to make this quick and easy.    

Give your horse a big pat and check on him the next day and hand walk him around and let him graze but give him the day off. Relax yourself and get ready for the next week of lessons and working towards the next show.  

Clean your tack, wash and store your show pad, clean your show clothes, clean your boots.  Keep your tack and equipment in good order. If you are using school tack you are responsible for taking care of it.  

Have fun, and know you are blessed to have the opportunity to do this !!

Show Checklist

Horse Supplies

  • Halter and lead line (plus a spare)
  • 2 water buckets/clips (in trailer)
  • Hay net loaded with hay (or two)
  • Horse treats

Human Supplies

  • Sunscreen/pain relievers
  • Hat/umbrella
  • Snacks and drinks in cooler (water and gatorade)
  • Folding chairs
  • Small towel
  • Lint roller
  • Safety pins
  • Camera/cell phone
  • Brush, hair elastics and hair spray

Grooming Kit

  • Brushes
  • Curry comb
  • Mane brush
  • Hoof pick
  • Showsheen/detangler
  • Flyspray (especially in summer months)

           Sweat sheet/cooler/blanket as needed


  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • Girth
  • Dressage saddle pad (white)
  • Dressage whip (if needed)
  • Spurs (if needed)


  • Coverups for grooming/warmup
  • Boots
  • Garters (for paddock boots)
  • Breeches/Jodhpurs
  • Show coat
  • Show shirt
  • Gloves
  • Helmet
  • Hair net
  • Belt
  • Stock tie and pin (formal/rated show)


  • Coggins certificate (Trainer usually has binder)
  • Check made out to Grace Riding Stables for trainer fees