A Beginner's Guide to Dressage Shows
Congratulations on deciding to get out there and show! This page is to help explain some of the details
on the often complicated entry process. These guidelines are appropriate for the shows
held at American Sporthorse, and will also apply to most of the other dressage shows in California.
In the US, there are several organizations to know about if you're planning to show. The main one is
the US Equestrian Federation or USEF (our National Federation), the national organization that
creates/enforces the rules for all horse show disciplines, licenses judges, recognizes rated shows, and
is the major record keeper of results. The website is very useful and offers online registrations and the
rulebook plus much more -- see www.usef.org If you do nothing else, reading the dressage part of
the rulebook (not that big a section) is really critical and can save you a lot of heartache.
If you want to show in the larger shows, qualify for national year end awards, etc, you and your horse
will need memberships with USEF, yours will be annual (typical) or lifetime (more costly but if you're young
and interested to show for a long time perhaps a good deal), and your horse's can be lifetime (typical and not
so expensive) or annual. Details on minimum requirements for each award/class are viewable here.
Due to the costs, most people do a lifetime membership for the horse and an annual for themselves. You will
want to designate on your USEF membership that you will be showing dressage. If you are an amateur, there
is a section on the membership application to fill out to designate yourself as an amateur. This is the only way
to participate in amateur divisions - having a current USEF membership card that describes you as such!
Specifically for dressage, there are two additional organizations to join: California Dressage Society (CDS)
and the United States Dressage Federation (USDF). Joining CDS will get you a wealth of information
and learning opportunities: newsletters with show listings, an annual Omnibus listing most shows, awards
program for riders, annual meetings and amateur clinics and many more events! When you join CDS, you
automatically get a group membership in USDF. This group membership allows you to participate in some of the
national programs, like rider awards. To participate in the national horse awards, year end All-Breeds awards,
and other programs, a participating USDF membership (a membership upgrade) is required for the rider/owner
and a horse membership (lifetime). More information is available on both organizations' websites.
1. Finding a show:
- Online (such as our ASH website listing the Santa Cruz area shows)
- California Dressage Society Webpage Calendar or Omnibus (a listing of shows in one book)
- US Dressage Federation Calendar
- Equestrian Publications like CDS Dressage Letters, Ride!, and others
- BAEN listings for the Bay Area Equestrian Network
2. Talk with your trainer or instructor about what shows might be best for you to start with!
Shows range greatly in their requirements, cost, and competitive levels, from:
- unrated shows (also called schooling shows), generally has no membership requirements,
less formal show attire, and sometimes a more lenient application of rules. Often run as
a learning situation with verbal feedback from the judge. Competition clinics also fall into this
category: you ride a test then get feedback and an opportunity to re-ride.
- CDS-rated shows (called one-star shows), run under USEF rules and are eligible only for CDS
year end awards and qualifying for CDS championship show but doesn't require all of
the formality of national memberships. CDS-rated shows vary from informal to quite formal.
CDS membership is required for the rider and horse's owner or a non-member fee is assessed
(only one fee if this is the same non-member person) . This fee can be put towards a membership
if you get a voucher from the show secretary. The fee is $10 for 2005. There is also a required
$2/show fee that feeds the CDS scholarship fund.
- USDF/USEF/CDS shows (called 3-star shows) These are often bigger shows in terms of cost
and legal requirements. All USEF rules are strictly adhered to and membership in USEF
is also required above CDS membership for riders and owners. (Non-member fees are
allowed in lieu of membership but can add up quickly if going to several shows and you won't
be eligible for the benefits of membership with only a non-member fee.)
Starting in 2003, all horses must either have a USDF lifetime registration number (cost $65, can be ordered
online, makes horse eligible for USDF awards program), OR a USDF Horse ID number,
which also is a lifetime number but does not provide eligibility for awards in any way.
(USDF recording is required so we can track performance of different breeds and family lines,
whereas USEF horse recording is only required if you wish to participate in USDF Qualifying classes.)
Generally the level of competition is higher at these events and for beginners, this might be
not the best venue for starting out, but a great place to spectate, volunteer, and learn more about shows.
Contact the organizer to see if there are volunteer positions that need filling.
- CDI level shows are recognized by the FEI (the international equestrian sport governing body) and
require the horse to have an FEI passport and there is a plethora of additional rules, memberships, and
regulations to know about. If you're aiming for these shows, you shouldn't need a primer!! :-) Your coach and
trainer will aid you in learning about this big step up into international competition.
3. Entering a Show
You will need an entry form for the show, available from the show or a standard blank is online
at CDS's homepage. Instructions on how to fill it out are there as well, take a moment to read this!
It will save you time and frustration later.
If you are a California Dressage Society member, you get a nifty little book called the Omnibus
that has most of the shows in California listed with all the entering details, and an
entry form blank (to copy and keep on hand). The current form is also always available
on the CDS website or USAEq website (3-star only) that you can download and
print out at home. Its a time saver to carefully fill out your information on the page and then photocopy
for a master copy that you can then fill out just the test and fee parts for each show you want to enter.
Make sure you know the closing date of your show - dressage shows require advance planning
in creating ride times for each entrant. Shows generally close (stop accepting entries) 2-3 weeks
before the show date. The closer you get to the closing date, the greater chance the show will
already be full and unable to accept your entry. Most shows allow you to withdraw your entry
without penalty or a small fee before the closing date so there is no reason not to enter early!
Make sure you know who is organizing the show. It is not always the facility at which the show is
held and sending your entry there can make sure it gets lost! The show secretary is the one who
receives the entry, this contact should be listed on the show information page. If in doubt, make a
call to make sure you send your entry to the right place.
Those entry forms!
It is critical to be clear on your entry form, many people type out their information on their master
entry form and then just have to write in the tests and fees for each show, saving time and making
very readable entries. The following information is especially important, especially if you are
competing at rated shows:
SIGN THE RELEASES!!! Everyone listed above must sign the release form!!
- Rider's Name and contact info (phone, email, address)
- Horse's Name
- Owner's Name (if same as rider just say so, you don't need to write out everything again)
- Trainer's Name (often a confusing point, the "trainer" isn't who teaches you, its the person who is legally responsible for the welfare of the horse while at the show grounds. Usually, this is also the rider, although in the case of a junior rider, it needs to be the legal adult on the grounds who is responsible for the horse)
- Coach's Name (if your instructor will be on the grounds and helping you - or anyone who is planning on interacting in that manner with the competitor - they need to be listed and sign the release...)
- All of the membership numbers for the above (depends on the show, but mandatory for 1- and 3-star shows)
but you MUST make copies of all of your cards and horse's forms and submit those with your entry as proof!
Preparation is a whole different chapter but in brief:
- List your classes carefully - write the level and test out to make sure you get the right one
- Add up your fees- if there are problems with the fees, make your best guess and the secretary will help sort it out at the show - bring a second check in case there are balances due. There is always a State Drug Fee, and different levels of shows have a myriad of other fees, any non-member fees, offices fees, haul-in fees, stabling fees, mandatory scholarship fees, etc. which are usually indicated on the entry form, which is one reason getting the correct form is important (using the right release form is the other!)
- Get your entry mailed early!
Know the rules (the rulebook is available online at the USEF website)
Know your tests
Arrive well-ahead of time to allow time for checking in and a un-hurried warm-up,
and have a great time!
Organizer, Midsummer's Night Dressage Series