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Copyright 2003-2004 BSEA
Billings, Montana

The Living Rule Book Spring 2004 GMO Presentation
by Dianne Stanley US Equestrian “r” Dressage TD

This is a summary of my presentation to BSEA on March 11, 2004 that addressed some of the more commonly asked questions and issues that arise at US Equestrian/USDF Recognized Dressage Competitions. I have entitled the presentation “The Living Rule Book”, to stress that the rules are constantly changing. By signing an entry blank at a recognized dressage competition, one agrees to abide by all Bylaws and Rules of US Equestrian and the local rules of the competition. Competitors and management should check the “Rule Book” and “Rule Changes” sections on the US Equestrian web site, at, before every competition if there is any doubt about a rule. I am always interested in trying to find the correct answers to people's questions about particular situations. Your questions help me do a better job, so I welcome them at any time. Call me at (406)652-4061, or send an email to [email protected]. (Caveat: These are my summary notes of Rules that were in effect on the date of the presentation. Consult the Rule Book for exact wording. US Equestrian has final authority on all Rule Book interpretation matters.). Thank you, Dianne Stanley, US Equestrian “r” Dressage Technical Delegate, Billings, Montana.

***Dianne sent us this addition through e-mail, because she found out about it after 3/11/04.
Can a rider use the Equine Nasal Strips on their horse during a dressage test?
No. From the February 2004 'Regulation Department News - Competitions & Officials': Two years ago, the U.S. Equestrian Dressage Committee considered the use of nasal strips in Recognized Dressage Competitions, and determined that they are NOT legal under Art. 1921.6 of the Federation Rule Book. This ruling has not changed.

What is a Dressage Technical Delegate?
A US Equestrian licensed Dressage Technical Delegate, or TD, must be present at USDF/US Equestrian Recognized Dressage Competitions. Some of the duties of a TD are to serve in an advisory capacity to protect the interests of exhibitors, judges and Competition Management, to help ensure that all competitions are run in accordance with the rules and mission statement of US Equestrian, the National Governing Body of Equestrian sport in the United States, to ensure the safety and well-being of horses, regardless of value and competitive level, to ensure the enforcement of fair and equitable rules and procedures up to and including the preparation for the Olympics and to provide summary reports of the competition to US Equestrian.

At a Recognized Dressage Competition, when do the US Equestrian rules apply?
The rules apply from the moment the competitor arrives on the competition grounds, regardless of whether a member of show management or a licensed official is present. Management is required to “enforce all rules of the Federation from the time entries are admitted to the competition until their departure”. (Article 1212(2)).

Which definitions of competitors cause the most confusion?
Competitors often ask about the differences between Adult Amateur, Open, Junior and Young Rider US Equestrian classifications for riders. The following definitions apply in the Dressage Division. Amateurs (Article 101) are adults who are eligible to compete as adult amateurs from the beginning of the year in which they reach age 22. They must declare Amateur status on their membership application or pay a non-member Amateur fee at the competition. More information on the definition of an Amateur follows in another question in this presentation. An Open class (Article 105) is open to all horses, mules and ponies of any age, size or sex and there is no qualification for rider. A Junior (Article 116) is an individual who has not reached his 18th birthday as of December 1 of the current competition year. A person is eligible as a Young Rider (Article 122) from the beginning of the calendar year in which they reach the age of 16 until the end of the calendar year in which they reach 21.

What is the difference between a coach and a trainer?
A coach (Articles 111, 1502.4, 1502.6) is any adult or adults who receive remuneration for having or sharing the responsibility for instructing, teaching, schooling, or advising a rider in equestrian skills. If there is a coach, this person must meet membership requirements and sign the entry form. If there is no coach, no one needs to sign the entry form in that capacity. A trainer (Article 121) is any adult who has the responsibility for the care, training, custody or performance of a horse. Someone must always sign the entry blank at a recognized competition, accepting responsibility as the trainer, whether that person is also an owner, rider, agent, or coach as well as trainer. Where a minor exhibitor has no trainer, a parent or guardian must sign and assume responsibility as trainer. The trainer is responsible and accountable to know the provisions of the Drugs and Medications Rule. (For more information on this, access and read the article in the Drugs and Meds area).

What happens if rules conflict between divisions and organizations?
In situations in which Dressage Division rules of the US Equestrian Rule Book make a clear exception to their General Rules, the Division Rules govern. US Equestrian Rules take precedence over the rules of any other Association. (Article 301.1 and 301.2)

What happens if a person is cruel or abusive to their horse at a competition?
If cruelty or abuse of a horse is found, the Show Management may issue an official warning, eliminate the competitor, or take other action which is deemed appropriate including the filing of a formal charge against the violator. (Article 302) The Rule Book defines Acts of Cruelty, which include, but are not limited to (I listed those that seemed to be the most likely possibilities for dressage. The Rule Book lists additional specifics):

  • Excessive use of a whip anywhere on the show grounds by any person. Except in emergency situations, the striking of the horse's head with a whip shall be deemed excessive.
  • Rapping the horse's legs with the butt end of a riding crop or other implement.
  • Inhumane treatment by any person anywhere on the show grounds.
  • Use of any substance to induce temporary heat.
  • Withholding of feed and water for prolonged periods.
Any action against a horse by a competitor, anywhere on the show grounds, which the judge, TD or veterinarian deems excessive, including use of spurs and other actions, may be punished by official warning, elimination or other sanctions which the Show Committee deems appropriate.

Can ride times be changed?
Ride times and the schedule may change only under specified circumstances. Article 309.5 specifies that “(1) Rides may be rescheduled up to one hour earlier or later than announced in the official schedule if each competitor is notified at least two hours prior to his/her rescheduled ride time. Rides within a class may be rescheduled in a different order. (2) Ride times or classes may not be changed more than one hour from the time announced in the official schedule unless 12 hours of such change is given to each exhibitor and judge affected or each exhibitor affected consents in writing to the change. Public address announcements do not meet the notification requirements of this change. As a practical matter, dressage competitions are usually small enough to give the required personal notification to each competitor, so schedule changes are possible.

Do the Drug testers ever come to dressage competitions to test for forbidden substances?
Yes, occasionally. They are very discreet. Cooperation with them is mandatory.

How do I know whether the medication and feed supplements that I use would be classified as forbidden substances?
The Drugs and Medications Rule (Rule IV) governs all permissible drugs and medications. I urge competitors to discuss their particular questions directly with the US Equestrian Drugs and Medications Office (1-800-MED-AHSA or 1-614-771-7707) because the list of forbidden substances is extensive, the use of feed supplements can affect drug testing results and the rules are constantly changing. Certain drugs and medications may be administered prior to competition if a Medication Report Form is filed with the TD at the competition. The trainer, in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary, is responsible and accountable under the penalty provisions of these rules. For more detail on this topic, read both the Drugs and Meds rules, accessed at, and the article entitled “Practical Advice Regarding the 2004 Equine Drugs and Medications Rule”.

Can I withdraw from the competition, change horses or substitute a rider?
If you need to withdraw from the competition or take your horse from the show grounds before your last scheduled ride, you must have the permission of the competition secretary (Article 805). Competitors should plan to stay for the whole competition and ride every ride in which they were entered. However, everyone understands if an emergency arises that causes a competitor to withdraw. Substitution of a horse may not be made after the closing date unless the horse is sold or injured, then competition management may allow an exhibitor to post enter another horse in the same class but the new entry must be given a new number. Change of a rider constitutes a new entry, requiring new membership information, signatures and fees, and may only be allowed by competition management if the competition has previously stated that post entries are allowed.

How do I become eligible to compete as an Adult Amateur?
US Equestrian offers Adult Amateur status as an option for Senior members or competitors can pay a $30 a get a Non-member Certification Card. Amateur status in the Dressage Division is given to riders from the beginning of the calendar year in which they reach 22. The following activities disqualify people from amateur status: (Article 809):Accepting remuneration for riding, driving, showing in halter/hand, training, schooling or conducting clinics or seminars, giving instruction in equitation or horse training, or allowing the use of their name, photograph or other form of personal association as a horseman in conjunction with any advertisement or article to be sold; accepting prize money in equitation or showmanship classes, except prize money may be accepted by amateur riders in Dressage; riding, driving, or showing in halter/hand in competitions, or giving instruction to a person, for any horse for which he or a member of his family or a corporation which the family controls, receiving remuneration for boarding, training, riding, driving or showing; accepting remuneration for selling horses/ponies, acting as a paid agent in the sale or taking them on consignment for the purpose of sale or training. Activities which do not affect Amateur Status include :the writing of books or articles pertaining to horses, officiating as a judge, steward, TD course designer, announcer, TV commentator, veterinarian, groom, farrier, tack shop operator, breeder or providing boarding services. Amateurs may accept reimbursement for expenses without profit, tokens of appreciation other than money for riding driving or showing in halter/hand, however, horse board, prize money, partial support or objects of more than $300 value are considered remuneration, not small tokens of appreciation. Accepting any amount of money, whether more or les than $300, is considered remuneration. Prize money may be accepted by amateur riders in Dressage.(Article 808, 809)

Can the competition ever refuse someone's entry?
At a Recognized Competition, management may refuse entries from those who have shown previous objectionable behavior or attitude toward management or those who have shown previous unsportsmanlike behavior at a Recognized Competition. Management must be able to substantiate these behaviors. (Article 1509)
Competitions may also set criteria for entries in the following ways:

  • First Come, First Served (postmark date)
  • Based on previous winnings or scores
  • Management can limit the number of horses entered by an owner and the number of horses ridden by a rider.

Can mules and ponies compete at recognized dressage competitions?
Dressage classes are open to professional and amateur riders on horses, mules and/or ponies of any origin, except that ponies or mules may not be ridden in USET Championships, USET qualifying or selection trials, and observation classes. Mules are also ineligible to compete in (1) any other classes designated as qualifying or selection classes for international or international high performance competition and (2) championships where such participation is prohibited in the championship selection process. (Article 1919)

What is the accepted dress for various levels of dressage competition?
Dress is specified in Article 1920. At Training through 4th Levels, a short riding coat of conservative color with tie, choker or stock tie, breeches or jodhpurs, boots or jodhpur boots, a hunt cap or riding hat with a hard shell, derby or top hat is required. Half chaps and/or leggings are not allowed. In all tests above 4th Level the dress is a dark tailcoat with top hat, or dark jacket with a bowler hat or hunt cap, and white or light colored breeches stock tie, gloves and black riding boots. Spurs are mandatory for FEI tests. Members of the armed services and police units may ride in their uniforms. Any exhibitor may ride in protective head gear without penalty from the judge.

What is the length limit on whips?
Riders may carry one whip, no longer than 48 inches, including lash, in all classes except Championships. Note: Rule Change Proposals, to comply with FEI, reducing whip length down to approximately 43.3” including lash are being discussed with an effective date of 6/1/04, so watch for rule changes

Can I ride without my jacket in extreme heat?
In extreme heat, management can allow competitors to ride without jackets, but they must wear a regulation hat and a solid white or very pale colored long or short sleeved shirt without neckwear. T-shirts are not permitted. If you are too hot, ask a member of management to consider waiving the jacket rule. They will make a public announcement to that effect, which will start at the beginning of a class, not in the middle of a class.

What types of spurs are permitted?
Spurs must be metal and the shank must come directly from the center and point down, if curved. Swan neck spurs are allowed. The arms of the spurs must be smooth and if rowels are used, they must be free to rotate.

Under what circumstances could I expect my horse's bit to be checked? What happens if my equipment is illegal?
Ring stewards must be appointed by competition management to spot check saddlery and inspect bits in every class of six or more riders using a new disposable glove for each horse. Inspection must be done immediately as the horse leaves the arena. Inspection in classes of five or fewer must be done at the direction of the TD. Under Rule 1924, competitors can be eliminated from the current or next class, depending which is closest in time to the incident, for the use of illegal equipment.

Should a member of management be supervising schooling and warm-up areas?
All schooling and warm-up areas must be monitored by stewards starting at least 30 minutes before the first scheduled ride.

What are the saddlery and equipment requirements?
English type saddles with or without a tree are permitted. Stirrups are mandatory. Saddle pads are optional but should be white or of a conservative color. Logos may not exceed 200 cm square and are limited to breed, national flags, or business/farm names. No other publicity or advertisement is permitted on saddle cloths or horses. As a general rule, if you are not sure whether a saddle pad is of a conservative color, it is probably not conservative enough for competition. The specific description, including drawings, of legal bits is shown on the web site under Article 1921. Watch this rule category carefully too, these rules seem to change frequently.

What types of equipment can I use in the competition arena and warm-up area?
Some equipment is forbidden in the competition arena. This includes martingales, bit guards, gadgets including bearing, side, running, balancing reins, tongue tied down, boots (including easy boots), or bandages. Any blinkers, ear muffs or plugs, nose covers, seat covers, hoods are, under penalty of elimination, strictly forbidden. Rein additions and attachments are not permitted. Fly hoods (ear covers) will only be permitted to protect horses from insects and should be discreet and not cover the horses eyes. They are only permitted in extreme cases and only at the discretion of the presiding judges. Breastplates and cruppers may be used under most circumstances. . No decorations of horses with ribbon, flowers, etc. in the tail. False tails are permitted and may not contain any metal parts. All of the above applies to warm-up and other training areas, however, running martingales, boots, bandages and ear muffs are permitted. A running martingale consists of a divided strap attached to the girth or breastplate at the front of the horse's chest, the extension of each strap must be connected from the point of division only to the rein on the same side and must be free to slide. The rings through which the reins attach must not be connected to the neck strap. Single direct side reins are permitted only when lunging mounted or unmounted, with only one lunge line. Whips for schooling include a standard lunging whip and 2 whips no longer than 6' including lash. Note: A Rule Change Proposal, to comply with FEI, reducing the number of whips permitted to be used when lunging, is being discussed with an effective date of 6/1/04, so watch for rule changes.

When must my competition number be displayed?
The number that is issued to the horse, for that competition, must be worn at all times when a horse is being exercised or ridden. (Article 1921 (10)). A horse is being exercised even if it is being walked outside the stall. When the horse is being walked or exercised, it is best if the number is displayed on the horse, not the handler. When mounted, the number can be on the bridle, saddle pad or rider. “Competitors must display the correct number which must be clearly visible while performing in any class unless otherwise stated in the prize list. (Article 318(8)). A separate number must be issued for each horse/rider combination. (Article 1926(13)).

Where am I allowed to ride or exercise my horse?
Horses may only be exercised and ridden in management designated areas on the competition grounds. (Article 1921(12)). Why? Those are the areas that have been identified, by contractual agreement with the facility owner, as the location of the competition and management takes responsibility for those areas. Conversely, those who are not entered in the competition or entered for schooling, if management permits schooling, should not be on the competition grounds unless there is an arrangement with the Show Management.

Can competitors be cited for rule infractions with less than a formal charge?
Warning cards may be issued for improper conduct or rule infractions not serious enough to warrant issuance of a Formal Charge. The warning card is issued in concurrence with the competition manager, judge or another TD. Persons receiving three cards within a 12 month period will receive an administrative review and face possible penalties. (Article 1125)

What should I do if I need to have a caller for my test?
Tests may be called except in Final or Championship events. All FEI and Freestyle tests must be ridden from memory. It is up to the competitor to arrange for a person to call their test. The caller begins announcing the tests from first movement and is limited to reading the test, as it is written, only once. Repetition of a movement is acceptable if there is reason to doubt that the competitor heard the original call. The rider may not speak to the reader while in the arena. (See Article 1922(1)).

Once the bell rings, how long do I have to enter the arena?
Competitors must enter the arena within 45 seconds after the bell rings. Late entry into the arena will cause elimination from that class. (Articles 1922, 1924(g)).Musical Freestyle riders have 20 seconds to enter the arena after the music starts. (Article 1928 (6.5))

When can I expect to see my scores and what are the general rules governing the scoring?
Scores must be posted as soon as possible on a public scoreboard after each ride. (Article 1923(2)). Final results for each class must be posted as soon as possible after the class is completed and all results must include total points and percentages to three places after the decimal point, eliminated horses, and the placing of each horse that receives an award. In the case of equality of points, the competitor with the highest marks received under General Impression shall be declared the winner. If the General Impression scores are equal, the judge may decide on the winner but the scores may also remain tied. (Article 1923(3)). Tests must be handed directly to each competitor, not left out on a table for pick up. If an error on the score sheet is discovered, it must be brought to the attention of the competition management within one hour after the posting of the scores from the last class of the day. Management must announce the last posting. (Article 1923(8)).

Who may be a scorer?
It is recommended that scorers may not be a competitor, or an owner, coach, trainer or family member of a competitor/horse in the classes in which they are scoring. (Article 1923(10))

Who may be a scribe?
Scribes should have a knowledge of the tests being ridden. Scribes should not be an owner, coach, trainer, or family member of the competitor/horse in the class(es) in which they are scribing. Scribe changes should not be made more than once each day per judge. It is strongly recommended that scribes and apprentice judges not compete before judges with whom they have worked at that same competition. (Article 1926(5)).

Under which circumstances may a competitor be eliminated from the competition or class?
A horse and rider combination shall be eliminated from the competition under the following circumstances: misrepresentation of entry or inappropriate entry, horses tongue tied down or marked cruelty. A horse and rider combination shall be eliminated from the current or next class, depending on which is closest in time to when incident occurred, under the following circumstances: dress code violations, use of illegal equipment, unauthorized assistance, three errors of course, late entry into arena, all four feet of horse leave arena with or without rider, marked lameness, resistance of longer than 20 seconds, concern for the safety of the rider, other exhibitors or their entries, in FEI classes performing movements not allowed, failure to wear competition number, any situation where a direct rule violation can be cited and evidence of blood on a horse. (Article 1924)

What happens if there is blood on my horse?
Competitors often wonder whether a scab or older injury is considered to be blood on the horse. Blood on the horse is present if a person can wipe the area in question and find fresh blood on the wiping cloth. Evidence of blood on a horse in the competition arena shall be cause for elimination from the class by the judge at “C”. Evidence of blood on a horse outside the competition arena shall be cause for elimination by competition management, after consultation with the TD, from either the last class in which the horse competed or next class in which it is scheduled to compete, depending upon which is closest in time to the incident. Environmental causes, such as insect bites shall normally not be cause for elimination. (Article 1924)


Q. How do you salute the judge if you carry your whip in the right hand? How does a man who is wearing a safety helmet salute?
A: Article 1922(2), Execution and Judging of Tests, states, in relevant part that "at the salute riders must take the reins in one hand. A lady rider shall let one arm drop loosely along her body and then incline her head in a slight bow; a gentleman rider shall remove his hat and let his arm drop loosely along his body or may render the salute as does the lady rider." Article 1920(4), Dress, states in relevant part, "any exhibitor may wear protective headgear at any level of competition without penalty from the judge." These rule book sections seem to govern the situations that you are facing and indicate that the female rider should salute by placing the reins in her right hand and dropping her left hand loosely along her body and the man would salute in the same manner since the rules allow him to salute as does the lady and also specifically state that the judge may not penalize a rider who is wearing protective headgear.

Q: Is there a limitation on the number of rides per day for competitors at a Recognized Competition?
A: Yes. Under US Equestrian rules horses are limited to a maximum of three rides per day at Fourth Level and below and 2 rides per day above Fourth Level. (Article 1919(2)) No horse may compete more than once in any Dressage class. (Article 1919(1) ) Riders are not limited unless show management has specified a limit in the premium list.

Q: Do any specific rules apply to hauling horses into the competition and “showing out of the trailer”?
A: The entry form will specify any specific rules, day fees, or other charges for competitors who are not reserving stalls. It should also specify rules pertaining to trailer parking areas and waste clean up. If you are unsure about where to park when you arrive, ask the show secretary in advance or upon arrival before unloading your horse. All rules apply to all competitors, so there is no difference in the application of the rules between those who haul in for the day and those who reserve stalls. Remember that a bridle number, for that competition, must be displayed on your horse whenever it is being exercised or ridden. The purpose of that rule is partially for safety, in case a horse gets loose or there is a problem of some kind. Although a tied horse is technically not being exercised, as a practical matter, whenever the horse is tied to the trailer it would be nice if the bridle number is attached to the halter in case he gets loose or there is a problem. I have seen horses tied to trailers at competitions with their legs caught in hay nets and others who became frantic for some reason. Believe it or not, many horse and trailer combinations look alike, especially when an announcer is trying to describe it in an emergency. If there is no identification on that horse, it is difficult to locate the owner quickly.

The BSEA board thanks Dianne for allowing us to display her notes on this web page!

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