Courtesy of John Borys Photography

What to do when you’ve reached a plateau in competitive dressage: try your hand at earning a new Dressage Seat Equitation award from the USDF! I say “new” but I think this award has been open to all riders – junior/young riders, adult amateurs, and even professionals – for a while now. What’s technically “new” is that now adult amateurs who earn a 70% or higher in a Dressage Seat Equitation class are automatically qualified to compete in the USDF Regional Adult Amateur Equitation Program. Here’s how Newman and I not only qualified for regionals but also earned both the Elementary (five scores of 65% or higher) and Accomplished (five scores of 72% or higher) Awards.

Score #1: May, Silverwood, 75%
This was my first time riding in a Dressage Seat Equitation class and I was the only one, which has its pros and cons. It was super hot that day, and when I rode up to the judge’s box she asked if I would mind if she stayed in there because it was shady. We discussed my “demo” ride which I suggested just be a figure eight (so she could see both directions), with me changing gait at the center after I’d ridden a circle each way. She thought it was a good plan and I was able to show her everything she needed to see in just a few minutes. She came out to talk to me afterwards and these were her comments:
• Walk: fairly good alignment ear, shoulder, hip, heel
• Trot: could be stronger through core with back more flat, nicely quiet with hands
• Canter: needs to open left shoulder for improved bend

Courtesy of John Borys Photography

Score #2: June, Silverwood, 75%
Again I was the only rider, but this time the judge and her scribe came out to the ring and talked me through First Level Test Two. USEF DR133 describes the rules for this class, in which dress, saddlery, and equipment is equivalent to First Level. And because riders may be asked to leg yield as well as lengthen the trot and/or canter, the horse and rider should be confirmed at this level. Her comments were:
• Walk: nice following contact
• Trot: leg could stretch more and be under body more, right leg too far forward, nice line elbow
to bit
• Canter: better with heels, legs could be more on (tends to pinch with knees), right leg comes in
front of Girth

Score #3: July, Lamplight, 76%
This time there were a total of six riders in the class, so the judge came out and ran it like a ring class (for example, Hunter Under Saddle). At the end, she had us line up facing her and she came and talked to us one by one. Here’s what she said to me:
• Slightly leaning back behind vertical at sitting trot and canter
• Reins too long
• Hips could be more open/relaxed/with-the-motion in sitting trot and canter

Dropped score: August, Fields & Fences, 71.7%
Three-tenths of a point less than what I needed, but by far the most effort! There were two of us this day and apparently the judge had trouble deciding who would be first and who would be second, because he had us ride (mostly sitting trot) for almost 15 minutes. He also gave no comments . . .

Score #4: September, Silverwood, 79%
Back to being the only rider, and I thought things had gone well until the judge spent longer giving me feedback than I did riding! Also, I was for sure my score was going to be in the 60s because of how many position flaws she pointed out, so imagine my surprise when she awarded me with my highest score yet!
1. Center of gravity gets behind my base of support: need stronger front line/core
2. Right shoulder low: shift torso to right
3. When canter right, right shoulder is forward; when canter left, left shoulder is forward: open shoulder in direction of lead
4. Hands/fingers open:
a. Keep reins in hand, not across fingers
b. Practice with rope
c. Imagine holding baby birds
d. Ride with a Theraband around both wrists
5. Legs sometimes get in front
6. Elbows out at the sitting trot
7. Knees come up at the sitting trot

Courtesy of John Borys Photography

Score #5: September, Silverwood , 75%
For my last Dressage Seat Equitation class of the year I rode by myself again, and by now I was pretty confident that I would get at least the 72% I needed to earn the USDF Accomplished Level Award. However, this judge threw me for a loop when she said she scored me down because I didn’t ask my horse to go forward! (he had two more classes that day so I thought I would conserve his energy). Live and learn!
Active walk but overall needed to go more forward
Rider behind balance at times

I would encourage any horse and rider pair at First Level or above to give the Dressage Seat Equitation classes a try:
• You get a ton of constructive criticism by a fresh set of eyes
• They’re WAY less stressful than having to memorize and ride a test
• You get an award!