Read Part 1 here if you missed it!
With the vast expanse of classes available for your young or breeding dressage horse, you may wonder how exactly you exhibit in these classes.
Tack and Turnout
1. Braiding is OPTIONAL!! (Though I’ve never seen a horse go in unbraided except the fussiest of babies)
2. Bridles for all except Foals and Weanlings who can wear a Halter. Yearlings are allowed in either. Bit rules still apply, Snaffles only. Horses can be led by lead or reins.
3. “The handler, assistant handler and/or a whip assistant may each carry only one whip, or one standard lungeing whip (without attachments, i.e. plastic bags, etc.). In addition, disruptive noisemaking devices are not permitted in the competition ring.” (USEF Rulebook) <- Go ahead and raise that eyebrow… a whip… That’s right! You are running dressage whip in hand used as a visual barrier to keep your firebreathing horse from getting strung out or turning in and running you over, while your trusted best friend is running behind your horse at an appreciable distance of safety with a lunge whip helping to drive your horse from behind.
Yes this sounds crazy, and yes you will show up at the first show with your friend mildly laughing because there’s NO WAY people actually run with an assistant who has a whip. ‘Til you sneak out to watch the class ahead of you, and there’s Bruce Griffith…Mr. USEF handler of the year. And he has an assistant (who is his super awesome wife that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at several of these shows) and she is running with a whip. So now decide you need a helper, because if Bruce does, it’s necessary.
4. Conservative sports attire is recommended for handlers, assistant handlers and whip assistants. (See General Rules, GR801.1) Junior handlers, junior assistant handlers and junior whip assistants must wear protective headgear. <- Traditionally a Polo or Collared shirt with Khaki’s and RUNNING SHOES
5. In Under Saddle classes, Dress must conform to DR120, and for Under Saddle and In-Hand classes, Saddlery and Equipment must conform to DR121, except that all horses using a bridle are required to compete in a snaffle
In Hand Classes
The majority of classes are in hand and unlike your traditional halter or conformation classes, dressage horses are shown “on the triangle.” For those of us less than marathon runners, it becomes the “triangle of death.” This innocent looking triangle made of potted plants at the corners may look like a friendly jaunt down the garden, but the fine art of showing your horse at their most athletic trot becomes a dance of sprinting, half halting, whip chasing and spending the rest of your brain cells on not falling flat on your face.
When beginning the class, each handler starts at the tip of the triangle where the judge is and sets up the horse for conformation close inspection. We stand our horses in the “open” position so that angles of shoulder and hip can be evaluated. <- In reality you are working as hard as you can to set your horse up in the correct position while giving your young horse a frustrated face as he decides TODAY he is going to be cow hocked in the hind and pigeon-toed in the front, and won’t stand still.
The next phase is the walk, taking the small triangle for a long, stretchy, relaxed topline with ground covering stride. <- with the energy and fanfare of the warmup next to your ring, your youngster is likely in the alert phase while you’re just sending subliminal waves begging your horse to walk like the mule you drag along every other day at home when he won’t come out the field.
Then as you return to the apex of the triangle you wait for the judge to send you trotting on. In that magical moment you throw up a prayer that you stay on your feet and start your trot. Slow, straight and accurate as you trot off the judge for the hind view, then as you prep to take that right hand turn, you liven up your mental afterburners and take your youngster, stallion or broodmare at mach 7 to get that big trot while half-halting to ask for impulsion and suspension.
As you fly through the air, you feel confident that you can make it to that next blessed flowerpot, but as you peek to your right, you realize your horse is starting to win this race and get ahead of you. As you panic to run bigger without falling you realize that flowerpot arrived suddenly and you’re about to miss the turn. You immediately apply the brakes and hope they work as you either a) try the turn or b) just try to stop and make a small circle of composure before the final leg. (A circle is legal and not penalized.) As you round the flower for that final leg, your lungs grasp for any oxygen you can find as you attempt to calm yourself and your horse and nail another slower, yet dead straight trot line coming towards the judge.
Finally, as you gasp for air from running the trot of your life, you attempt to regain composure and set your horse back up for inspection… praying on everything holy the judge doesn’t decide you need to re-run it for them, as your legs may fall off.
While is may sound a bit dramatic, the first time Amateur handler definitely has this dialogue running in his or her head as they try for all they have to help this horse look its best. This can be a crazy and daunting ring. Fortunately, there are many professional handlers available to help and handle your horse for the shows. They have practiced and trained to help your horse perform at its best, and can help you achieve the scores needed to move on or to place. They also have training to work with your youngster who may have issues keeping 4 hooves on the ground.
Under Saddle/Materiale Classes
These classes run in the arena at the judges’ discretion, similar to a flat class in hunters. These youngsters or breeding horses are often ridden by trainers or their primary rider as a young, green, or not yet performance horse. These classes are designed for success as early outings for these greener horses with safety and potential for quality gaits in mind.
Whether you have a Dressage Sport Horse Breeding horse or not, it’s always worth seeking out the in-hand ring at your next dressage show and watch the fun!