From Schooling Shows to Recognized Shows by Alex du Celliee Muller

Oct 24, 2017 by

How to Break Out of the Schooling Show Cycle and Get to Your First Recognized Show
by Alex du Celliee Muller

Say you’ve been riding dressage for a few years, and you’ve been showing at local shows with moderate success. Are you ready for a recognized show? Here’s what you need to know. A recognized show is a show that is governed by both USDF (United States Dressage Federation) and USEF (United States Equestrian Federation now US Equestrian).

Unfortunately, there is no easy formula for getting out of your comfort zone and showing in your first recognized show (the USDF training pyramid is always a good reference – see below).  I can, however, share my own personal ideas.  Before you plunge right in and take yourself to a USDF/USEF recognized show, find yourself a trainer who not only shows at these shows, but also routinely takes students to these shows.  You want to have access to a trainer who can give you a realistic view of whether you and your horse are ready, and help you bridge the gap if you’re not quite there.


If you are without a trainer who you can trust to tell you if you are ready, here’s a baseline: before you go show recognized, you and your horse should be aware of warm up ring etiquette, able to maintain composure in a new location after a trailer ride, be comfortable spending the night in a strange stall, and be able to perform “sufficiently” even while under pressure.  I put quotes around “sufficiently” because sufficiency is a subjective term, depending on your personal goals.  My rough rule of thumb for my clients is that they should be able to go to off-site schooling shows and consistently score several points higher than they would be happy scoring at a recognized show; this is because schooling show judges tend to be more generous than a judge at a recognized show. So, for example, I would like a client who is going to their first recognized show to be scoring in the 60s at whatever level is appropriate, so I would wait until they have gone to several schooling shows and scored 63+% before proposing that they jump into the fiercer world of USDF/USEF shows.

Suppose you and your trainer have determined that you are ready, you now have a few options.  Your first USDF/USEF show will be more expensive than subsequent shows because horses must be lifetime registered with USDF and USEF (comes to a total of about $300 for both organizations). Riders and owners must be members of both USDF and USEF (or owners can pay a non-member fee per show), but memberships are renewed yearly, whereas horse registration is a one time fee.  Although your ADS membership makes you a group member of USDF, you will need an additional “participating member” membership for showing. If you are not quite ready to pay all of that or you are looking at an end of the year show (when your membership would expire soon afterward), you have the option of doing “opportunity” classes.  Most shows offer this option to let riders try out a “real” show without the financial hardship.  However, you cannot obtain scores to qualify for regional championships, and your scores will not be recorded. This may be a good thing for your first time out!

If this doesn’t answer all of your questions, I strongly recommend going to watch a USDF/USEF recognized show before committing to riding in one.  There is a list of recognized shows on the calendar page of each region’s website (we are in region 9) with the closest show being held in Hernando, MS.  Below is a photo of the regions in the U.S.  There is also a chart on what scores are needed to qualify for USDF Regional Championships and the Southwest Dressage Championships.  Both are held in Katy, TX in October.  Please refer to the complete USDF rules for more info.  Good luck!



USDF Regional Championships Qualifying Scores:


Southwest Dressage Championship 2017 Qualifying Percentages:

Southwest Dressage Championship Qualifying Classes will be governed by the rules published in the current SWDC/Region 9 Omnibus and/or on web site   Each rider must declare the division in which they are competing prior to each attempt at a qualifying ride at SWDC qualifying shows or for a score submitted under the rules (Amateur, Open, or Junior/Young Rider) and must provide proof of eligibility in the case of Amateur and Junior/Young Riders.  Adult Amateur and Junior/Young Riders may also qualify for the Open division.  Separate scores must be earned for each division.  At the Championships, they must enter each division separately and ride in each division separately. There is no requirement of citizenship or horse/rider/owner registrations for SWDC, but each horse/rider pair must comply with USEF and competition rules.

SWDC Classes Adult Amateur Junior/Young Rider Open
Walk Trot (USDF Intro B Test) 63% 63%
Training Level 61% 61% 64%
First Level 60% 60% 63%
Second Level 59% 59% 62%
Third Level 58% 58% 60%
Fourth Level 57% 57% 58%
Prix St George 57% 57% 58%
Intermediare I 57% 57% 58%
Intermediare II 57% 57% 58%
Grand Prix 57% 57% 58%
Musical Freestyle Training Level 62%
Musical Freestyle 1st Level 62%
Musical Freestyle 2nd Level 62%
Musical Freestyle 3rd Level 62%
Musical Freestyle 4th Level 62%
Musical Freestyle FEI 60%
Pony Championship –  Training Level 56%
Pony Championship – First Level 56%


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