How to Become a Dressage Judge

An experienced, licensed dressage judge explains how to become one yourself.

Question: I have always been fascinated by the world of dressage judging. How do I become a judge?

?Practical Horseman. All Rights Reserved.

Answer: There is a lot of work involved in becoming a licensed dressage judge. It requires a solid background and experience in dressage. After that, there is acceptance to and participation in dressage learner programs, a substantial block of time, considerable personal expense, travel in most cases and a strong commitment to meet all requirements. Even then there is always the possibility that you will fail required tests and not become a judge. On the plus side, even if the latter is true, you will have benefited greatly by expanding your knowledge and understanding of dressage.

The first necessary step is to complete one of the “L” programs sponsored by some of the Group Member Organizations (GMO) of the U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF). To be eligible to take part, you have to show success at Second Level with some scores above 60% or training horses to Fourth Level, or you have to have taught pupils at Fourth Level or above. Some additional requirements of scribing and sitting with judges can be completed during the program but before the final examination. Obtain an application from the USDF, 220 Lexington Green Circle, Suite 510, Lexington, Kentucky 40503 or visit

The “L” program consists of five, two-day sessions, usually spread over a period of six to 18 months. The instruction in theory, methodology and dressage basics is taught by a selected faculty of Senior judges. The sessions include demonstrations with live horses as well as videotapes. One of the sessions is practice judging with evaluation by two faculty members, and one is the final exam consisting of a written part as well as actual judging.

Participants who obtain a score of 80% on the written and 65% in practical judging are designated as “L” program graduates and may be asked to do informal judging activities such as schooling shows, Pony Club events, etc.

Participants scoring 80 percent on the practical are designated as graduates “with distinction.” This latter status is required by U.S. Equestrian Foundation (USEF) in order to apply for entry into one of their courses to become a licensed judge. In most “L” programs, from one-third to one-half of all graduates pass with distinction.

The next step for the distinguished “L” graduate is to apply to USEF for entry into a judging program. In addition to having graduated an “L” program with distinction, a candidate must meet a Fourth Level riding proficiency requirement at a designated number of USEF competitions. Applicants also must have recommendations from at least 12 licensed dressage judges.

Courses are scheduled when there are enough applicants in a geographical area and an individual or group offers to manage such a course. Because so much of the material has been thoroughly covered in the “L” program, this course usually consists of one or two days of instruction followed by a day of exam. With a passing grade, the applicant can become a Recorded or “r” judge. A recorded judge is licensed by USEF and can judge Training through Second Levels at USEF- and USDF-recognized competitions. Upon licensing, the “r” judge needs to judge a minimum of four competitions every two years or the license automatically will not be renewed.

Application for promotion to Registered or “R” status can be made after a minimum of two years. Usually, a longer period is required to get the necessary experience. An “R” judge may judge all levels from Training to Fourth Level. A more stringent riding requirement and another training course and exam are held for this promotion.

A Senior or “S” judge is the highest level a judge can reach within USEF. Recommendations from “S” judges and show officials, substantial experience riding at F?d?ration Equestre Internationale (FEI) levels and a good record as an “R” judge are all prerequisites for admission to the program. “S” judges may judge all levels to Grand Prix.

While the process to become a judge and to be promoted may seem cumbersome to some, it is necessary to ensure quality judging. The future success of dressage depends on good judging.

Peter Lert is a USA Equestrian “S” judge who chairs the technical subcommittee of the USDF Judges’ Committee. A member of the USDF “L” program faculty, he is an instructor as well as an examiner for USEF judge education programs. He lives in Los Gatos, Calif.

Ask the Experts is a monthly department in Dressage Today magazine.

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