Mind Your Dressage Manners


You’ve memorized your test and studied your rulebook, but there are some niceties that you should know about so that you aren’t inadvertently offending your judge before you’ve even started your test. Veteran dressage judge Cindy Sydnor offers a judge’s point of view on these unwritten rules.

“First, when you are riding around the outside of your arena before entering, either walk or trot by the judge’s stand. Do not canter,” says Sydnor. “In the show arena, there are a few things that we judges love to see that show respect for the traditions of classical dressage.”

The judge’s box can be intimidating, but don’t let that inhibit good manners. “Say ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon,’ and ‘my number is 214.’ Don’t ride by saying nothing–that’s a little rude,” says Sydnor. “The judge may be writing comments on the previous rider’s score sheet, but she or he will usually appreciate being greeted. If the judge is busy, the scribe will be able to acknowledge your greeting and your number. Most judges will return the greeting and some will even wish you good luck!”

Upon entering, halting at X and saluting, Sydnor emphasizes the importance of waiting for the judge’s nod. “After halting, look at the judge, salute promptly, and wait for the judge’s acknowledgement of your salute before moving on,” she advises. “Most judges try to nod back at you immediately so you won’t have to wait long. When saluting, don’t keep your head down long; try to keep your eyes on the judge so you can see when she/he has responded to your salute. A quick nod of your head is absolutely sufficient with your hand dropped behind your thigh.”

At the end of your test, the same etiquette applies: salute and wait for the judge’s nod again. Then ride straight forward for at least a few strides before turning to ride toward the exit. “Don’t turn directly from the final halt and walk away,” says Sydnor. “It’s a little rude.”

Wait until you’ve left the arena to relax. Even though you aren’t being scored, it’s courteous to complete your ride in good form. “Don’t speak to anyone until you have left the arena, even if they speak to you,” says Sydnor.”It used to be a clear rule and it’s not anymore. But it isn’t respectful to speak to friends or your coach while you are still in the arena, even though you have technically finished your test.”

With these dos and don’ts in mind, your good show manners will reflect well on you and demonstrate respect for the sport you love. Everyone loves a class act—especially dressage judges.

Liked this article? Here’s more dressage advice:
Dressage Judge’s Pet Peeves
Score More

Meet the Expert: Cindy Sydnor
Cindy started riding at age 12 and has ridden almost every day since. She has been an examiner for the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) instructor/trainer program for 20 years and spent 35 years as a United States Equestrian Federation “R” dressage judge.

Cindy has competed through Grand Prix level. She was long-listed for the Pan Am and Olympic teams for several years. Cindy and her husband, Dr. Charles Sydnor, live in Snow Camp, N.C. They have three children, and daughter Eliza Sydnor Romm is a USDF-certified Third/Fourth Level instructor who teaches and trains from the facility Cindy started in 1979. Currently, Cindy owns and rides four horses and keeps busy teaching and giving clinics.



  1. I’ve only ridden a test when the judge is in a vehicle and I couldn’t see her because of the sun glare. Didn’t know a lot of this! Good stuff to keep in mind!


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