Judging unaffiliated dressage – Master Dressage Lessons

Unaffiliated dressage is well known for highly varying marks and usually more generous marks than the official British Dressage, FEI or USDF competitions. This is to encourage  new riders, but also centers must attract customers rather than put them off with low marks. This could be argued to be wrong and misleading, but there is a fine balance between encouragement and creating false hopes.

I am probably known more for giving lower marks at unaffiliated than others. So I thought I would give people an idea of how I deal with marking unaffiliated. Before I do that, I would like to say that getting a 4 means insufficient and getting a 5 is sufficient with 6 being satisfactory. So anyone railing at getting a 5 must realise this is considered sufficient.

When I judge unaffiliated I tend to compress the marks I would normally give from the bottom up. I try not to expand the marks too much at the top end however. What this means is that what should be a 5 will get a 6, and what should be a 4 will get a 5 – however usually a 7 will be a 7.5 and then an 8 will be an 8. This means that I try to strike a balance between giving false hopes and getting people too depressed. I try not to inflate the marks too much at the top end of the scale ( giving false hope ) and I avoid giving too low a mark at the low end ( depressing riders ). I am sure I am not always successful at the latter 🙁

Now I going to give a range of percentage scores and tell you what kind of problems you will see in those ranges. This is what I use for unaffiliated for intro, prelim level.


Horse is almost permanently hollow, inconsistent to contact, inaccurate, lacks suppleness often showing outside bend and poor shapes. Additionally horse will lack energy due to hollow back and so on. Sometime tension will also show lack of tempo control, poor walk and no stretching in free walk.


Horse ranges from mostly hollow to inconsistent to contact ( outline varying ), shows suppleness issues, poor shapes and some hollowing in transitions. Also lacking energy and some occasional tempo/rhythm issues. Will probably not reach well in stretching movements.


Horse is inconsistent to contact in places, has an OK level of energy but can often be see becoming a little lazy. Probably hollows a little in transitions, perhaps shows some suppleness issues in turns left and right. Stretches OK in movements requiring it, but probably loses energy doing so.


Horse is more consistent to contact. Has a fairly good level of energy. It shows better suppleness in its turns, and is also reaching better over back into rein. May make some mistakes in test, occasionally against hand, showing occasional hollowing in transitions. Possibly at the lower end a little more on the forehand than ideal. Perhaps has one pace better than others ( usually canter needs more balance ).


Horse is fairly consistent to contact. Has a fairly good level of energy. Makes few errors in test, perhaps occasional inaccuracy, or a slightly weaker pace than the others. Occasionally slight loss of tempo control/balance usually in transitions.


Horse is consistent to contact, maintains a good rhythm and shows good suppleness on turns and circles. Probably some few niggles with balance, control of straightness and rider errors(inaccuracies). Transitions are relatively smooth.

What would you see in 80% plus tests? Probably flying unicorns or Charlotte Dujardin… Joking aside the horse will have very good paces, showing good rhythm, a good and consist energy, is settled to the contact, shows good even suppleness, good and smooth transitions and a well executed accurate test.

The above is a very rough guide, but it might give you an idea as to what to expect. As you can see the lower end of the scale is a little compressed towards 60% where as the top end of the scale is more normal.

How can the book Master Dressage help you?

  • Increase the marks you get by improving your accuracy
  • Improving the fluidity of your tests so you look like a pro
  • Teaching you what the requirements of movements are.
  • Explaining what the judges are looking for in tests.
  • Translating typical judges comments in plain English.
  • Showing you what you should be practicing at home.
  • Improving your ability to focus when practicing.
  • Explaining typical rider mistakes.
  • Shows you how to review your results
  • and much much morePlease share this article on with your friends using the buttons above.
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Peter Dove

The author Peter Dove