15 Common Dressage Judge Comments Explained

In April Zara Pawley – a top FEI International judge and Trainer held an incredibly informative dressage masterclass for the Wise Owl Equitation Saddle Club.


As part of the session Zara recognised that often the meanings of comments made by judges on test sheets aren’t very clear or understandable to riders. So she  took the time to explain 15 of the most common ones . Here they are summarised below…..

  1. Against the hand – the horse has too much weight in the hand and is fighting against the rider
  2. Behind the leg – the horse is not sharp enough off the leg or thinking forward – use this comment as homework in your schooling
  3. Brief – the movement was too quick, this shows the judge that the rider doesn’t have confidence that the horse will stay into the movement – a mark will be lost here
  4. Disunited – the rhythm has been lost in the canter – the legs are incorrect. If this happens often check the saddle fitting or speak to your physio
  5. Dropping the contact – the horse disappears off the hand and the rider hasn’t got any weight in the reins
  6. Hollow – The horses head comes up, also referred as above the bridle, or tight through frame or tight behind the saddle
  7. Clarity of rhythm –  when the paces don’t have the correct rhythm e.g, at a walk there isn’t a clear 4 step beat – it appears to be more of a lateral movement
  8.  Inaccurately ridden – When the movement is performed incorrectly, not at the marker or a 20m circle is not a circular shape
  9. Inactive – not travelling forward, lack of energy
  10. Incorrect bend – the horse is bent to the outside through the corners or on the circle
  11. No stretch – when the rider doesn’t give enough rein to allow the horse to stretch out during the free walk
  12. Lacking engagement – the horse needs to step more under his body or the steps needs more jump
  13. On the forehand – the horse needs to be more uphill, step under the body more and use their hind legs better
  14. Resistance/Tension – The horse is shortening his neck and the hind legs aren’t pushing him forward
  15. Tongue out – As described, loses 2 marks as per the rules.
The above is just a very brief taste of what was covered in the masterclass. She also explained the fundamentals of dressage from a judges point of view, and then took us through a recording of one of our members riding the Prelim 13 test and clearly explained how she scored each of the movements.
This is a a masterclass not to be missed  by any rider seriously looking to improve their dressage scores!
To catch the recording join the Saddle Club using the link below.