Big Girl Panties – Check!

I was a demo rider for Part 1 – Session B, USDF “L” Program two weekends ago. This is how it went down…

I was scheduled as the last rider to go on Saturday (5:00pm). Saturday morning I was awake and in full swing by 7:00 am, checking in participants and helping set up the audio/visual stuff for the lecture portion. At 1:00, the program moved to the barn for the demo rides. I had 18 gift baskets to hand out and not a clue who was riding. Ha!

I tacked up 40 minutes before our ride, and headed out to warm up, but after just a couple of minutes I was told it was my turn to go. Eek!

We slid into the indoor arena while the L participants finished critiquing the previous rider. After a few minutes, the presenter said they were ready. My hands shook. I took a deep breath. Ava was tense, and leery of the mass of squirming bodies at C.

We entered at A….

The test went great. Ava was fluid and happily swinging beneath me. Our trot lengthens were much improved over the last show, and I was very proud of how much more balanced she was. When we came around the corner to C for our stretchy trot circle, Ava caught a look at the huddled mass of bodies on the bleachers a foot from us and spooked. However, she came right back after a couple of strides and did a very nice stretch with an even tempo.

I was most concerned about the canter work, but Ava came through with flying colors. Our only mistake during the test was the last canter serpentine. I got off balance and Ava flipped leads in front. But she let me rebalance her immediately and pick up the canter again with just a few strides.

When we finished, the L participants were asked what they scored us. One guy gave us a 70%, but the presenter said he was way too generous. 😦 The average score from most of the participants was low to mid 60’s. That’s about what I’ve been getting at the shows. The participants then shared their critiques of each individual movement. I was pretty devastated that everyone said we showed no lengthen.

It was hard listening to the group as each L participant voiced their criticism of my test. I stood there and listened for what seemed like forever as they picked apart every single movement. I wanted to leave… It’s not like it wasn’t true (what they were saying), but normally you get that on a test sheet, not broadcasted to 50+ people who ride/train dressage.


After they finished, and let me go, I untacked Ava and sat on a bale of hay trying to compose myself. I knew they were going to be harsh, but ouch, just ouch…

After a bit, my trainer came by, and as she was feeding Ava some carrots she said that Marilyn had scored me at a 63%. An international, FEI level judge gave me a 63% score! I know it doesn’t seem that great, but I’m really darn proud of that score. 🙂

Moral of story: Being a demo rider for the L program requires thick skin, and an ability to take criticism well. I admire the other demo riders. It took guts to put themselves out there, for no pay, all so our future judges can learn to be good judges.

USDF “L” Program – Session B

Marilyn Heath, was our presenter for Session B. Heath is a “S” Dressage judge and Chairman of the USDF “L” Education Program. She has competed through Grand Prix, earning her Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals. She also competed in the CDI at the World Championships in Ontario, Canada in 1986.

The lecture section started at 8:00 am Saturday morning with a review of the homework assigned to participants. Pens flew furiously as the presenter covered each answer given. Marilyn then dove into the meat of the content, covering the evaluation of the quality of the gaits. The focus being on rhythm, tempo, suppleness, and elasticity of the gaits.

Hillary Clayton helped provide information into biomechanics of gaits and how structure and ligaments allowed for freedom of movement.

After lunch, participants and auditors made the short trip to Mystic Marsh Equestrian Center to watch live demonstrations of movements and tests. These demonstrations were generously provided by 18 horse/rider combinations.

Each level (Training through Second) started with a small group of riders who demonstrated several key movements within the level. The L Program participants were then asked to score and comment on the individual movement. The focus was on giving riders a concise comment that could help the rider achieve the goals of the level. After the group ride, one rider would ride Test 3 for that level. The participants scored and evaluated each movement and determine a final score. After the test, the participants then were asked to share their marks and give reasons for each mark.

Sunday followed the same format, with lecture in the morning followed by demo rides in the afternoon. There was a wealth of information shoved into two full days.

Overall, Session B was an information packed event. I would highly recommend attending the L program even if you never aspire to be a judge. The information, discussions, and demonstrations of correct/incorrect movements, were not only interesting but will hone your eye for seeing the true underlying issues.

Lecture portions:
Session A was biomechanics of gaits

Session B is quality of the gaits. Evaluation of the quality of the gaits

Stay tuned for Session C in November.

USDF “L” Program – More Info

Below is information on the USDF “L” Program. I’ve pulled information from various sources, and included it below. Additional links are at the bottom.

USDF developed the “L” program as a way to give aspiring judges a solid, established foundation in the basics of evaluating dressage performance in competition.

The goals are to better prepare future dressage judges, and achieve continuous standards in dressage judging.

By the way, I just figured out that the “L” stands for Learner, as in “Learner Judge”. So, now you know. 😉

USDF “L” program needs about 12 demo riders for each sessions. There are three sessions for the first portion of the program, and three parts to the program. Riders get a chance to have a free lesson with the top US judges. They ride and get critiqued in front of 40+ people, auditors and “L” participants.

USDF “L” Program FAQ

Session A, B, and C comprise Part 1of the “L” Program, also called ‘A Judge’s Perspective.’ This is the educational foundation of the program.

Session A is an introduction to judging and biomechanics.

Session B is about judging criteria for gaits & paces, movements & figures.

Session C is about collective marks, equitation, rider biomechanics and basics.

“L Is For Learning”, a PDF that gives an overview of auditing the program.

USDF “L” Dressage Judging Program Blog

Training DVD “On The Levels”:
Go to USDF Online Store to Buy “On The Levels”