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In the Judge’s Booth with Mike Osinski




Q:  I have seen some of the rider's tests at shows this summer but I don't know much about them. Before I enter one, can you tell me what are the judges looking at and how they are judged?  Julia, Spokane, WA

A: The USEF rider tests call out to those who have good equitation and effective aids. They diminish the importance of a fancy-moving warmblood and  level the playing field for those less fortunately mounted -- but still very talented -- riders. The tests, which are offered at Training, First, and Second level, are open to both professional and amateur riders alike.

There are no individual movements to score but, rather, the judge must watch and perform a general assessment of the rider's abilities in five scored areas: rider position, effect of the aids, horse's responsiveness, accuracy including impulsion, and harmony between horse and rider. The system is very similar to the one used for the Young Horse program and the Equitation division. Errors incur a 0.5 deduction for the first error, 1.0 deduction for the second error, and elimination on the third error.

As you probably observed, the tests are challenging. They are loaded with difficult transitions and lots of rapid-fire movements, thus testing the effectiveness of the rider's aids, as well as their equitation. Obviously, the training increases appropriately with the corresponding level. Old but newly introduced movements include the turns on the forehand at First level. And, of course, rising diagonals are now defined. 

The judges use scores between one and ten and are allowed to use tenths of a percentage point, which allows for very nuanced judging.


Having judged the USEF rider tests, my advice to interested riders is to be competent riding at least a level above where you are currently showing. The new tests are purposely designed to be challenging.

Here's hoping to see you trying them soon, and with good results!

Happy rides,

July 2014




About Mike


Mike Osinski is a USEF Senior (S) Dressage and FEI 3* judge and has been a licensed judge since 1986. He is an active competitor who has earned the USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals, as well as the Bronze and Silver Freestyle bars and numerous Horse of the Year awards.


Mike has a BA in Business Administration and is a Licensed Massage Practitioner in the State of Washington. He trains and teaches dressage at Forest Park Equestrian Center in Olympia, WA, where he also hosts two recognized dressage shows a year.


Mike regularly teaches dressage clinics in several Western states and judges national and international-level competitions across the country. Learn more about Mike at

Photo by Mary Cornelius

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