Understanding Western Dressage Scores

Understanding Western Dressage Scores

Article co-written by Dr. Mike Guerini (www.dunmovinranch.com) and the leadership team of North American Western Dressage (www.nawdhorse.org).

In quite a few western disciplines (Reining, Ranch Riding, Ranch Versatility, Cow horse, etc.) the horse and rider begin with a score of 70 upon entering the arena. Based on the performance of each maneuver/movement, your score can remain the same or go up or down with a change of 1 1⁄2 points. Larger penalties of 2 or 5 points do exist.

Western Dressage scores are the same as Traditional Dressage, but are different from the scoring methods used for the more well known western disciplines. In dressage, each horse and rider team are given a numerical score on each of the movements in the test. The score for every movement can range from 0 to 10 points.

With the growing excitement in competing in Western Dressage, many western equestrians are looking to better understand what their scores mean.

Each movement is scored with the numeric value shown below. We can look at the numbers and what they mean to you as a rider in a little more detail by adding a few more descriptive words or thoughts.

10 Excellent­­­­­­: Very rarely given. It means as good as it gets or ever can get: horse is giving 100% of its potential.

9 Very Good: ­­­­­­Not often awarded; be very proud when they appear on your score sheet.

8 Good:­­­­­­­­­­­­ An appropriate level of engagement/carriage, straightness, connection, etc. for the test being ridden.

7 Fairly Good: ­­­­­­A good mark, horse still showing a need to mature in strength and consistency which will add “promptness” and precision to the movement or maybe a minor inaccuracy such as a misstep here or there that prevented a score of 8.

6 Satisfactory: ­­­­The movement was obedient and accurate, marred by outline or a slight lack of straightness or insufficient impulsion. The mark tells you, you and your horse are headed in the correct direction in your training and you just need some more time and practice..

5 Sufficient: ­­­­­­­­Horse was generally obedient, but maybe lacked impulsion, was too much on the forehand, showed irregular tempo at times (broke gait for a few steps), lacks balance (leans in curving lines rather than bending).

4 Insufficient: ­­­­­A serious inaccuracy occurred: counter bent, rough transition, head tossing, resisting the bit by carry his head high with neck inverted or over bending his neck so his nose is behind the vertical, geometry error.

3 Fairly Bad: ­­­­­­­A serious problem occurred; lack of control, very late or fluffed transitions, stumbling, horse never straight through body, avoiding rider control by swinging haunches in or out continually and excessively.

2 Bad: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Now we’re talking severe disobedience; bucking; rearing; napping.

1 Very Bad: ­­­­­­­­­The horse must have bolted through the movement to receive this!

0 Not Performed: ­­­Self­-explanatory. Horse did not perform any of the required movement (for example ­­ failing to strike off in lope and continuing in a jog).

Western Dressage Scores may also include half points. A 0.5 can be awarded to any whole number. If the movement was better than a 6 but not quite the level of a 7, the judge is free to indicate it by awarding a 6.5.

What the numbers really mean

A “5” is a passing grade; the movement was performed, but it was slightly flawed or not overwhelmingly impressive. Think “so­so” or “just OK”.  A “6” is a bit above average and “7” is rather good. Anything of “8” and above are very good, with “9” and “10” being extremely rare scores. A “4” means “needs improvement” and below 4 typically indicates something went wrong.

A low score means you should practice that movement more.

How to use your score to help you decide when it is right to move up

If you are scoring mostly 5s, with some scores higher or lower, you are showing at the correct level. If you are scoring mostly 6s, with frequent 7s or higher, you should consider moving up a level and challenging yourself and your horse with more difficult movements. North American Western Dressage, with the NAWD Stars program, suggests that three scores of 65% or higher is a good indicator that you should move up.

At the end of the tests, the total points you received are divided by the total points possible for the test and this number is turned into a percentage and that is how your score is represented.

We hope this helps you to better understand the value of the numerical score on your dressage test.

Enjoy the ride!

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — Do you know the difference?

by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)

We take great liberties with the English language these days when we speak, text and, write. Two, Too, and To are often texted as “2” and this is just one example of us interchanging words and letters and numbers so that we do not always have to think about the exact spelling, meaning, or detail of a simple word.

As equestrians, we find ourselves in training or instructing or learning and we get challenged to describe what we are feeling.  We often use words that we think we understand their meaning…but in truth … we heard someone else say the word and we think it sounds correct or powerful or authoritative.

Four words in particular — Frame – Self-Carriage – Roundness – Collection — are often used interchangeably and by that—they are used incorrectly. These words are not interchangeable. The four terms are distinct in meaning, appearance, and feel when riding. Let us begin with defining these words normally, without the equestrian perspective….and then defining with the equestrian perspective.

General Population Definitions of these words:

Frame — to construct by fitting and uniting the parts of the skeleton of (a structure)

Self-Carriage — manner of bearing the body, deportment

Roundness — having curves rather than angles

Collection — the act or process of getting things from different places and bringing them together

Even in everyday use, these words have distinct meanings. Now let us look at them through the eyes of an equestrian.

Equestrian Definitions of these words:

Frame — Horse traveling in a predetermined outline.  Frame has a particular look.  We can influence the frame with natural and artificial aids.

Self-Carriage — the horse carries himself in the best and most appropriate manner for the movement he has to execute. Self-carriage is the result of balance.  This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to be in balance and self-carriage.

Roundness — horse lifts his back so that the hind end can reach under further and the topline can become rounder. Again — This requires time and patience and good equitation for us to be able to work with our horse to achieve correct roundness.

Collection — to shift his center of gravity more over his hind feet by increasing the bend in his hocks and stifles. That lowers his hindquarters, shortens his strides, and means that when he thrusts off the ground, his impulsion now becomes more “up” than “forward.”  The holy grail and top of the training scale.  An often sought after, moderately achieved activity that the horse can sustain for short periods of time (note….it is not good to announce proudly that you rode your horse in collection for over an hour….just not a good plan and likely it did not happen, nor would a good equestrian want it to happen)

Simply by reading these definitions, you can begin developing a mental picture of how they are different and of course how these concepts work together. A multitude of people have discussed these concepts in excellent detail and below I share with you some of the references I use as I continue to advance my learning (See links below).

My challenge to you as fellow equestrians is to become more exacting in the words you use to describe what your horse and you are achieving.  By being more exacting – you will improve your training, develop reasonable and progressive goals, and have more fun and success.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this blog to encourage other equestrians to learn more and to develop more exacting standards of language as horsemen and horsewomen.

From Manolo Mendez website — Balance & Rhythm in the Young Horse: Essential to Forward and Self Carriage (first independent balance)

From Karen Rolf – Dressage Naturally — Self Carriage from a Dressage, Naturally Perspective

Meredith Manor – Training Mythunderstandings: The Training Tree: Collection


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

The Difference Between Partnership & Relationship

Great reminder and well written.


Question: What is the difference between partnership and relationship?

Answer: There are two schools of thought but I think it is a matter of semantics. Partnership conjures up a notion that there is harmony between you and your horse. We certainly want to accomplish this but we as humans live by words and communicate by words but horses live by actions. If you look up the word partnership in the dictionary it says,” a state of having a partner, participation involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities.” The translation is that when you are in a partnership with someone, that individual has an opinion and input.

If you understand horse dynamics, you know that if you have thirty horses, you can have up to twenty nine leaders. They always establish a chain of command or a pecking order. Anytime a horse has an opinion it is usually…

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Horseback Riding and Karate – Guest Blog by Amanda Shores

We start the month of July 2015 with a guest blog by Amanda Shores, a young equestrian, author, and literary student from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Amanda also teaches lessons and volunteers at Perfect Fit Equine Rescue in Morgan Hill California. Thank you to Amanda for these great words of wisdom.

by: Amanda Shores

Horseback riding is not to be isolated from other sports. Though it may seem as though it’s a solitary sport with no connections to anything else, I can assure you it’s not. Not even close. I am both a horseback rider and black belt in karate, and I can honestly say that my karate experience has contributed greatly to my riding physically and mentally.

Riding requires great flexibility and athleticism. Riders can obtain this through karate, as it involves – first and foremost – conditioning. With conditioning, one is training his or her body, building muscle. In order to hold oneself in a steady, poised position while riding (as in not letting the core sag or the arms grow fatigued) the rider needs to have toned arms, legs, and core muscles. Karate’s strength training (running, push-ups, sit-ups, etc) is perfect for this. As for flexibility, I know what I am constantly stretching; if I did not stretch, I would likely injure myself. But it is not simply the stretching that creates this flexibility. It is apparent in my kicks (which rotate the core, the lower back, and the legs) and my punches (which, as my instructor frequently stated, “Stretch the muscles”).

As a result of my karate experience, I am more flexible than I would have been if I just jumped onto my horse and rode without any preparation or martial arts background. My muscles would lock up and restrict my movement, effectively killing all potential for muscle control and coordination in riding. I have seen riders who have trouble stretching their heels down due to tight calves. This can potentially be prevented with karate’s stretches, conditioning, and movements. 

Horseback riding also has much to do with mentality, just like karate. In both sports, breathing exercises are necessary to clear the mind and relax the tension in the body. In both sports, keeping a level head is of the utmost importance – because if a person is caught on a spooking or bolting horse or is attacked by a stranger on the street, that person needs to be able to think quickly and assess the situation in order to keep everything under control. The horse could potentially throw the rider and the stranger could potentially kill the victim, but only if there is a lack of mental preparedness.

Discipline, conditioning, and endurance can provide a rider with all the tools he or she needs in order to control all movement and coordinate both mind and body. This can make the difference between good riding and great riding. Karate can be used to help here. 


Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com.  Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program.  Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).

Finding the Horse that is Right for You

Great Blog from Charles Wilhelm.


Trotting HorseThere are many things to consider when you decide to buy a horse. There is a lot involved in owning a horse. You need to know what you may expect from horse ownership and the many responsibilities that go along with ownership. You need to know about nutrition, medical, dental and hoof care, but the first thing to think about is that a horse will always be a horse. They do not come from the factory gentle and programmed ready to ride. Horses are born with certain natural behaviors which include striking, rearing, bucking, biting and kicking. These behaviors are part of the herd mentality. What we must do is civilize the horse and to do this we must know how to communicate, train and ride the horse properly. As owners and riders, we have the responsibility to learn as much as we can about the nature of a horse…

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