Understanding Western Dressage Scores
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!