How to Enter a Dressage Show

How to Enter a Dressage Show

By Judi Dauterive

Congratulations! You’re finally ready to show. Hopefully this guide will help you with the veritable minefield that is the entry process. These guidelines are appropriate for shows being run by and recognized by SEDA. Running a dressage show, whether licensed or schooling takes an enormous amount of very detailed work and a considerable financial investment. The show secretary will appreciate you making her job as easy as possible and by following these guidelines you will certainly smooth the process.

If you are planning to enter licensed shows in the USA, there are two organizations of which you should be aware:

  1. The United States Equestrian Federation or USEF. The Federation creates and oversees the rules to which all licensed competitions, officials and competitors must adhere. They are the keeper of results for all disciplines. Their website is very useful and it is there you can find the rulebook and online registrations. I strongly suggest reading the section on dressage rules to save possible future heartbreak. If you want to take part in the national year-end awards, both you and your horse will need competing memberships. If you plan on showing for many years, you may consider a lifetime membership, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to it, then an annual membership is sufficient. A lifetime registration for a horse is not too expensive and I would recommend it over an annual registration if you plan to keep your horse for many years. You will need to designate dressage as your primary discipline and you will need to designate your division. The only way to ride in amateur or Jr/YR classes is to designate yourself as such and you must have a USEF card that describes you thus. You will want to thoroughly read the rule that constitutes what is and isn’t an amateur rider to be sure you fall into that category.
  2. The United States Dressage Federation or USDF has a host of national programs such as rider awards, year-end all breeds awards, educational opportunities, publications, clinics and many more events including an annual convention and banquet. To participate in most of the award programs and to qualify for regional or national Championships, you must be a participating member and your horse must have a lifetime membership. Being a member of SEDA automatically gives you a group membership to USDF, but if you wish to qualify for regional and national championships, you will need a membership upgrade.

Where can I find a show to enter?

You’ve spoken to your coach/instructor and together you have arrived at a decision about where to start:

Licensed shows are bigger in terms of costs, competitive level, dress and legal requirements. The officials are all licensed. Usually the reason to enter a licensed show is the goal of qualifying for national awards and/or championships. We fall under Region 9 of the USDF (AR, LA, MS, OK, TX.) A list of shows may be found on the USEF and USDF calendars, in the online USDF omnibus and on the Region 9 website. You will also find a list of shows to enter online at, or Some licensed shows offer ‘opportunity” classes at the lower levels which allow you to dip your feet into the waters of licensed competition without requiring you to be a member. You must adhere to all licensed rules and dress and you will not be eligible for any year end awards.

CDI shows are recognized by the FEI (the governing body for international shows) and require the horse to have an FEI passport. Additional FEI registrations are required for both horse and rider and there are stringent additional rules, regulations, horse fitness and medication requirements of which you must be aware. If you are ready for the momentous leap into international competition, you must enter online on the USEF website in order to be granted permission to ride.

Schooling shows. If your goals aren’t quite so lofty or you just want to practice for a licensed show, want a learning experience with a judge’s feedback or simply enjoy the thrill of competition without the costs of a licensed show, then schooling shows may tick all the right boxes. There are less formal dress and horse turnout requirements and although run as closely as possible to national rules, there may be more lenient application of them. The judge will usually be at least a graduate of the USDF licensing program, if not actually licensed. A list of SEDA run and recognized shows may be found on the SEDA website.

I’ve picked a show, now what?

READ THE PRIZE LIST THOROUGHLY! This will outline all the classes, costs and details involved, one of the most important being the closing date. Dressage shows require significant advance planning in creating exact ride times for each competitor. The closing date also allows the organizer to decide if the number of entries makes it financially feasible to run the show. This needs to be known in advance to be able to cancel officials in a timely fashion should the need arise. There are significant costs involved with running a show and hefty cancellation fees are incurred if insufficient notice is given for cancellation. Licensed shows stop accepting entries at least two or three weeks before the show date and schooling shows usually close a week to ten days before. The closer you get to the closing date before entry, the more chance that the show will be full and unable to accept your entry. You also run the risk of the show cancelling because of insufficient entry numbers. Most shows allow you to withdraw your entry, for a small fee before the closing date, so there is no reason not to enter early. After the closing date there is generally a no refund policy, because the organizers now have a financial commitment.

Make sure you know who is organizing the show. Sometimes shows will be run by the facility and other times the show may be run by SEDA. Only send your entry to the facility if that is the address listed under the show secretary’s contact info. If in doubt, contact the show secretary or manager to be sure your entry is going to the right place.

Fill in the entry form clearly and legibly. For licensed shows, be sure to have all your required memberships and pertinent membership numbers. You may go to and print, on one page, all the information. If you are able to enter online at or, you create an account and upload all your membership info, Coggins, vaccination papers and freestyle qualifications. The following info will be required: (It is not the show secretary’s job to chase you down for it! You cannot show without it. Incomplete entries usually incur a fee, so save yourself a few dollars by filling it out completely.)

  • Your name and contact info including address, phone number, email and emergency contact. 
  • Horse’s name 
  • Owner’s name (if same as rider, just say ‘same as rider’.) 
  • Trainer’s name. This often confuses people. The “trainer” is not your instructor, it is the adult legally responsible for the horse’s welfare while it is on the showgrounds. 
  • Coach’s name. If your instructor or anyone else helping you in this capacity is on the grounds helping you, they should be listed on and sign the release. 
  • All membership numbers for the above mentioned. You must write them on the form and print out the proof to include with your entry. 
  • Coggins date. 

Schooling shows tend to have simpler forms where only the rider/owner/parent of minor sign the release.

List your classes carefully. Write out the test and the level to be sure the secretary enters you in the correct ones. Remember that a horse/rider combination can only show at consecutive levels and that a horse can only do a maximum of 3 tests per day.

Specify your division. Open, Adult Amateur or Jr/YR (21 or under at time of show). If you don’t specify, you will be placed in the Open division.

Specify number of stalls, tack stalls and number of nights required and how many shavings you need. If you don’t specify that you need shavings, they will not be allotted. Many licensed shows will not allow you to bring your own, so be sure to read the stabling rules carefully.

State with whom you wish to be stabled. It is less confusing for show secretaries if a group specifies one name to be grouped under e.g. The instructor/coach. It is also helpful if the coach/instructor sends the secretary a note listing all the students he/she is working with in order that they be grouped together.

If your horse has any issues with stabling, inform the secretary so that any problems may be avoided. Is it a stallion? does it need to be surrounded by other horses? Does it need to be isolated because it kicks? The secretary can’t guarantee she’ll be able to accommodate you, but forewarned is forearmed.

A current negative Coggins test dated within twelve months is required for both licensed and schooling shows. You will be denied entry to the showgrounds without it. If you are travelling across state lines, a health certificate is required for transport. For licensed shows, a current flu vaccination record showing vaccinations every 6 months is also required. Bear in mind that it is illegal to transport a horse anywhere in Louisiana without a current Coggins, so there is no reason not to have one. Once again, it is not the secretary’s job to chase you down for these documents so make sure you have them.

Add up all class fee and stall fees and send in a check with your entry. Licensed shows have a plethora of other fees too, so be careful not to overlook them. Be sure the check is written out to the entity stated in the prize list. It is always worthwhile to bring a second check to the show in case you made a mistake and there is a balance owing.

Make sure all releases are signed. Make a copy of your entry and check, in case it is lost in the mail or there is a problem or a dispute of some sort. This way you have a hard copy with which to check the information that was submitted to the show secretary. Be sure all health paperwork is included and MAIL IN YOUR SIGNED ENTRY EARLY.

All entries should be in writing and accompanied by a check. If the secretary has kindly accepted a phone entry or an email entry without payment and you choose not to show, it is your responsibility to pay your show bill. If you do not you will probably not be allowed to show at the facility again.

Now that you have entered the show, the rest is up to you. It is incumbent on you to familiarize yourself with your tests, the rules, when you can arrive on the showgrounds and when and where you can school etc. These factors will change according to the facility. Don’t assume that all facilities are the same.

Check in at the office when you arrive and pick up your number. This is especially important at a licensed show since your horse cannot be out of its stall at any time without one. Some shows provide two numbers. The second one goes on the horse’s halter. Allow plenty time for check in and an unhurried warm up.

Lastly – HAVE A GREAT TIME and be sure to thank all the officials and volunteers without whom you would not have a show to go to.

***Additional information about dressage protocols may be found on the USDF website.***

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