Judge rating system for Dressage shows

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People often wonder about the  rating system for dressage shows (of all levels—schooling, recognized, national and international) for the different USDF, USEF and FEI ratings and what is required to achieve such ratings. Below it is explained.

All judges qualified to officiate at recognized dressage shows in the United States are either licensed through the U.S. Equestrian Federation or the FEI (International Equestrian Federation). The former governs national competitions while the latter governs international competitions. The U.S. Dressage Federation does not license any judges, although it is integrally involved in the education of judges through its “L” education program.

At schooling shows, there are no requirements for judges’ credentials, although I would strongly encourage show organizers to hire USDF “L” graduates or USEF-licensed judges whenever possible. Either way, the ideal is to hire people qualified through the levels at which they are judging (so riders never perform in front of judges less knowledgeable than themselves).

For recognized shows, here is how the judge ratings break down:

USEF judges

  • “r” (“recorded” or “small r”)—licensed to judge through Second Level
  •  “R” (“registered” or “large R”)—licensed to judge through Fourth Level
  • “S” (“senior”)—licensed to judge through Grand Prix at national competitions
  • DSH (“dressage sport horse”)—licensed to judge in-hand classes. This certification is broken into two levels: “r” and “R,” which are comparable to the recorded and registered titles described above.

FEI judges

  • 2* (“new”)—licensed to judge a limited range of international competitions through Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire I (including 3* small-tour competitions and CDI 1* and 2* competitions); this rating is for judges whose home countries have no Grand Prix classes.
  •  3* (formerly known as “international candidate” or “C”)—licensed to judge international competitions through Grand Prix, except for Olympic Games, FEI Grand Prix Championships and CDIs above the 3* level
  • 4* (formerly known as “international” or “I”)—licensed to judge most international competitions, excluding the Olympic Games and World Championships
  • 5* (formerly known as “official international” or “O”)—qualified to judge all international competitions

There are several additional designations and training programs for a growing list of special dressage classes, such as equitation and young horse classes. These are all spelled out in the USEF and FEI rulebooks.

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