Levels of Competition

While competing against other riders in the same level, every horse and rider team in dressage is also essentially competing against itself to earn a score that will allow it to move up to the next level. The tests used in each level are based on the abilities required for that level.

After a rider and horse complete their run, judges add up the score for each movement and calculate the score as a percent of the total possible points for that test. The team with the highest total is declared the winner. Sixty-five percent or higher is generally thought to an excellent score, indicating that the horse and rider should move up to the next level.

US Competition

In the US, dressage tests or competitions are split up into five levels: training, first, second, third, and fourth, with each level being further divided into four sublevels. So a rider might compete at the Second Level Two or Training Level Three. The governing organization for dressage competitions in the US is the United States Dressage Foundation.


Competitors should show the horse has true natural paces, is obedient, calm and relaxed.


The horse should now be able to show some lengthened strides in the trot and canter and perform some 10 or 15 meter circles in the trot or canter.


Level demands the trot (normal and collected), canter (normal and collected), counter-canter, rein-back and 180 degree pirouette.


The movements at this level should be executed without tension. Adding on to the moves from the previous level are the walking 180 degree pirouettes and flying changes.


The horse at this level should be in perfect harmony with the rider. 180 and 360 degree pirouettes in the canter, counter-canter and flying changes at every fourth stride are expected.

International Competition

At the international level, dressage is mainly organized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale, or FEI. Their main divisions of competition are:

Prix St-Georges
Intermediate 1 (relatively advanced)
Intermediate 2 (advanced)
Grand Prix (highly advanced)

In addition, the FEI also offers the Grand Prix Special, a longer, more advanced version of the Grand Prix, and the Grand Prix Freestyle (Kur).

Sources for this page: 1, 2 and 6.