Ultimate Guide To Being A Writer For Dressage

In this article, I will guide you through how you can begin being a writer for dressage and share my tips to make your first time a breeze.

I have always tried to volunteer as a writer for dressage locally. It’s a great way to meet people, and you also learn a lot! Plus, shows can’t run without volunteers and I know just how much writers are appreciated in the organisation of a dressage competition.

Wherever you see a judge at a show, you will see a writer (also referred to as a dressage scribe) sitting right beside them. Their job is to write down the dressage judge’s comments on the test they are watching.

Every single judge requires a writer. Sometimes the judge may have the same writer for the entire day of dressage tests, other times people are volunteering to write for a few hours when they can. The longer you can volunteer to write for, the easier it is for the organizing committee.

One of the best ways to begin writing or scribing for a judge is to volunteer for a local show or practice day at the lower levels. This gives you a chance to get a feel for what is involved and how it all works. In the lower levels, there is more time between movements and you get a feel for the type of comments that judges say and how a test flows. As the tests get more difficult and the movements become quicker, it does require more skill, to stay sharp and focused on which movement the judge is describing.



Dressage competitions are planned to the minute. So if you are volunteering to be a writer, try to arrive at least 30 minutes early so that you can meet the judge, collect any clipboards or sheets from the office and find out what arena you are heading towards. At this time, its a good idea to take a bathroom break as you can’t leave the arena again until the next scheduled break.

Once you’re sitting in the judge’s car or box, make sure that you have everything you need; a couple of pens, including a red pen for marking errors; updated day sheets including scratches/additions/changes to the schedule; the correct test sheets in front of you and a watch set to the official start time.

You want to dress tidy, clean and comfortable. You will be spending much of the day sitting and sometimes this will be in the comfort of a car, but do bring some clothing options in case it is cold and you are exposed to the elements for some reason.

If it’s wet and raining, bring a waterproof jacket with a hood as umbrellas tend to not go down too well at Dressage competitions. Also when opening and closing doors also be aware of where horses are and try not to slam doors causing horses to spook right in the middle of a test.

Bring a drink bottle and few snacks to keep you going so you don’t get hungry and lose focus.  In most cases lunch is provided for volunteers at competitions, but do check beforehand if this isn’t the case.

As a writer for dressage, your goal is to be seen and not heard as you don’t want to distract the judge.  You are turning your ears on for listening carefully and try save any casual conversation for when there are no horses in the arena in front of you or during your breaks.


The Goal of Writing

One of your main goals as a writer is to write down clearly what the judges comments are for each movement. The competitor is relying on your notes to communicate the judge’s thoughts, so you want to write down as much as you can, as clearly as you can.

There is no official dressage writing shorthand, however there are some common abbreviations for dressage terminology that you can use.

Writer For Dressage

You’ll be taking a lot of notes throughout the day, so get creative if you need: draw a picture of an O for “circle” or draw a square to describe a square halt.

Your job is to write the judge’s comments and the scores onto the riders test sheet you are provided (see below image). If you do not hear the judge, or if you miss a score, ask right away. It’s very difficult to go back and figure out what score should be assigned to a particular movement, so it’s better to briefly interrupt by asking the judge to repeat herself right then and there. If you get behind and have to choose between writing down a comment and writing down a score, always record the score. You can leave the comment section blank for a movement or two if you need to catch up.


Accuracy Is Everything

In all test, be sure to write down full points and half points. Rather than writing “7,” write “7.0” for full points or “7.5” for half points. You do not need to write down coefficients, and you do not need to calculate final scores. The test sheets will go back to the office for a scorer to do this part.

Sometimes riders perform the wrong movement or go completely off course in their test. You will need to record an error this is at the base of the test sheet in most cases and you will need to tick the box marking the error. If in doubt, you can ask the judge at the end of the test.

You can learn so much from writing and understand more about what the judges are looking for at each level. It helps you develop an eye for correct training and seeing how a horse is moving through a test. Anyone can do it and you don’t need a qualification or certificate to get started, the key is to just volunteer locally at the smaller shows at the lower levels and get a real feel for what is involved and how it all works.  Judges are always happy to answer any questions too.

Here is an example of what you are writing and where. Sometimes there will be comments for every movement, sometimes there will be just a score. All depends on the judge.  As you can see tidy clear handwriting is always appreciated.


Writer For Dressage


It’s not rocket science being a writer for dressage, but it does require a few key components to understand and a willingness to learn. I always enjoy times when I do write as it really does help me develop a better eye for what I am trying to achieve with my own riding and understanding what the judge is looking for.


To summarize here are my key take aways to help you get started with writing for dressage

1. Start with a local show/practice day

Just like riding and competition consider a low key local show or practice day as a way to start and get a feel for what is involved. You could also ask to sit in the back and watch a few tests be done if you would like to see before doing it yourself.


2. Writing for a full day

Ideally if you can volunteer to write for a full day as you will make life so much easier for the volunteers organizing the show, but even a few hours or 1/2 a day will be appreciated at the end of the day.


3. Dress appropriately

The weather can change over the period of a day no matter where you are based always be prepared for the unexpected as you don’t want to end of shivering and frozen cold. At the same time, always come prepared with protective clothing against the sun. As sometimes it can beat down into the side of a car and you can end up with one 1/2 of your body sunburnt if you aren’t careful.


4. Arrive 30 minutes before 

You want to be early so that you can meet the judge, find out any new information from the office and then make your way over to the judges car/box with plenty of time to spare before the first horse comes around the arena.


5. Check in 

When you arrive, check-in with the office so that you can be checked off and they can introduce you to your judge and where you will be writing. At this time you will pick up any supplies if the judge doesn’t have them already.


6. Set yourself up

Once you sit down organize yourself and check the riders list, check you have the right tests in front of you and most importantly that your pen is working and that you have a spare just in case.


7. Judges unique way

Before the first test, just determine what way your judge scores. Some judges will identify the movement number and then assign their score and comments in that order; others will say only the score with comments after or vice versa. Knowing this ahead of time can really help.

For example

“Movement one. Lost a little straightness. 6.5.”


“Lost a little straightness. 6.5.”


“6.5. Lost a little straightness.”

Some judges will ask you to write the scores and comments for the marks at the bottom of each test sheet, under the movements. Others prefer to do some or all of it themselves. You will soon find out what your judge prefers and when they want you to pass them the test after you write the last movement’s score and comments. Judges will then sign the bottom of the test once it is completed.


8. Identifying the rider 

Your job is to identifying the competitor’s number against the class schedule before the judge rings the bell for them to begin their test. Make sure it matches and place it on the test sheet along with the class number, rider name and horse name.


9. A Enter 

Only write down what they tell you to write and if in doubt just ask them.  If you think they have forgotten something in scoring an error, check with the judge before writing anything down.

Once the rider has completed the test, pass the test sheet to the judge, make sure they sign it and put it into the completed pile (out of the wind).

Pick up the next competitor’s test, check the bridle number, write the scores and comments, pass the test to the judge and then add it to the pile.

Repeat until your next break.


So next time you see a local practice day or show be sure to volunteer as a writer. It’s a really valuable way to help you improve your riding, meet new people and give back by helping out locally with your chosen sport.


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