Show Ring Empty? Ten Tips for Virtual Dressage Shows

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In this time of shuttered barns and pandemic restrictions, many organizations are turning to virtual competitions to fill the gap until we can all get out to the show ring again.  Even when live shows are available again, there may be changes and new rules that make virtual showing a more viable option for many riders.

To participate in a virtual dressage show, you video your test ride and send the video in to the organizer to be judged and scored.  Most everything else is the same.  Many virtual dressage show organizers use the FEI rule book and USDF tests and rules to govern their virtual shows.  Some shows are set up just for individualized scores, and others create classes where riders enter a class and compete for placings. 

Why is virtual showing great?  There are benefits to virtual showing that make it more feasible for many riders to get the feedback from a judge that you would normally get at a live show. 

  • You can record a video on your time schedule.  Virtual shows generally have an opening date and a closing date for registrations and video submissions, but the video does not have to be shot at a certain time.  No more dragging your horse to a show in the pouring rain because that was the weather that particular day.  You pick the best time with the perfect conditions for you and your horse to put your best foot forward.  And one video ride can be submitted to more than one show, maximizing the feedback for your ride.
  • Have you ever said “Oh, I wish I could do that over!”?  Guess what? You can ride your test as many times as you like to make the best video.  If your horse spooks in the middle of the test, just delete and redo!  Of course you cannot splice pieces of video together, the video has to be shot all at once, but how many times you ride the test to make it the best is up to you.
  • You can ride in your familiar surroundings, reducing anxiety for you and your horse.  There’s usually no trailering involved, which also reduces stress and cost.  Sometimes barns will host a video day where you can have a video taken, often free or for a small fee.  This is great if you don’t have a suitable facility to make a video.
  • The judge looking at your video has more time to give detailed comments, and most virtual judges will take the time to clearly write out what they see and suggest how to improve.  No more cryptic dressage shorthand from a tired and disinterested scribe.  Scores are more accurate because the judge can stop or replay what may have been missed.  This detailed feedback helps you to easily track your progress, and going over your video and the comments with your trainer improves lessons and training.
  • Right now, it’s healthier for horse and rider not being exposed to viruses or illness by traveling to other farms. 

And most of all it is fun!!!

How do you maximize your virtual showing experience?  Here’s ten things to pay attention to in order to get the most out of your ride.

  1. Read and follow the show guidelines:  Make sure you follow the virtual show rules as closely as you would a live show, otherwise your entry may be rejected. 
  2. Turn out well:  Even though you are comfortable at your home base for riding, make sure you follow the rules of the show for attire.  Many virtual shows relax the equipment and attire rules, but even if the organizer specifies casual attire, make sure you and your horse are clean and neat, with proper safety equipment.  Whether you are live or on video your appearance makes an impression and turning out smartly will show that you take it seriously.
  3. Set up a proper dressage ring:  You don’t need to have a fancy ring but it should be correctly measured out with letters that are clear to view.   All you need is a 20 x 60 meter patch of fairly flat ground, grass or dirt is fine if you don’t have a ring with footing.  You can use buckets or cones to create a boundary and mount letters.  If you have less space, you can opt for the small dressage ring, 20 x 40 meters, if appropriate for the test, but make sure you notify the show organizer if you are using the small ring.
  4. Put your camera at “C”:  Your video should be shot at about the height of the horses shoulder, and from the normal judge’s perspective at C.    If someone is holding the camera for you, they should stand behind C so that the entire ring is visible.  If using a phone to video, it should be held horizontally and the horse and rider should never go out of the video frame. Make sure you don’t cut off the corners of the ring, or have any obstacles that block the view.  You can move or pan the camera if necessary, but it has to be smooth, and not bouncy or jiggly.  If you are alone, use a tripod or some other stand to hold the camera. A small flexible tripod with a smartphone holder is handy and cheap and can be bent around almost anything like a post or fence rail to hold it. There are pricier options like Pixio and Soloshot that follow the action and zoom automatically, and an auto-follow robot cameraman for smartphones. These are cool options if available but definitely not necessary for routine videos.
  5. Make a high quality video:  Whether you are using your phone for videoing or you have a video camera, use the highest resolution setting.  Most devices default to a low resolution which save space, but phone cameras and other devices usually have other settings.  A video might look great on a small phone screen, but the judge will likely view the video on a larger computer screen or tablet.  When the size is increased, low resolution videos get fuzzy, and this makes it hard to judge certain aspects of the ride. Preview your video on a larger screen if possible, to make sure all the detail of your ride is clear. A few seconds out of focus here and there are ok, but if it’s more than that, redo the video. Remember that fuzzy moment might be your best movement and you want the judge to see it clearly!
  6. Use a video platform like YouTube:  Upload your video directly from your camera or phone to a commercial video platform like YouTube, Vimeo, or Dropbox and send the organizer a link.   Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram post-process videos and reduce the quality.  YouTube has privacy settings you can designate so your video is not public, and only the organizer and judge can see it once you send the link.  A YouTube account is free, and if you are doing a lot of virtual showing, it makes it really easy to submit videos! Before you send your video link, make sure it is labeled with the name of rider and horse, and say what test it is.  
  7. Lighting:  Lighting quality is probably the most important thing when it comes to your video.  Make sure you set up so that there is no sun glare, or glare from arena windows that might wash out your horse.  Likewise, the video should not be too dark.  Try to set up with the brightest light behind the camera, and check if there is a brightness setting on the camera that can help if it’s too dark. 
  8. Zoom wisely:  Zooming is great when done well.  If someone is helping you, have them practice zooming with the camera so it is smooth.  Always have the whole horse in the video frame and try not to zoom in and out too fast or too often.  Zoom in when the horse is at the middle to the far end of the ring, then zoom out when the horse comes toward you.  Don’t zoom in/out/in/out/in as this can make the video fuzzy and make the judge dizzy! 
  9. Quiet please!  Try to choose a quiet time to make your video.  If you are using a reader for your test, your reader and your camera person should not be the same person.  Minimize activity, commotion or noise in the background.  The judge can probably mute the video if needed, but remember camera microphones pick up everything.  It’s distracting (and sometimes embarrassing!) to hear comments and conversations in the background of videos.   Unless it’s a musical freestyle test that would have live music, do not add background music to the video. 
  10. Have the ring to yourself:  Ask other riders to pause and leave the ring for the four or five minutes needed to run through the test.   Other riders in the ring may unintentionally interfere with your movement, be distracting or block the judge’s view.

You don’t have to be a professional videographer to get a great video for submission to a virtual show.  Just follow these tips and you can be confident that the judge will be able to give you the most accurate score for your test.  Be safe, have fun, and keep your show season going with virtual shows!

Carole Curley, Jane Savoie Certified Instructor, Classical Dressage Judge

Coeli Netsky, Licensed OHSA, NAWD Certified, ARIA, Dressage Judge; Show organizer for virtual and live shows.

If you would like to organize a virtual show at your farm and need judges, please see the link below.

Here are a couple links to articles with great tips on how to make better videos with smartphones.

Carole Curley