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Has BE90 gone mad?

I have come back to BE90 for the first time since 2006. Normally I avoid BE90 like the plague and prefer to start my horses at BE100 with the thought of moving them pretty quickly up to Novice. Instead they are run round excellent local unaffiliated courses in order to get experience before they are ready to go and do BE100.

Katie Vincent 3rd

The aim for many riders – BE90 at Badminton!

One of the reasons is cost as it’s so much cheaper to produce horses this way, and the other is some of them are not ready to be competitive in the dressage so I would rather give them the time to come out and be more competitive at BE100 instead.

This year I am on a young horse who is mentally amazing and who has picked up dressage very quickly in the 6 months of having been introduced to flatwork. I felt that this horse could come out earlier and have a crack at BE90 and see what happens. What has surprised me is the scores that are being achieved at BE90. In my two sections at different events the winner has been on 21 and 23 and this is just two random sections. When I started looking closer I noticed this was not just a one off but becoming increasingly common. A 30-33 (70-67%) dressage test will not cut it any longer to even get a top 5 placing at many events.

West Wilts last week had a winner on 11.5. Now in all honesty was their dressage test really worth 88.5%? You just never see these scores at British Dressage and most scores are 72% or below with a few exceptional ones above. This would relate to a 28 which feels correct. The dressage judge used the full range of marks with the section being spread out.

I do not quite understand why there is such a vast difference in judging at BE90 compared to BD prelim tests and my main conclusions are that the dressage tests are far too easy.

The dressage judge criteria is the same as BE100 but you rarely see the same ridiculous scores at BE100 than you do at BE90. The only difference is that the BE100 tests are harder.

If you take the test BE95 I think we counted something like 8 transitions through the whole test which is Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 16.25.54absolutely absurd. There are more transitions in a walk and trot test. Endless 20m circles hardly prepares the horse and rider for anything apart from becoming mentally brain dead let alone dealing with the upcoming tests in the jumping phases.

If you compare the BE90 tests with BD tests then it’s like dealing with apples and pears. The BD test Prelim 7 was perhaps closest to what is being asked at BE90 and that was retired many years ago. The modern prelim tests ask more questions and don’t just have endless 20m circles.

In my opinion the BE90 tests should be renamed for BE80 as the scores appear to be roughly correct with a good spread of scores between 25-45 which is roughly where it should be for that test. The BE100 tests should be moved to BE90 and there should be new BE100 tests which include some lengthened strides and other things you might find in some of the easier BD Novice tests. This for me would be a far better test of riders without asking too much for less experienced riders and horses.

I feel having walked several BE90 courses that the questions are fine for jumping and do not need amending but that actually the dressage is too easy for riders, who have significantly upped their game in the last few years. More intricate and involved tests will reward the well trained and obedient horse rather than letting some of the flashier horses do well who are perhaps not so consistent because the test does not ask anything of them.

Ridiculous scores like 11.5 are in my opinion bad for the sport. They are discouraging and they don’t make the sport look consistent and in line with BD. There is a lot hanging on the results of BE90 now with the Blenheim dressage competition, BE regional final qualifications and long term implications of retaining membership over unaffiliated.

About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.


  • Totally agree with you. I got very dispondent with BE90 as knew I would never be able to pull off a sub 30 score yet could mostly always jump well/ get round in the time. I’ve now done three BE100’S and whilst our dressage still isn’t great, our jumping is helping to pull us up the placings. BE90 seems more like a 20m circle competition these days…. Hoping to get up to novice asap so that we can capitalise on our jumping/ speed xc skills and be in with a chance of a placing with a normal dressage score!

  • I agree about the difficulty of tests but I think that it’s great to see the full range of dressage marks being used. I think its a real shame when the vast majority of competitors in dressage classes get results between 55-70% – why not use the whole range of marks!

    At BE it is probably more pronounced because there is probably a wider range of dressage capabilities – some BE90 horses will be schooling at elementary with their jumping not up to scratch whilst others will be barely schooled but strong jumpers. A horse schooled several levels above the competition level (eg elementary at BE90) should be able to get near-full marks IMO – and if they can’t then to me that suggests there is something wrong with the judging system.

  • Well we would LOVE to get anywhere near a 30 let alone a 20 !! But I agree totally. We did 2 Prelims at the weekend and remarked on the relative complexity of entry level BD tests, compared with the circle of trot, half a school of canter and a straight line of walk that BE90 tests consist of.

  • Totally agree. Went to our first event, granted unaffiliated restricted 80 where the section was won with a dressage score of 13.5. I was well chuffed on a score of 31 with my little ex racer who is most certainly restricted but not a hope in any ones chance of getting a place not that I am chasing ribbons but not ready to jump bigger tracks. Could this be why so many move up to quickly as I am amazed having attended many BE 90 events to check out for the future how many riders seem to lack confidence during the jumping phases.

  • I have to agree with Jo’s comments as I have seen many a horse at 80 or 90 level that is actually out competing very successfully at Affiliated Elementary level or higher. They are bound to be getting very good dressage scores at this level. By increasing the degree of difficulty of the test you will not change that result. Such a shame that all the dressage divas can not have a separate section say if you have particular results at affiliated dressage then you must be in a particular section, but can’t see that being workable. We will just all have to raise our game and improve our dressage to match.

  • this is one of the best articles I’ve read for a long time! I totally agree with you, bringing the BE90 tests to 80 and taking the 100 tests down to 90 and creating more difficult 100 tests is the way forward. Some years ago riders realised that if they work as hard on their flatwork as they do on their jumping then they’re ahead of the pack, but now that everyone’s cottoned on and the dressage tests at grassroots level is too simple it’s almost a dressage competition now, and that feeling that if you don’t score a sub-30 score you’ll be low placings at best is very disheartening! At BD level, 70% is a very smart test, at BE they’re handing them out at tests that wouldn’t get a 65% in a BD test!
    Make tests harder, too easy at 90 level!

  • As a BD listed judge myself, it is very discouraging that BE use unlisted judges at the lower levels. I am not saying that the judge in question was right or wrong, the problem is that albeit Dressage judging is subjective at the best of times the fact that someone with no judge training or mentoring can make an opinion at an event that charges the competitors £100+ is a bit of a insult to listed judges that continue their on their path of knowledge and training. I have been approached by “Big Name” BE events to judge but when confirming that I charge the obligatorily £1 per horse their response is, NO we have people will judge for nothing because we offer a good lunch and the “kudos” of judging at this event. Time for change I think………….

  • Absolutely agree, does make you feel despondent , I am getting consistent marks of high twenties which I am chuffed to bits with but even with a double clear inside the time, don’t always get placed….. It’s becoming a dresage competition which is not why I joined BE. I don’t feel quite ready to move up to 100 but maybe that’s the answer next year…..

  • I agree and disagree with this.
    On a whole peoples dressage skills are becoming more practiced and polished which result in the better marks. This is not evident just at 80-90 level, but all the way up to 4* IMO. People are also purchasing more
    There are A LOT of 90 horses, which will never be pushed out of this height that are competing successfully at BD Medium+, which opens the debate again of should there be ‘open’ sections when your horse has a certain number of foundation points/wins/top 3 placings? If you do BE and get points, this effects the level of BD you can ride at – why not the other way around???
    I agree 110% that the 80/90/100 tests are far too easy (though I hate BE106), but I don’t think that they should be made markedly harder, but most tests need to be longer and have more variation in them, but BE will be against this as you can’t get through as many tests in a day then. I also think there should be more tests at each level so horses/riders don’t go on auto pilot doing the same test at most venues (again look at the number BD have at each level compared to BE’s).
    The FEI tests have all increased difficulty over the last couple of years yet the BE lower levels have not changed. There is a MASSIVE gap from BE100 to Novice now, not in terms of jumping but also the dressage difficulty.