Dressage is an Olympic sport and it's highly competitive at the highest levels. That said, competition isn't the point of dressage.
We train in classical riding to build a monumental relationship with our partner and together we learn to dance. That said, riding a test in front of a judge can be exhilarating. We are hoping to score well, but not because we want to best another team.
The point of the test is to ride the movements we're attempting to master in front of a neutral third party expert (the judge), who determines how well we perform them. It's a way to determine if you are ready to move up a level or need to work some more at your current level. And you are only competing against your last score, not your fellow riders. Moving up the levels with your horse takes patience. There are no shortcuts to mastering classical riding. But there is great satisfaction to the journey.
At the conclusion of your test, you will receive a form with a score and room for a comment from the judge for each maneuver. Dressage is a precise and challenging journey, so please don't expect a perfect score. The scoring doesn't work like a score in school. Professional riders might see scores in the high 70s, but normal scores for a well ridden test run in the 60s. Scores in the 80's are reserved for Olympians.
The best thing about the score sheet is the comment section. Each movement will have a comment that you can learn from and use to improve your next ride. Reading score sheets can offer priceless instruction from an expert who's had to pass rigorous standards to sit in the judge's chair.
Watching your fellow riders perform their own tests, especially those who've made it to the upper levels will also help you find your own rhythm with your horse. And good sportsmanship is always present when everyone applauds the pair as they complete their test.
And there are prizes and ribbons for the best scores, which we all enjoy. But it's important to remember that prizes are a bonus. The main goal is developing the partnership between you and your dance partner.
Our love of horses is the common bond between all of us and dressage is an elegant art form to celebrate it.