The Dressage phase of the Three Day Event tests the basic training of the horse, which helps the horse to develop an improved posture for carrying a rider and increases his obedience and calmness. It also promotes self-carriage, with freer, elastic paces. These attributes help to make the horse an easier and more accurate ride during the Cross Country and Show Jumping phases.
The Key phrases used by the judges in their critiques of the tests are: Regularity and Rhythm of the Paces, Impulsion (i.e. energy), Acceptance of the Contact (i.e. is the horse's mouth and head steady in response to the aids), Engagement (i.e. do the hind legs appear to step under the horse's body or trail out behind), Lightness of the Forehand (i.e. the appearance of the horse carrying himself and not leaning on the rider's hand) and Uniform Bend of the horse's body on circles and during the lateral movements of Shoulder-in and Half-Pass.
High marks are awarded for those movements where the horse shows all these qualities. Judging is a subjective art and not an easy task as one rarely sees perfection and often some good aspects have to be weighed up against weaknesses.
The initiative and boldness of the highly conditioned event horse often makes it difficult in the atmosphere of the arena, to show all these attributes consistently. But the winning combination will demonstrate harmony between the rider and horse whilst the movements are performed boldly but accurately showing some elements of brilliance.
The Dressage Test is divided into movements for which the judges award a mark from 0 to 10. The Judges marks are averaged and shown as a percentage, to keep them in balance with the cross country and show jumping. The marks are then converted to penalties and multiplied by 1.5.