In the 1930s, Das Reiterabzeichen, or The German Riding Badge, was originally created for the military. The Bronze, Silver and Gold badges represented a rider’s competence in and out of the saddle and was issued by the German Equestrian Riding Association. Eventually civilians were also allowed to earn badges by demonstrating proper horsemanship, their knowledge of riding theory, the anatomy of the horse, and horse mastership. Any rider wishing to become a professional and/ or to compete at recognized competitions must earn their badges.
There are now 10 badge levels, which are awarded by the German Equestrian Federation (GEF). Levels 10-6 can be earned in any order but must be completed before the rider tries to test at level 5. The first six levels apply to every rider, and only once they pass those can they begin to specialize in Dressage, Jumping or Eventing.
Level 10: A rider must be able to walk and trot on the lunge line both indoors and out. He can groom the horse properly and assist with the tack and has control over the horse on the ground.
Level 9: A rider can walk, trot and canter without help in the indoor and outdoor rings. He can prepare the horse for riding on his own and can adjust the stirrups to the proper length. He can tie the horse properly and can pass other horses safely with his own in hand. The rider also has a basic understanding of horse behavior in the field.
Level 8: The rider can ride parts of class E preferably outdoors and can ride over poles. He will know horse breeds, understand many physical aspects of the horse, and be able to walk/ trot the horse in hand. He has a basic understanding of the class E figures and the theory behind them.
Level 7: The rider can ride parts of class E and can ride without stirrups at the walk/ trot. He can trot the horse in hand on circles and straight lines, as well as halt and back the horse.
Level 6: The rider can ride parts of class E and can ride without stirrups at every gait. He has a basic knowledge of horse health and proper feeding and can also load a horse onto the trailer.
Level 5: The horse must be at least 5 years of age and the rider must have completed levels 6-10. He can ride class E, ride without stirrups, and can desensitize a horse. He understands the theory behind class E and can take an examination about the class. He can also jump obstacles at level E (jumps are no higher than 2’ 9”) and is aware of common accidents in the stable and how to prevent them.
**The following levels only include descriptions of the Dressage specialization path.**
Level 4- Small Bronze: The horse must be at least 5 years of age and the rider must have completed level 5. He can ride class A and can take an exam about the class. He understands the importance of rider fitness and how to use basic riding equipment and tools.
Level 3- Large Bronze: The horse must be at least 6 years of age and the rider must have completed level 4. He can ride class L and can take an exam about the class. The rider has good morals and understands the unwritten code of conduct. He understands the theory behind the different exercises used in training.
Level 2- Silver: The horse must be at least 6 years of age and the rider must have completed level 3. He can ride class L in a double bridle and has a good understanding of the training pyramid. The rider understands the horse’s anatomy.
Level 1-Gold: The rider must have completed level 2. He can ride class M in a double bridle and understands the theory behind each movement.
Class E: This class is similar to the Training level tests in the United States (U.S.) and is ridden in a short arena. The class includes medium walk, working trot and canter and requires the rider to perform large circles.
Class A: This class is split into two sections, A* and A**. Both are equivalent to the First level tests in the U.S and ridden in a short arena. In addition to the movements in class E, the pair must be able to perform medium trot and canter, 10 m trot voltes, serpentines, and walk-to-canter in the A* class. The rider must also be able to give with the inside rein. Leg yields, half 10 m circles, rein back and lengthening of the reins in the canter are introduced in the A** class.
Class L: This class is split into two sections, L* and L**. As with class A, both are equivalent to the U.S. second level tests and most are ridden in a short arena. Germany has more tests at each level than the U.S.; class L* has eight different tests and L** has two. This makes it easier for horse and rider to move up the levels, as there aren’t such big leaps between them. L classes introduce collected trot and canter, counter-canter, canter voltes, simple changes and walk pirouette.
Class M: This class is also split into two sections, M* and M**. The class is equivalent to the Third level tests in the U.S. and most are ridden in a short arena. Extended walk, trot and canter are now expected, as well as a collected walk, shoulder-in, half-pass and the flying change.
Class S: The S class is split into three sections. S* is comparable to Fourth level in the U.S., S** to Prix St. George’s, and S*** to the Intermediaire I test. Canter pirouettes and tempi changes every 2, 3, and 4 strides are introduced.
Grand Prix and Intermediaire II: Tempi changes, piaffe and passage are expected.
The way the German badge system is set up, a rider cannot compete at any level he wants. He must first earn his badges and prove both his riding and horsemanship skills. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom have similar systems, but the U.S does not. The United States Pony Club has some similarities, but you don’t have to be a member to compete. The badge levels create more well-rounded riders by having them ride on the flat and over fences until they reach level 4. A good jumping position is arguably important for a good Dressage position, so it makes sense that a rider would have to demonstrate a solid jumping position before he can specialize.
It appears Germany has a more refined training process for the riders instead of just the horses. I have seen countless riders compete at a level they are not ready for and horses that aren’t strong enough or fit enough to compete at that level. We are seeing more and more falls in the U.S, specifically over Cross Country fences in Eventing, and some believe it’s a result of novice riders, horses, or both, competing at a level above their skill set. The same thing happens in Dressage, but there aren’t as many risks involved.
Even the classes Germany uses are different than our Dressage tests. There are more tests within each level, and smaller jumps between each test. They flow together well and make it easier for the horse and rider to move to the next level.
Maybe it’s time to look at the requirements for each level in the U.S. and decide whether they are appropriate or not. Readers, do you think we need a system that prevents riders from competing until they’ve met certain criteria?