There are five divisions/classes created by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) in which a youth or young adult dressage rider can participate as they move up the levels. The tests within these divisions are unique from our usual USDF/USEF dressage tests because they are internationally recognized and governed by the FEI.
FEI Youth Program
FEI Children’s Division
- The rider must be aged 12 through 14.
- The FEI Children’s tests consist of first and second level movements. You can ride a horse or a pony in this division.
- All FEI Children’s tests are recognized as the highest test at Second Level for USDF Awards purposes.
FEI Pony Division
- The rider must be aged 12 through 16.
- The FEI Pony tests consist of second level movements. Only ponies are permitted to compete in this division.
- Ponies cannot exceed 148 cm (or 149 cm with shoes) in height and must have a USEF dressage pony measurement certificate.
- All FEI Pony tests are recognized at the highest test of Second Level for USDF Awards purposes.
FEI Junior Division
- The rider must be aged 14 through 18.
- The FEI Junior tests consist of third and fourth level movements. Only horses can compete in this division.
- All FEI Junior tests are recognized at the highest test of Third Level for USDF Awards purposes.
FEI Young Rider Division
- The rider must be aged 16 through 21.
- The FEI Young Rider tests consist of fourth level and PSG movements. Only horses can compete in this division.
- FEI Young Rider tests are recognized at the Prix St. Georges Level, while the Freestyle Test is recognized at the highest test of Fourth Level for USDF Awards purposes.
FEI U25 Grand Prix, aka “Young Adult Brentina Cup” Division
- The rider must be aged 16 through 25.
- The FEI U25 Grand Prix test consists of movements from the Grand Prix. Only horses can compete in this division.
- The FEI U25 Grand Prix test is recognized as Intermediate II for USDF Awards purposes.
According to FEI and USDF/USEF age rules, a rider competes as the age that they are turning that year. For example, someone who turns 17 in December of 2021 would be considered 17 for the entire year of 2021.
Each division consists of a few tests: a “team test” and an “individual test” (except for the U25 Grand Prix, which is only one test.) The FEI also recognizes the “preliminary” tests for the Children’s, Pony, Junior, and Young Rider Divisions, but they are almost never used in US competition. The team test is designated to be ridden in a team competition or class and the individual test is designated to be ridden in an individual class. But, when riding in shows that are not championships and do not specify teams, you can ride both the team test and the individual test by yourself.
For many youth riders competing in any of the 5 FEI youth/young adult divisions, the goal is to compete internationally within FEI-recognized shows known as CDIs (Concours de Dressage International, which translates to International Dressage Events). FEI rules are ever-changing and so it is very important to keep yourself informed and current with any modifications that may impact youth dressage within the US.
Competing at a CDI in an FEI Youth Division
Within ESDCTA’s geographic area, a well-known CDI is Dressage at Devon. For example, if your goal is to compete at Dressage at Devon in the CDI-J (FEI Junior Division), you will need current USDF/USEF registrations for the rider, horse, and horse owner. Additionally, you will need (1) a current FEI athlete registration, (2) a current FEI horse registration, and (3) an FEI passport for your horse completed, approved, and kept up to date with required vaccinations. The horse also must have a valid microchip. It is important to note that if the horse has an FEI passport, it does not double as the horse’s FEI registration. These are two separate things, both of which must be current.
North American Youth Championships (NAYC)
This is an international team-based competition recognized by the FEI (thus it is a CDI). The NAYC includes stadium jumping as well as dressage, though they usually occur in different places at different times and are run differently. (The NAYC no longer includes eventing: it is now a nationally recognized show known as the USEF Eventing Youth Team Challenge. More information about that competition can be found here.)
First, the rider must submit all of the required paperwork: the application (typically due in spring of the competition year), the certificate of domicile (which determines your region of residence), and the various waivers and codes of conduct. If you are 18 or older, you also will need a criminal background check and SafeSport training.
For the dressage NAYC, only FEI Junior and FEI Young Rider classes are currently offered. Qualification is determined by a regional system (the US is divided into 9 regions. Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, DC, and North Carolina are all part of Region 1). To qualify, a rider must compete in the required number of qualifying competitions (a list of designated competitions, along with other information, can be found here. A rider also must compete within the designated qualifying period, which usually ends in late June (the dressage NAYC usually takes place in late July or early August). A rider must receive the required number of scores (including a freestyle score) and achieve above the minimum required score average to be considered for the championships.
When the qualifying period ends, riders are ranked against other riders within their same divisions and regions. All regions choose two teams to invite to NAYC: the top three or four highest scoring FEI Juniors in the region and the top three or four highest scoring FEI Young Riders in the region. It’s worth noting that when choosing teams, if there are not enough qualified riders from a particular region, the organizers sometimes will merge riders from regions that also did not have enough riders to form a team of their own. Any proposed merge must be approved by the FEI.
USEF National Championships
The Festival of Champions, aka USEF National Championships, encompasses the national championships for the FEI Youth Divisions and Brentina Cup Division in the US. In other words, all 5 FEI youth/young adult divisions are offered, unlike the NAYC, which only offers the FEI Junior and FEI Young Rider Divisions.
Since it is a national championship and not an international show, FEI registrations and an FEI passport are not required, but USEF/USDF memberships for the horse, rider, and owner still must be maintained. In addition, a rider must submit an Application of Intent by the deadline and fill out any required paperwork.
To qualify, a rider must compete in the required number of qualifying competitions, receive the required number of scores, and achieve above the minimum required score average to be considered for the championships. More information can be found here. It is important to note that among the 5 divisions, the required minimum score averages are different.
Unlike the NAYC, there are no specific teams for each region. Instead, all of the FEI youth riders across the country are ranked against each other within their respective divisions. Only the top 12 or so riders in the country are chosen for the championships, so even if you achieve the minimum score average for your division, you might not receive an invitation if you are not one of those top 12 riders.
This write-up is merely an overview/summary of these programs and the specifics may change at any time. Therefore, it is important to check the USEF, USDF and FEI websites regularly for the most current information, deadlines, dates, forms, requirements, etc.
Feel free also to contact the ESDCTA Youth Committee for more information or further details on these and other youth programs.