BILL–That’s an interesting question, especially because just recently I was on the panel that judged the Region 1 Dressage Seat Equitation Semi-Finals. There are two good online resources which speak to this question: The USEF rulebook has a section within the Dressage Division which is quite explicit about what we should look for. In addition there are the Dressage Seat Equitation Guidelines for Competitors and the Guidelines for Judging Dressage Seat Equitation Classes prepared by Lendon Gray which detail what really matters and how we arrive at a numerical score.
Some items on our checklist are obvious: The rider must be aligned and balanced as a series of specifics dictate. Beyond this, while we know that the horse himself is not to be judged, the rider’s effect on how the horse performs should matter quite a bit.
A picture perfect but non-functional rider doesn’t get many bonus points from me. Likewise, while all other things being equal a slight misalignment of a rider’s hip would carry some significance, it pales in comparison when weighing a passenger rider without that problem versus one who demonstrates an active and creative relationship with her horse. At the Regionals one judge was giving high marks to a particular rider. About that child my preliminary note just said “baggage.”
A favorite word in the back of my head which describes good riding (and therefore good equitation) is “organic.” The essence of dressage, after all, is communication. A rider who can demonstrate feel and a plan which she can carry out while relating to the horse’s disposition and needs is a rider I want to reward.