Those who know nothing of horses or horse riding are taken by their equestrian grace and their expression of freedom.
Where artists try to hold it on canvas, in photos or pictures the dressage rider tries to recreate it,
in living form. From the moment a rider sits on the back of a horse much of that fine balance in
movement is lost. To regain it, horse and rider must follow an understood programme of training
and development, often over years, in order to establish a new balance.
Once established, a new grace will be found, most similar, but never quite the same as when the
horse was free of burden. Luckily the ways of doing this are well known and there is a heritage of
hundreds of years of experience to be drawn from. The works of the revered masters of the past
have been well documented, the skills have been taught and handed down generation by
generation to this day for us to draw from.
Dressage is today, probably as popular as at any time in history, and there seems to be an
upsurge of interest in dressage and classical riding throughout the world.
There are a lot of confused people wondering just what dressage is all about.
For some reason dressage is often explained in a way to make it sound more confusing. My
interpretation is that it is training to enhance the natural movement of the horse.
A horse likes showing off to other horses but it is difficult with a rider until the horse can learn to
carry more weight with its hind legs and lighten the front end. Most horses are seen
"jogging" with weight on the forehand, legs shuffling out behind and very little lift. Dressage
encourages the horse to take strong upward steps with bounce.
The whole training process is designed to gradually strengthen the horse to be able to
do a range of movements that require great physical strength and a good partnership between
horse and rider to perform in natural beauty.
The rider must balance the horse and aim to give lighter aids to gain a better
To achieve this the rider must first be balanced and not rely on the reins or gripping for
support. The dressage-rider must work on their balance in the seat to be sure they are not putting
more weight in one seat bone than the other and that one hip is not further forward than the other.
They must have equal weight: to hold the weight of the leg) in the stirrups and legs long and in
the correct place for giving the aids. The rider must carry their arms and hands and not
lean on their own hips or rest on the horse. Correct dressage position can be checked in any
book and it is a gradual process to achieve it, keep the primary aim of keeping the hands
separate from the rest of the body right from the beginner stage. The legs must not grip but
cuddle the horse and the rider should think of feeling the hair of the horse and not squashing the
horse's insides out.
In dressage, when an aid is given it is an electric touch then off and try again. This needs to be
reinforced with a touch of the whip (not sharply) if ignored. Firstly "Ask" if ignored …"Tell" if
ignored …"Demand". If ignored… try the sequence again (perhaps it was misunderstood). It will
encourage the horse to respond on the first gentle "ask" command but be sure the horse is not
confused and never punish them in a way to cause stress. The difference between
ask and demand is the difference between an invisible and a visible aid. Consistency is very
important. Never allow your moods to "demand" without "ask" and always reward by voice or a
The dressage-rider must assume the role of the teacher and gently explain what is required. No
student likes to be yelled at for no reason, why should a dressage-horse be different. Whisper
your aids... don't shout them. They cannot speak our language, you must explain what you want
and they will want to continue to learn.
As the rider progresses from training the basic priorities of "forward, rhythm, balance
and straightness" they can start to encourage the horse to step under themselves more but the
rider must be light in the saddle, very flexible in the lower back and have a light independent
hand. Hold the reins as though you are holding a Childs hand, if the horse leans, briefly drop the
contact forward for a second and drive the dressage-horse under more (tap, tap, not
squeeeezzzzzeeee). Do not pull the horse back, feel as though you are pushing the horse under
and allowing the back to bow upwards. A common beginner fault is to resume a "fetal" position
and pull which makes the horses back bend the wrong way or hollow. The dressage-rider must
open up and stretch tall, hips forward and in balance. The horse will become more comfortable to
ride as they gain balance, rhythm and spring.
Collection is more difficult and an instructor will assist the rider to apply the corresponding
restricting aids when the back foot lands and the propelling aids when the back foot is about to
step forward. This is when the dressage horses natural paces start to really improve and gives
you bounceability. Any backward blocking of the rein will prevent the inside hind legs from coming
Competition dressage is judged on the paces, impulsion, submission and the riders
effectiveness over a series of carefully prepared test movements. It is the judges responsibility to
give guidance to the dressage riders and to tell them if they have consolidated the horses correct
training enough at the level required before advancing. The national levels are: preliminary,
novice, elementary, medium and advanced. The international levels are Prix St George,
Intermediaire 1, Intermediaie 11 and finally Grand Prix. Most competitors start off at unofficial
levels before progressing to the more demanding official competitions.
Dressage is a sport of beauty and is only possible when there is a true partnership with the
horse and rider. The skills are difficult but once learnt will help the rider to improve any
horse and help both horse and rider enjoy any discipline. Dressage is a great sport; please join
Popular Dressage Horses
History and Origin of the Breed
The Dutch Warmblood is a "warmblood sport horse" breed. Warmblood simply distinguishes this type of horse from the "cold bloods" (draft horses) and the "hot bloods" (Thoroughbreds and Arabians).
refers to the intended use of the breed -- as a competitive and recreational horse for the major international equestrian disciplines of dressage, jumping, three-day event and driving.
Most Warmblood breeds are continuing to evolve. In fact, they are not "breeds" in the sense that Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Morgans and Saddlebreds are breeds. They do not have closed studbooks. Other breeds are often introduced to the gene pool to reap the benefits of hybrid vigor, and to speed and improve the evolutionary process of attaining the "Breeding Goal" of the particular studbook. The Dutch Warmblood is no exception.
Dutch Warmblood horses average about 16.2 hands with some reaching 17 hands. Coat colors are chestnut, bay, black or gray with white markings often on the face and legs. The head is well shaped, usually with a straight profile, and the neck is arched and well muscled, merging neatly into the withers, which are fairly prominent. The back is straight and fairly long, with the croup short, broad and flat. The tail is set high. The chest of this horse is deep and full and the shoulder is well sloped. The legs are strong with a long forearm. Hindquarters are powerful and highly muscled, a characteristic inherited from the original and powerful farm horses of the Netherlands and a feature necessary for strong movements.
Dutch Warmbloods are bred to perform in dressage and show jumping at the highest level. These horses are appealing modern horses, with great eagerness, reliability and intelligence.
Popular Dressage Horses
History and Origin of the Breed
The Hanoverian horse is a Warmblood horse, which is bred
to excel in the equestrian disciplines of jumping, dressage,
Eventing and driving. The breed originated in northern
Germany in the state of Lower Saxony, the former kingdom
of Hanover, where a flourishing horse-breeding industry has
existed for 400 years. The State Stud was established at
Celle in 1735, and the Hanoverian Studbook was officially
begun in 1888.
Refining stallions, primarily Thoroughbreds were crossed
with domestic mares to improve the quality of horses for
cavalry and farming. Through the years the Hanoverian
breeding program has adapted to the need for a more
athletic riding horse, introducing other breeds as appropriate.
The result is the modern Hanoverian horse.
Quality performance prospects are the result of the
Hanoverian selection process. Each year the American
Hanoverian Society organizes a national inspection tour to
register foals, inspect and performance test mares and
license stallions. In order for a foal to be registered, both the
sire and dam must be AHS approved. German and American
inspectors evaluate mares for type, conformation and gaits.
The Mare Performance Test scores a mare's ride ability,
gaits and jumping talent. Mares are placed in various
sections of the Studbook based on both their overall scores
and their dam's Studbook placement. The very best mares
can earn the title of Elite Mare upon successfully completing
the Mare Performance Test.
All stallion candidates must be presented for physical
inspection. If scores on conformation, movement and
jumping ability are sufficient, a temporary breeding license is
granted. Within two years, stallions must complete and pass
the 100-Day Stallion Performance Test that evaluates gaits,
trainability and athletic ability in dressage, show jumping and
cross-country. Eligibility for breeding is verified annually.
Popular Dressage Horses
History and Origin of the Breed
The Trakehner, known for its friendly temperament, intelligence and athletic ability, is one of Germany's oldest Warmblood breeds. King Frederick Wilhelm I of Prussia wanting his soldiers to have reliable transportation that was faster, sounder and more enduring than that of his contemporaries established the breed in 1732. For that purpose he opened a royal stud farm at Trakehnen in East Prussia. He used small native mares, called Schwaike, and crossed them with Thoroughbreds from England and with purebred Arabians. Throughout the years, the king's stud directors tried various other breeds but soon limited themselves to the Thoroughbred and the Arabian. The results of these crossings were exactly what the king wanted. Strict selection permitted only the best to breed while the "average" product was sold as riding horses, soon producing a distinctive new breed.
In the ATA's Corporate Regulations, the breed is defined as follows:
The Trakehner is a large horse, standing generally between 16 and 17 hands. The breed is characterized by great substance and bone, yet displays surprising refinement, perhaps more so than any other European Warmblood breed. It is a superb performance horse, with natural elegance and balance. It excels in dressage because of its elegant way of moving - the light, springy, "floating" trot, and soft balanced canter, made possible by a deep, sloping shoulder, a correct, moderately long back and pasterns of medium length and slope. With its characteristic powerful hindquarters and strong joints and muscles, the breed also produces excellent jumpers. However, perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of the Trakehner is its temperament. Trakehners are keen, alert and intelligent, yet very stable and accepting, anxious to please.
The word Dressage (pronounced dress-AHGE) is derived from the
French verb "dresser," which simply means "to train." It has come to
denote both a training method and a competitive sport. As a training
method it prepares the horse for any number of disciplines, from
show jumping to western reining. As a sport, competitive dressage
challenges horse and rider to strive forever-greater levels of precision
THE ART OF CLASSICAL HORSEMANSHIP
Although dressage has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship and
was influenced by the knights in shining armor of the middle Ages, it
was not until the Renaissance that it was recognized as an
important equestrian pursuit. The great riding masters of this period
developed a logical training system, which has changed little over the
last hundred years. What has changed is the reason for the training.
The European aristocrats displayed their well-trained horses in
elaborate equestrian pageants; today's riders test their
horses' ability in competition.
Dressage horses can be of any breed, sex, age, color or size.
Exceptional basic paces--walk, trot and canter--together with a good
temperament and sound conformation are what riders look for in a
potential horse. The horse should have athletic paces, be
light on its feet and have the scope to take short, springy strides as
well as free, long and swinging ones.
Dressage is a sport where competitors pursue the unobtainable
100%; in order to even come close, meticulous attention to detail, in
addition to ability, is necessary. Marks may be out of reach because
of a lack of talent, experience or technique, but they should not be
thrown away for lack of preparation.
The attention to detail starts with good horse mastership. Quality
veterinary care, proper feeding and an on-going training
program are the foundation. Correctly fitted equipment and good
grooming are also necessary ingredients. In this Sport the general
appearance is much more important than in other equestrian
disciplines. The horse and rider, which are turned out
immaculately, with everything gleaming and in place, make it hard for
the judge not to give the benefit of the doubt to the combination,
which pleases his eye. Dressage is a performance, and, as such,
competitors strive to look as beautiful as nature will allow.
Competitive dressage takes place in a 20x60-meter arena, with 12
lettered markers placed at specific points along the rail. Here, horse
and rider perform a designated test, a series of movements for which
the arena markers serve as reference points. No one seems to know
the reason for the peculiar sequence of the letters or when their use
was introduced to the sport.
There are different levels of tests in "international" dressage
In order of difficulty, they are, the Young Rider Tests, the Prix St.
Georges, Intermediaire I, Intermediaire II and Grand Prix. Within the
Grand Prix level are the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and the
Grand Prix Freestyle--a musical ride choreographed by the rider.
Although certain dressage movements must be performed and each
performance has a time limit, the competitor can create a program,
which suits his or her horse and is especially pleasing to the eye.
It is these International tests where we see the most spectacular
movements: Piaffe, the highly collected, elevated trot in place;
Passage, the suspended trot in slow-motion; Pirouette, a rhythmic
turning in place at the walk and canter; Half Pass, a forward and
sideways movement at the trot or canter where the horse crosses his
legs; Flying Change, a skipping type movement at the canter where
the horse changes lead every fourth, third, second and finally at every
It is important to understand that none of these movements
are tricks; all are natural and performed by the horse at play. With
careful training, the horse learns to duplicate these natural
movements, willingly, on command, and with grace, while
accommodating the weight of the rider. The trust and harmony, which
makes this possible, are a tribute to the dressage rider's ability and
the horse's generosity.
One to five judges, positioned at specific locations around the arena,
evaluate the performance from their different perspectives. Scores
are awarded on a scale of zero (not executed) to 10 (excellent) for
each movement, with some particularly difficult movements earning
scores that are multiplied by two.
Spectators tend to base their judgments on general impressions--on
how pleasing the performance was as a whole. The judges also take
this into consideration when awarding the "collective marks" for
paces, impulsion, submission and the rider's position. Dressage
scores are tallied and divided by the total possible, and the final score
given as a percentage.
These final percentages are somewhat misleading; the winning score
may only be a 63%. But keep in mind that the marks are given
movement by movement, and are judged against a standard of
absolute perfection. The greatest dressage riders in the world today
can only hope to achieve a final score in the 70% range.
YOU BE THE DRESSAGE JUDGE
As the test proceeds, how the horse moves on straight and
curved lines is important. On the straight, the body should be straight
with the hind feet following the same path as the fore feet. On turns
and circles the dressage horse's body should bend uniformly along
the arc in order to create the same path with fore and hind feet.
Circles should be round and smooth, turns should be even.
Transitions between gaits should be smooth, and the horse should
immediately establish a rhythm in the new gait.
When the dressage horse extends or collects its gaits, there should
be an obvious difference in the length of its stride. These are also
transitions. During an extension, the horse's frame is lengthened and
each stride should cover more ground. During a collected movement,
the frame is shortened and each stride should cover less ground
without any loss of impulsion or energy.
The horse should carry its head in a vertical position,
indicating acceptance of the bit, continually feeling for the rider's aids.
The horse traveling with its nose stiffly held out in front or over bent is
not accepting the rider's hand.
The rider should maneuver the horse through the test
without apparent effort, maintaining balance, with the upper body
erect but supple and thighs and legs steady and stretched downward.
The elbows should be held close to the body, thereby giving the rider
the ability to follow the horse's movements and apply the aids
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