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Equestrian Dressage Explained

Posted by Country & Stable on 3rd Aug 2022

Equestrian Dressage Explained

Since the dawn of time, dressage has been practiced as a form of horseback riding. It is often referred to as "horse ballet" because of the fluid and graceful movements that the horses make.

Dressage has many different components. 

First, we'll explain what dressage is and how it plays out in a competition. Then, we'll cover some of the most common dressage moves you'll see in the competition as part of our discussion.

So, whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider, read on to learn more about this fascinating equestrian discipline.

What is Dressage, and What Are its Origins?

'Dressage,' meaning 'training or discipline' in French, refers to a riding style with horse-to-human communication and cooperation at its core.

Dressage has its roots in ancient Greece, where it was first used to train warhorses for battle. Over time, dressage has evolved into a competitive sport. The first official dressage competition was held in Paris in 1759.

Dressage tests the horse's natural abilities and willingness to work with the rider. It is a partnership based on trust, respect, and communication.

What Different Kinds of Dressage Competitions Can Riders Take Part in?

Dressage tests are divided into levels, from intro/Preliminary to Grand Prix.

The tests evaluate the horse's gaits, transitions, and obedience. The rider will also be told how they can improve their skills before their next competition.

There are many different dressage competitions in which riders can participate in the United States. Some of the most popular include:

  • The USDF Dressage Finals: This is a prestigious annual event that brings together the top dressage riders from across the country. It is held at various locations each year, and riders can compete in a variety of different classes.
  • USEF National Championships: This annual event is open to riders of all levels and features various classes. 
  • Dressage at Devon: This popular annual event is held in Pennsylvania and features dressage and show jumping competitions.
  • The American Gold Cup: This annual event is open to riders of all levels and features various classes. 
  • The US Dressage Festival of Champions: This annual event is open to riders of all levels and features various classes. 
  • Dressage at Lexington: This popular annual event is held in Kentucky and features dressage and show jumping competitions.
  • The United States Equestrian Games: This prestigious quadrennial event is open to riders of all levels and features various classes. 
  • The World Equestrian Games: This prestigious quadrennial event is open to riders of all levels and features various classes. 

Depending on the entry-level of the competitor will depend on which element will be involved in the test and will be judged. Some of the elements include;

  • Walk/Trot/Canter
  • Circles
  • Serpentines
  • Variations of gaits collected/medium/working/extend
  • Transitions
  • Lateral work
  • Changes

What do Judges Look For in a Dressage Routine, and How Do They Score It?

Judges look for the horse and rider to display harmony, impulsion, rhythm, straightness, contact, collection, and suppleness. They also look for the horse to be obedient and responsive to the rider's aid.

A panel of judges or an individual judge assigns the final score depending on the entry-level of the rider and horse. The average of the judges' scores will determine the final result.

Every movement in a dressage test is graded on a scale of one to ten. Up to a value of 9.5, half-marks can also be used.

Every number from 0 to 10 corresponds to a description of what occurred throughout the movement. It is directly related to the judge's assessment of how successful or not the exercise was executed.

The following is the scoring system:

  • 0 = not performed
  • 1 = very bad
  • 2 = bad
  • 3 = fairly bad
  • 4 = insufficient
  • 5 = sufficient
  • 6 = satisfactory
  • 7 = fairly good
  • 8 = good
  • 9 = very good
  • 10 = excellent

The scoring system is designed to be objective and fair. However, it is not without its critics. Some say that it does not accurately reflect the horse's performance.

Others argue that it emphasizes the rider's ability to execute the movements flawlessly rather than the horse's natural abilities.

What Are the Most Common Dressage Moves?

The most common dressage moves are:

The Trot

It is a dressage move in which the horse moves its legs in diagonal pairs, with the inside leg leading. This move is often used to transition from walk to canter or vice versa.

The horse's head should be level with its withers, and the rider should sit upright, with their weight evenly distributed.

The Canter

The canter is a three-beat movement in which three feet are always on the ground. It's quicker than trotting but slower than galloping. The canter is a fluid gait that allows the horse to traverse the ground swiftly without disturbing the rider.

The Walk

The walk is a four-beat gait, characterized by an even rhythm with equal intervals between each hoof-fall. The poll should be the highest point on the horse's body, and the head and neck should be in a comfortable, natural position. The horse should appear "walking on air," with little effort and a ground-covering stride.

The Rein-Back

Rein-back is a two-beat‚ diagonal backward movement with no pause. The forelegs are aligned on the same track as the hind legs as each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground alternately.

What are the Benefits of Learning Dressage, both for Horse and Rider Alike?

The movements in dressage are incredibly graceful and take a great deal of training and practice to perfect. But the benefits of learning dressage go far beyond simply looking pretty.

A horse's overall fitness and conditioning can be improved through dressage and flexibility and balance. And for riders, dressage can improve your communication with your horse and your riding skills and abilities. It's also a great way to get more involved in the horse world and meet other like-minded people.

So whether you're looking to improve your horse's fitness or simply want to learn more about this fascinating sport, dressage is a great place to start.

Famous Equestrian Dressage Competitions

Suppose we've sparked your interest in equestrian dressage competitions. In that case, you should see how the professionals do it in world-famous competitions.

One of the most famous dressage competitions is the World Equestrian Games. The next one will be held in August 2022 in Herning, Denmark. This competition happens every year and is a must-see for every horse lover.

Next is the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until 2024 for this one, but it'll be worth the wait.

Both of these horse competitions will showcase the very best of Equestrian Dressage. So if you're interested in the sport, mark your calendar for upcoming horse events in 2022.

Become an Equestrian Dressage Rider

Finding a good instructor is the first step toward taking your riding talents to the next level and competing. An experienced dressage instructor can teach you the fundamentals and help you improve your technique. They can also help you find the perfect horse.

Once you have found an instructor and a horse, it is time to start practicing. Dressage is a sport that requires a lot of practice and dedication. That's many hours in the saddle to perfect your skills.

Try our Catago FIR-Tech Dressage Saddle Pad for optimum pressure balance and ensure your horse has a comfortable ride.

As you progress, you will start to compete in dressage competitions. If you are dedicated to becoming a dressage rider, you can eventually compete at the highest levels.

Equestrian Dressage in a Nutshell

So, there you have it. Dressage riders need to know these fundamentals before they begin their journey into the sport. Getting where you want to go is possible if you put in the time and effort. 

And if you have any questions or need further assistance from us, get in touch today, and we'll be happy to guide you in all things dressage and beyond.