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What is Dressage ~ From Lipizzan Horses to Dressage in the Barcelona Olympics ~ Our Experiences

Updated on February 27, 2016

Dressage equestrian event ~ 1992 Barcelona Olympics

Dressage equestrian event seen during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics
Dressage equestrian event seen during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics | Source

The Art of Dressage


Dressage is just that...an extremely beautiful art form. Dressage riding and dressage horse training combines years of practice for both rider and horse in order to execute these seemingly effortless and yet extremely difficult feats of strength and endurance. It can almost be likened to watching a ballet.

Our first experience with seeing this type of horsemanship was in Houston, Texas many years ago. We heard that there was to be a performance of the famous Lipizzaner horses and we eagerly purchased tickets. We truly did not know what to expect and as we looked down upon the horses and riders, we thought that not much was happening on the field.

It took a while with the help of an announcer on the public address system to understand the fine moves being made by the Lippizzan horses in conjunction with their riders to fully comprehend what we were viewing. At that point we became enthralled!

When we had a chance to view some Olympic games in Barcelona back in 1992, we signed up to get equestrian tickets and ended up getting to see more dressage. We were thrilled!


Lipizzan Stallion and rider performing

Source

Lipizzan Horses


Surprisingly there are only several thousand Lipizzaner horses in existence world-wide.


These are a special breed of horse which were developed in Slovenia and in fact have become their national animal symbol. An image of this magnificent breed is even inscribed upon one of their coins.


Like other warm-blood horses, a term designating that these were bred specifically for sport such as dressage and show jumping purposes, these special horses could quite possibly have become extinct during many different wars throughout history were it not for concerned individuals who went to extra-ordinary lengths to protect them.


During WW2, General Patton did just such a thing and it was even memorialized in a 1963 Walt Disney film titled Miracle of the White Stallions.


While the Lipizzaner horses do indeed look white, it is actually their hair which gives that appearance. Their skin is typically grey.


During the Lipizzaner show that my husband, mother, niece and I were watching, we became more attuned to enjoying some of the movements that the horses with their riders were performing.



Much of what they do is counter intuitive and not the normal pace, trot nor feat that a horse would ordinarily do.



Horses performing dressage moves

Horse performing a Flying Change
Horse performing a Flying Change | Source
Horse performing an Extended Trot
Horse performing an Extended Trot | Source
Horse performing a Capriole
Horse performing a Capriole | Source
Horse performing a Pesade
Horse performing a Pesade | Source

Dressage terminology

Riding horses was not something that I grew up doing. In fact I have only been atop a horse a few times in my life so I am far from an expert.

These are some of the different things that horses trained in dressage end up performing and they make it look truly effortless. Once we learned some of this via the announcer, watching the Lipizzaner horses and riders became even more fascinating.

  • Half-pass or Side pass This is where a horse moves forward and side-ways at the same time! When a group of them are doing it at the same time, it is an amazing site to behold.
  • Piaffe A horse doing this is lifting its knees up and down from left to right but staying in place. It is highly cadenced and wonderful to watch.
  • Passage This is where the horse looks like it is actually dancing! This is an exaggerated form of the Piaffe where the horse lifts it's legs very high up off of the ground in a trot mode while moving forward.
  • Pirouette Just like a human ballerina, the horse spins around doing half or full circles with it's back legs making small circle movements staying mostly in place and the front legs doing most of the whirling movements visible to a crowd.
  • Counter Canter Here the horse's head, front legs and body is slightly bent in one direction while actually traveling in the opposite direction. Like I said at the top...hardly the normal way of how a horse would travel!
  • Flying Change Here is where the horse actually appears to be skipping!
  • Extended Trot This is just what it sounds like. The horse's legs are really stretched out in the front and the back as it trots in an elongated form.
  • Capriole The horse has literally jumped up in the air with all four legs and then gives a kick with the back legs.
  • Levade and Pesade Another move that the Lipizzaner stallions did was to literally look like they were just about standing upright with only their two back legs on the ground. They could hold that pose for an amazing length of time! The Levade is the hardest as it is performed at a 30 degree angle! The horse's back legs must have tremendous strength! The Pesade is at a 45 degree angle which is slightly easier considering gravity.
  • Courbette Here is another move the horses do on their hind legs. They balance with their front legs in the air and then jump forward which appears as hopping.
  • Reinback This is where the horse walks backwards.
  • Serpentine The horses follow a weaving pattern that extends the length of the arena in which they are performing.

You can get some idea from this, the difficulty of what dressage entails. At Olympic events the horses trained in dressage are expected to make frequent changes between some of these movements such as the pirouette, extended trot, half-pass, piaffe, reinback, serpentine and the passage.

The video below shows many of these moves. It takes a while to fully comprehend what they are doing but watch their legs and movement fore-armed with the descriptions of movements above. I think you will be amazed as we were when seeing this for the first time.

Spanish Riding School Vienna Philharmonic...and the Lipizzaner Stallions

Barcelona Olympics


My husband and I were so fortunate to be able to attend some of the Olympic events in Barcelona, Spain back in 1992. In addition to the Opening Ceremonies, we were given equestrian tickets, men's diving and gymnastics. We gave up the gymnastics tickets in order to take a tour of the city since it was our first visit to Barcelona.

Olympic ticket

Olympic ticket
Olympic ticket | Source

Scenery from Barcelona to El Montayna

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Leaving Barcelona...Country-side outside of BarcelonaScenery outside of BarcelonaScenery outside of BarcelonaOur guide's grandmother's home as seen from the road.
Leaving Barcelona...
Leaving Barcelona... | Source
Country-side outside of Barcelona
Country-side outside of Barcelona | Source
Scenery outside of Barcelona
Scenery outside of Barcelona | Source
Scenery outside of Barcelona
Scenery outside of Barcelona | Source
Our guide's grandmother's home as seen from the road.
Our guide's grandmother's home as seen from the road. | Source

As it turned out this was a preliminary competition in dressage and not the finals, but it mattered not to us.


We were driven by bus for one hour out of Barcelona into the country-side to El Montayna where it was set up for the equestrian competitions.


This was actually fun as we got to see more of the surrounding landscape.


We had a tour director that spoke English so we were able to hear about some of the sites we were passing.


One of the houses viewed from the road outside of Barcelona was her grandmother's home. It was built 100 years before our American Declaration of Independence!

Hiking towards the equestrian venue after being dropped off by bus.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hiking towards the equestrian venue after being dropped off by bus.Hiking towards the equestrian venue after being dropped off by bus.Getting closer!
Hiking towards the equestrian venue after being dropped off by bus.
Hiking towards the equestrian venue after being dropped off by bus. | Source
Hiking towards the equestrian venue after being dropped off by bus.
Hiking towards the equestrian venue after being dropped off by bus. | Source
Getting closer!
Getting closer! | Source
Security officials outside of the venue area assuring crowd control.
Security officials outside of the venue area assuring crowd control. | Source



There were security officials on horseback outside of the Olympic equestrian venue monitoring the crowds.



We had to pass through security to get onto the grounds where there were loads of tents set up where one could get refreshments; use Porto-potties, access first aid if necessary, and secure a spot on the bleachers which had been set up to watch the dressage competition.


Passing through security...

Passing through security
Passing through security | Source

Once on the grounds we were free to move about and go where we wished. There was a constant milling of crowds in the tent areas as the day was hot and the shade was a welcomed respite. We certainly did our part to support the bottled water industry that day!

Tented area for Olympic Dressage 1992

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Source
Source
Source

The bleachers were built up around the show ring and were out in the open. The people who had thought to bring hats and sunscreen lotion were smart!

We sat next to a couple from California who were knowledgeable about horses and in particular, dressage. They were able to explain many of the technical details that were being judged that day. It had been many years prior when we had seen the Lipizzaner stallions performance.

People in bleachers watching the Olympic dressage event in 1992

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Other people in the bleachers watching the Olympic dressage event in 1992 outside of Barcelona.View looking out from the bleachers toward the surrounding country-side.Look at the size of that camera lens!
Other people in the bleachers watching the Olympic dressage event in 1992 outside of Barcelona.
Other people in the bleachers watching the Olympic dressage event in 1992 outside of Barcelona. | Source
View looking out from the bleachers toward the surrounding country-side.
View looking out from the bleachers toward the surrounding country-side. | Source
Look at the size of that camera lens!
Look at the size of that camera lens! | Source

It was wonderful getting to see the carefully controlled movements of horse and rider competing down below us.

The judges were set up in a series of three wooden huts at one edge of the ring where the competitors would do their maneuvers right in front of them.

The dressage event would be graded on a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being the best.

Many qualifying events would have been held leading up to the Olympics which is the final challenge for the best competitors from around the world showing off their years of training...all hoping to get those coveted bronze, silver and gold medals. Click HERE to see who won those 1992 equestrian events including those of dressage.

Dressage Olympic event outside Barcelona, Spain 1992

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The judges were in the 3 wooden huts.
Source
The judges were in the 3 wooden huts.
The judges were in the 3 wooden huts. | Source
Source

Getting to view a dressage event at anytime makes for a most memorable memory. It is just about the highest form of horsemanship that a person is ever likely to see. Best wishes to those competing in the upcoming London Olympics as well as Olympic games long into the future!

Have you ever viewed a dressage event?

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If you liked this article, please give it a star rating. Thanks!

4.9 out of 5 stars from 9 ratings of Dressage / Lipizzan horses / Olympic competitions

© 2012 Peggy Woods

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    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Suzanne,

      You are correct in that most mature in coloration as you described. Their skin actually remains grey but their hair turns to white with time. Glad that you liked this enough to share and pin. Thanks!

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

      A nice collection of information. I believe that Lippizans are born black and become gray and then white as they mature, but I am not sure about that. Voted up, interesting, shared & pinned! :)

    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Indian Chef,

      Yes, by all means if you ever get a chance to see horses and riders doing dressage...do it. It is something that you will never forget. Thanks for the vote up, the 5 star rating and the share.

    • Indian Chef profile image

      Indian Chef 4 years ago from New Delhi India

      Peggy, very beautiful pictures of not only horses but the houses too. I really wish that I might be able to see such horse show ever live. Voting it up and 5 stars and sharing here on hubpaes.

    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi moonlake,

      Too bad that you missed seeing a performance by the Lippizan stallions. If you ever get another chance to see them in person...grab it! They are amazing! Thanks for your comment and the share.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      Beautiful horses. They were here one time many years ago but we didn't get the chance to see them. Your hub is beautiful what a fun time you had. Voted up and shared.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi vespawoolf,

      Those Lipizzan stallions are amazing to watch as they perform the intricacies of dressage. Nice that you saw it as a child.

      Getting to see the venue as well as some of the competition during the Olympics in Barcelona was a real treat. Fortunately we were with people who knew much more than we did about this horse and rider competition and this made it even more enjoyable.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      I saw lipizzaners perform when I was just a little girl, and I still remember some of it since it was so impressive. I enjoyed the video you added--such an elegant and dignified sport. What a wonderful time you enjoyed at the Olympics!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Dolores,

      That is an accurate way to describe what these horses do in dressage. It is very much like watching an equine ballet. Amazing! We did have a great time at the Olympics. Thanks for your comment.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi Peggy - what a beautiful hub! You must have had a wonderful time at the Olympics. Watching the film, I was amazed seeing the horse jump and kick out behind; it reminded me of ballet.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Michelle,

      Dressage is so beautiful to watch and you are correct...it is a great combination between the talented horses and riders to accomplish that beautiful feat. Thanks for your comment and share.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      This is beautiful and informative. The animal lover in me says great work to the horses and trainers! Thanks for sharing this unique hub, and I share too!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Eddy,

      Nice to know that you enjoyed this hub about Dressage and information about Lipizzan horses + our Olympic experience watching dressage being performed. Thanks for your comment and the 5 star rating.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      So truly wonderful and I voted a five star!!!

      Great work as always and enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi sgbrown,

      It IS amazing to watch the Lipizzan horses performing dressage both in person and also on television or in videos. You quite possibly even got to see the intricate patterns of movement even better on television. That is often the case whether watching sports events or many other things. Glad that you liked this hub. Thanks for your comment and votes.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I have only seen these beautiful horses on tv. It must have been so amazing to see them in person. Wonderful hub!voted up and awesome!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Suzie HQ,

      What a wonderful way to explain dressage..."poetry in motion." That is a good description. Seeing it during the Barcelona Olympics was wonderful and the first time we saw the Lipizzan horses performing dressage in Houston, Texas...it was also fascinating to watch. Thanks for your comment, votes and the share.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Pegggy,

      What a wonderful subject for a hub! The Lipizzan horses are truly stunning to see and I never knew it was from Slovenia they hailed! Fascinating read! Dressage in The Barcelona Olympics must have been amazing to be at, I have seen dressage in the Dublin Horse Show and have been transfixed by the poetry in motion displayed.

      Beautiful photos showing your experience in Barcelona, mega votes and sharing!!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi agilitymach,

      That is interesting that you mentioned similarity in dog training to that of teaching horses to do dressage. Lots of time & effort for both I can well imagine. Thanks for your comment.

    • agilitymach profile image

      agilitymach 5 years ago

      Great hub..full of information and photos. As a dog trainer who competes in dog obedience, we see many similarities in obedience to dressage. Dressage is an amazing sport with it's formality and extreme difficulty. Thanks for posting your experiences. :)

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi teaches12345,

      Yes, getting to see the Lipizzan stallions performing was a treat indeed and of course watching the Olympic dressage competition outside of Barcelona was a once in a lifetime treat. Glad that you liked this. Thanks for your comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      How fortunate you were to have experienced this beautiful event. The Lipizzan is such a beautiful example of what a horse is about: strength and beauty. Lovely photos of Barcelona and the horse.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ruchira,

      Glad to have you along as one of my armchair travelers. I am doing much more of that these days also because of hubbers and their writings about parts of the world I have never seen. Those Lipizzan horses trained in dressage as well as other warmblood breeds are fantastic to watch. Thanks for your comment and the shares!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 5 years ago from United States

      thank you peggy...thanks to you I have travelled virtually in many parts of the world and am aware of this awesome talent by the horses.

      voting it up and sharing it across

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pamela,

      So nice to know that you learned a bit more about the Lipizzan horses & other warmblood horses that compete in dressage competitions or merely perform dressage for people's enjoyment. It is beautiful, isn't it! Thanks for your comment.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      I have always been fascinated by these horses and this is an awesome hub. You chose a great topic to write about and I learned several things I hadn't known. Awesome!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi alocsin,

      It will be fun to watch the dressage events during the London Olympics as well as so many of the other games. Often one actually sees things better on television as compared to being there in person as far as seeing the up close detailed work. So, like you, I look forward to watching a lot of TV in the days ahead. Nice that you have also seen the Lipizzan horses perform. That is a treat! Thanks for your comment, votes & the share.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi AliciaC,

      Explanations of what the horses and riders are accomplishing with dressage really helps those who are unschooled in what to look for...especially at first. Once one realizes the intricate work being done, it becomes so beautiful and amazing to watch. Thanks for your comment.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I've actually had the pleasure of watching Lippizaner stallions in a horse show when I was very young. I still remember how beautiful they were. Your hub signals me to be on the lookout for dressage in the London Olympics. Voting this Up and Useful. Shared.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very enjoyable hub, Peggy. I appreciate the details about the different dressage moves. I love watching dressage - it's such a graceful activity. I had the same experience as you - when I first saw a dressage competition on television I couldn't see that much was happening and didn't find it very interesting compared to show jumping. As I started to watch closely, though, I saw how intricate and graceful the movements were, and now I love to watch dressage!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Billy,

      I surely do not have a vast knowledge about dressage but enjoyed learning about it when viewing the Lipizzan stallions performance in Houston, and then getting to see the competitors during the Barcelona Olympics. It is so beautiful to watch! Glad to hear that you liked this article. Appreciate your comment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love this sport; you did a great job of detailing it for those of us who do not have a vast knowledge of it.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Cheryl,

      They were here in Houston many years ago. Perhaps they will return again someday. If so, be SURE and get some tickets. The Lipizzan stallions are amazing to watch as they and their riders go through their paces. Thanks for leaving a comment on this hub about them and the dressage we saw during the Barcelona Olympics.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Esmeowl12,

      Nice that you have also seen the Lipizzan horses perform. Have you written about your viewing of the dressage competition at the Atlanta Olympics? If not, it might be interesting to share. Thanks for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Gene,

      Getting to see the Lipizzan horses performing in Houston was also a once in a lifetime experience. No matter where they perform it is fantastic. A number of different warmblood horses perform the dressage in the Olympics. Once one understands dressage...at least a little bit about it...it becomes fascinating to watch and wonderful to appreciate. Speaking of appreciate...thanks for your comment! :))

    • Cheryl J. profile image

      Cheryl J. 5 years ago from Houston, TX

      Another great hub on the art of dressage. The moves are very unique and incredible. I would love to see the Lipizzan horses perform in the future. Very interesting information, photos and videos on this memorable event.

    • Esmeowl12 profile image

      Cindy A. Johnson 5 years ago from Sevierville, TN

      I love dressage. We have seen the Lipizzan stallions ourselves and they are so majestic. We also saw a few moments of the dressage competition at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta (long story there).

    • profile image

      Gene Jasper 5 years ago

      I was priviliged to see the Lippizanners in action and it was thrilling. Sad to say it was in Cincinnati, Ohio and not in some exotic locale but they were so beautiful and it was a once in a lifetime experience. Great Hub, Peggy.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Mary,

      Nice that you also got to see a performance by the Lipizzan stallions. They truly are magnificent! Glad that you liked this look at the dressage competition for the Barcelona Olympics. If I had a camera like that guy in the photo, just imagine the pictures that I would have had to share! Germany took the top honors that year in dressage.

      I would also like to see that entire movie someday...The Miracle of the White Stallions. Am sure it is great! Thanks for your comment.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      Hi Peggy W, you did an outstanding job on this Hub (as ususal). I enjoyed the Walt Disney movie clip with Robert Taylor. I remember him from years past in movies. I'm going to try and rent that movie and see the entire movie. I don't remember the movie at all.

      I was fortunate to see the Lipizzan horses when they came to Atlanta, Ga for a performance. My husband who was a lover of the horse explained to me what each horse was doing as it performed. They truly are a majestic animal.

      I also enjoyed your photos. I thought it was interesting that the U.S. only won 2 Bronze medals in the competition.

      This Hub was not only beautiful, it was educational as well. Thanks.

      I voted this Hub everything except funny, and will certainly share so others can read this great Hub.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi chrisnstar,

      You are correct in that originally some of the dressage moves were taught to horses that would be involved in war. Now, of course, it is mainly for show...and beautiful it is! Thanks for the first comment on this hub article.

    • chrisnstar profile image

      chrisnstar 5 years ago

      Thank you for this lovely hub. How lucky to see the Olympics! I think dressage means to teach or to learn. Dressage moves were designed for war horses but every horse and rider benefit from learning basic dressage.