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How To Ride Dressage

Updated on September 18, 2014

Charlotte Dujardin At London Olympics


What is Dressage?

There was once a time when the only way to learn how to ride dressage was to get yourself a mentor and apprentice yourself. The process is long and arduous and for those who have access to top riders and stables is probably still the best way to go. However times they are a changing, and with the advent of video and the high speed internet new possibilities are opening up.

Some of you may even have seen my lens on the DVD Happy Horse Training lessons put out by Jane Savoie. This is still the only complete video course from the very bottom levels to the very top. So what exactly is dressage? Simply put it is the correct and proper athletic and gymnastic preparation of the horse for any discipline! That means that in fact all riders should dressage their horses no matter what their discipline is. It is all about balance, rhythm and connection.

Dressage therefore is actually the oldest method of training the horse, and it was first written about by Xenophon who was a Greek General around the times of Alexander the Great. Even at this time he wrote about the need to use no force at all in training the horse! Since he was training horses for war this insight was amazing, or perhaps they had arrived at this method because it was the only correct and logical method for training a horse?

This lens is far too short to actually teach you how to dressage a horse the process is long, it takes about 6 years for a top trainer to dressage a horse, these trainers start at around age 3 or 4 and it is unusual for a top dressage horse to be fully trained until it is between 8 and 12 years old. Consequently the lens will attempt to show you some of the best dressage, and point out some of the controversies and mainly to point the reader to the best available resources for obtaining training material, so you may dressage your horses correctly.

Picture Charlotte Dujardin winning The Olympic Dressage Gold Medal - Photo FEI Press Release when she took the World Top Ranking becoming the first Briton to do so.

The Book That First Laid Down The Principles Of Dressage

Xenophon was a Greek General who was an enlightened rider and put his training principles into writing for the benefit of his cavalry officers.

The Art of Horsemanship
The Art of Horsemanship

Xenophon was the first person to write a proper treatise on the reasoning and correct thinking in terms of the balanced and gymnastic training of the horse. His methods have stood the test of time as they are the foundations of the training pyramid seen in this lens, and which all correctly trained Dressage Instructors use to underpin their thinking and practices in their daily training routines.

USDF Training Pyramid
USDF Training Pyramid

The Basis Of Dressage

The Training Scale or Pyramid

There are 6 levels to correctly dressage a horse, Rhythm, Suppleness, Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection. These are often placed in a pyramid starting with Rhythm and finishing at the top with Collection. However they are not mutually exclusive, but are rather the building blocks that comprise the complete training of the horse.All exercises for the horse are designed to work on one or more areas of the pyramid or scale, and the aim of the trainer is to gradually improve the horse in all areas until it goes in a way that exhibits all of these features.

I am not going to attempt to teach Dressage here as it is a long process and others can do this far more effectively than I. What I hope people will take away is the fact that Dressage is not a way of riding but is in fact a training method, it is the only complete training method that exists. It is the foundation of all disciplines, every horse needs to be correctly and effectively dressaged in order to perform at its best.

The system is all about producing a horse that is correctly balanced and muscled so that it can move with correct rhythm, it is supple, maintains contact with the bit, and it moves with impulsion, carrying itself straight and in collection. (If you do not know what this means refer to the picture of Charlotte Dujardin who is demonstrating all of this perfectly).

Training in Dressage starts from leading the horse and is based on the concept of pressure and release. You want the horse to move away from pressure (it will start initially by moving toward it). You start with the young horse by getting it to shift its front feet, lean into it until it moves away then praise profusely, keep doing this until it is moving away from the lightest touch and reduce the praise gradually too, until just the words "good horse" suffices. The same principles are going to apply to all stages of the training. Do not rush anything and remember that it takes a long time, so set goals, but remember that the attention span of the horse is short! Using 20 minute intense training sessions 6 days a week is far more effective than using 2, 2 hour sessions. In fact long sessions will drive the training backwards, as horses bore quickly, and you will lose their attention. I know many frustrated horse owners due to this.

Remember you are building layers and you need to warm up correctly so every session should start with walk then trot, and only canter when the horse is exhibiting all of the levels in its training up to this point. The warm up session should be kept to 15 to 20 minutes for most horses, and the work about the same, try to keep the total time at the stable to no more than an hour to 1 1/2 hours total, with the horse. The horse needs to eat and drink pretty much all the time it is awake so be considerate of its needs, and it will respond better to you. If only Corporate bosses would treat their staff like we need to treat our horses!

The picture is a wall chart available from the US Dressage Federation. the picture links to their site, and I am not an affiliate so will not get paid for any Sales.

Dressage Training Online

The First Effective Online Dressage Training

The Internet has allowed the top Dressage riders and trainers to come together and solve your Dressage training issues through video training and demonstration rides, available direct to you over the internet. Top riders and trainers such as Walter Zetl, Edward Gal, Jan Brink, Shannon Peters etc. etc are all now available online for you to learn from., is an educational dressage training site. Feauring over 1300 (15) minute training videos with top trainers, riders and judges, Members get to see how they train on a daily basis. Judges explaining how the scores are given, and the reason they scored each movement the way they did, based on real events. Additionally, Dressage raining Online are partners with various federations and organizations and feature their sponsored content, such as forums, conferences and clinics.

Dressage Training On-Line

Dressage Training On-line Banner
Dressage Training On-line Banner | Source

Edward Gal Morland Totillas World Record Ride - YouTube - And Charlotte Dujardin Olympic Gold Medal Winner

The First Video is of Edward Gal setting his World Record, the second is Charlotte Dujardin winning the Gold Medal at the London Olympics 2012 and the third is the correct way of training a dressage horse. This is what is really meant by long round and low, compare this to the Rollkur Photograph! in the next section.


The Current Controversy In The Sport

Roll Kur as Opposed To Long Round And Low

The sport of dressage has been plagued by controversy in recent years. This all really got started with Anky Von Grunsven and her husband Sjef Jansen, and it was unfortunate as Anky was regarded as one of the top Dressage riders of all times. She has won championships on several different horses.and set many World records. Due to this success their training methods were copied by many riders and even Edward Gal who set the World record score was trained out of their school.

I included both the current top rider in the World and Edward Gal's World record ride for a reason. The Roll Kur is the habit of training the horse held down forcibly by hand pressure, so that its nose is almost touching its chest. The fact that top riders were doing this in practice came out when a spectator at the Sydney Olympics filmed Anky Von Grunsven doing this and posted it on You Tube.

The practice is extremely uncomfortable for the horse and is done solely for the purpose of producing the long forward outstretching of the front legs at the extended trot. Charlotte DuJardin does not use this method she prefers the traditional form of riding, which includes riding long round and low in training, but with a loose rein. This practice is now seen to be better by the judges and they score these riders more highly now. The differences can be seen if you watch the videos back to back. Charlotte's transitions are far more subtle and the hands more relaxed and gentle.

The reason Roll Kur was done is to maximise the score for those parts of the test that have the highest marks, and because in looking spectacular it influenced the crowd and judges alike so better scores were achieved. The practice and attempts to ban it all together were started by the Xenophon Society. Klaus Balkenhol and Dr Gerd Heuschmann were early members and the hope was to ban the use of all force in the training of horses. Gerd Heuschmann who was the vet that really started the movement has unfortunately since been discredited for using excessive force while training his own horses!

However the Xenophon Society has continued under the capable chairmanship of Klaus Balkenhol, who has worked closely with the current British Dressage team riders. The practice is forcing the horse to overstretch its muscles and you can see the distress of the horse in the picture. In practice riders often ride their entire warm up in this way as Anky did with Bonfire at the Sydney Olympics. The Dutch couple claimed they only did this for short periods of time no more than 5 minutes, but the YouTube video ran for 27 continuous minutes, I believe the video has now been removed and the matter is still contentious.

However the effect of the Rollkur is the over extended trot which you see in Totillas, and the correct extended trot seen in Valegro the difference is in the legs the front and rear legs should be parallel, or the front just slightly ahead of parallel if the horse has great extension. In Rollkur horses the front leg is well above the parallel. Horses that are Rollkured will eventually become stiff and sore, which will show in their other gaits.

Dressage is the correct gymnastic development of the horse and leads to a well balanced performance from both horse and rider. It is a matter of physiology hyperflexion (The technical term for Rollkur) is not appropriate in any horse, at any time as it is going out of balance and rhythm. Both the IOC and FEI have been slow to enforce a total ban on Rollkur due to the number of top riders that are involved? It could also be due to fear of long drawn out legal battles over who is and who is not doing it. It currently looks as if the Xenophon side is winning slowly, as practices can now be observed and riders will not be permitted to compete if hyperflexion is evident at that time.

The true meaning of long round and low is demonstrated correctly in the third video above, which is a training video from a top trainer who really understands the correct meaning of this terminology.

Rollkur picture is from

The Book That Really Got The Rollkur Out in The Open

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann was responsible for forcing the FEI and World Dressage Forum to discuss the harmful practice of Rollkur, when he published this book. It is a physiologically based treatise against using the Rollkur.

Tug of War: Classical Versus "Modern" Dressage: Why Classical Training Works and How Incorrect "Modern" Riding Negatively Affects Horses' Health
Tug of War: Classical Versus "Modern" Dressage: Why Classical Training Works and How Incorrect "Modern" Riding Negatively Affects Horses' Health

The practice of Rollkur was gradually undermining the iintegrity of Dressage as an International Horse Sport it was contrary to all of the old established principles of Dressage that have been being passed down from trainer to rider ever since the times of Xenophon.


Dressage Books on Amazon - A Great Way To Add To Your Knowledge

There are a lot of good books on Dressage, it is hard to specify which will suit you, all readers and authors have their own style, likes and dislikes.

The Dressage Chronicles Book II: A Matter of Feel
The Dressage Chronicles Book II: A Matter of Feel

The whole point of dressage is getting the horse to feel your aids and reducing pressure to such a low level that the aids are hardly noticeable. It is all a matter of feel!


Jane Savoie Dressage Trainer

This book is Jane Savoie's Introduction to the world of dressage. This is the type of riding that every rider should know about and it is all about being kind to the horse and keeping it happy. A great read for any serious rider.

Linda Tellington Jones Trainer

Linda is one of the British greats as a rider and is famous as a trainer in particular her T Touch methodology. She is another trainer that believes all riders should dressage their horses.

Dressage with Mind, Body & Soul: A 21st-Century Approach to the Science and Spirituality of Riding and Horse-And-Rider Well-Being
Dressage with Mind, Body & Soul: A 21st-Century Approach to the Science and Spirituality of Riding and Horse-And-Rider Well-Being

Dressage is riding your horse with more than just your aids the Mind Body and Soul have to be involved too. This book shows you how.


Isabell Werth Rider

Isabell Werth was one of the top riders in the World in the field of Dressage for many years. In this book she explains how to do the movements that the top riders are expected to perform. Her years of experience can help you learn too.

Dressage School: A Sourcebook of Movements and Tips Demonstrated by Olympian Isabell Werth
Dressage School: A Sourcebook of Movements and Tips Demonstrated by Olympian Isabell Werth

It is always useful to have the how to guides for anything and this book is the source for all dressage movements and tips as to how to get there.


Avoiding The Wrong Ways To Dressage

Like in any other fields there are right and wrong ways to do things and sometimes we need to know what is wrong in order to avoid doing them. This book is aimed to help do just that.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage: How to Overcome Human Nature and Become a More Just, Generous Riding Partner for Your Horse
The Seven Deadly Sins of Dressage: How to Overcome Human Nature and Become a More Just, Generous Riding Partner for Your Horse

Part of learning is avoiding the things not to do and that is where this book is coming from.


A Little Help In Doing Things For Yourself

A do it yourself book for anyone setting up an English riding facility, including dressage.

Dressage Items On eBay - Items That It Might Be Fun To Bid On

Dressage equipment can be expensive so biding on eBay can be a good way to get it more affordably.

If You have Any Comments or Questions Please Post Them Here

Submit a Comment

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    4 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @rob-hemphill: I hope your wife is against the Roll Kur! This habit has been destroying the connection the sport has with proper gymnastic training of the horse so that it and the rider are working together in balance harmony.

  • rob-hemphill profile image

    Rob Hemphill 

    4 years ago from Ireland

    My other half is now a dressage judge having been an advanced level rider until a few years ago. And, like you I dabble in marketing, and love travel, wine and photography. Always too many distractions though!

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @balancebydesign4u: Only give it a go when you have the time and the determination to master it (allow several years) and take lessons from the best teacher you can find.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @balancebydesign4u: Dressage is the core of all good riding. It is based on getting the horse to move away from pressure, and reducing the pressure gradually until just the lightest touch will do. Everything has to be done in accordance with the pyramid and the longest time is spent on the lower levels, you need to address the levels in order from the bottom up and spend the most time on each ride at the bottom levels working up the pyramid as the horse learns to do each level properly. Rhythm and balance are the key and you should tune into the horses natural rhythm, exercise it until it can move straight (they all have a tendency to move better off one side or the other). The exercises gradually develop the horses strength and ability to move from the least touch.

    Western horses can be dressaged, but to master dressage you have to use the dressage saddle as any other puts too much leather between your leg and the horse. It has to be able to feel you shift position in the saddle and feel the slightest increase in pressure from the leg.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @MBurgess: It is all about core strength and balance, both you and the horse! To get there is a long process, not difficult but time consuming and it needs teamwork and determination. You and the horse must move together in balance and harmony. The time is needed to get the horse to respond to the lightest pressure on the reins and from the leg. It has to appear to be done by telepathy (at the highest levels) and that is where the time and patience to one day get there comes in. It is a labour of love taking one step forward and often one back too. This is why so few ever master it.

  • balancebydesign4u profile image


    5 years ago from Arkansas

    I loved this lens. I have always wanted to ride dressage. It is on my Bucket List.

  • balancebydesign4u profile image


    5 years ago from Arkansas

    Loved this lens! Dressage lessons is at the top of my Bucket List. I ride western but have always wanted to try English style riding-dressage in particular. Maybe I can do the on-line course some day. Meanwhile, I use the Parelli training method that is also all about rhythm and balance and natural movement.

  • MBurgess profile image

    Maria Burgess 

    5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

    I grew up riding western saddle and quarter horses. When I moved to Florida for a few years I was introduced to dressage saddles and thoroughbred Arabians because of the proximity to the Polo grounds near where I worked. It's an art to stay on that saddle! Nice lens!

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @kimark421: Thank you, that is what I had hoped to achieve.

  • Dusty2 LM profile image

    Dusty2 LM 

    5 years ago

    WoW! What an interesting and informative lens. I have seen this on TV a couple of times and was amazed at how the horse and rider came together going through the routines. I didn't really know the name of the Sport until after reading your lens. Thanks for sharing. Also Thank You for stopping by my Winter Sports In Colorado lens and giving it a "thumbs up". I appreciate it. Happy New Year 2013!.

  • kimark421 profile image


    5 years ago

    Very interesting lens. I know nothing about riding, but still enjoyed this immensely. Nice job!

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @Dusty2 LM: Thank you for your visit. I hope you now realise that it really is a sport of dedication and commitment to the animal if it is done properly.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @anonymous: I am glad that you enjoy watching this great sport.

  • profile image


    5 years ago

    Have seen Spanish Horses before doing dressage and also on Eurosport but that was before now I have to go to you tube. Lovely to watch.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @shellys-space: I am hoping to enlighten prospective riders as to the dedication and consistency that is required to properly train a horse. It is unfortunately all too easy to obtain a horse and to abuse it through lack of knowledge of its needs and thereby to harm it physiologically by sheer ignorance. The law and SPCA are too low on resources to properly police this so it is up to us in the horse community to try to educate people as to what their responsibilities are, before they go out and buy an animal which they then unwittingly abuse.

    Thank you for dropping by and giving me your blessing.

  • shellys-space profile image

    Shelly Sellers 

    5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

    Nicely done Stephen! I admit, I have no experience on horses or riding and find it fascinating! Blessed :)

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @justramblin: Thank you I was hoping to clarify what the sport entails, and to show that really it is the training methodology not just the "show" part of it.

  • justramblin profile image


    5 years ago

    Great explanation of dressage. I misunderstood the term before. Thanks

  • Scarlettohairy profile image

    Peggy Hazelwood 

    5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

    I think dressage is fun to watch. What talent on both the horse and the rider's part.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @Gypzeerose: It is the ultimate level of horsemanship when practiced correctly and takes approximately 8 years to train a horse to Gran Prix level as per the videos here. It also takes at least 15 years for the rider to attain a level of competency such as they can perform the training. Those are the times for the top professionals.

    It is surprising therefore that people think they can ride after just a couple of trail rides, but some still do, unfortunately for the poor animals.

  • Gypzeerose profile image

    Rose Jones 

    5 years ago

    Really fun, dressage looks very cool.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @weallmatter: Not personally but they sponsor some top dressage riders and Mrs Romney has some fine horses too.

  • profile image


    5 years ago

    Have you come across the Romneys.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @casquid: There is a lot to learn for any type of riding, unfortunately most riders try to take shortcuts to the detriment of the horse. This behaviour is usually due to them starting in ignorance and then not wanting to take the 15 years it takes to learn to ride properly.

  • casquid profile image


    5 years ago

    There is so much involved in riding dressage. I had no idea, until now! Thank you for joining the Squidoo Community. You will do well here.

    Thank you for your like on my lens Sharing 10 Ways.

  • Dressage Husband profile imageAUTHOR

    Stephen J Parkin 

    5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

    @Im Horse Crazy: Thank you for your visit and I may well add more over time.

  • Im Horse Crazy profile image

    Im Horse Crazy 

    5 years ago

    The lens is cool but you might want to wright more in different modules and have morepicturse- sorry about my spelling. :(


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