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Dressage 101: What You Need to Know

Updated on July 29, 2014

Have you ever seen a horse show wherein the riders are elegantly dressed, sitting upright that they look like cavalry men, on a beautiful and majestic horse as they perform visually stunning performances to the delight of the audience? That’s what is called dressage. It is considered a competitive equestrian sport. It is governed by the International Equestrian Federation.

Dressage is actually a French term that means ‘training’. Its original purpose was to train the horse to make him calm and comfortable in all situations, and become very attentive to its rider.

If you have seen such a performance, you will notice that the rider seems very relaxed and doesn’t show much effort as he or she provides the instructions to the horse to perform a specific movement. In the same manner that the horse will be relaxed and immediately follows the rider’s instructions as it performs the maneuver. This is why some people even call it a Horse ballet.

Is there a specific horse breed for this type of sport?

The simple answer is no. Success in dressage really depends on the ability of the trainer or the rider to train the horse. In this regards, any breed can be trained for this purpose.

The Competition

The competition is performed in a regulation sized arena. The rider and the horse must wear apparel and dressage training gear that are duly authorized by the organizers.

Depending on the country where it is played, there can be four to six lower levels of tests with the Grand Prix level as the highest in modern competition.

In every level or test, only one rider and his horse can go at it at a time. The rider and the horse must complete a sequence of dressage movements. Now each test can contain one or more movements which is called a sequential block. Then each block is given a score by the judges ranging from Not Performed to Excellent.

The three basic movements are: Walk, Trot, and Canter. The transition from one movement to another must be as smooth as possible.

There are also some advanced movements: Passage, Piaffe, Pirouette, Flying Change of Leg, and the Half-Pass.


If you are watching a dressage competition, here are some tips you should be aware of:

  • There should be consistent tempo and rhythm. The tempo of the movement should be noticeable that you can equate music to it.

  • The less you notice the rider, the better. This is more true whenever the rider is controlling or giving commands to the horse. It only means the rider and the horse are working harmoniously.

  • The horse is laser-focused. It is not a good thing if the horse suddenly becomes a bit playful or show some unintended movements. Although it is a given that not every day that a horse can be well behaved.

  • As a spectator you should be as quiet as possible. This is in respect to the competitors who are doing their movements in the arena. Dressage is a sport of concentration and utmost silence is always needed.

Where to from here?

Dressage is a spectator sport and it features a number of horse movements that are not only amazing but are a joy to watch. For this reason, the best way to know more about this sport is to watch a competition, either through videos or attending an event. Start by contacting your local equestrian or dressage organization to check on their next competition.


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well done and interesting. My horsees all come with a a roping horn on the saddle ;-)

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I've never seen this before. I found your article interesting. Thank you..

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've never seen a competition in person but I have on tv, and it really is interesting and fascinating. Thanks for the primer.