What Is Dressage Riding? Everything You Need to Know

In 2009, Edward Gal and a black stallion named Moorlands Totilas got a world-record-breaking score of 92.3% on their dressage test. It’s still ranked among the best dressage performances of all time.

As a horse lover, no doubt you look forward to Olympic sport dressage and other equestrian events. But if you’ve never taken dressage training yourself, it’s understandable if you have some questions.

What is dressage, exactly? How is dressage judged? What makes it different from other types of horse riding?

Keep reading for everything you need to know about dressage.

What Is Dressage?

Dressage with horses is synonymous with poetry in motion. Horse and rider move through a series of graceful predetermined movements (called a “dressage test”) in a 60′ x 20′ arena.

To onlookers, these high-stepping trots and floating canters appear effortless. Dressage riders will tell you that it’s anything but!

Dressage comes from a French word meaning “training.” The goal is to make the horse strong and supple at all paces while maintaining a calm, obedient demeanor.

There are dressage tests to suit riders and horses of all abilities. The most basic tests involve a series of circles and serpentines at a walk or trot. You’ll see the highest levels of dressage with more advanced maneuvers at the Olympics or other international competitions.

Little-known fact: Some dressage maneuvers developed during equine military training over 2,000 years ago. Although we no longer use horses on the battlefield, you can see these amazing moves performed at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.

How Is Dressage Judged?

Judges watch horse and rider perform award a numerical score to each required movement. The score is based on:

  • Collection (how light and balanced the horse appears)
  • Straightness (how the horse tracks forward or laterally)
  • Impulsion (how powerfully the horse propels itself forward)
  • Contact (the way the horse respond to the rider’s cues)
  • Suppleness (how relaxed and elastic the horse appears)
  • Rythym (how well the horse maintains tempo)

Each movement is awarded between 0-10 points, with 10 being excellent and 5 being sufficient. The total points are added and divided by the total possible, giving a percentage score.

Unlike high school, a score of 50% is actually considered to be quite good. That’s what makes the score of 92.3% mentioned at the outset truly a once-in-a-lifetime performance!

What Are the Benefits of Dressage Training?

Some equestrians dream of competing in dressage and focus solely on this discipline. However, basic dressage training is beneficial for horses and riders of all levels and disciplines.

For one thing, it strengthens the connection between horse and rider. Your horse becomes adept at picking up your subtle cues and responds better to your prompts. At the same time, you both become stronger and more supple.

These qualities will help you whether you’re racing around a jump course, competing in a western pleasure class, or enjoying a leisurely stroll through the back pastures.

Dressage 101: Class Dismissed

So then, what is dressage? It’s a discipline that looks effortless but actually requires an incredible amount of dedication and hard work.

Whether you’re a casual rider or a serious competitor, consider adding some dressage training to your repertoire. You and your horse will both benefit from this classical style of training!

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