Dressage riding - how dressage works

15. September 2020 / Guide / 3 Minutes
Dressage riding - how dressage works
Dressage is the cross-disciplinary basic requirement for training any riding horse.

How did dressage develop?

Horses were already used in warfare thousands of years ago. In the military, much was demanded of the horse physically, as it was not only used as a means of transport, but also as a weapon. For this function, the horse had to be obedient, be able to react quickly and be alert.

From the directive H.Dv.12., which was established for the training of the military squadron, came the successful sport of dressage, which subsequently spread worldwide over the years.

What are the aims of dressage?

The aim of dressage is to train the horse by riding different exercises in walk, trot and canter, keep the horse healthy and fit, and fully utilise the horse's potential in the basic gaits.

How does dressage horse training work?

The scale of training is a guideline designed by the FN that illustrates the successive phases in the training of the horse and includes the most important framework for the correct schooling of the horse.

The straightness and the suppleness of the horse are the overriding goal of the training scale.
The points of the training scale are as follows:

  1. Rhythm: the regularity of the gaits and movements
  2. Suppleness: The even contraction and relaxation of the muscles of the contented horse.
  3. Contact: The soft, maintaining connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth.
  4. Impulsion: The transfer of the energetic impulse from the hindquarters via the swinging back to the overall forward movement of the horse. The swing comes to the fore in gaits with a floating phase, the trot and the canter.
  5. Straightness: The balancing of the natural crookedness of each horse so that it can be placed and bent well on both hands.
  6. Collection: The under-stepping with the hindquarters under the centre of gravity. As a result, the back arches up, the horse raises the withers, which in turn causes the neck and nape to arch up and the horse's head to come closer to vertical.

What are the training phases?

In training, the horse goes through the following phases, which build on each other:

At the beginning comes the bonding phase, followed by the impulsion development phase. Finally, the horse develops carrying power.

In a way, the phases build on each other, but they can also run in parallel. Nevertheless, it is recommended to keep to the order of the points of the training scale, as certain points, such as contact and suppleness, form the prerequisite for later phases, such as the development of carrying power.

What is the procedure in a dressage test?

In dressage competitions, the horse performs the required movements very elegantly and gracefully under its rider. There is a reason why dressage is a synonym for the dance between rider and horse.

Dressage competitions take place in a white fenced dressage arena measuring 20 x 40m. In international and high level competitions, the dressage arena measures 20x 60m. Normally the ground consists of sand or grass. In the competition, a dressage test is ridden, which is announced in advance and which consists of different, successive tasks and movements.

What movements are there in dressage?

  • Flying canter change
  • Shoulder-in
  • Thigh turn
  • Piaffe
  • Passage
  • Pirouette
  • Reverse
  • Traversal

Another form of dressage test is a freestyle, which is usually supported by music. In contrast to the classical dressage test, the order of the movements in a freestyle test can be chosen by the rider.

What classes are there in dressage?

The tests are graded according to their level of difficulty, from class E (beginner), through A (beginner), L (easy), M (medium) to class S (difficult), and participation is only possible after successful completion of the riding certification and attainment of the respective performance class.

Dressage rider clothing

In everyday training, dressage riders, like riders in other disciplines, wear breeches, a comfortable top, a riding helmet and dressage riding boots. To refine the aids, he often uses spurs and a dressage whip.

At the horse show, on the other hand, there are strictly prescribed dress codes. These are written down in the performance test regulations.

Suitable dressage equipment for riders

The LPO regulations state that in addition to a dark jacket and boots or similar half chaps, white breeches with a white show shirt with a stand-up collar (plastron if applicable) and white riding gloves must be worn.

Dressage rider with frack

Equipment for the dressage horse

If the horse is dressage trained and schooled, it will wear a dressage saddle. This helps the rider to maintain an upright and straight posture on the horse. It also ensures optimum contact between the rider's leg and the horse's body so that the rider can give the horse the necessary leg aids, among other things. The stirrups attached to the saddle assist in giving weight aids.

In order for the rider to be able to give the horse the rein aids required in addition to the weight and leg aids, the horse is usually ridden with an English/Hanoverian noseband.
The use of a curb bit may be compulsory for dressage competitions of elementary level and above.

Horse with curb bit

Suitable dressage equipment for horses

The horse wears a dressage saddle pad under the saddle and a corrective pad if necessary. In dressage competitions the horse must wear a white dressage saddle pad.

To protect the horse's legs and pasterns during dressage training, the horse wears bandages or training boots and bell boots. The latter protect the horse's pads, especially if the horse has active hindquarters. In dressage competitions, however, the wearing of boots, bandages and bell boots is prohibited.

Helpful tips for dressage training

  • Regular riding lessons with an experienced trainer
  • Record training sessions on video and then evaluate them together
  • Work on basic fitness, abdominal muscles and endurance
  • Long stride riding before the training session
  • Warming up the horse in the field adds variety to the training session
  • At the beginning of the training session, ride loosely forwards and downwards.
  • Riding curved lines, volts and side gaits
  • Riding many transitions
  • Look forward - not down
  • Riding with a riding pad or without stirrups to get a better feel for the horse's gaits.
  • Reins are not there to steer - avoid pulling on the reins.
  • Driving, not knocking legs
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