The term “dressage” originates from a French word meaning “training”. There are all different types of levels and competitions of dressage from training level to those who perform at grand prix level and compete in the Olympics. One of the main purposes of dressage is to develop the horse’s ability to perform different movements with little commands.
The dressage rider is very still and makes the ride look effortless with minimal cues to be seen by anyone else. The horse also moves smoothly as he transitions from movement to movement or to a different gait. Dressage is also referred to as the “Horse Ballet”, because it is similar to the ballet that people dance and perform.
The discipline not only has ancient roots in Europe, Dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian ability during the Renaissance period. There has been little change in the training system that was originally developed from some of the great European riding masters. This classical dressage is still considered the basic foundation for the modern dressage that we see today.
In today’s dressage competitions, good training is demonstrated through the various levels at competitions known as “tests”. During these tests, there is usually a certain “test” in which the horse and rider are expected to perform within a standard arena. The judges evaluate each movement on how well it was executed and performed on a scale of 0 to 10. 0 meaning the movement was not performed and 10 being absolutely perfect. If the rider scores a 9 on a movement, it is considered to be a very high mark, whereas a rider scoring all 6’s should consider working at that level for a bit longer to perfect their skills.
Much like any other discipline of riding, Dressage has its own tack required for the field. Dressage tack is similar to regular English tack, but is all black. Dressage horses are not allowed to compete with a martingale as well as sport boots, bell boots or any other type of protection or training aid.
A typical dressage saddle, which is made specifically for dressage, has a long straight flap mirrored for the leg of the dressage rider, which their leg is long with a slight bend at their knee, a very deep seat and high knee blocks. Dressage saddles also have longer billet, or girth straps, and a much shorter girth than other English disciplines. These straps are longer so that there aren’t a lot of straps and buckles underneath of the rider’s legs. The dressage saddle pad is square in shape and is usually white in color. Colored trim on the saddle pad is allowed, but colored pads are sometimes used in lower level competitions.
Just like there is a special saddle for dressage, there is also a particular type of bridle used for dressage. The dressage bridle is also black and can have a plain nose band, a dropped noseband or a flash noseband. Most bridles used in dressage have a flash noseband. In lower level competitions, a lot of riders will compete with a regular snaffle bridle and or bit. In the upper levels of dressage, you will see a lot of double bridles with a bradoon or a curb bit with a chain. Bits such as pelhams, kimberwickes or gag bits are not permitted at upper level competitions.
Dressage riding takes a lot of skill and training, but it is said that every horse should know the basics because it makes for a well rounded horse.
Emily Heggan is a senior at Rowan University majoring in journalism. She currently competes in the 3′ hunters with her horse, General, and enjoys writing about equestrian supplies like western tack.