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How Judges Score Dressage Horses in Competition

By: Phil Wiskell

While most dressage (a French term meaning “training”) horses are warm bloods – Holsteiners, Trahkeners, Dutch Warmbloods, and Oldenburgs – some American Quarter Horses have also been very successful in dressage competitions. Whether the intent is to participate in basic dressage competitions with your horse or you have goals of reaching international competitions or even the Olympic games, selecting the right horse for the job is important.

In the search for a good competitive dressage horse, the horse must be trained in terms of rhythm and regularity. The horse should be able to maintain a steady and regular gait whether in a pure walk, a pure trot or a pure canter, down a straight path or a winding trail.

Pay close attention to that definition and note that dressage competitions are all about the horses and not the rider; the same is the case with other elements of dressage as well. When it comes to the judge’s decisions about how to score dressage horses, it is up to the horse to perform well against its competitors.

Another factor that judges score is the relaxed and confident behavior of the horse. The evenness of the horse’s gait, a lack of tension and soft chewing of the bit, smooth transitions and a swinging of the tail demonstrate these important factors of the horse’s performance in the dressage competition.

Judges in these events also look at the contact that the riders have with their horses; dressage horses should not pull the hands of the rider and the reins should be held evenly – in other words, the horse should be able to come up into the bridle and should be carried forward in a natural motion.

Just as the pull of the dressage horse is measured, so is its push – the thrusting power that propels a horse forward with correct muscle and joint use. Part of the horse’s push is measured in the straightness of the dressage horses gait, the horse’s ability to move forward with its hind legs following the same path as its front legs.

If you are looking to acquire a dressage horse for future competition, you will want to consider the abilities and traits of the person for whom the horse is intended. While the judges critique dressage horses in competition more than the rider, it is equally important for the rider to be able to guide the horse and to lead it through the judged events. If you are naturally uneasy atop a horse, then you will want to find a horse that is very intuitive and calm. If you were really tall and lanky, you would not want to get a shorter horse, no matter how successful the horse has been in previous competitions.

If a horse being considered is champion dressage horse, then perhaps the horse will not be a good choice for little Suzie to ride, even if little Suzie wants to compete. Little Suzie is still quite young and a champion dressage horse is very expensive. Perhaps more to the point, a champion should compete regularly, rather than occasionally. Another thing to consider is the bond that will develop between little Suzie and her horse, and how Suzie’s participation in the dressage training of the horse will only add to the experience for Suzie.

In other words, when you look at dressage horses, it’s important to recognize that all breeds of horses that are used as riding horses can be trained in the techniques and principles of dressage. If you are an experienced rider who does not have a great deal of experience with dressage – or any experience within the dressage ring for that matter – you’re likely to find that the same American Quarter Horse that you’ve been riding in pasture or on the trail can learn the basics of dressage. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll find that a bit of training as a dressage horse will lead you to a more enjoyable, everyday ride.

Dressage horses are less likely to refuse to do as the rider asks and is comfortable with bit contact. The flow of motion between riders and dressage horses tends to be consistent and will exhibit a constant communication between the two. Dressage horses are balanced and better able to draw on the strength of their hind legs, and have experience keeping a steady pace whether walking, trotting or cantering.

When, as a rider, you are able to focus more on the ride than on controlling your horse, you’ll take more pleasure in each outing that you make. Dressage horses – or, at the very least, horses that have had some experience with dressage – make great horses for kids and less experienced riders: while the rider remains in control, dressage horses are responsive, and that can have a huge impact on the pleasure of riding a horse.

About the Author

Phil Wiskell is a writer for HorseClicks.com, popular classifieds of horses for sale, used trailers and ranches for sale.

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Dressage Riding and Tack

By Emily A Heggan

Have you ever seen a horse that has been fully collected with springing steps and beautiful form? Well, this was a horse performing the classical type of riding known as Dressage.

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.