Dressage is often described as horses dancing, which is what it looks like in upper level dressage. To the outsider, it appears as if the rider just sits there on the horse while the horse does a bunch of fancy maneuvers, but there is actually a lot that goes on unseen to the untrained eye.
Dressage is about teaching horses to carry their riders easily and to respond to very subtle aids. Horses that are trained in dressage learn to be well-balanced, responsive, and supple.
What is the Point of Dressage?
Riders and trainers aim to increase a horse’s flexibility and their balance. Horses are taught to move off of aids such as leg aids, seat aids, and subtle rein aids. Dressage training builds up muscle and makes horses much stronger as they are taught to correctly use their muscles while being ridden. When competing in a show, riders will compete against each other, but will also often try to beat their own previous scores for that test.
There are levels of dressage that is suitable for all skill levels and ages of riders, from complete beginners to the most advanced.
The basic equipment one would need for riding in the lower level is a snaffle bit and an English saddle. Braiding is recommended, but often not required for the lower levels, such as at schooling shows. Depending on the show, riders will also need show clothes, but again, many schooling shows will be a little more lax.
For upper level dressage, you will need a dressage saddle to be able to sit in the saddle better and to use your seat and legs more effectively. You will also need nice show clothes for competition.
Actually riding a dressage test can be daunting, but with practice, it is not that bad at all. Between one to three judges will score the test as you ride, with scribes writing down what the judges say.
Judges look for how well you ride the test, how your horse responds to your aids, your horse’s balance and suppleness, how good of a rider you are, and how well you and your horse work together.
A dressage arena has letters all around the outside to give points for where each maneuver is to be performed. Lower level tests are in a smaller arena that is 20 x 40 meters big, while upper level tests are in a longer diagonal arena that is 20 x 60 meters, and has more letters.
When you are at a show, you will enter the dressage arena and start your test after you hear a whistle or bell sound. Once it sounds, you must enter the arena within the time limit or you may be penalized or even eliminated.
Tests start with a halt and salute to the judge. Dressage tests consist of circles, straight lines, diagonals, and a variety of other maneuvers, that get more complicated as the tests get more advanced.
Dressage is Great Training for Your Horse and Yourself
Dressage is a great way to train both yourself and your horse, even if you do not plan on competing in dressage as your main discipline. It gives you both a solid foundation as it focuses on how your horse moves and how you give your horse aids to ask them to perform certain moves. For jumpers, dressage can really help a horse learn how to collect and extend, which is great to know when it comes to getting the correct jumping distances. Dressage will help teach horses to sit back on their haunches and use their butts instead of being on their forehand like so many horses are. This will greatly improve any other discipline that you choose to do with your equine partner, and it will help them build up their muscles correctly.