“Dressage” is a French word, usually translated as “training”. It is a competitive equestrian sport, and the International Equestrian Federation defines it as “the highest expression of horse training, where horse and rider are expected to perform a series of predetermined moves.” (quoted from About Dressage, 2011, by the I.E.F.)
The origins of this discipline developed primarily from the classical riding of the Renaissance period, although its roots can be traced to the time of Xenophon (c. 435-354 BC), the Greek soldier, essayist and historian, whose book, On The Art of Horsemanship, is one of the most famous works on equitation. Xenophon wrote: “If one induces the horse to assume the carriage which it would adopt….when displaying its beauty then one directs [it] to appear joyous and magnificent, proud and remarkable for being ridden.”
The highest levels of dressage take years of training to achieve, but when it is done well, especially when performed to music, it is spectacular to watch. For the rider it is a hugely challenging and rewarding sport. It cannot be achieved without a true partnership between a horse and rider, with both reaching heights of performance which depend on each other. Even if you do not plan to compete, practising dressage will make your horse more responsive and pleasant to ride. It is the foundation for all riding, with the key elements being an absence of force in the rider and responsiveness and athleticism in the horse.
There is no such thing as an unimportant element in dressage. Attention to detail, self-control, consistency and accuracy are all vital factors, especially as dressage is performed in the confines of a 60 x 20 m (65 x 22yds) arena, within which little escapes scrutiny.
The Spanish Riding School, which is the home of the famous Lipizzaner horses, maintains the classical principles of dressage. The riders are some of the most sought-after coaches in the world. They emphasise the need for simplicity, progressive training, and respect for the horse. The stallions also perform the impressive classical leaps, or airs above the ground (levade, courbette, and capriole) which are not featured in competition.
Good dressage is enhancing and liberating and it is not surprising that it has the highest growth rate of all equestrian sports. It is beneficial for all levels and types of horses, including ponies. Although ponies are at a disadvantage in terms of the size of movement they are able to perform, there are gains for the rider because of the relative increase in the size of the arena. There is no reason why a small horse cannot be competitive.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and I appreciate your votes and comments.