The last time I posted I talked about the Olympic equestrian events: Dressage, Eventing and Show Jumping. I’ve done articles on Eventing and Show Jumping previously, so today I thought I’d take on Dressage – my personal favorite.
If you’ve been interested in horses for a time, you may have seen the old Disney movie The Miracle of the White Stallions. It tells the tale of how the Spanish Riding School of Vienna survived the Second World War and how General George Patton helped save the Lipizzan breed of horses. During the film the School puts on a performance for Patton and demonstrates the beauty and precision of Classical Dressage. I fell in love with the idea of dressage then, but it was many years later before it became popular in the US and I was able to take instruction in it. As much as I have loved doing many other types of riding, dressage became my favorite.
Dressage is a French word for training. Its aim is to develop the horse’s athletic ability and a willing attitude using a standardized progression of exercises that challenge but don’t overtax. The ideal is a calm, supple, attentive horse that responds to its rider’s slightest commands (aids). Both horse and rider should appear relaxed and effortless. One of the fun things about dressage is that there is always more to learn and achieve.
Training starts at the basic walk, trot, canter level and slowly progresses to the Olympic level. It takes several years for the horse to develop the strength and athletic ability to do the high level movements. The first objective is to teach the horse to move in a regular, even, rhythmic way. This is important in everything they do. The second is to achieve relaxation, being comfortable and willing. Then comes willing Contact, Impulsion (pushing, carrying power), and Straightness. The last level of the training pyramid is Collection. This is where the horse has developed enough strength to transfer some of his weight to his hindquarters, which frees his front end to do the difficult movements we see at international competitions.
The Piaffe is a trot in place with high front knee action and very little forward motion. The horse “sits” slightly, bringing his hind legs under and lifts his front.
The Passage is an elevated, slow motion trot, usually with a slight pause in the movement.
In an Extended Trot or Canter, the horse reaches forward with his front legs, covering a large amount of ground, in contrast to a collected trot or canter, which has high knee action and doesn’t move as much.
The Tempis are flying changes at the canter and, depending on the competition level, are done every one to four strides. In Grand Prix competition (Olympics), the horses look like they are skipping as they change every stride.
The Half-Pass, done at the both the trot and canter, is a diagonal movement where the horse goes sideways and forward.
The last high level movement is the Pirouette where the horse canters around in a tight circle with one hind leg almost stepping in place.
High level (Grand Prix) dressage can be exciting to watch, especially the Freestyles, where the moves are choreographed to music. Look for Dressage in the next Olympic broadcasts and you will see some beautiful dancing horses.
Here are a couple of videos that show them dancing to music.
************************Spanish Riding School:allfamouswonders.comPiaffe: “Andalusier 1 voll versammelt”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -Passage: “WC07b” by nickage (User:Fotoimage) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -Extended trot: “WCLV07f” by Fotoimage – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -Tempis: “WC07d” by nick – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – Piaffe: “Andalusier 1 voll versammelt”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – Passage: “WC07b” by nickage (User:Fotoimage) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – Extended trot: “WCLV07f” by Fotoimage – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – Tempis: “WC07d” by nick – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – Half pass: http://www.equine-world.co.uk