Dressage For The Average Rider


International level dressage is wonderful to watch and attracts large audiences who delight in the dancing and skipping horses doing intricate figures. But as enjoyable as it is to observe, it’s even more fun to do. Of course at the high levels, the riders are full-time professionals and the horses worth millions of dollars. That doesn’t stop thousands of average horses and riders from joining the fun.

Dressage is the French word for training and refers to the basic training all horses should have. It’s not limited to English riding; the principles apply to Western too. In fact, you often see demonstrations of Western dressage.  The aim is to develop a relaxed, attentive, supple horse that responds effortlessly.

One of the nice things about dressage is it is an absorbing activity that you can do alone without being part of a team—although a trainer is vitally important. You can compete if you want, but the training pyramid provides levels to achieve and can give you a sense of accomplishment without having to show. It takes years to move up the levels, so there is always more to learn and accomplish. This feature is probably why dressage has become so popular with educated, professional women. They like something that requires concentration, dedication and measurable goals.

palominoYou can do dressage with any horse but one with the correct conformation and native ability will make it easier to advance up the levels. You want one with a good mind, a willing disposition and the physical ability to do what you ask. A horse specifically bred for dressage (usually a warmblood) can be pricey, but you can also find ones with a lot of talent in other breeds. Off-the-track Thoroughbreds often are good choices because of their work ethic and athleticism. My OTTB mare Glory was quite talented and trained to Third Level.

One way to verify how far you’ve come in your training is to compete. The U.S. Dressage Federation defines a series of “tests” at five advancing levels, starting with Training and culminating in Fourth Level. (The international level tests are overseen by FEI (Federation Equestre International) Each level has four tests that list the series of movements required at different spots in the dressage court. At non-championship shows usually one judge sits at the long end of the arena and gives a number score for how well each movement was performed and also comments on how it could be improved. Once you have achieved acceptable scores at one level, you can go on to the next. (Unless you are extremely dedicated and put in a lot of time, you usually advance one level per year.)

Here is a video of a Training level, Test 1 ride.

Compare it to this Second level test.

In addition to the basic tests, you can also compete in a Freestyle at each level. This is a performance set to music where you demonstrate all the required moves for that level, but with your own choreography. Watching horses do the same moves over and over at the lower levels is only interesting to other dressage riders, but audiences of all kinds love the Freestyles.

Here is a video of an Amateur Adult Rider doing a delightful freestyle.

Categories: animals, dressage, dressage competition, Horses, Olympics, riding, Thoroughbreds, training horses, U.S. Dressage Federation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Dressage For The Average Rider

  1. My daughter rides dressage. She’s one of the non-professionals. She’s trained three horses so far. Her main frustration comes when the horse’s conformation limits how far it can go, but she can’t afford to buy one of the warm bloods that she might be able to take higher than third level.

    • Kudos to your daughter achieving third level. Not many get that far.
      Finding an affordable horse that can do upper level work is really difficult. It can be done but takes a lot of effort and luck. I hope she can find one that takes her all the way!

  2. I like to think of dressage as the “thinking person’s sport.” You don’t need to be young or in top physical shape to do it, The benefits to the horse’s development (both physical and mental) are tremendous. My own horse is 22 now and in fabulous shape — and he keeps improving despite the fact that, for several reasons, my riding is limited these days. We both enjoy our working time together and even a passably good ride can make me smile even when the rest of my day has been stressful.

    • Agreed. I love how dressage engages the minds of both horse and rider. A good ride can brighten the worst day.
      My Glory stayed in good shape until a couple of years ago when injury-caused arthritis caught up with her. Now at 29 she’s developed cataracts and is going blind, so her riding days are over. She still is amazing to watch when she plays. She sits down and shows off a wonderful extended trot.

  3. What a fun post! I took only a few dressage lessons, just for the fun of it and I’d always wanted to learn how to ride in a non-Western way.
    Again, great post!

  4. Beautiful. Love to watch these horses and riders do their work. I was confused just listening. 🙂

    • I’m sorry if you couldn’t see the video. Here’s another link that should work. The actual test starts at 2:00. Hope this works for you.

      • Sorry. I did see the video. I was confused at listening to the instructions. Lol. I would have been moving all the wrong directions. That’s why I just ride for pleasure and leave the showing to the professionals! 😀

  5. Dressage is so beautiful to watch. Never tried it as I was never in a position where anyone taught it. Might have been fun to try, too.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

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