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Dressage: Horse Riding Discipline

By: Joanne Walker BA (hons) - Updated: 26 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dressage Discipline Horse Rider Sport

Dressage – the horse riding discipline – is a French term which means training. Riders compete in dressage at all levels starting from juniors, but it is most famously seen at the Olympics. It is the first of the three disciplines of the sport known as eventing. Dressage basically means the correct training of horses. All horses can, and do, take part in dressage but some breeds are more commonly used for contests than others.

It was originally developed by cavalry to give them the edge in combat. Dressage means the rider has an improved knowledge of how to control their horse. And while it is usually seen as a sport, there are commonly held displays of dressage too – probably the most famous of these is the Spanish School of Riding in Vienna.

What Is Dressage?

The basic essence of dressage is that it is a series of set movements, performed in the correct places. It takes place in an arena which is usually 20m by 40m, apart from at higher level contests where the length increases to 60m.

A panel of judges are used to judge balance, rhythm and suppleness of the rider and obedience of the horse. A key element is the harmony between the horse and rider. The judges will mark for the execution of the correct moves which include pirouette, piaffe and passage, performed in a walk, trot or canter. Riders will be expected to complete circles and lines in the arena to show their horsemanship.


The scoring of dressage can be quite complex, Judges – of which there are usually five – will normally score each move out of ten. The more difficult movements can be given double the marks. There is also a collective mark for the overall aesthetic appeal of the routine and sometimes penalty points can be awarded for how many points the rider comes in under the leading competitor.

What to Wear

Dressage riders are always dressed smartly to fit with the overall impression of the sport. Many competitions will have required items of clothing and equipment for the horse. Generally, less is more, especially when it comes to the horse. Affiliated dressage need not be expensive to compete in as long as the rider has a good wardrobe of basic riding gear.

A suitable hat is the first and most important item, as with all riding disciplines. For dressage it will normally need to be black – brown may be allowed. The rider must usually also wear a navy or black riding jacket with a shirt and tie underneath. Either beige, white or cream jodhpurs are usually required, or breeches may be allowed instead, worn with full length boots. Boots are usually expected to be black or brown. Gloves are also worn during dressage.

For the more advanced rider, spurs are generally compulsory although they are optional for the novice. Crops can be used but there are strict rules governing their length.

The horse must wear a plain saddle. It can usually be leather or synthetic but must be black or brown, as must the bridle. The horse must not wear boots or bandages. He must wear a snaffle bit – some classes allow a double bit from elementary upwards.

Dressage is a very exacting sport. Small mistakes can cost big and therefore riders must always be fully prepared. The more a horse and rider compete, the closer they will get and therefore the better they will get. To become the best, or certainly to excel, you must get to a stage where the horse knows what the rider is thinking and vice versa. Take pride in your riding and you will find your dressage improves no end.

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