The word dressage either inspires us to greatness or sends us running; cowering into some far forgotten corner in hopes that we don’t hear the word again. “Dressage is often referred to as “dancing with horses” or “gymnastics for horses” and when you watch the brilliant riders at Olympic level you can certainly understand why.

So What Is Dressage?

Dressage is simply educating your horse and refining its movements.

Modern day dressage is mostly ridden in a 60X20m arena. This arena has letters marked around the outside so that the rider knows to change the movement of the horse at certain markers.

The original dressage, however, was used on the battlefield.

Cavalry horses had to be highly trained so as to be able to respond to the slightest movement or command by their riders. This was essential in keeping both horse and rider alive to fight another day.

So What Does that Mean for the Average Rider?

Well, dressage is just a series of training steps which are divided into levels. As you improve, you can progress through the levels until finally you are happy with the level of education that your horse has achieved.

For some, that could mean just completing a nice Preliminary test, for others that may mean competing at Elementary level, and for yet others only the Olympic levels may be the ultimate training goal.

 The levels of dressage are as follows:

  • Walk Trot  (Introductory)
  • Preliminary (Training)
  • Novice (First Level)
  • Elementary (Second Level)
  • Medium (Third Level)
  • Advanced (Fourth Level)

After these, the tests are governed by the FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale) and include the following levels:

  • Prix St George
  • Intermediate I
  • Intermediate II
  • Grand Prix

Although the higher levels require a certain type of horse and rider combinations to compete and train at these successfully, the lower level are definitely within reach of the beginner and average riders. Walk Trot for example is exactly that, walking and trotting, no cantering whatsoever, so even your six-year-old beginner rider is capable of riding one of these.

Most horses are also capable of successfully competing at the lower levels. Especially when you consider that even a green, freshly started horse knows how to canter. In fact, the lower levels of dressage are a great tool for training young horses.

Most dressage comps are fairly relaxed and laid back and it’s a good place to introduce young horses to the world of competition. But it is good to remember that the better trained a horse is, the more conditioned his response will be.

A Quiet Horse vs a Well-trained Horse

For example, a quiet horse in a frightful situation may quite easily become an unsafe horse to be riding, yet a quiet, well trained horse in the same situation will be a much safer riding horse and will elicit a condition-learned response.

Never let anyone tell you that training your horse in the art of dressage is a waste of time.  Yes, some horses will be naturally better than others, but all horses benefit greatly from regular training, and that is what dressage is.

So for Basic Dressage, where Do You Start?

Your local dressage club is a good place to start. Here you will find out about competitions, green horse days, and t-shirt days. You will also be among like-minded horse people who are usually more than willing to give you advice on how to get started. The gear that is required for dressage is fairly simple, especially at the lower levels, and for a competition usually includes the following:

  • Dressage saddle
  • Hanoverian bridle
  • Dressage saddle cloth
  • Helmet
  • Show jacket/tie or stock/shirt
  • White breeches
  • Long boots or if a junior short boot will suffice.
  • Spurs and a dressage whip are optional extras.
  • A clean and tidy horse, usually with the mane and tail plaited.

About the author: Alissa Zucker is a copywriter, working for the professional writing company She is interested in reading classic and psychological books which give her an inspiration to write her own articles and short stories.

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