An Introduction To Dressage

Dressage can be a difficult to understand, but current media attention has brought the sport more into the public domain in recent years.

As Google describes it;

definition dressage

This article explores some of the basic information that you need, in order to understand more about this often misunderstood sport.

History of Dressage

According to the video below Dressage was first invented as a way to train military horses to be more responsive in battle and to be able to side step obstacles.

One of the first riding schools to introduce Dressage was set up in Naples in 1532 and in 1729 the Spanish Riding School was founded according to the Olympic website.

It was first included as an Olympic sport in 1912 (although women weren’t allowed to compete in any Olympic sport until 1952).

Carl Hester & Charlotte Dujardin

Two of the top British dressage riders Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, can be seen in this following video. Here you can join the BBC’s John Craven to get a sense of how a dressage yard operates and see one of the top dressage horses in action.

What is Dressage?

Dressage is one of three disciplines in Eventing (along with Show Jumping and Cross Country) as well as being a discipline in its own right.

Most dressage competitions follow a set test which is graded for each movement on a scale of 1-10. Additional marks are given for rider control and the response of the horse.

Each test is performed in front of a judge in a competition arena.

Dressage Arena

Dressage arenas come in 2 main sizes as shown in the diagrams below taken from the equine-world website

  • 20m x 40m
  • 20m x 60m

diagram dressage arena

The smaller arena is used in the lower levels of dressage and for beginners.

Remembering the letter sequence can be challenging to many novice riders, one of the ways to do this is to use this rhyme.

  • All
  • King
  • Edwards
  • Horses
  • Can
  • Make
  • Big Fences


image 20m x 60m dressage arena


The larger arena is used in standard dressage competitions and eventing competitions.

There are more letters to remember although the smaller arena letters remain in the same place.



Dressage Tests

The aim of dressage is to perform a test of moves to the highest standard. The test looks at both horse and rider as a team, one that should respond well to each other.

Tests are usually memorised although for the lower dressage competitions and for beginners they can sometimes be read out by a second person.

Part of a sample dressage test is shown here, this shows the first 5 movements, the possible marks available and the comments section where the judge will add feedback for the rider.

The letters in the second column correspond to the letters around the arena and the third column explains which movement should be performed between these letters.

The marks are scored 1-10 and a description of these grades are shown at the top of the sheet.


image sample dressage sheet

Most competitions will have a judge and a scribe who can write down the comments whilst the judge watches.

You can also get the FEI dressage App and download and check any dressage test, available through iTunes.

image Equi app

You can view more dressage tests and watch video walk throughs of the tests at the Dressage Academcy website.  


Learning Dressage Tests

For riders who need to memorise the dressage test (which is what all riders should be aiming towards) this can often prove to be quite challenging.

image learning dressage tests

Charts such as the following one can be used to help memorise the route to be taken, the different coloured lines indicate the type of movement to be shown.

You can also purchase small reusable dressage reminder drawing boards that enable you to practice drawing the test as a way to memorise it. (seen here on Amazon)

Although this article has provided details on dressage tests, another article on this site Dressage Humour in Ireland shares a more humorous take on a dressage test.

I hope you enjoyed the post and please feel free to leave a comment below or share the content on your own social media, thanks.



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