Dressage dates back to the days of the Greek Military Commanders in 400BC. It was refined during the Renaissance by aristocrats who prided in showing off their highly trained horses. The Imperial Spanish Riding School of Vienna, founded in 1572, became the premier source for the majority of the principles and moves that riders practice today.
When people ask you, what is dressage, the easiest approach is to explain some of the moves. These five dressage movements are some of the best examples of what dressage is.
Beginner- Leg Yield
This is a beginner dressage move that you must master before you can even think about attempting the fancier and more advanced dressage level movements. This foundational move gets you ready for the shoulder-in, half-pass, and other lateral moves.
To ride this move, keep your inside leg at the girth and ask the horse to move sideways. Keep your outside leg slightly behind the girth. Slightly flex your inside rein and use your outside rein to guide the horse in your desired direction of travel.
As you and your dressage horse move up in the levels, your movements should become more refined and precise. Travers is perfect for this because it helps you develop independent control of the shoulders and quarters.
To accomplish this movement, you will ride at a collected trot or canter. You will move in a straight line at a 35-degree angle to create four separate tracks. The horse’s front legs stay on your desired track of travel with the horse’s head bent towards the direction of travel and the haunches off the track.
This is one of the most advanced movements in dressage and requires a high level of horse collection. You will have the horse essentially canter in place with one of their hind legs acting as the pivot point. An even rhythm is essential for success when performing this movement.
Horses performing this move must be in great shape with plenty of muscle development. Their legs must perform a deep flex while not becoming out of balance or hollowed out.
Advanced- Piaffe and Passage
These are actually two separate movements but are commonly performed together. A piaffe is when you have the horse trot in place. The passage is an exaggerated or elevated collected trot showing forward momentum.
These two moves are difficult for horses to learn and separate the good from the greats in the sport. This is because success partially relies on genetics and the horse’s natural inclination to perform the move. No amount of training can overcome these.
The signs of a well-executed move are control, cadence, clear suspension, and balance. There should be no forward movement when performing a piaffe, as this would make it a half step. There should be a clear moment of in-air suspension with the passage.
Practice These Dressage Movements
If you want to progress through the levels, then you need to master each of the dressage movements at each level. Focus on feeling connected with your horse through the dressage bridle, your hands, seat, and legs. Become one with your horse, and you can refine both your movements and control.
Check out our other animal articles and learn about caring for your horse so that they are in the best condition for performing complicated dressage moves.