Dressage is the systematic development of the riding horse. As the horse progresses through the dressage levels, s/he is trained to move with a steady rhythm, in a relaxed manner, moving freely through the back and showing both lateral and longitudinal flexibility. At the lower levels the tests are typically 4-7 minutes:
- Training Level confirms that the horse’s muscles are supple and loose. The horse must move forward freely in clear and steady rhythm and accept contact with the bit. Movements include the halt, free walk, medium walk, working trot, working canter and transitions.
- At the 1st level the horse must show thrust (pushing power) and have achieved a degree of balance and throughness. The horse will be asked to lengthen stride indicating a degree of longitudinal flexion.
- At the 2nd level the horse must begin to show the ability to collect, show greater thrust at medium paces and perform reliably on the bit. The degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness and self-carriage required is greater. More advanced movements, such as shoulder-in, 10m circles, reinback, simple changes and lengthening and shortening of strides are introduced.
- At 3rd level horses must show greater quality in movement and a clear distinction between the paces. New movements include extended paces, half pass at the trot and single flying changes.
- At 4th level a much higher degree of suppleness, impulsion, throughness, balance and lightness is required. The horse must remain reliably on the bit and execute the movements in a straight, energetic, cadenced manner with transitions precise and smooth. A much greater degree of collection is required.
At all levels the horse and rider are judged for quality of the movements, calmness and smoothness through the transitions, and accuracy of the patterns. The rider must show good position and correct use of seat and aids.
Showing is not just about competing. It is about gauging your progress as you and your horse train. It is rewarding and fun. So consider getting your horse bathed and braided and entering the show ring this year! You’ll be glad you did.