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Have you ever seen a horse dance? 

It may sound ridiculous, but dressage– a riding discipline known for its grace and careful choreography– looks an awful lot like equine ballet to the curious audience. From a flying lead change to a piaffe, dressage is a series of practiced movements, usually performed to music. 

How does dressage work? Keep reading to find out. 

The History of Dressage 

The word “dressage” translates to the word “training” in French. 

Dressage is an adaptation of classical Greek horsemanship. Military commanders used the discipline in order to maintain a finely-tuned cavalry. Aristocrats and military officers competed in pageants. 

Dressage became an Olympic sport in 1912. In 1973, the United States Dressage Federation was founded.

It is now a sport that is usually divided into two categories: elementary and advanced. Riders compete on an individual basis, or on teams. 

The Purpose of Dressage Training

Dressage encourages balance and enthusiastic obedience while improving the overall performance of typical movements. Horses trained in dressage tend to be highly responsive to aids and light on their feet. The sport encourages mastery of the following training scale: 

  • Rhythm and regularity – sequence of footfalls and evenness of gait 
  • Relaxation – controlled looseness in the horse’s body
  • Contact- equal contact with the reins while allowing the horse to demonstrate the natural movement of its head while it lifts at the base of the neck 
  • Impulsion – the pushing power of the horse and energy engagement while it is going through all motion
  • Straightness – the hind legs following the path of the front legs 
  • Collection – engaged and collected hindquarters during movement 

Successful dressage training can be demonstrated through competitions, where participants ride a series of tests. These tests require a pattern of memorized movements performed within the arena. Judges score these movements on a scale of one to ten. 

How Does Dressage Work? 

Horses are often bred specifically for dressage training– though any horse can be trained in the basic movements. The most common dressage movements include: 

  • The Passage
  • The Half-Pass
  • Lateral movements 
  • Flying change of leg
  • The piaffe
  • Figure-eights
  • Changing rein 
  • Walk-halt-walk transitions 
  • Moving through the circle 

Teaching your horse exercises (like shoulder in dressage) can improve balance, lateral movements, and flexibility– all traits of a successful dressage companion. If you’re interested in mastering the sport and competing in equestrian shows, start slow and work with a good trainer. Mastery in dressage will come with time and focus. 

Learn New Sports

So– how does dressage work? To put it simply, it is a delicate collaboration between horse and rider. Rather than two separate beings, dressage requires the two partners to work together as a single athlete, towards a unified goal. 

If you are interested in reading additional content on unique and exciting sports, check out the rest of our blog. You might be surprised about what new and exciting things you’ve been missing out on! 

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