Mikala Munter Gundersen
International Dressage Trainer and Competitor

So What is Dressage?
According to Wikepedia - Dressage
(a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse.  At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. For this reason, dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet"


Dressage History

The discipline of dressage has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, the Greek historian, 431 B.C. He is often cited as being the original "horse whisperer", having advocated sympathetic horsemanship in his "On Horsemanship. However, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.

Will Dressage Help Your Horse?
Any riding horse can benefit from use of Dressage principles and training techniques. However, horse breeds most often seen at the Olympics and other international FEI competitions are in the Warmbloods Horse Breeds category. However, Dressage is an egalitarian sport in which all breeds are given an opportunity to successfully compete. Therefore, many other breeds are seen at various levels of competition.

Dressage Competitions
Dressage competitions may begin in local communities with Introductory level classes where riders need only walk and trot. Horses and riders advance through a graduated series of levels, with tests of increasing difficulty at each level, until the most accomplished horse and rider teams compete at the Grand Prix levels and international competition, such as the
Olympic games.

Olympic Level Dressage
The dressage tests performed at the
Olympic Games, which were accepted as sport in 1912, are those of the highest level-Grand Prix. This level of test demands the most skill and concentration from both horse and rider.

Gaits and movements performed at this level include collected and extended walk, trot, and canter; trot and canter
half-pass (a movement where the horse travels on a diagonal line keeping its body almost parallel with the arena wall while making both forward and sideways steps in each stride); passage (a slow-motion trot); piaffe (an approach to "trot in place"); one and two tempi changes (where the horse changes from one lead to the other in the canter); and pirouettes (a 360-degree circle that is almost in place).

Tests ridden at the Olympic Games are scored by a panel of five international judges. Each movement in each test receives a numeric score and the resulting final score is then converted into a percentage, which is carried out to three decimal points. The higher the percentage, the higher the score.

Olympic team medals are won by the teams with the highest, second highest, and third highest total percentage from their best three rides in the Grand Prix test.

Once the team medals are determined, horses and riders compete for individual medals. The team competition serves as the first individual qualifier, in that the top 25 horse/rider combinations from the Grand Prix test move on to the next round. The second individual qualifier is the Grand Prix Special test, which consists of Grand Prix movements arranged in a different pattern. For those 25 riders, the scores from the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special are then combined and the resulting top 15 horse/rider combinations move on to the individual medal competition-the crowd-pleasing Grand Prix Freestyle.

For their freestyles, riders and horses perform specially choreographed patterns to music. At this level, the freestyle tests may contain all the Grand Prix movements, as well as double canter pirouettes, pirouettes in piaffe, and half-pass in passage. For the freestyle, judges award technical marks for the various movements, as well as artistic marks. In the case of a tie, the ride with the higher artistic marks wins.

Dressage Masters of History

    • Xenophon (427-355 BCE): the first recognized master, the Greek General wrote The Art of Horsemanship which advocated the use of gentle training of the horse. Despite living over 2000 years ago, his methods and ideas are still widely praised.
    • Frederico Grisone (mid-1500s)
    • de la Boure
    • Antoine de Pluvinel (1555-1620): The first of the French riding masters, author of L’Instruction du Roy en l’Exercise de Monter a Cheval, tutor to King Louis XIII, and is the first notable writer to advocate for gentle training since Xenophon.
    • William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676): Master of Horse to Charles II of England.
    • Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere (1688-1751): Taught the classical position still used today, introduced the flying change, and had great impact on the Spanish Riding School.
    • Francois Baucher ( 1796-1873): introduced the one-tempi flying change, his method, which is still hotly contested, was based on the fact that the horse's jaw is the source of all resistance. His methods include some which relate to the rollkur training practices of today.
    • Count D'Aure
    • James Fillis
    • Gustav Steinbrecht (1808-1885)
    • Nuno Olivera
    • Reiner Klimke