What is Dressage? A Western Rider’s Answer

As a western rider, who enjoys lazy strolls with … beverages, in the woods I haven’t had any personal experience with dressage. This gaping hole in my knowledge has recently become blatantly obvious when my daughter who is just starting her venture into horsemanship, asked me “what is Dressage?” Since I had no idea I had to do some research.

Dressage is a sport where the highest expression of horsemanship is exhibited and is even considered an art form by many. The horse and the rider are required to perform a set of predetermined commands from memory after which charges will award marks.

What is Dressage?

Dressage involves a wide variety of commands given by the riders to their horse such as trot, walk, and canter or the 20-meter circle. Elementary commands include the leg yields, counter canter, simple changes and stretch in canter. The horse will need to be in amazing shape in comparison to my relatively overweight babies. In fact, if you plan on getting started with dressage many professionals suggest starting with a younger horse.

Dressage competitions are considered to be the highest level of competition on horseback. Based on some of the competition videos that I watched while researching this topic, I would almost relate it to a ballet. Often to a course of music, your horse will perform a series of “tricks” while walking around the arena. Often involving very precise footwork (hoof-work?) on the horse’s part.

Tips to win a Dressage competition

What is dressage

Start by introducing a few steps

You need to make the horse master the different commands. Avoid bombarding the hose with several commands which can end up confusing it. You can start with one or two commands. Keep working these until the horse fully masters each of them. If you start with five or more commands you will notice the horse is mastering only two, this is because you really need to focus on the two and make the horse master them before you can proceed to incorporate other commands. It will be to your disadvantage if you can end up introducing the horse to several commands at once only to end up confusing the horse to an extent where it will master none.

Stop dwelling on the drawbacks

Many new trainers will start to struggle with the long training process. You may find that you will successfully introduce a new command. However, the next day you will try the same command, and it seems to have forgotten. You should never feel disappointed. Start once more, and it will master the art. Just like a human, there are some skills you can master today and the following day you end up forgetting about them. Through persistence, you will finally make the horse master more and more skills and before you know it you will be able to go and compete.

Reward immediately

Horses have a short memory span. After it has mastered a given skill, you need to reward it quickly so that it can remember the action. When compared to dogs, you will realize horses have short memory spans. It is necessary to reward them as soon as they respond to your command as you expected. Use treats and praise your horse as they successfully complete each task. Take time to understand your horse and use the most appropriate treats. With time, you will end up having a horse that responds very fast to your commands.

Stick to your most convenient training tips

There are several ways of training the horse so that it can master a wide range of skills. You need to stick to convenient the most convenient methods. People will employ different skills as they train their horses. You should not be stressed to follow others, provided the horse can respond to the standard steps in dressage, then you are on the right track. Try to practice regularly so that the horse can stay on track. It can end up forgetting some commands if you will have an irregular training regime.

Avoid overworking the horse

A horse can work for about 45 minutes before it starts getting tired. You should never overwork your horse. Making it work too much can lower its attentiveness. Ensure you treat your horse well and maintain its health so that you can count on it to serve you well. You may decide to go for a young horse because it is easy for it to master your commands, ensure you allow the young horse to have enough rest. Always pay attention to the way your horse behaves. It can lead to low scores if you can end up forcing your exhausted horse to perform in the arena.

Ensure the horse is listening before changing

During dressage, you will have to ask your horse to perform a wide range of movements. You need to ensure the horse is listening to your command before you can ask for a change. Remember the judges will check whether you can communicate with the horse for it to respond exactly as per your commands. To avoid cases where you can lose marks, you need to perform actions such as a big half halt and see whether the horse is paying attention. If it is not paying attention, then you need to wait till it is sharp before you can ask a change. It is a simple trick you can apply during the competition day, and it will make you win the competition. You should as well develop your way to determine whether the horse is paying attention so that you can apply it to check the attentiveness of the horse before you can proceed to make any change.

Change movements only when you have full control of the horse steps

Movements such as shoulder-in require full control of the horse steps. Ensure you can influence the horse steps before you can proceed to make the movements. It is necessary to train hard and ensure the horse can follow your step as you perform. People who perform well in dressage pay attention to their horse responses. You need to know the response of your horse at all steps so that you can know when to ask it to change movements. There are some movements that are hard for the horse to master. You should start by introducing the horse to simple steps which it can easily master after which you can proceed to introduce steps that will require the horse to pay a lot of attention.

Perform one training at a time

When training your horse from home, you need to make the work easy for your horse. For example, if you would like to train the horse on a pirouette, then you need to focus on such a move in a given day. You should avoid introducing several commands within a short span because it will end up confusing the horse. If you would like it to master several skills such as pirouette and half pass, then each should be trained at their specific days. It is necessary so that you can avoid confusing the horse as it works out. It will be easy for you to master the skills as well as your horse if you can come up with a training schedule where each day you will focus on specific commands as you train.

Choose the right horse

The horse rider combination plays a great role when it comes to performing dressage. You need to compare the horses at your disposal then go for one that is easy for you to work with. Some prefer energetic and hot horses. Always ensure you have the right horse, and the rest will be easy for you. Start with a young horse because it will easily grow with you and master your commands. Take time to socialize with your horse. If you treat the horse well, it will develop a personal relationship with you which can contribute to great performance. Always ensure you take the right steps to make the horse-friendly with you.

Identify your training problems and work on them

In a dressage competition, you have to be honest. It will be tough to lie to the horse and the judges. If you can only perform a few commands, then it will be hard to win. You need to expose your horse to all the possible movements and know what you need to improve. If the horse has not mastered all the movements well, then you need more time to train at home rather than going to the arena only to be disappointed. By following a strict training schedule, you will easily master the training. Take more time to train the horse on areas where it is weak. If you consider your horse has a problem executing certain moves, then you need to focus on them and polish up so that the horse can perfect the moves.

Your horse should respond

In a dressage competition, the judges will look at your horse response. Even if the horse will make the wrong response, it is better than not responding at all. Each time you use the leg aid or your hand to command the horse, it should respond. Ensure you train the horse to respond each time you communicate with it. It will make it easy to score marks. Judges are always kept to check out whether your horse is responding.

Pay attention to the good things your horse does

There are some commands your horse will perform perfectly. You need to keep a note of them during your training and know they are your strong points. Try to encourage the horse through treats and other forms of encouragement so that it can stick to them. Avoid incidences where you will ignore the good things by reducing the training. Each movement the horse performs should be included in your schedule. You can reduce the frequency of training on the things he has mastered, but you should not reduce the frequency to an extent where the horse will forget the command altogether.

Focus more on the difficult things

There are some things you will discover your horse is struggling to master them. You need to work on the difficult moves from the basic level so that the horse can feel it is succeeding. The more you train about the difficult things, the more the horse will get sued to them and even perform better. If you discover your horse is struggling to get certain commands, then you should dedicate more time to your training to such commands. It is necessary because when the horse is made to do the same thing over and over, it will finally master the art. Keep on improving on the areas where the horse is struggling to master until you make the horse master them.

Analyze each ride

You can have either a good ride or a poor one. In a competition, you would like to have the best ride. You need to take note of how it felt on each ride from where you can point out mistakes or weak points. It will be easy for you to improve on the weak points and even get eh job done perfectly if you can take time to check on the errors you made and correct them. If the ride was perfect, then there are several steps you took to make it stand out. You need to consider them after which you can proceed to make the necessary corrections so that your horse can perform better.

In horse riding competition you need to train and make your horse master the several commands. It is a game you will enjoy if you can take the right steps and employ the right tips in your horse training. The horse will play its part as you play your part. If the two of you will play your parts well, then you can have the best combination. Judges are keen to see how you communicate with your horse, ensure you perfect the art of communication between you and the horse so that you can achieve the best results in your horse riding adventure.


Hey! My name is Jeremy. So far I haven't convinced the wife to hop on and write anything so I'm pretty much the only face you'll see. I've been a horse owner now for about 10 years, I bought my first horse while in college for a measly hundred bucks to impress this crazy horse lady that I wanted to date. Turns out we got married, adopted some kids, and kept on with our horse lifestyle.

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