The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) defines dressage as being the highest level to express horse training. The roots of dressage lead back to Europe and during the Renaissance was considered very important. Sequential training systems were developed by great European riders who were considered masters of there discipline. Although these systems have changed a bit over time, classical dressage is considered the basis of modern dressage.
The fundamental purpose behind dressage is to channel the horses natural athletic ability and his willingness to perform. Doing this is said to make him an all around better riding horse. Dressage has often been referred to as “horse ballet” since the horse must respond smoothly to the cues given by the rider. The rider must remain calm and relaxed to display a effortless ride.
New comers to the sport of dressage may start out at the introductory level consisting of walking and trotting. As the horse and rider gain more experience they will graduate through a series of nationally defined levels. Each level will have tests where the difficulty has increased. The top competitors will compete at the Federation Equestre International (FEI). Any serious rider will aim for qualifying at the Grand Prix Level, the highest level that can be reached and is the level of the Olympics.
Classical dressage is a tradition of performing dressage as an art form. It is considered the tradition of the masters who originated dressage.
Rather than having a horse and rider compared to the other competitors to be ranked for placing, each competitor is tested in a formalized sequence of dressage movements. The horse and rider will be judged against a common standard for scoring. Unless you are competing at the International and Olympic level, whose tests are issued under the FEI, then you will be judged on the countries set of tests. Each country has its own set of tests for lower levels of competition. The United States Equestrian Federation and the United States Dressage Federation set up the tests for the USA.
The tests are divided into blocks with each block having one or more movements involved. The blocks are normally scored on a scale of one to ten with ten being excellent and one being very bad. A score of zero can be given if the movements are not performed correctly. A comment can also be given for each score, either stating what was performed wrong or complimenting a correct move.
Minimal Horse tack is used for dressage horses. They do not need to wear boots or leg wraps during a test. They are also not allowed to wear any training devices and the color of the tack is usually black leather but can be dark brown. English saddles are required in this event. Event specific “dressage saddles” can be purchased and are preferred if you are competing in dressage. If you are competing in the FEI level then a dressage saddle is required. Lower levels competition just need to have an English saddle. The bridle worn at lower levels are normally plain cavesson, drop nosebands or flash nosebands. The higher levels of competition a double bridle, plain cavesson is used most often.
The horse should be spotless since that is part of the elegant “look” of dressage. Manes are normally braided, the bridle path is clipped or pulled and it is very common to trim the muzzle, face, ears and legs. Often hoof polish is applied before entering the arena to add a nice shine.
Dressage is all about presentment and riders will wear white breeches, full-seat leather to help them stay in the saddle, a belt, white shirt and stock tie with a small pin. A coat is also worn, normally a solid black or navy color with metal buttons. More experienced riders will wear white gloves where less experienced riders choose black since it helps hide the hand movements. Tall black dress boots and spurs are worn and required for higher competition levels. The riders hair must be pulled back into a bun with either a hair net or show bow including a barrette. For higher levels of competition a top hat that matches the riders coat is worn, whereas lower levels can use a derby, hunting cap or an ASTM/SEI approved equestrian helmet.
Dressage Horse Breeds
Any horse breed can learn and compete in dressage. In Olympic and other international FEI (Federation Equestre International) competition, horses in the warm blood category are seen where as in non competitive performances of classical dressage the horse breeds seen are normally Baroque horse breeds, such as the Lipizzaner.
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