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Dressage How To

HOW TO WATCH A DRESSAGE SHOW
A GUIDE TO DRESSAGE TESTS
What Classes Are Offered at a Dressage show?
How Do The Riders Know Which Class To Enter?
What is A “Good” Score?
How Does A Rider Know When to Ride?
What Are Tests Like?
Why Does the Bell (or Whistle) Sound?
How Are the Winners Decided?
What Kind of Dress Must the Rider Wear?
What Kind of Tack Does the Horse Wear?
What Kinds of Horses Can Compete?
Why is Everyone so Quiet?
What Should the Spectator Look For?

How Can I Find Out About Dressage?
Junior Riders
Basic I
Basic II
Basic III
Medium Division
Medium 1
Advanced and International Division
Medium 3
Prix St. Georges
Intermediare1 and 2 (FEI)
Grand Prix

 

What Classes Are Offered at a Dressage Show?

These are graded according to the ability of the horse, and start with a group class, followed by sole performances at levels of increasing difficulty. In Canada these are called Basic I, Basic II, Basic III, Basic Division, Medium 1 and 2. Medium 3, Prix St. Georges the first test published by the Federation d’ Equestre Internationale, the worldwide equestrian sports governing body. Advanced Division; the Grand Prix is the test used in the Olympic Games.

There may also be an Equitation class in the basic Division, in which the rider is judged and perhaps a quad…. De deux or individual freestyle (kur) set to music.

For a more detailed description of the various levels of tests, see the pamphlet “A Guide to Dressage Tests”.

How Do The Riders Know Which Class To Enter?

Most horses start at the Preliminary level. They are allowed to enter any two consecutive levels, plus a kur or other novelty class if it is offered at their level. As a horse improves and gets higher scores over a period of time, he is promoted or upgraded and is required to compete at the next highest level.

What is A “Good” Score?

Rides are divided into movements (there 12 to 14 in the average Preliminary test ). Each movement is marked separately, on a 0-10 scale, like figure skating or gymnastics. The
passing or “adequate” score for a dressage test is 50%. Scores in the 60’s are very good; in the 70’s or higher are exceptional.

How Does A Rider Know When to Ride?

Dressage shows are run on a strict schedule; riding times are available a day or two before the show. Riders arriving late at the arena are eliminated.

What Are Tests Like?

At each level, there are several tests of a similar degree of difficulty. The tests from Basic I through to Medium 3 are written by the Dressage Advisory Committee of the Canadian
Equestrian Federation; above Medium 3, by the FEI. A show will choose a test at each level and will send out a Prize List well in advance. All riders in a class ride the same test; they may memorize it, or have it read aloud. Prix St. Georges up must be memorized. In Championship Shows, ALL tests must be memorized.

The tests are made up of patterns and changes of pace which are performed at the various letters around the arena, and are symmetrical ( the same movements are performed in each
direction). The tests are not composed of “tricks” to be learned automatically; the object of dressage training is to develop the horse physically and mentally, in harmony with his own natural ways of moving and thinking, and these tests are “checkpoints” to display the level of balance, strength and obedience he has reached in his training.

Why Does the Bell (or Whistle) Sound?

This will tell the rider who is warming up that he has one minute to enter the arena and begin the test. Also, to halt the test for any reason, such as an “off course” mistake on the part of the rider. After three mistakes, the rider must retire from the ring.

How Are the Winners Decided?

The Highest scoring horse is the winner. If there is more than one judge, scores will be averaged. Scores are posted as fast as they are calculated, usually near the Show Secretary’s
office. Winners receive ribbons, and at some shows, trophies and prize money.

What Kind of Dress Must the Rider Wear?

At informal (schooling) shows you may see riders wearing light coloured breeches, tweed or summer riding jackets, hunt caps and brown high boots. You may also see the more formal dressage outfit, which is required for CEF recognized shows: white breeches, black or very dark jackets, black boots, white stock tie and a black bowler or low-crowned top hat. Gloves are required at all shows, and will be black or white with the more formal dress. Spurs are optional in the basic classes.

In the more advanced classes, from Prix St. Georges up, the rider must wear a tail coat, usually black, and a yellow waist-coat, again with the top hat, white breeches, gloves,
spurs (now mandatory) and black boots.

The rather severe dress is designed to focus attention on the horse.

What Kind of Tack Does the Horse Wear?

The dressage or all-purpose standard saddle; in basic level classes, a snaffle bridle. In Medium 1, a double bridle is optional, but from Medium 2 up, the double bridle (curb and
snaffle bits) is required. Manes, but not tails, are usually braided.

What Kinds of Horses Can Compete?

The basic dressage tests are within the reach of every riding horse, except perhaps, those who do not have a natural trotting gait, such as pacing Standardbreds and Paso Finos. Arabs, Morgans, Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, European breeds and every possible mixture thereof have all competed successfully in the dressage ring. Most lower level horses are equally at home in the hunter ring, on the trail, or over cross-country fences.

At the more advanced levels, horses and riders have usually begun to specialize in dressage competition as a separate discipline. These horses must be of outstanding athletic ability
and temperament. The majority of Grand Prix horses in the world today are from the European “sport” breeds (Trakehner, Hanoverian, Holsteiner); this is perhaps because dressage is a newer sport in North America, and our breeding programs have not had as much time to produce suitable individuals for high-level dressage. However, this situation is rapidly changing, and there are already many North American Thoroughbreds, Quarter
Horses and other breeds represented at the higher levels.

Why is Everyone so Quiet?

Riding a dressage test calls for great concentration from both the horse and rider. A sudden noise or movement could upset the flow of the test. Applause should be withheld until the horse has left the arena.

What Should the Spectator Look For?

In order to develop a basis of comparison, he should watch several rides of the same test – each takes between 5 and 12 minutes, depending on the level. The horse should move forward rhythmically, with no impression of stiffness, discomfort or disobedience. As the levels progress, more and more accuracy is required of the performance. Above all, horse and rider should be in harmony – just as in figure skating or accomplished gymnastics, it is supposed to look easy!

How Can I Find Out About Dressage?

There may be an information centre at the show you are attending; leave your name with the Show Secretary for further contact; show officials will be glad to answer your questions
(perhaps not at the beginning or end of the day, when they will be rather hurried). And please get in touch with your local Dressage Group representative.

The object of dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident,
attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider -Federation d’Equestre international.

 

A GUIDE TO DRESSAGE TESTS

Junior Riders

Junior Riders are riders under eighteen years of age as of January 1st of the current year. Separate Junior classes are usually provided at the Preliminary/Novice level, and the
Group classes may also be divided. Many shows offer a junior Championship in the Basic Division. In the more advanced levels, Juniors compete with Seniors.

Basic I

At this level, the horse must perform smoothly and obediently the simple patterns and transitions (changes of pace and direction) required. He must be “accepting the bit” – showing no resistance to the hands’ constant light contact with his mouth through the reins. He must be rhythmic and straight in the “working” paces: the walk (called “medium” in the test), the working trot and the working canter; when the horse’s hind feet track into the prints left by his front feet, he is in a working pace, the basis of all schooling. He must bend correctly and not lose balance on 20 meter circles. At this stage, the horse’s mental and physical development through training has just begun; but without correct Basic I work, further progress is impossible.

Basic II

Here the lengthened stride is introduced at the trot and canter, in preparation for the extended paces of the higher levels. Both lengthened stride and extension mean that the horse takes longer steps without increasing the tempo or speed of the gait; but in the extension, the hindquarters (which supply the driving force at all paces) are engaged and are carrying more of the horse’s weight, with much more power, elevation, and buoyancy in the performance. In the Basic II tests circles at the trot are reduced to 15 meters. No resistance should be evident through loss of contact, uneven steps, or tossing of the head. The horse is expected to be “on the bit”, or “on the aids”; this means in the condition of balance, suppleness and confidence, appropriate to the level of the test he is to perform, and ready and able to respond to any signal from his rider.

Basic III

In this level, more accuracy is demanded transitions must be made when the rider’s shoulder is exactly at the letter indicated. The hindquarters must begin to engage to carry more of the horse’s weight in preparation for the extension and collection of the Medium Division. Circles of 10 meters at the trot and 15 meters at the canter are performed, as well as simple changes of canter lead through the trot; turns on the forehand and transitions from the trot to halt also demonstrate the increased obedience, strength and ability of the horse.

Medium Division

While Basic level work is a necessary part of the training of every saddle horse, whatever its destination in life, most horses you will see in the Medium levels will probably be involved in dressage competition as an end in itself. Now the spectator will say, “That looks like a dressage horse”, there will be a difference in the outline and muscling of the horse and an increased lightness, power and beauty in his way of going. If the basic training has been
correct, this “medium frame” results from the establishment of collection; the driving power of the hindquarters is now fully available to the horse and fully under the direction of the rider. This results in lightness and mobility of the forehand, which looks more elevated in contrast to the lowered hindquarters.

In Medium 1,

There is no excuse for an inaccurate performance. The horse is expected to show all the
variations within each gait: working, collected (shorter, higher steps, with the forehand very elevated and the hindquarters fully engaged), extended; and medium (“round” and less ground-covering than the extended pace). Circles are 10 meters at the trot and canter. Work on two-tracks, such as shoulder-in, begins here. For the first time, the horse must perform the rein-back, counter-canter (cantering on the left lead for instance, while moving to the right), simple changes of the canter lead through the walk, and half-pirouette at the walk (the forehand moves in half-circle around the haunches which act as a pivot).

In Medium 2, there are the half-pass at the trot, trot and canter circles of 8 meters, and half from the canter; the flying change of lead at the canter is introduced.

Advanced and International Division

Now increased mental and physical demand are made on the horse (and rider), leading to the ultimate test of artistic equitation, the Olympic Grand Prix de Dressage.

Medium 3:

The horse must perform the volte, or 6 meter circle, and the half-pass at the collected canter. “Tempo changes” (flying changes of lead in sequence after a specified number of strides) are begun.

Prix St. Georges:

This is the first international test published by the F.E.I. (Federation d’Equestre Internationale). The horse must do the half-pirouette at the canter, and flying changes of lead every fourth and third stride.

Intermediare 1 and 2 (FEI):

Here the full pirouette and flying changes of lead every two strides are required. In Intermediare 2, the horse must perform the piaffe, a highly collected, cadenced and majestic “trot in place”.

Grand Prix:

Now you will see flying changes of lead at every stride, the piaffe, and the passage (a measured and very elevated trot in which the horse seems to float across the ground). This is the peak of training with the horse and rider blended together in perfection of movement.

 

This guide on “HOW TO WATCH A DRESSAGE SHOW” was compiled in 1980 by the OTTAWA AREA DRESSAGE GROUP OF CADORA.

Reproduction by other Dressage Groups, Show Committees ad interested parties is encouraged; any proposed changes must be referred back to OADG before publication.