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Principles of dressage

Principles of Dressage

Fine tune your understanding of dressage with this great information from the FEI.

As defined in the FEI Rule Book 2022.
© 2022 Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI). Reproduced with the permission of FEI. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited by law. FEI is not responsible for any errors or omissions in the publication or for the use of its Copyrighted Materials in any unauthorized manner.

  1. The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the rider.
  2. These qualities are revealed by:
  • The freedom and regularity of the paces.
  • The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements.
  • The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion.
  • The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or resistance.

The trot is a pace in two-beat rhythm with four phases (Numbers in circles indicate the beat)
  1. Flying changes of leg can also be executed in series at every 4th, 3rd, 2nd or at every stride. The horse, even in the series, remains light, calm and straight with lively impulsion, maintaining the same rhythm and balance throughout the series concerned. In order not to restrict or restrain the lightness, fluency and groundcover of the flying changes in series, enough impulsion must be maintained.
  2. Aims of flying changes: To show the reaction, sensitivity and obedience of the horse to the aids for the change of leg.
Image of three-beat rhythm with six phases
The canter is a pace in three-beat rhythm with six phases
  1. The changes of pace and variations within the paces should be exactly performed at the prescribed marker. The cadence (except in walk) should be maintained up to the moment when the pace or movement is changed or the horse halts. The transitions within the paces must be clearly defined while maintaining the same rhythm and cadence throughout. The horse should remain light in hand, calm, and maintain a correct position.
  2. The same applies to transitions from one movement to another, for instance from passage to piaffe or vice versa.
  1. Every movement or transition should be invisibly prepared by barely perceptible half halts. The half halt is an almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the seat, the legs and the hands of the athlete, with the object of increasing the attention and balance of the horse before the execution of the movements or transitions to lower and higher paces. By shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s hindquarters, the engagement of the hind legs and the balance on the haunches are improved for the benefit of the lightness of the forehand and the horse’s balance as a whole.
    1. Right-angled turn including riding through the corner (one quarter of a volte of approx. 6 metres).
    2. Short and long diagonal.
    3. Half voltes and half circles with change of rein
    4. Half pirouettes and turn on the haunches.
    5. Serpentine loops.
    6. Counter-changes of hand (in zig-zag)*. The horse should be straight for a moment before changing direction.
  1. * zig-zag: A movement containing more than two half-passes with changes of direction.
  1. The figures asked in dressage tests are the voltes, the serpentines and the figures of eight.
  1. Leg-yielding should be included in the training of the horse before it is ready for collected work. Later on, together with the more advanced shoulder-in movement, it is the best means of making a horse supple, loose and unconstrained for the benefit of the freedom, elasticity and regularity of its paces and the harmony, lightness and ease of its movements.
  2. Leg yielding can be performed “on the diagonal” in which case the horse should be as nearly as possible parallel to the long sides of the arena, although the forehand should be slightly in advance of the hindquarters. It can also be performed “along the wall” in which case the horse should be at an angle of about 35 degrees to the direction in which he is moving.
  1. The aim of the collection of the horse is:
  2. a) To further develop and improve the balance and equilibrium of the horse, which has been more or less displaced by the additional weight of the athlete.
  3. b) To develop and increase the horse's ability to lower and engage its hindquarters for the benefit of the lightness and mobility of its forehand.
  4. c) To add to the “ease and carriage” of the horse and to make it more pleasurable to ride.
  5. Collection is developed through the use of half-halts and the use of lateral movements shoulder-in, travers, renvers and half pass.
  6. Collection is improved and achieved by the use of the seat and legs and containing hands to engage the hind legs. The joints bend and are supple so that the hind legs can step forward under the horse’s body.
  7. However, the hind legs should not be engaged so far forward under the horse, that they shorten the base of support excessively, thereby impeding the movement. In such a case, the line of the back would be lengthened and raised too much in relation to the supporting base of the legs, the stability would be impaired and the horse would have difficulty in finding a harmonious and correct balance.
  8. On the other hand, a horse with an over-long base of support, which is unable or unwilling to engage its hind legs forward under its body, will never achieve acceptable collection, characterised by “ease and carriage” as well as a lively impulsion originating from the activity of the hindquarters.
  9. The position of the head and neck of a horse at the collected paces is naturally dependent on the stage of training and, to some degree, on its conformation. It is distinguished by the neck being raised without restraint, forming a harmonious curve from the withers to the poll, which is the highest point, with the nose slightly in front of the vertical. At the moment the athlete applies his aids to obtain a momentary and passing collecting effect, the head may become more or less vertical. The arch of the neck is directly related to the degree of collection.