What is Dressage?
Dressage, from the French word for "training" is often described as the art of dancing on horseback or ballet on horseback and is often compared to the freestyle of figure skating.
The art of dressage is a harmonious blend of power, beauty and precision. The sport of Dressage is designed to improve a horse's balance, suppleness and flexibility, as well as improve the communication between horse and rider.
At home dressage consists of several hundred hours of patient nurturing. It takes years to build the necessary strength and fortitude to enable the horse to perform these difficult movements with ease and grace. In the competition ring dressage shows us everything we think a horse should be. They are obedient yet independent, they are explosive yet contained.
At the lower levels, dressage tests are simple, with the emphasis on basic training. In the Training level tests, the judge(s) is looking for the horse to be moving forward and freely and in good rhythm. The Training Level tests themselves are straightforward with simple transitions, circles and diagonals used as a demonstration of the horse's progress in its training.
The dressage tests get progressively more difficult as the rider moves through the different levels before reaching the highest level, Grand Prix. By the time a horse has reached the Grand Prix level, it is capable of extreme collection and extension of its gaits, and is capable of performing such advanced movements as changes of lead each stride at the canter (often called skipping), piaffe (trot on the spot) and passage (a slow trot with great suspension each stride).
Riders at the Prix St Georges level are eligible to compete in the Pan American Games, while riders representing Canada at the World Equestrian Games, Olympic Games or Senior World Cup Final are competing at the Grand Prix level.
All tests are graded by a judge (or judges at the higher levels) and riders are given scores which are translated into percentages. Each movement during the test is scored out of ten, with certain movements given heavier weighting in the final computation. General impression marks are also given for things such as rider position, horse's gaits, etc. and these marks are always given a double weighting (or coefficient) in the final marking. Tests are marked out of a possible 100%, but this standard has never been reached. It is common for a rider with a score of 70% to win a class, and be very pleased with such a score! Dressage riders will ride the same test multiple times in a season, striving to improve on their previous scores.
The favourite event at any dressage competition is the Kur, or musical freestyle. In this event the rider can exhibit their personal style and artistry by choreographing required elements to music they feel is best suited to their mount. Kurs can be performed singly, in pairs (a Pas de Deux), in a group of four (a Quadrille) or in demonstration groups (a musical ride).