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An Introduction to Dressage

Dressage evolved in the days when horses were the machines of war. The cavalry rode into battle mounted on horses, instead of the tanks of today. A cavalry horse had to be instantly obedient to its rider, light and supple. It also had to be able to manoeuvre itself in confined areas, as well as gallop swiftly. As a Cavalry officer's life depended on his horse, it was of most importance that the horse was agile and obedient. The precision of dressage grew with the demands of war. When the war horses gave way to machinery, dressage became the sport of the leisured classes. War horses had to be perfectly under the control of their riders - balanced, responsive and agile. The modern competition dressage horse is assessed on these qualities.

Dressage tests are ridden on a sixty by twenty metre arena. This arena has letter markers placed at regular intervals around it. These letters are where different movements take place, an example being:
A - Enter working trot
X - Halt, salute, proceed working trot
C - Track to the right.
(From Preliminary 1A Test (Australia))

Each movement is scored from zero to ten with ten being 'excellent' and zero being 'not executed'. Modern dressage tests range from the basic movements of the Preliminary (or training) level tests, of walk, trot and canter on both reins, to the advanced level of the Prix St Georges, Intermediare I and II and Grand Prix, with movements such as canter changes of lead at every stride, piaffe, passage and canter pirrouettes. The order in which the tests increase in difficulty is as follows (in Australia):
*Each level (excluding the last four) is made up of a number of similar tests that become slightly harder as the letter rises.
Preliminary (1A to 1E)
Novice (2A to 2F)
Elementary (3A to 3E)
Medium (4A to 4E)
Advanced (5A to 5D)
Prix St. George
Intermediare I
Intermediare II
Grand Prix

The FEI Rules for Dressage state that the horse should give 'the impression of doing of his own accord what is required of him' when performing a dressage test. This is an excellent way of describing what all dressage horses and riders should strive to accomplish when they take part in what is considered, 'gymnastics for the horse'. (Article slightly modified [to take in new EFA tests introduced this year] from part of a school assignment written in 1995. By Leah Clapton).

Dressage in Australia:

For most Australian young riders, their first dressage test would be at unofficial (or associate) level. Unofficial dressage tests do not require the horse to be registered with the EFA (Equestrian Federation of Australia) and are not judged by EFA judges. They are an excellent opportunity for the rider interested in dressage to compete in a (slightly) less daunting event. (this is the level that Tisca and I compete at).
Official dressage tests are exactly the same as unofficial tests, except that they are now officially judged. Also, if the horse places, he accumulates grading points allowing him to move up the grades. (eg Preliminary to Novice). A horse can be ridden in levels higher than their graded level, but can no be ridden competitively in levels below their grading.

Successful Australian Dressage Riders:


Mary Hanna and her horses, Mosaic and Londoner.
Mary Hanna and Mosaic were Australia's only representatives in the dressage at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Here she demonstrated the rapidly improving levels of dressage in Australia with an excellent performance. This year, Mary Hanna has won the right to travel to the very last Volvo World Cup final in Goteborg (Sweden) on Mosaic. It is her third World Cup final. After the final she will probably be leaving Mosaic in Europe (with Tienke Bartels in Holland) to have him ready for the World Equestrian Games in Rome. (Reference: The Horse Magazine, Vol 15, No 4, Gordon and Gotch)

Do you have any horse-related articles? Email me:

clapton@multiline.com.au