Dressage principles

Dressage is the training of the horse but when it becomes a sporting test, what are we aiming for?

Chestnut horse pat

The FEI is the international governing body for horse sport, and BD is affiliated to it via our membership of the British Equestrian Federation. We follow their lead on policy, rules and welfare issues. Here's how they define the principles of dressage as a sport which are accepted by riders and officials:

FEI object and general principles of dressage 
by kind permission of the FEI

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 athlete.

These qualities are demonstrated 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 without any tension or resistance

2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the athlete, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

3. The walk is regular, free and unconstrained. The trot is free, supple, regular and active. The canter is united, light and balanced. The hindquarters are never inactive or sluggish. The horse responds to the slightest indication of the athlete and thereby gives life and spirit to all the rest of its body.

4. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of the joints, free from the paralysing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.

5. In all the work, even at the halt, the horse must be 'on the bit'. A horse is said to be 'on the bit' when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, accepting the bridle with a light and consistent soft submissive contact. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the athlete.

6. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot or canter exercises and in all the variations of these paces.

7. The regularity of the paces is fundamental to dressage.

The Scales of Training can be used as helpful checks on the way of going for the rider when performing a movement, for the judge when marking a movement, and the spectator when looking at a movement. When there is rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and, in the more advanced tests, collection, the way of going is good.