Dressage is the French word for “”training” but it is also an equestian sport with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics.
In dressage training the rider must learn to sit balanced in the saddle and use their aids; seat, weight, legs and hands to direct their horse. The horse develops elastic gaits and strength to perform the movements. Classical dressage has a training scale which is a pyramid with Rhythm on the bottom followed by Relaxation, Connection, Impulsion, Straightness and Collection at the peak.
In a dressage show the horse and rider perform a series on movements to illustrate how flexible, responsive, and balanced you are as a horse and rider team.
Dressage was developed to train horses for war. Horses can do all of the movements in the pasture but when we add equipment and rider on their back it changes their natural way of going. To help us to understand this concept, think about if we get down on our hands and knees and a child gets on our back for a “horsey ride”. We drop our back, as does the horse when we sit on their back. But to actually walk forward on our hands and knees we have to round our back to carry the child. This is the basic concept we have to explain to our horses, round your back to carry us. It is more difficult to do this initially but they will remain working, sound and moving fluidly for a longer time if they learn to go this way.
When we ride “dressage” we are training both ourselves and our horses.