A Beginner’s Guide to the Sport of Dressage

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The sport of Dressage is about forming an effortless partnership with your horse and riding in harmony with him using imperceptible aids to communicate movement. It is not about trying to impress judges or other competitors, and your success should be measured by the enjoyment you get from riding and the progress you make with your horse, rather than the level at which you compete.

Riding at the highest levels is a great way to improve your relationship with your horse and to develop your understanding of how horses learn, but the discipline is not about becoming a showjumper or competing in the Olympics. It is about developing a harmonious partnership and achieving a harmonious performance where the horse and rider work together in harmony with an accurate use of tempo to achieve a balanced rhythm.

Dressage is a progressive sport, and each level has specific requirements to be met before moving up the levels. Achieving a high score in a dressage test means that the horse and rider are performing to an international standard as set by the equestrian governing body British Dressage (BD).

It is possible for riders who have a club membership and a registered club horse to take part in Area Festivals at Preliminary Bronze level, but if you wish to compete at Summer or Winter Regional Championships you will need to have Full British Dressage membership and your club horse will need to be fully registered. To be eligible to compete at FEI level both you and your horse will need to have a FEI passport and your tack will need to meet different standards.

The letters that appear on the arena floor in competitions indicate the order in which the movements in a test are to be performed. These are referred to as the ‘dressage code’ and they help to ensure that competitions are fair and that the rider is not being asked to perform the same movement more than once.

It takes years to reach the top levels of the sport, and there is a lot of hard work required at every stage. Despite this the most successful dressage riders are incredibly well-paid and can earn millions from their activities.

Dressage is a relatively safe sport, compared to some other equestrian sports. However, like all sports there is always a risk of injury, and a good training programme is essential to minimise the risk.

The world’s most famous dressage rider is Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, who with her legendary mount Valegro enjoyed a near invincible partnership that yielded two Olympic gold medals and several other international successes. She was awarded an OBE in the 2013 New Year Honours and a CBE in 2017 for her services to equestrianism. She is in demand internationally for masterclasses, and her sold out arena tours regularly fill up stadiums across the globe.