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Beginning Dressage

Dressage is the heart of all riding activities and disciplines. Dressage is training the mind and body of the horse to learn the basics for any discipline, all the way to advancing him to preform high level movements.

What Is Dressage

The great thing about dressage is that nearly every breed of horse can compete. It is true that some horses are more suited for dressage competition than others, but any horse can learn the basics of dressage and compete at the lower levels of the sport. Unlike some other horse sports you can practice dressage in almost any location, and you can progress through the levels at your own pace.

Dressage is designed to challenge riders and horses by creating tests for riders to memorize then ride. Each test includes various movements and these movements continue to increase in difficulty as you progress up the levels. Some of the first tests are only walk-trot which also requires you to change directions, ride circles, make transitions, and halt. These tests gradually get more difficult as you advance through the levels, eventually requiring you to preform grand prix level movements such as the piaffe, passage, and canter pirouette.

Diagram of an english double bridle.

What You Need

The tack and equipment you will need is simple. Starting out, you will need a plain snaffle bridle, a general-purpose english saddle, a white square saddle pad, a black riding jacket, tall boots, white breeches, and a top hat or helmet. Manes should be braided even at the lower levels.

Once you move up the levels of dressage and become more serious you will need to wear a tailcoat, white gloves, and spurs. Your horse should be ridden in a double bridle. This type of bridle has two bits, a snaffle and a curb bit. The snaffle, which is call a bridoon, fits up against the horse’s mouth, the curb bit sits below the bridoon. Adjusted properly the curb chain should lay smooth under the horse’s jaw, behind his chin. This bridle also has two reins, the curb rein and the snaffle rein. Usually the reins are of two different thicknesses or one is braided and the other is not to help the rider distinguish between them. The double bridle permits the rider to use more refined cues with the use of each bit individually or together.

Purchasing a dressage saddle once you have progressed is very beneficial as this kind of saddle helps to put you in a correct riding position for dressage. A dressage saddle is designed to help the rider keep most of their weight in their seat. The flaps of a dressage saddle are straight which allows you to ride with a long leg. Also, the billets on the saddle are longer than usual so the buckles can fasten lower down on the horse’s barrel, which will allow for closer leg contact. Saddles are made in this way to assist the rider in securing the seat and to cue the horse better.

The Dressage Arena

Regulation sized dressage arena marked with letters placed six meters in from the corners and twelve meters apart from each other.

A regulation dressage arena measures 20 meters by 60 meters. An arena is bordered by a continual lifted rail or rails placed on the ground intermittently around the arena. Markers in the form of letters are placed outside the arena to help guide the rider through their test. Starting from the top of the arena going clockwise the letters are A,K,E,H,C,M,B and F. These markers act as a focal point for the rider when preforming maneuvers. This area provides a controlled environment in which both horse and rider can learn and succeed.

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