Dressage is all about learning to work with your horse and help them achieve greater suppleness, flexibility and obedience.
At its most basic level, dressage is about knowing how to control your horse through the different paces from halt to walk, trot and canter, and how to steer the any given direction. At the highest level, it's about using the power, elegance and impeccable training of the horse to execute complex movements as required by the test or choreographed to music.
While doing dressage can lead you into horse riding competitive tests, the horse you ride will also become more responsive to ride. No more leaning on your hands, no more need to kick and opening and shutting gates from the saddle is so much easier when your horse will react calmly to your leg.
Dressage was originally developed by the cavalry in the 17th century – after all, having an unresponsive or undisciplined horse on the battlefield could have meant the difference between life and death. Only later did it develop into some of the more flamboyant moves still seen today at places such as the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
Dressage is a sport for any rider at any age, and many riding schools and Riding for the Disabled (RDA) groups will have dressage competitions. These require you to perform a set series of movements in a standard arena – 20m x 40m for more basic tests and 20m x 60m for others – with standard letters, or ‘dressage markers’, around the edge. This is done in front of at least one judge, although the number will increase you move up the levels, who will provide a score out of 10 for each movement. They'll also provide a score out of 10 for the overall impression of the horse and rider – these are known as collective marks. The final score is then calculated as a percentage, and the rider and horse with the highest percentage wins the class.
The highest ever dressage score was 94.3%, achieved by British rider Charlotte Dujardin in 2014 on Valegro, but a good dressage score is often around 60–70%.
British Dressage (BD) is the governing body for the sport in the UK. Whether you're already a competitor or just starting out, a regular spectator or keen to get involved in other ways, British Dressage has plenty to offer you, from quality training and a packed schedule of competitions to the latest news from our international teams.
If you're new to British Dressage competitions, you may want to start out through Quest, which has a fun, relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to compete as part of a team.