Dressage Notes

From the Dressage Canada brochure:
Dressage has been described as ballet on horseback and compared to the freestyle of figure skating. The art of dressage is a harmonious blend of power, beauty and precision. At home, dressage takes several hundred hours of patient nurturing. It takes years to build the necessary strength and fortitude to enable the horse to perform these difficult movements with ease and grace. In the competition ring dressages shows us everthing we think a horse should be. They are obedient yet independent, they are explosive yet contained. Movements such as Passage, the elevated trot, and Piaffe, the trot in place, are just two of the compulsory elements these elegant athletes are required to perform. In an enclosed arena in specific patterns you can see the horse floating, skipping and dancing. The favourite event at any dressage show is the Freestyle Kur. In this event the riders can exhibit their personal style and artistry by choreographing required elements to the music they feel is best suited to their mounts.

The walk, trot and canter are known as gaits or paces. In each of the gaits the horse moves its legs in a different sequence and therefore each gait has its own rhythm.
Walk = a four time pace; meaning four beats to a stride. There are four variations: medium, collected, extended and free. Look for four equally spaced beats; active and purposeful but calm.
Trot = A two time pace; the horse moves in diagonal pairs with an important moment of suspension when all four legs are off the group. There are three variations: collected, medium and extended. Look for: active hind leg stepping energetically under the horse’s body.
Canter = a three time pace; the horse moves with hind leg touching the ground, then the opposite diagonal pair move together, then the remaining front leg. This sequence is then followed by an important moment of suspension when all four legs are off the ground at the same time. as with trot there are three variations: collected, medium and extended. Look for: correct three beat sequence; clear and expressive moment of suspension; nice height to the front leg reaction through a well bent knee joint.

Half Pass= Effortless gliding sideways across the ring, as if the horse is on well-oiled castors, crossing legs so easily. The horse moves forward and sideways across the ring. The horse is bent into the direction of the movement and keeps his body almost parallel to the side of the ring. It is done in both trot and canter. The steeper the angle, the greater the difficulty. Look For: horse remaining almost parallel to the side of the ring. Fluent steps with regular rhythm; maintenance of a gymnastic and balanced pace.

Flying Change:
Exciting to ride, performed with gymanastic ability and attractive to watch. Flying changes occur when the horse changes from one lead canter to another in a single moment of suspension. Flying changes are performed either individually or in a sequence called tempi changes. At the grand prix level, sequences of changes are performed either every second stride or every stride, called one time changes.

Demand maximum coordination between both horse and rider. Done at a walk and canter. In canter the horse moves the forelegs in a cicle around its hing legs, which canter more or less on the spot. In grand prix you will see 360 and 720 degree circles. Look for lowering of the hind quarter, producing a sitting effect. The number of strides should be 6 to 8 in a 360 degree pirouette. The smaller the circular track of the hindlegs the better, up to a limit.

A very demanding and exacting exercise wehre the horse trots, almost on the spot. Look for diagonal beats, lowering of the hind quarters towards a sitting position; correct placing, never backward creeping only centimeters forward; even height and placing of hind feet; good height and equally flexed front legs.

A highly elevated dancing trot. Extemely demanding in terms of concentration and balance. Look for regular even rhythm; equal spring from active, flexed hind legs,; good height from well bent legs.