Dr. Julie Damron

2 minutes reading time (340 words)

Dressage: Ballet with horses

By Dr. Julie Damron
Stockton Record July 11, 2009

Dressage is a competition in which rider and horse become one. It is an art. The challenge is to communicate actions to the horse almost silently, with subtle gestures of the equestrian's hands, legs, and shifts in weight. All breeds of horses can participate, and this form of training is thought to maximize a horse's riding potential.


Dressage, from the french word dresser--to set up, takes place in an arena with letter markings at specific locations. The rider guides the horse through complex maneuvers at different letter locations. Competitions start at a very basic level, and extend up to the Olympian.

Judges, who are certified, evaluate each duo based on a common standard; and several judges may be present at higher levels. At each level there are tests with a required set of maneuvers, that become more difficult as one climbs up the levels. Each skill is marked on a scale of 0 to 10. The tests are revised every 4 years by several equestrian committees.

Early European aristocrats displayed their horses in pageants, and much of this elegance and formality is still found in today's dressage events. Horses manes are braided on the right, and the tails are usually left unbraided. Each horse should be impeccably clean with a shiny coat and sparkling white markings. Hoof polish is often applied.

The rider is also adorned in a traditional regalia. White breeches, a white shirt, and a white tie are standard. The top coat is usually dark or black, and the gloves are white. Tall black dress boots are the normal footwear, and a top hat is often used in the upper levels.

Even though so much is standardized, the routine is a set pattern of maneuvers; each team of horse and rider bring with them a unique way of performing the sequence. They make it look easy, effortless. So much non-verbal communication goes on; and yet most of it is undetectable to the observer. It is truly a dance of power and beauty.

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