Dressage horses: How they are trained?

Last Updated on November 20, 2020 by Allison Price

There are various functions that horses can pull through. One of those functions is being used in a competition – a dressage horse. Dressage is a way of riding and training your horses. The French word “dressage” comes from the word dresseur which means to train. There are various disciplines for horseback riding such as western riding, classical dressage, reining, through to jumping and other practices.

Dressage is an Olympic competition. International audiences enjoyed it through its different levels with Grand prix. The Grand prix is the highest level that being performed in an international set-up. Also, Grand Prix’s freestyle of music is a real crowd pleaser as the movements of horses is guided by music.

The dressage test is the performance evaluation of rider and horse on how they execute series of movements. The difficulty level increases based on the training level of FEI (Federation Equestrian International). Also, it is the same test performed by every nation around the globe.

In a 20 x 60 meter of arena, the horses performed the dressage test. Along with that arena is a small arena that are being used ate some levels. Every movement of horses has a corresponding point that the evaluator could give. Number 10 being the highest, five as sufficient, and zero as horses performed no movement. At the end of every test, the judge will give four impression scores based on the performance. All the points earned are added and being divided to have total possible score of the rider and horse.

Dressage became an official Olympic Sport in 1912 according by the United States Dressage Federation. In 1912, only military officers are eligible to join in the contest but rules evolved that allows civilian to compete. Today, dressage is well known worldwide in both men and women that play the sport.

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The Training of a Dressage Horse

First and foremost, horse should have a trainable attitude. If the horse causes lots of troubles by being stubborn, resentful and has a bad temperament, it is challenging to the rider. However, it is not the case, ideal horses enjoy their work and have a willing, relaxed, but also have forward-going mindset. 

Moreover, the ideal age that horses should begin to train is about three to four years old. It is also considerable that horses are ready when they already have strong mental and physical state. The following are the scale trainings of a dressage horse:


When we heard or read the word “rhythm”, music is the first thing that would come in our mind. For dressage horses, it is the first training scale. Understanding the importance of rhythm in necessary. It is pointless proceeding to subsequent scales without fulfilling the rhythm, not perfect but with excellence. 

If your dressage horses do not possess rhythm, progress is far away from reality and you have nothing to build. As what the FEI said, rhythm is indeed the regularity of horses’ beats throughout all paces. The proper sequence of footfalls is the regularity and the tempo is the pace of the beat.

  • Walk 

There are four equally spaced footfalls for a correct walk. You can hear 1-2-3-4 beats if you are listening to a horse walking along a path.  A ‘syncopated’ gait occurs when the equal spacing among the footfalls is lost. It would look like how a camel move with both legs moving at the same time to same side. So, the sound will be 1,2 to 3,4.

Moreover, this is often called a broken or lateral. It is caused by the normal neuro-muscular sequence being interrupted by stress in the back of the horse. The two long back muscles of the horses should have an alternate relaxation as walk pace requires it. The walking could be compromised when those muscles have no relaxation.

In a dressage test, it is a serious fault and a tough one to correct, so it has a major effect on the speed mark. On the other hand, proper walking is one of the best measures of good preparation.

To some degree, the correct pace for a walk would depend through the size of the natural groundcover.

  • Trot

The legs move in synchronized diagonal pairs in the right trot sequence. Along with this is the simple period of suspension between both sets of footfalls.

The period of suspension increases as a horse grows in training. It could be clearly associate as the result of improved strength. Also, balance that produce upward thrust and forward travel is evident in horses.

This is where rhythm becomes significant. The dwelling or hovering can never become the greater cadence. Also, it still retains the progressive impetus.

  • Canter

The correct sequence for canter should be outside hind, diagonal pair and inside fore. Moreover, the last sequence is the moment of suspension. The right foreleg is the last footfall of the right leg canter sequence and likewise for the left part.


Responsiveness and suppleness have a significant role in the rider’s aid when riding circles and other movements of dressage. Learn the pace by warming up all three gaits of your horse, then riding it around an arena or riding ring at the trot. Practice riding circles of 20 meters around the standard or cones. Moreover, bend your horse around your inner leg, and slightly turn its nose toward the middle of the circle. Ride your horses in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions to avoid straining them.

  • Signs of Suppleness
  1. Steps are elastic
  2. A happy and relaxed expression
  3. Rhythmical and soft breathing
  4. Horses can move down and forward without losing balance or rhythm.
  5. Swinging back
  6. A silent chewing that form contact elasticity.


Start the dressage training of your horses as light as possible. Touch the reins to guide them in a light contact with it. As dressage horses progress, take up a more gradual contact with them. It is important to always remember that the rider should have an independent hand and seat to remain the light contact. 

Moreover, riders that always hang on the reins could hurt mouth of the horses. Also, the tension can be intensified if the practice continues. This is the opposite of what you want to achieve in training the horses. Always bear in mind to develop riding seat without any interruptions every 10 minutes. This could help you to sit centered and deep in the saddle. 

  • Indicators of having a Good Contact
  1. Horse will forward to the contact
  2. Horses will allow the hindquarters’ energy to be passed to the bridle.
  3. The horse can accept the elastic contact and chew the bit in silent without showing the tongue.
  4. The highest point is the poll
  5. Horses will seek to have contact forwarded and down by lengthened rein.
  6. Horses will lengthen the whole frame, includes the neck in extended or medium paces.
  7. Horses will place their nose in a slight vertical front position.


Impulsion is the fourth among the scale trainings. It can be useful and relevant if the previous three trainings are well-established. Asking too much impulsion in your horses can lead to problems. Horses may tend to mismanage the high impulsion if they do not have the ability to manage it. Your horses should be a forward-thinker and have reaction if your aids of driving. Also, beware of giving him an inappropriate amount of push in an early stage.

  • Things to remember to achieve Impulsion
  1. There should be a degree of fair balance.
  2. Horses should have freedom from anxiety or tension.
  3. Proper knowledge about controlling aids and driving aids.
  4. Resistance should be minimized from the mind and body of horses.
  5. You should be a forward-thinker.
  6. Over-track as an ability.
  7. A ‘fast’ hind leg that doesn’t trail behind the horses’ body.
  • Not enough impulsion can cause:
  1. Absence of athleticism
  2. Not elastic, smooth paces
  3. Evident aids just needed to keep moving
  4. Aid’s Poor reaction  
  5. Extended and medium speed generation difficulties
  6. Tackling lateral jobs
  • Having too much impulsion may lead to:
  1. Issues in contact
  2. Control difficulties
  3. Tension
  4. Short neck
  5. Tightness
  6. Hurrying


Though straightness in the earlier phases might not be a concern, you need to begin to see the importance of it. As an underlying problem, you should focus on it when you developed your fundamental controls. There are two types of straightness – absolute and functional.

In functional straightness, the hips of your horse are wider compared to its shoulders.  This implies that you should observe the front imprint of your horses and hind hooves while you are riding on wet ground. To achieve in a canter, two hooves should travel in the similar line.

Absolute straightness is what you want to accomplish on a central line. You should pay attention if the horses’ spine is aligned to the straight line on which you are riding. It starts from the head, to his neck, down into the tails and hindquarters. Make sure that the body of your horses is following the line. Aligning is difficult to execute than being said but this should be your goal.


The last among the training scales is the collection. It is dependent on the accomplishment of the previous scales. If there is a problem in one of the early stages, you cannot achieve the true collection.

In the context, collection simply means the re-balancing of foreign weight. It is how the horses carry the weight of its rider and teaching them to carry another weight on hindquarters than on shoulders. Horses can have more balance and can-do ridden movements in an effortless way.

In trainings, collection is the combination of patterns and aids, using lateral movements and half halts. Also, it includes half-pass, renvers, shoulder-in, and travers.

  • To develop collection, your horses should have the following:
  1. Balance
  2. Have muscular strength in the postural muscles
  3. Acceptance and understanding about transitions, half halts, and positioning of aids
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The Duration of the Dressage Horse Training

 It is important that you don’t hurry anything when teaching a dressage horse. Making the mistake of pushing to them to their limits in an early stage of the training.

You must make sure that your horses are strong enough to endure the things you are asking. Some owners tend to neglect some steps to have an instant result. Thus, it leads to various problems like having injury that can end the career of your dressage horse.

Training your horses to reach the Grand Prix level may take about five years without delay. That is the time span for your horses to develop strong physical and mental state. Having enough mental and physical strength should be considered in performing movements in Grand Prix level. Along the way of training, if your experience problem, progress may delay.

Does dressage training harm horses?

Dressage training is not cruel if the horse is conditioned systematically, sympathetically, and appropriately.

The spur and schooling are not used to punish the horses but to give clear direction. Also, spur and schooling back-up the aids of the riders’ leg. The well-fitted double bridle enhances the horses’ self-carriage. It is not used for fixing the neck and head of the horses that should be fitted in an outline.

Recently, “Rollkur” the controversial technique for training surfaced. The method used aggressive hyperflexion in the neck of the horses. It manufactures deep, outline that is low, and forcing horses in maintaining it for a period of time.

The F.E.I already banned the Rollkur technique, and led to ban one of the international trainers from any competition.

The compression of the horses’ vertebrae cause by Rollkur leads to the loss of impulsion and thoroughness. The topline of horses becomes stiff and lacks elasticity and suppleness. Also, there is a flawed in the contact between the rider and horse. Now, the horse takes the bit from behind rather than taking the bit forward. Also, the horse could offer the rider with an elastic contact because of the technique.

A horse that undergoes Rollkur for dressage training has hollow back, trailing hocks and hollow back. Also, they carry most of the weight on their shoulders that makes them suffer.

For more knowledge about the training of dressage horses, watch this video:

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!