Dressage is a term rooted in the French word for ‘training’, and refers to competitions which test the highest levels of skill in horse riding. Unlike racing which is a test of a horse’s speed, or other sports centred around a sole attribute, dressage competition is designed to evaluate a range of functional attributes such as control, agility, finesse and form. A sport with great tradition and heritage, the values and standards of dressage competition have been established over many centuries by the great riding schools of Portugal, France, Austria and elsewhere. Out of respect for this heritage, many aspects of an event such as the dress of the riders and the turnout and grooming of the horses are strictly governed by tradition. There is a whole industry which specialises in producing and supplying the equipment for these events.
Dressage horses usually come from one of a set number of breeds, and some horses are specifically bred for certain disciplines. Typically, these breeds will carry characteristics of both “cold blood” heavy working horses and “hot blood” racing horses. This is why they are often referred to as “warmbloods”. In higher levels of competition, horses will always be impeccably turned out and display custom-made equipment. Lower regional and national level competitions have a good starting place for younger riders and horses to hone their skills. As their performances improve, they will move up the rankings and qualify for higher level tournaments.
The most important piece of equipment for any dressage event is the arena. A standard arena measures 20m by 60m, although smaller arenas of 20m by 40m are used at lower level competitions. During the event, horse and rider must perform a set series of ‘tests’ from memory at set points within the arena. Competitors will lose points if they do not perform all the tests, the phone them in the wrong order or at the wrong place in the arena. Judges are stationed around the four sides of the arena so that each test can be accurately observed and scored. Each score is a number between zero and ten, where ten means excellent and zero means the test was not completed at all.
Rules are very tight on the equipment which can be used during a competition. In the highest level international competitions a specific ‘dressage saddle’ must be used, although an ‘English saddle’ may be used in national competitions. Dressage horses are shown in minimal tack, which is usually in black leather. Dressage also makes up part of the competition of Eventing, along with Cross-country riding and Showjumping. The dressage phase of eventing is subject to slightly different rules and may use different equipment.
Fylde Saddlery of Out Rawcliffe our leading supplier of equestrian equipment, specialising in tack and attire for the showing world. Co-owner Peter Wilkinson has run the business for over 40 years with a long history of showing and judging, so his knowledge of the sport is second to none. Check out our website today.