“Dressage,” pronounced “Dress-AAJH,” means “training,” or “horsemanship.” The idea was to develop the best-trained, most responsive horse/rider combination, in the tradition of the Spanish vaquero. Having originated in the use of the horse as a tool of warfare. One needed a horse that responded to the most subtle cues, responding to what the rider thinks so that he can concentrate on the task at hand - killing someone.
That school of riding evolved to a competition in which long-strided, large horses are trained to go through a series of maneuvers in an enclosed 20 by 60 meter arena. The goal in the competition was to be “one” with the horse, with the horse responding to the most subtle of cues.
A dressage saddle looks a bit like a close-contact jumping saddle, but there are notable differences. First of all the flaps, or fenders, are much longer. This allows the rider to ride with a longer stirrup than in a jumping position, which, for the sake of balance, requires a short stirrup. Think of how a jockey rides. Stirrups are ridiculously short, and the jockey spends more time standing in the stirrups than sitting on the saddle.
The other major difference is the higher cantle, or back part of the saddle. This allows the rider to have a deeper “seat.”
Yeah, saddles are expensive.
Along with the longer-legged style of riding, his legs are in contact with the horse almost constantly. It’s almost like they’re wrapped around the horse. Because of this, the horse is trained to respond to leg signals as well as rein signals. This style has been quite the transition for me, and using my legs to cue the horse has been a challenge, not only because of the difference in style, but also because of the inherent weakness of muscle groups that I’ve never used.
If you watch any dressage competitions, you’ll see how the rider communicates with the horse via the most subtle of cues. It’s almost as though when you think it, the horse does it.
This is a pretty good example. Note how at about 1:30, the horse, at a trot, begins to extend his stride, not increasing the speed of steps, but greatly increasing his stride.
Link to video
Note how the rider looks like she’s glued to the saddle.
Then, at about 4:30, at the canter, the same thing happens. She asks the horse to extend his stride…and off they go.
At 5:00 - the horse does “flying lead changes.” Imagine you’re skipping, and you lead with your right foot. That’s what a canter is. The horse CHANGES the foot with which he’s leading the “skip” with every other stride. Remarkable.
But, at my level, with Opal, I’m just trying to get her to trot around the arena without breaking down to a walk, LOL.