What Is Dressage?

Riding Again: Back Home in the Dressage Saddle

“Is Dressage the equivalent of Curling when it comes to public interest?” That was the question jokingly asked of Ann Spencer, a representative of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of California Dressage Society or SLO-CDS. She laughed and agreed that it is quite possible, and that both sports maybe looked at similarly basically due to a lack of understanding.

So What Is Dressage?

So what is Dressage? Dressage, a French word, means training when translated, and is the word given to the sport that uses dressage methods to train the horse to improve its natural gaits – The walk, trot and canter, influenced by the natural aids of the rider – The legs, hands and seat.

Dressage Training for the Horse

It is the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance. The result of the dressage training method is a horse that is safer and easier to ride, and a rider who is more sensitive to the effectiveness of the aids.

Kings and Knights and Battles

Dressage began centuries ago on the battlefields where the knights and soldiers used horses as an aid in battle. The horses needed to respond to light commands of the rider, and be able to collect and be obedient. Kings and Knights looked quite regal, and threatening, when mounted on a horse that was doing the Passage or Piaffe.

It’s Not Easy

Sounds easy huh? NOT. Dressage is an art work where the artist never really considers it done. Learning to train a horse using dressage methods and learning to ride properly is fascinating, rewarding, addicting and yes, fun; But not easy!

Dressage Trotting At M

Leah and Go-Ten, owned by the Poorman Family, riding a Walk/Trot test.

The California Dressage Society

The California Dressage Society was founded in 1967 and is one of the oldest horse organizations in California. The San Luis Obispo chapter was founded in 1972 and was the 6th or 7th CDS chapter to start up with a member roster of 20 members.

The SLO-CDS Chapter

Today the SLO-CDS chapter has more than 100 members from all over SLO county plus a few from neighboring counties to the north and south. “Back in 2014, the membership had been on a decline in line with other national and state horse organizations, whose membership loss has been 50% of their total membership in the past 5 years. However, the membership numbers are slowly coming back up!” exclaimed Ann regarding the local membership number.

Education for the Members

“Education is our focus,” Ann went on to explain as we discussed the activities of the SLO-CDS. The primary activities of the chapter are the Dressage shows (single rated * CDS and triple rated *** CDS, USDF, USEF) that are scheduled throughout the show season.

Dressage Shows

Dressage Court

At Dressage shows the horse and rider combinations ride individually in a rectangular arena, the Dressage Court, that has letters posted at specific points around the perimeter with the judge sitting at one end. There are 8 primary levels of Dressage and each has 2 to 4 different tests within that level.

The Different Levels

Each level has progressive patterns that build on the same foundations of relaxation, forward movement and collection. The entry level is a Walk/Trot test and the highest level is Grand Prix which includes complex movements like Passage, Piaffe, Pirouettes, extended gaits and lateral movements.

Grand Prix Dressage

The Grand Prix Musical Freestyle is the highlight of the Olympics and the World Championships as each rider chooses music to match the timing and movement of his or her horse. Each pair presents a freestyle pattern that includes all the Grand Prix movements set to the music of their choice. A Musical Freestyle can stir human emotions when done using the highest degree of horsemanship in partnership with the horse, in beat with the music.

SLO-CDS Chapter Activites

The SLO chapter also hosts one of the three Adult Amateur Clinics offered by CDS in different locations in the Spring of each year. “Our clinic represents 12 different CDS chapters,” explained Ann. Each clinic is taught by the same instructor and is designed to bring quality education to each region aimed specifically at the Adult Amateur who is the backbone of the whole society.

Western Dressage

When asked if interest in Dressage has grown, Ann mentioned that the most new growth is in Western Dressage. “A new ruling was just passed that allows single rated (*CDS only) shows to offer these classes and they are becoming quite popular. The patterns are similar but the language is different. For example, the Western Dressage test would read jog instead of trot and lope instead of canter,” explains Ann. Western Dressage uses the same courts (both the small and the large) as traditional Dressage. Western Dressage classes use the same tests and are judged separately from traditional dressage yet commonly use the same judge.

Cowboy Dressage

Cowboy Dressage actually has a different focus than traditional or Western Dressage and uses more letters and a shorter court. The smaller court fits the movement and shorter stride of the western horse.

Dressage in Pairs or Teams

What Is Dressage? | SLO Horse News

Leah and Go-Ten, owned by the Poorman Family, riding a Walk/Trot test.

Ann also mentioned that Quadrille, which involves a team of riders doing a pattern – often set to music of their choice – is making a comeback. In the past, the SLO CDS chapter has held the Quadrille Championships at their Fall show.

Get Involved in the Local Dressage Scene

Want to learn more or see some Dressage riding? For a list of SLO-CDS shows please check out their website. Spectators are very welcome! Volunteering is the best way to enter in and get involved as it takes about 38 volunteers to run a big weekend show. Be careful, you just might get hooked!

Main Image: Sharon Jantzen and Dreamer’s Kiss-Me-Kate (Connemara/TB) owned by Charlene O’Neil, riding 2nd level doing a shoulder-in.

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Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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