The Art & Sport of Dressage
Dressage ( a French term, most commonly translated to mean "training") is a form of riding performed in exhibition and competition, as well as an art often pursued solely for the sake of the training process and mastery itself. As an equestrian sport defined by the International Equestrian Federation, dressage is described as "the highest expression of horse training" where "horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements." Its fundamental purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse's natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. At the peak of a dressage horse's gymnastic development, the horse responds smoothly to a skilled rider's minimal aids. The rider is relaxed and appears effort-free while the horse willingly performs the requested movement.
The discipline has a rich history with ancient roots in the writings of Xenophon's "On Horsemanship," circa 355 BC. Modern dressage evolved as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance where it flourished and great masters wrote treatises that are still quoted.
These classical training principles have been preserved and passed on through the centuries and can still be seen today, whether exemplified by the Spanish Riding School or practiced by a dedicated student of the sport working in her own backyard.
Indeed, once strictly under the purview of the cavalry, today dressage is a growing sport with enthusiasts of all ages and from all walks of life. Though for much of modern times, the sport has been ridden with English tack, over the past 20 years, Western riders have begun training and showing their horses in Western Dressage. GVDS endorses and supports the journey of all who want to learn and incorporate dressage principles into their work with their horses. Our shows and clinics welcome riders of both Classical and Western Dressage.
One of the most popular classical dressage partnerships in modern times, Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro set world records and wowed crowds for five years, until Valegro's retirement in 2016.
Though Western Dressage does not require horses to have extraordinary gaits, the emphasis on balance and self-carriage that is the basis of both styles of dressage is shown here in this costume freestyle performed by Colorado's Frances Carbonnel and her partner Jubilee Banjo at the 2019 WDAA Championships.
The following passage from an article on the Western Dressage Association of America's (WDAA) website sums up the spirit of our work and the goals of dressage riders every where, regardless of the tack they use:
"A mission statement which honors the horse and values the partnership between horse and rider requires an intense look at the way in which horses are trained to become part of that partnership. It must consider the mind of the horse and the way it responds to training techniques; it must consider the horse’s soundness and future use so the horse remains comfortable and free of lameness for years of use. It must consider the horse’s limitations as well as its assets, both physical and mental, so that each horse as an individual can reach its potential while remaining open to learning in its training routine. It must equally consider the owner/rider of that horse, his or her expectations and desired uses of that horse. For some a horse may be a trail ride companion; for others it may offer competition at the highest levels. Fortunately, horse training has evolved over many years from the crude methods once used and applied to every horse indiscriminately. There is now recognition of individual temperament and suitability of a horse to both rider and discipline as well as the training method that will work best for that horse."
The joy of the dressage journey - the "training" journey - is that it we never reach the end of it - it's a learning and growing journey that takes a lifetime - and it differs in its nuances for each and every horse/rider partnership. GVDS exists to support our members in their journey and provide education and opportunities to advance those partnerships.