Webster's defines Dressage as "the execution by a horse of complex maneuvers in response to barely perceptible movements of a riders' hands, legs, seat and weight." Simply, dressage is the basic training of both horse and rider. Dressage at the highest level of competition tests rhythm, balance, harmony, and suppleness of the horse and rider.
dres·sage noun 1. training a horse to execute precise movements: the training of a horse to carry out a series of precise controlled movements in response to minimal signals from its rider
2. dressage event: a competitive event in which horse and rider are judged on the elegance, precision, and discipline of the horse’s movements
[Mid-20th century. From French, literally training, from dresser (see dress).]Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] © & (P)2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
The USA Equestrian Rule Book defines Dressage:
1. The object of Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible but also confident, attentive and keen thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider.
2. These qualities are revealed by:
- The freedom and regularity of the gaits;
- The harmony, lightness and ease of the movements;
- The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating in a lively impulsion;
- The acceptance of the bridle with submissiveness throughout and without any tenseness or resistance.
3. The horse thus gives the impression of doing of his own accord what is required of him. Confident and attentive he submits generously to the control of his rider remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.
4. His walk is regular, free and unconstrained. His trot is free, supple, regular, sustained and active. His canter is united, light and cadenced. His quarters are never inactive or sluggish. They respond to the slightest indication of the rider and thereby give life and spirit to all the rest of his body.
5. By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of his joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to the various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.
6. In all his work even at the halt the horse must be on the bit. A horse is said to be on the bit when the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the gait and he accepts the bridle with a light and soft contact and submissiveness throughout. The head should remain in a steady position as a rule slightly in front of the vertical with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck and no resistance should be offered to the rider.
7. Cadence is shown in trot and canter and is the result of the proper harmony that a horse shows when it moves with well marked regularity, impulsion and balance. Cadence must be maintained in all the different trot and canter exercises and all the variations of trot and canter.
8. The rhythm that a horse maintains in all his gaits and paces is fundamental to Dressage.
There are two major "schools" of thought in Dressage: The Classical French Method and the Classical German Method.