Why love Dressage?

Did you know -

Dressage represents the art of movement and communication between the horse and rider working together as a harmonious team. Each level of dressage increases in difficulty and demand on the partnership in terms of the coordination, athleticism and accuracy that must be exhibited.

The discipline is often described as the ballet of horse riding. It requires the highest expression of horse training; where horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements flawlessly.


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.


Modern dressage has evolved as an important equestrian pursuit since the Renaissance; although, the first treatise on equitation is over a thousand years old. 

Dressage 101

Levels of Competition in Dressage: 


There are a total of nine progressive levels of dressage competition, in which a horse and rider partnership perform a 'test', that the rider will have previously memorized and trained their horse to navigate through. Each test is composed of a serious of movements, each of which is graded by a qualified judge, or panel of judges.

In the US, dressage tests are split up into five levels, recognized by the USDF (United States Dressage Federation); these levels are named as follows:

-Training Level

-First Level

-Second Level

-Third Level

-Fourth Level

International Competition:

Following fourth level, there are four main divisions of competition recognized by Fédération Equestre Internationale, or FEI. 


They are:

-Prix St-Georges 

-Intermediare 1

-Intermediare 2

-Grand Prix (This is the Olympic level)

While, training through fourth level tests are not similarly named across different countries; each country's named level of dressage contains roughly the same movements as our own. Each FEI test is the same regardless of which country you are in; creating parody for International Competitions.


Dressage Competition: The Scoring System

As mentioned earlier, dressage tests comprise of a number of set exercises that are scored by the judge, or judging panel from 0 to 10, with half marks being used where appropriate.

Each mark correlates to a predetermined standard that all registered judges are trained to observe.

The current scale of marking is:

  • 0 = not performed

  • 1 = very bad

  • 2 = bad

  • 3 = fairly bad

  • 4 = insufficient

  • 5 = sufficient

  • 6 = satisfactory

  • 7 = fairly good

  • 8 = good

  • 9 = very good

  • 10 = excellent


For example, a movement that’s considered to be “fairly good” will be rewarded with a mark of 7.0.

A movement that falls short of the required standard will be deemed “unsatisfactory” and receive a mark of 4.0.

If the movement is “excellent,” the judge should award a mark of 10, and so on.

At the end of a test, all points for the performance are added up and recorded as a percent average of all movements together; total possible score of any test equaling 100%.

A total test score of 65% or higher is generally thought to be a strong score. If you scored 65%, this would mean that your average score per movement was 6.5, which, when looking at the scale of marking above, is between “satisfactory” and “fairly good”. Any score in the 70% range, or above, is considered very strong in the sport.

Dressage Competition: The Court


The dressage court used in competition is a 20 meters wide and 60 meters long rectangle; surrounded by the letters (starting on the short side and traveling clockwise): C, M, R, B, P, F, A, K, V, E, S and H. These letters are marked just outside of the arena; visible to both the competitor and audience. Within the arena, unmarked, are the letters D, L, X, I and G. What is consistent about these markers is the spacing between them.

The letters help serve as markers to guide the rider throughout the memorized test they are performing; they also help the judges critique accuracy and geometry of the test being performed.

During a dressage test, the judge normally sits at the letter C. For large competitions where several judges are used, judges may also be seated at B, E, H, or M. The judge is assisted by a scribe, who writes the judge's scores and comments on the score sheet. 

The photo above shows a dressage test taking place at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.