Dressage is the equestrian version of dancing, as horse and rider move together in rhythm. Onlookers appreciate the graceful, yet powerful, motion, as skilled equestrians guide impeccably groomed horses inside the arena.
What key terms should audiences understand about Olympic-level dressage?
In Olympic and top competitions, riders and horses perform at the Grand Prix level. Here are 15 key words dressage spectators need to know.
The canter is a graceful three-beat gait. The horse leads with his inside foreleg. In counter-canter, the horse leads with the outside foreleg.
A collected horse moves in balance and equilibrium. His neck is raised and arched, and his power comes from behind. He willingly accepts the bit and carries himself easily. Collected strides are shorter than extended ones.
Extension in dressage refers to a lengthening of the horse's stride. The equine stretches his frame to cover more ground with each step than in collected gaits.
4. Flying change
While in canter, a top-level horse changes leads without a downward transition. The flying change must include the horse's front and hind legs.
Grand Prix dressage competitions include the freestyle, or Kur. The rider creates an individualized musical routine, which includes several mandatory movements.
Top dressage horses move forward with flexibility, lightness, and power. This is called impulsion.
In the canter, a horse begins each stride with one foreleg, accompanied by the opposite hind leg. The forward leg indicates the canter lead.
This classical dressage movement, performed in the trot, offers added suspension. The horse pauses rhythmically with each step.
With cadence and collection, the horse seems to trot in place while performing the piaffe.
The pirouette sends a horse in a partial or full turn in the collected walk or canter. The equine's hind legs remain in place, as his forelegs form the arc.
English riders post the trot, rising in the saddle each time the horse's outside front leg and inside hind leg step forward.
12. Tempi Changes
Tempi changes offer flying lead changes every few strides. In Grand Prix, the horse may do a tempi change with every stride, so that he appears to be skipping fancifully.
Gait changes, upward or downward, are known as transitions in dressage.
The horse's diagonal leg pairs move in unison in the two-beat trot.
This basic gait presents four beats, as the horse moves each leg individually in rhythm.
Although top-level dressage appears almost effortless, it is anything but easy.
Linda Ann Nickerson, horse breeder and equestrian, brings decades of experience and a globally-minded Midwestern perspective to a host of topics, balancing human interest with history, hard facts and often humor.