Dressage is the methodical, gymnastic training of the horse. It is based upon the three natural gaits; walk, trot and canter which must be carefully cultivated and improved through training. When correctly implemented, dressage is above all a practical obedience training, which prolongs the usefulness of the horse and makes it a pleasure to ride (Herbermann, 1993).
Dressage competitions test a rider’s ability to control their horse and to execute the required movements with precision. In the UK, dressage tests are drawn up into six different standards, Preliminary, Novice, Elementary, Medium, Advanced Medium and Advanced (Loriston-Clarke, 1995).
The Elementary standard shows that the horse has progressed from the Novice standard, and that muscular development of the horse has improved (Loriston-Clarke, 1995). The rider should have a supple seat and be able to absorb the increased movement over the back of the horse, so that the hindquarters can be engaged to a greater extent than at Novice level (Gardiner, 1997).
Requirements of the Elementary Dressage Test
As well as the movements in the Novice test the horse must be able to perform more difficult work with regular paces and the correct footfall, showing lightness and rhythm (Gardiner, 1997). The following movements are required at Elementary level, each demanding control and the ability to channel the horse’s body between both the rider’s legs (Assouline, 2001).
In extended walk the horse covers as much ground as possible, the hind feet should touch the ground in front of the footprints of the forefeet, the nose should be slightly in front of the vertical (Ljungquist, 1995).
At medium trot the horse is not collected but works with good energetic strides showing much knee and hock action. The head should be slightly in front of the vertical. In the collected trot the horse works with elevated steps with plenty of forward impulsion, the head should be on the vertical line. The steps must be symmetrical and rhythmic and are higher and shorter than other trot paces, the hind foot steps short of the front print (Ljungquist, 1995).
In the medium canter the hind legs are active resulting in long steps, the shoulders are free and mobile, the nose in front of the vertical. With the collected canter a clear three-time beat must be maintained, with the hind legs placed as far under as possible. The steps are light and short and the neck well arched (Loriston-Clarke, 1995).
With the half turn on the haunches, the forehand traces a half-circle around the haunches and moves in even, quiet and regular steps around the horse’s inner hind leg, while maintaining the rhythm of the walk (Ljungquist, 1995).
At Elementary level, the simple change of leg is a movement where the horse progressively changes pace from canter via trot, to walk, then within one or two strides of walk, moves forward directly into canter on the opposite leg (Loriston-Clarke, 1995).
During the Elementary test where halt is required, the horse should stand attentive, motionless and straight, with the weight evenly distributed over all four legs, in pairs abreast of each other (Ljungquist, 1995).