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Dressage* (a French term meaning "training") is a path and destination of competitive horse training, with competitions held at all levels from amateur to the Olympics. 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, it can smoothly respond to a skilled rider's minimal aids by performing the requested movement while remaining relaxed and appearing effortless. Dressage is occasionally referred to as "Horse Ballet".   Although the discipline has its roots in classical Greek horsemanship, mainly through the influence of Xenophon, dressage was first recognized as an important equestrian pursuit during the Renaissance in Western Europe. The great European riding masters of that period developed a sequential training system that has changed little since then and classical dressage is still considered the basis of trained modern dressage.

Early European aristocrats displayed their horses' training in equestrian pageants, but in modern dressage competition, successful training at the various levels is demonstrated through the performance of "tests," or prescribed series of movements within a standard arena. Judges evaluate each movement on the basis of an objective standard appropriate to the level of the test and assign each movement a score from zero to ten - zero being "not executed" and 10 being "excellent." A score of 9 (or "very good") is considered a particularly high mark, while a competitor achieving all 6s (or 60% overall) should be considering moving on to the next level.

*from Wikipedia

Half Pass Half Pass - lateral movement preformed in collection. The horse travels diagonally forward between two parallel lines. The horse is bent around the rider's inside leg, toward the direction of travel, with the forehand slightly in advance whilst the body of the horse remains parallel to the lines between which he is working.


Extension - the maximum ground covered by lengthening of the stride with in the gait. The horse's neck may lengthen slightly and the nose should be just in front of the vertical. The rhythm and tempo must not alter within the variation in the gaits.

Pirouette - the horse moves the forehand around the hindquarters, as in a circle executed on two tracks with the radius equal to the length of the horse from the tail to poll. Pirouettes are executed in competition at collected walk and collected canter, and also can be performed in piaffe. At all paces, the approach, the pirouette and the departure must be in the same rhythm and tempo, maintaining the same line and correct sequence of foot falls.

Passage Passage - is a very elevated, cadenced trot. The graceful, prolonged moment of suspension is in regular equal steps. It is a beautiful elegant and expressive movement.

Piaffe Piaffe - is a collected, elevated trot on the spot. The movement is in regular equal beats with a moment of suspension between each diagnol. This movement should give the impression of power and elegance.

In this losgelassen state, he is able to use his energy to its full extent.
Losgelassenheit - looseness (translated by Claudia Staubitz, "Dressage Tips Petrat Wolfgan Holzel") - translated literally this means 'letting loose(ness)' and implies a state of relaxation, both mentally and physically. To achieve this, muscles and joints are to be used in a natural unrestrained manner, with maximum efficiency and minimum strain, while the horses attitude should be one of calmness and concentration. In this state he can use his energy to its full extent because he is not tense, afraid or tired and therefore shows no resistance. The outward signs can clearly be observed in a 'losgelassen' horse - he goes forward rhythmically and energetically, with loose muscles and a swinging back. It is self evident that the rider needs the same level of losgelassenheit in order to sit quietly and smoothly and give soft sensitive and effective aids.

In this losgelassen state, he is able to use his energy to its full extent.
Durchlassigkeit - submission - of the three technical expressions discussed here, this one suffers the most distortion when translated into English. To equate it to 'submission' puts too much emphasis on complete obedience and overlooks the way of going. Again, the literal translation shows where the German term is pointing 'a state of letting through'.

This 'letting through' embraces the aids, the energy, the movement and eventually, when it has developed, the 'schwung'. Regarding the aids, this does not only mean that the horse lets the rein aids through to the hindquarters, but also, that he lets the driving aids through from the hindquarters back into the rider's hands.Further, there has to be a willing reaction to lateral and weight aids. It is obvious that such willing and prompt reaction to the aids can only be provided by 'losgelassen' horse, who has no mental or physical tension or resistence in the way he co-operates with a sensitive and knowledgeable rider.

Schwung - swing - Sometimes people are described as having a certain spring in their step, and the same combination of physical and mental implications are contained in the German expression 'schwung'. In general, it describes a containment and redirection of energy that allows forward movement which comes from the whole body lifting itself out of the restraints of gravity for a split-second with each step. A well-trained dressage horse gains increasingly more forward implusion from his hindquarters, and this, together with a well-developed topline, allows him to swing through his back and therefore move his limbs freely and efficiently, almost like a puppet on a string. His athletic power, losgelassenheit and subsequently, 'durchlassig' attitude allow him to submit all his energy and ability to the demands of the task that the rider is setting, gaining ground with elastic, bouncy steps and eventually giving expression to his energy in the grace and suspension of a passage or the concentrated power of a canter pirouette.

Training Pyramid
(Originally Published in Dressage Today, March 2002)

Training Pyramid

Rhythm: Germans refer to this quality as Takt, which means regularity of the rhythm, correct sequence of the footfall and purity or evenness of the gaits.

Relaxation: Losgelassenheit in German means relaxation in both the mental and muscular sense of the word.

Connection: The German term, Anlehnung, means a staedy, continuous, elastic connection in which the horse seeks contact and accepts it.

Impulsion: The German term is Schwung: the powerful swinging thrust from the hind end, propelling the horse forward and travelling through an elastic back and relaxed neck.

Straightness: A rider can't even think of collection if the horse has lost his balance on one of his four legs - if either a shoulder or a hind leg falls out or in.
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