How Do They Train Dressage Horses? Here’s What You Should Know!

How do they train dressage horses? It might seem like a simple question, but the answer isn’t!

Dressage is a horse training style that requires patience and skill. You’ll have to teach your horse to respond to your cues and build their skill level. The discipline is like learning ballet. You’ll have to work together with your horse to succeed.

In this article, I explain what horse dressage is, how to train your horse, and share some basic dressage moves you can start practicing. 

What Is Horse Dressage?

Dressage is the French term for a form of horse training. This is typically performed in competition and as a form of showcasing. A horse and their rider undergo rigorous training to perform a series of predetermined intricate movements from memory.   

Dressage can also be thought of as an art form. This ancient sport is considered to be the highest level of horse training.

How Do They Train Dressage Horses?

Dressage horses are trained in a series of gradual steps. These steps eventually form a pyramid, with the smallest tier being the last step. The steps are sequential, with “rhythm and regularity” forming the first tier of the pyramid and “collection” at the end.  

This training scale is useful for any horse training but is most closely associated with dressage. It’s not meant to be used as a rigid training plan but rather to be built upon as your horse progresses.

Your horse may show strength in performing one movement but lack in another. You can address this with training and development. 

 Do the riders train the horses for dressage?

Basic Dressage Movements

There are some basic dressage movements you can practice with your horse. The easiest ones are:

The Shoulder-In

During this move, your horse’s inside leg must follow the track of their outside front leg. Their shoulders will shift away from the rail and toward the inside while their hind legs stay on the rail.  

The Travers

Your best chance of teaching this movement to your horse is at the walk. During this move, your horse’s head will face the wall with haunches facing out. Your horse should bend around your inside leg and step forwards and sideways. 

The travers move is typically performed at a collected canter or trot. 

The Renvers

The best place to perform the renvers is in an open field. Your horse’s haunches should face the wall, and their shoulders should shift out. These three movements will form the different parts of changing your horse’s rideability and balance. 

 How long does it take to train a dressage horse?

Dressage Competition Levels

There are several competition levels for horse dressage. On each level, a horse and their rider are asked to perform specific movements. Movements for levels are usually the same and follow a set pattern. Here’s an idea:

Introductory Level: This is the first level of competition. The initial level features only walk and trot. No cantering is done.

Preliminary Level: This level consists of the following movements – trotting, walking, cantering, and a 20 m circle.

Novice Level: The novice level comprises the following movements – serpentines, rein back, lengthened trot and canter, and 15 m circle.

 Is dressage painful for horses?

Elementary Level: The movements on the elementary level consist of leg yields, simple changes, a counter canter, and stretch in canter.

Medium Level: The medium level consists of shoulder-ins, travers in trot, a canter, half-walk pirouettes, a collected walk/trot/canter, an extended walk/trot/canter, and a canter entry to halt at X.

Advanced Medium Level: This level consists of a single flying change, 8 m trot, and a canter circle/volte.

Advanced Level: At the advanced level, your horse should be able to do a canter half circle with quarters and 4 and 5-time tempi changes. 

Prix St Georges Level: This competition level includes a half canter pirouette, 3-time tempi changes, and a single change of leg after canter half pass.

Intermediate I Level: The intermediate levels consist of 2-time tempi changes and a full canter pirouette. 

Intermediate II Level: The movements on this level include a 1-time tempi change, flying changes after a half-pass, piaffe, and passage. 

Grand Prix Level: This competition level is considered the most difficult and consists of a piaffe of 12 to 15 steps, nine 2-time tempi changes, fifteen 1-time tempi changes, and 5 half passes.

Grand Prix Special Level: The Grand Prix Special level is reserved for the top teams and typically performed in arenas like the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics. The movements are the same as the Grand Prix level, but they’re structured differently for scoring purposes.

 What is the hardest dressage move?

Before Trotting Off

If you want to train your horse for dressage, you need to have a lot of patience and be ready for challenges along the way. Horse dressage will require a high level of athletism from you and your horse. You’ll also have to be good at communicating with your horse.

The are various levels to compete in, and you don’t have to train for them all. You can find what you and your horse feels most comfortable with and stick to it. 

I hope this article gave you a better understanding of horse dressage and what would be required from you. If you have any more questions, ask them in the comments!


Is dressage painful for horses?

Dressage shouldn't be painful for horses. If you practice with care and patience, your horse won't experience any pain, and the process won't be cruel.

Do the riders train the horses for dressage?

Riders should train their own horses. This helps them build a trusting relationship for when they need to compete.

What is the hardest dressage move?

One of the most challenging moves in dressage is the piaffe. While others are also hard, this movement takes time to learn, and your horse will need a lot of practice to perfect it.

How long does it take to train a dressage horse?

It can take a horse up to ten years to advance from a beginner dressage horse to an Olympic competitor. You'll have to start training your horse when they're about 2 years old.