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How are Dressage Horses Trained?

How are Dressage Horses Trained

One question that many people would love to know the answer to is, “how are dressage horses trained?”

That’s a big question that doesn’t have a simple answer!

There are many facets that make a successful dressage horse, and it takes many years to train one through from novice to the very highest level.

In this article, we take a closer look at how dressage horses are trained.

The dressage horse’s paces

Although any correctly and diligently trained horse can perform all the movements up to advanced level, only those animals that possess naturally expressive paces usually make it through to Grand Prix level.

However, that doesn’t mean to say that every successful dressage horse has a big floating trot and a huge, off-the-ground canter. Big movers often fly through the early levels. However, progress in their training grinds to a frustrating halt when these horses are asked to compress their bodies and develop collection.

The ideal dressage horse will have a natural athleticism and ability to use his hind legs to balance himself. Also, the perfect dressage horse should have a naturally balanced canter.

All the paces must be correct. That is, each gait must have pure, uncorrupted rhythm. Flaws in the walk and canter are severely penalized by dressage judges and cannot easily be improved.

The horse’s natural trot can be quite ordinary. But through correct schooling to make the horse fitter and stronger, the trot can be made bigger and more expressive, compensating for any limitations. Also, if the horse’s trot is not huge, it’s easier for him to learn and understand piaffe and passage and master the transitions between the two.

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A dressage horse must have a trainable attitude. If the horse tends to be resentful, stubborn, or excessively “hot,” training him to work in harmony with his rider will be challenging.

Ideally, the horse will enjoy his work and have a relaxed, willing, but forward-going demeanor.

What’s the correct age to begin training a dressage horse?

The age at which to start training a dressage horse depends on several factors, including his build and temperament.

Generally, heavily built horses should be started later than lighter boned individuals.

The usual age to start work under saddle is three or four years, when the horse is mentally and physically able to handle the work. At that age, the horse is not strong enough to offer resistance and is not so set in his ways that he can’t learn.

Whatever age you begin training your dressage horse, you should always be patient and encourage respect, rather than fear.

How long does it take to train a dressage horse?

When training a dressage horse, it’s vital that you don’t rush things and make the mistake of asking the horse for too much too soon.

You must ensure that the horse is physically strong enough to do what you are asking him to do. Some people make the mistake of trying to forge ahead with the horse’s training, forcing him to perform movements that he finds physically difficult. That often results in the horse picking up an injury that can sometimes end a promising dressage career.

It usually takes around five years to train a horse to Grand Prix level, assuming that you don’t suffer any setbacks along the way. That’s how long it takes for the horse to develop the physical and mental strength that he needs to be able to perform the movements required at that level. If you experience any problems, progressing up the levels can take longer than this.

How are dressage horses trained?

Dressage horses are trained in accordance with the Scales of Training:

  1. Rhythm
  2. Suppleness
  3. Contact
  4. Impulsion
  5. Straightness
  6. Collection

You can read an in-depth article about the Scales of Training and how they should be applied by clicking the links above.

Each of the scales has a direct correlation to the others. So, you can’t skip over one or two of the scales and make progress in the horse’s training.

Training a dressage horse takes time, hard work, and dedication. There are no shortcuts! Even the most experienced and successful dressage riders have regular lessons and training to increase their knowledge and improve their riding.

How much does a dressage horse cost?

The cost of buying a dressage horse depends on many factors.

If the horse is a young, unbroken animal, his breeding will, to a large extent, dictate the price. In essence, you’re paying for potential based on the competitive record of one or both of the horse’s parents.

Horses that already have a competition record will often be more expensive than those that don’t. Basically, you’re paying for an animal that’s “ready-made,” rather than buying a blank canvass. In theory, you should be able to pick up the reins, continue the horse’s training and begin competing on him right away.

However, horses that have already started competing often come with problems and flaws in their way of going that you may have to correct before much progress can be made.

A horse that is working at Grand Prix level and has a good competition record will command a high price. But before parting with your cash, make sure that you are experienced and competent enough to be able to ride a horse that’s working at that level! Because contrary to popular belief, a Grand Prix horse doesn’t just do the movements on its own.

Is dressage training cruel to horses?

If the horse is trained sympathetically, systematically, and correctly, dressage training is not cruel.

A schooling whip and spurs are not there to punish the horse but to back-up the rider’s leg aids and give the horse clearer direction. A correctly fitted double bridle is not used to fix the horse’s head and neck into an “outline,” but rather to encourage and enhance self-carriage.

However, one controversial training technique reared its ugly head recently. “Rollkur,” as the method is known, involves the aggressive hyperflexion of the horse’s neck, manufacturing a deep, low outline and forcing the horse to maintain it for long periods.

Rollkur has been banned by the F.E.I, and its use has led to one international dressage trainer receiving a ban from competition.

Rollkur flies in the face of the principles of classical dressage and correct schooling of the horse.  The resultant false outline and way of going is incorrect, and it has no place in the dressage arena.

Due to the compression of the vertebrae during Rollkur, all throughness and impulsion are lost, as the horse’s topline is stiff and lacking suppleness and elasticity. The contact is seriously flawed, as the horse evades taking the bit by coming behind it, rather than offering the rider an elastic contact and taking the bit forward.

A horse worked in Rollkur has a tight, hollow back and trailing hocks and will probably carry most of the weight on his shoulders.

Related Read: Rollkur Explained: What It Is And What It Isn’t

In conclusion

Training the dressage horse is an ongoing, challenging process, and it can take many years to take a horse from novice to advanced level.

The dressage horse should be trained in accordance with the Scales of Training, which apply to all levels.

If you’ve successfully started a dressage horse, share your story with us in the comments section below.

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