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How to Identify Diagonal Advanced Placement (DAP)

Diagonal Advanced Placement (DAP) Trot Dressage

Have you heard of DAP or Diagonal Advanced Placement? Many dressage riders are not familiar with the term. However, DAP is viewed by some experts as the best single indicator of a horse’s aptitude and suitability for the highest levels of dressage.

Keep reading to learn more about Diagonal Advanced Placement and how to identify it in your dressage horse.

About the horse’s trot and canter

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this post, it’s first crucial that we understand the mechanics of the horse’s trot and canter.

The trot

The trot has a two-beat rhythm during which the horse’s alternate diagonal legs move in the following sequence:

  • left fore and right hind together
  • right fore and left hind together

There should be a clear moment of suspension in between these diagonal pairs when all the horse’s feet are off the floor. 

The canter

The canter is a three-beat pace. The correct sequence of footfalls is:

  • outside hind
  • diagonal pair of the inside hind leg and the outside foreleg
  • followed by the leading inside foreleg

That sequence of footfalls is followed by a clear moment of suspension when all four of the horse’s legs are off the ground at once.

Diagonal pairings

In both the horse’s trot and canter there is a diagonal pairing where we describe the legs as “touching down on the ground together.” But what if they don’t land together? Well, then that’s known as DAP.

What is Diagonal Advanced Placement (DAP)?

Diagonal Advanced Placement, or DAP, is also referred to as diagonal dissociation.

DAP describes one foot of a diagonal pair landing fractionally before the horse’s other foot. 

  • Positive DAP (+DAP) is when the horse’s hind foot in a diagonal pair lands fractionally before the front foot.
  • Negative DAP (-DAP) is when the front hoof in the diagonal pair lands fractionally before the hindfoot.

When the diagonal pair lands together, the horse is said to have zero DAP.

DAP was said to be the “best single predictor of a horse’s suitability for upper-level dressage” by US Olympic rider Hilda Gurney when speaking at the 1996 Centennial Olympic USDF National Dressage Symposium. However, the term was originally coined by Swedish veterinarian Mikael Holstrom in 1980.

DAP in detail

When the horse’s trot and canter are studied in slow-motion, you can see that the horse’s diagonal limb pairs might not leave and contact the ground at exactly the same time and are often slightly dissociated.

A horse that moves in an uphill balance and with an elevated forehand usually hits the ground with his hind limb slightly before his diagonal forelimb. 

For example, in trot, if the horse’s left front foot is farther from the ground than his right hind foot, the hindfoot will always touch down first. That’s called “positive advanced placement” or “positive diagonal dissociation.”

When the horse’s forelimb makes contact with the ground slightly in advance of the diagonal hind limb, that’s referred to as “negative diagonal dissociation” or “negative advanced placement.” Horses that move in that way are usually more downhill or on the forehand than those that move with positive diagonal advanced placement.

Negative DAP can also happen when the horse is caught off-balance, although some horses habitually move in that way.

How to assess DAP in a horse

Now that you know more about DAP, you’ll want to understand how to assess it. That can be a useful exercise to undertake if you’re thinking of buying a new horse or if you simply want to assess your own dressage mount.

You’ll need to make a good videotape of your horse trotting and cantering freely on a flat, level surface. The pace should be active and forward but not hurried and out of balance. Once you have a good videotape, you can freeze the frame at critical points so that you can examine the placement of the horse’s hooves. (Or you can use the “slow-motion” feature on your phone if you have it available.)

Things to note…

When you are assessing a horse’s movement, bear in mind that DAP is influenced by several factors, including:

  • Young horses may not demonstrate positive DAP. However, as they mature and their balance improves, their DAP generally improves, too.
  • Generally, positive and negative DAP are extremely subtle and not always easy to spot, hence the need to freeze-frame your horse’s video!
  • A very exaggerated positive or negative DAP can affect the purity of the horse’s gaits, which is not great for the dressage horse where any form of irregularity is severely penalized.
  • Many horses demonstrate zero dissociation where their diagonal pairs hit the ground at precisely the same time. There is nothing wrong with this.

Too much of a good thing?

Although a small amount of +DAP can be considered a good thing, many classical dressage masters consider positive DAP to be an impurity of the horse’s gait.

Even though DAP is often so subtle that you can’t see it with your naked eye, tension and loss of balance can be obvious. This is because when the hindfoot lands first, the forehand continues forward until the forefoot hits the ground. That causes the horse to be “out behind” and impacts the horse’s “thoroughness.”

When a diagonal pair lands together (zero DAP), it generally leaves the ground together too. However, if the hind leg lands fractionally before the corresponding foreleg, the hind leg will leave the ground whilst the foreleg is still planted. The hind leg then thrusts up before the horse’s front leg and shoulder, pushing the croup upward and sending the energy down into the horse’s foreleg, causing the horse to be on the forehand.

What’s the ideal?

So, when assessing a mature horse, you want to see a two-beat trot and three-beat canter with zero DAP, or a slight positive DAP. As described above, too much positive DAP and you can have issues with throughness.

Negative DAP puts the horse onto his forehand, literally creating an uphill battle for the rider. However, it’s worth noting that the horse’s DAP can be improved through correct schooling, and young horses with negative DAP can improve naturally as they mature and becomes stronger and more balanced.

In conclusion

Diagonal Advanced Placement (DAP) describes the placement of the horse’s diagonal pairs of legs in trot and canter. DAP can be positive, negative, or even.

Many horses with positive DAP have made it to Olympic Games, however, numerous experts and classical dressage masters maintain that positive DAP is an impurity of the horse’s gaits and is undesirable in dressage horses.

You can identify and assess your horse’s DAP by watching him trotting on a flat, level surface, ideally on video so that you can pause the action at the crucial moments.

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