Dressage in the UK: A Graceful Introduction for Beginners

May 04, 2024

Dressage in the UK: A Graceful Introduction for Beginners

Table of contents:

  1. The Essence and History of Dressage
  2. Understanding Dressage
  3. The Training Scale
  4. Getting Started with Dressage
  5. The Community and Culture of Dressage
  6. Conclusion

Dressage, often described as a form of ballet on horseback, is an equestrian discipline that emphasises harmony, precision, and the natural ability of the horse. For those new to the world of horses in the United Kingdom, dressage offers a fascinating glimpse into the depth of communication and partnership possible between horse and rider. This guide is designed to introduce the basics of dressage, exploring its history, principles, and how you can start your journey in this beautiful sport.

The Essence and History of Dressage

The term “dressage” comes from the French word for “training” and its roots can be traced back to ancient Greece. Dressage was initially developed as a method of training cavalry horses to be responsive and agile on the battlefield. Over centuries, it evolved into an art form and a competitive sport focused on demonstrating the trained response of the horse to the rider’s minimal aids. In the UK, dressage has a rich history, with British Dressage (BD) being the main governing body responsible for overseeing the sport’s development, competitions, and training programs.

Understanding Dressage

At its core, dressage is about showcasing the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to perform. It’s judged in competitions on a series of predetermined movements known as “tests,” which are performed in an arena. These tests are designed to assess the horse and rider’s ability to work in harmony, showcasing the horse’s balance, suppleness, and precision. The levels of competition range from introductory levels, suitable for beginners, to Grand Prix, the level at which the sport is contested in the Olympics.

The Training Scale

Central to dressage training is the concept of the “training scale,” a hierarchical system that guides the training of the horse. The scale includes:

  • Rhythm and Regularity: The foundation of all training, focusing on the consistency of the horse’s gait.
  • Relaxation: Ensuring the horse is calm and tension-free.
  • Contact: The horse’s acceptance of the bit and rider’s aids.
  • Impulsion: The controlled power generated from the hindquarters.
  • Straightness: The alignment and balance of the horse’s body.
  • Collection: The pinnacle of the scale, where the horse carries more weight on its hindquarters, enhancing its ability to perform advanced movements.

Getting Started with Dressage

Finding a Riding School or Instructor

If you’re new to dressage, the first step is to find a reputable riding school or qualified instructor. British Dressage offers resources for finding certified trainers and facilities. Lessons will initially focus on developing your riding skills and understanding of basic dressage principles.

Dressage Competitions for Beginners

For those looking to compete, unaffiliated dressage competitions provide an ideal starting point. These events are less formal and more accommodating for beginners, offering a variety of classes at different levels. As you gain confidence and skill, you can start to participate in affiliated competitions, which require BD membership.

The Role of Equipment

While dressage does not require extensive specialised equipment, the correct attire and tack contribute to the safety and effectiveness of training. A well-fitting saddle and bridle are essential, along with appropriate riding attire that allows for freedom of movement and communication with your horse.

The Community and Culture of Dressage

Dressage in the UK is supported by a vibrant community of riders, trainers, and enthusiasts. Joining a local dressage club or group can provide support, advice, and friendship as you embark on your dressage journey. Competitions and events also offer opportunities to watch and learn from more experienced riders, deepening your understanding and appreciation of the sport.


Dressage is a rewarding discipline that strengthens the bond between horse and rider, built on mutual respect and understanding. It requires dedication and patience but offers immense satisfaction as you progress and develop your skills. Whether your goal is to compete at the highest levels or simply to enjoy the journey of training with your horse, dressage in the UK has something to offer everyone interested in the beautiful partnership of horse and rider.

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