Saturday, May 22, 2010

Brush Up On Dressage For the World Equestrian Games

I’m glad to say that as I’ve grown a little older and wiser, I’ve become a huge dressage buff. As a horse-crazy teenager who loved nothing better than soaring over jumps, I just didn’t get it. But now as a grown-up owner with a green horse, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the foundation and skills a little bit of dressage training can provide. I’ve also learned what I’m looking for when I watch a dressage test, and that makes a world of difference.

As one of the eight disciplines in the World Equestrian Games, here’s what you need to know about dressage and it’s specifics at WEG.

What To Look For In A Dressage Test

Dressage comes from the French word "dresser" meaning "to train", and originated in the Renaissance Era, when it gained recognition as a good training method for European cavalries. This competition tests the obedience and agility of the horse and its coordination with its rider. The discipline is often referred to as "equestrian ballet" because the horse and rider team is required to perform a series of carefully designed, graceful movements.

Dressage Movements

As you work your way up through the dressage levels, which start at Intro level and go up to Grand Prix, you perform dressage tests, or a series of compulsory movements in a particular order. At the lower levels, these may just be basic transitions, circles, and changes of directions. At the Grand Prix level, they include half passes, canter pirouettes, piaffe (trotting in place), one and two tempi changes (a lead change every one or two strides) among others.

Be sure to check out my overview of basic dressage movements. These include leg yield, haunches in, haunches out, and shoulder in and are the foundation for all of the higher level movements.

Dressage Training Scale

Each individual movement (as well as the transitions between) receive a score on a scale of 1 to 10. The quality of movement is judged according to the dressage training scale or pyramid. The idea is that each skill builds on the ones below it. Here’s the dressage training scale starting with the ones you need to develop first:

  • rhythm
  • relaxation
  • connection
  • impulsion
  • straightness
  • collection


A panel of five judges assess the figures, awarding each a mark from 0 to 10. Once totalled, these scores produce a percentage and the rider or team with the highest total score is declared the winner.

Dressage At The World Equestrian Games

Dressage competition at the World Equestrian Games consists of three tests: the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special, and the musical Freestyle. The Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special are set tests of compulsory movements that all competitors must perform. The Freestyle is developed by the competitor and set to music using the same movements required in the regular Grand Prix test but combined according to the rider's individual musical and artistic goals. Riders try to pick music with tempos that match their horse’s gait, with the goal of the entire Freestyle being performed in time to the music. And when they can pull that off, it is one of the most impressive things in the whole world!

Team Competition

Each nation participating in dressage at the World Equestrian Games must send four horse/rider combinations to ride for their country. All riders will perform the Grand Prix test over the first two days of dressage competition. The top 3 scores for each nation will count for the team scores. The top three teams with the highest scores will be awarded the gold, silver, and bronze medals for team competition.

Individual Competition

The Grand Prix test which determines the team medals will also serve as a qualifying round for the individual competition.

The top scoring riders after the Grand Prix will move on and compete in the Grand Prix Special, which is a compulsory test that is shorter and more difficult. The top scoring riders in the Special will then get to perform their Grand Prix Freestyle, choreographed to music.

The scores from the Special and Freestyle will be combined, with the highest total scores determining the individual medals.

Qualifying for WEG Dressage

Dressage riders wishing to qualify for the World Equestrian Games must compete in two of three certified events being hosted all over the world. They must receive a minimum combined score of 64% from two different FEI judges of a different nationality to be eligible to represent their country at WEG.

WEG Competition Schedule

The dressage competition will take place over four days at the World Equestrian Games with a one day break between the Special and Freestyle. Purchase your tickets for dressage through TicketMaster.

Dates Phase Location Ticket Price
Mon, Sept 27 Team Grand Prix Main Stadium $60-90
Tues, Sept 28 Team Grand Prix Main Stadium $60-90
Weds, Sept 29 Grand Prix Special Main Stadium $95-125
Fri, Oct 1 Grand Prix Freestyle Main Stadium $110-140

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