The word “dressage” may elicit images of Olympic horses whose poetry in motion is the pinnacle of achievement. There is also another side to dressage, that of the lower levels in which horses receive their fundamental training. Once the basics are mastered, they may advance through the levels or they may specialize in a different discipline. To the uninitiated, dressage may seem intimidating or even mysterious. However, with a basic understanding of it, you should feel competent to enter model dressage classes.
Dressage is the French word for "training." Competitions are organized by levels. Within levels, there are different tests. Introductory Level tests A and B are walk/trot only, while Test C introduces the canter. This is where a young, inexperienced horse begins. As the fundamentals are mastered, new movements are progressively introduced in Training Level Tests 1 through 3. There are also three tests per level in First through Fourth Level. The current tests can be downloaded from the United States Dressage Federation website.
LV Integrity shows a lengthened stride in trot to F in First Level, Test 3.
The international levels are Prix St-Georges, Intermediate 1 and 2, and Grand Prix, which are available on the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) website. There are additional competitions, such as freestyle, dressage for youth riders and Para Dressage.
Some of the training goals are that horses should move freely, and learn submission, acceptance of the bit and harmony with the rider. Movements and expectations increase in difficulty as a horse and rider progress through the levels. The horse’s frame also changes as more collection and engagement of the hindquarters are achieved. More advanced skills include collection and extension of gaits, performing smaller circles, pirouettes, lateral movements, and tempi changes (flying changes performed every four or fewer strides).
A dressage arena is a rectangle measuring 20 by 60 meters for a standard arena or 20 by 40 meters for a small arena; the latter may be used for Intro and Training Levels. A low white fence marks the perimeter. Letters are placed around the arena in specific locations to indicate where movements or transitions should be performed. Riders enter and exit at A. Going clockwise from A, a popular mnemonic for remembering the sequence in a small arena is “All King Edward’s Horses Can Make Big Fences.” Additional letters on the long sides of a standard arena are R, S, V, P.
For your model, you’ll need a section of fence that’s roughly knee high to your horse, pony, donkey or mule. No advertising is allowed on the dressage fence itself. The letter should be placed behind the fence (real ones should be a half meter away) and be visible from all sides, so a box or pyramid works well. Greenery or flowers may be added to beautify the ring.
Through Fourth Level, either a dressage or hunt-type saddle is acceptable. White or conservative-colored pads are optional. Snaffle bits are required through Second Level and are optional in Third and Fourth Level. Riders wear hunt seat attire, including a conservative colored short jacket, white or light shirt and breeches, and tall riding boots. They may wear spurs and/or carry a whip.
Hunt seat tack and attire is appropriate for this Training Level entry.
Dominante XXIX is nearly square at the halt, while Ryan salutes to begin the test.
FEI-level riders must use a dressage saddle. A pad is optional, but white pads are commonly used. A double bridle is required for FEI tests and is optional for Third and Fourth Level competitors. The bridle includes a bridoon and a curb bit with either straight or S-shaped shanks with a curb chain. No martingales, breast plates or boots are allowed. Ear hoods are optional.
In FEI tests, a dressage saddle and double bridle are required.
Verdades is an excellent example of an international level dressage horse.
Upper level riders typically wear a dark tail coat, white or off-white shirt and breeches, gloves and tall riding boots with spurs. They have traditionally worn a top hat or bowler, though protective headgear is encouraged now.
One of the keys to showing models in dressage is figuring out which level and test to use and where to place the model in the scene. For a standing model, select one whose halt is balanced, fairly square and attentive. Walking, trotting or cantering models should be attentive and obedient and should appear to move freely, forward and with impulsion. Avoid using models with their head up in the air or their neck overbent and their face behind the vertical, as well as those in a slow western jog.
Breyer has some fantastic FEI-level dressage sculptures in Valegro, Salinero and Totilas. Modeled after some of the world’s finest Olympic-level horses, they are excellent choices for an entry depicting an upper level.
Totilas demonstrates an extended trot across the diagonal and will return to the rail at F.
At the other end of the spectrum are models that are a better match for lower levels. Some good prospects among Traditional models include Protocol, Catch Me, GG Valentine, KB Omega Fahim, Fantasia Del C, and Carltonlima Emma. With a well-planned setup and description, many others could also make successful entries.
Here’s an example of how to match the movement to level and test. Catch Me carries his head and neck in a manner that gives the impression of being on the bit, while cantering with impulsion from the hindquarters. He seems suited to Second to Fourth Level.
Once you have an idea of the level, find the test and movement. Catch Me is on the right lead with a bend to the right, so cantering a circle or a serpentine could work. Be sure the horse is going the correct direction in relation to the letter. We could use Second Level, Test 1, movement 11: C circle right 10 meters. The canter was already established in movement 10. In the photo, he’s just past C and beginning the circle.
Catch Me begins a 10-meter circle to the right.
At a minimum, you must label your photo or live show entry with the level, test and movement. To show you have a deeper understanding and have done your research, it’s recommended to also include the arena diagram and to draw the movement, with your horse’s location highlighted or marked with a red X. Most tests change every four years, so adding the year is also helpful.
You should now be ready to enter at A and give dressage a try with your models!
For rules, tests and more, visit these websites:
United States Dressage Federation (USDF)
International Equestrian Federation (FEI)