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Equine Info Exchange - Dressage

Dressage is an equestrian sport that tests the obedience, flexibility, and athleticism of a horse and rider. The word "dressage" comes from the French word "dresser," which means "to train." Dressage is often referred to as "the highest expression of horse training" because it requires the horse to be highly responsive to the rider's commands.

A dressage horse is a horse that has been specifically trained for the sport of dressage. These horses are typically tall and athletic, with a long neck and sloping shoulders. They are also known for their calm and willing temperaments.

Dressage competitions are judged on a number of factors, including the horse's obedience, gaits, and ability to perform a variety of movements. The highest level of dressage competition is the Olympic Games.

Here are some of the movements that a dressage horse might perform:

Passage: A slow, collected gait in which the horse's legs are lifted high and the back is arched. Piaffe: A trot performed in place, with the horse's hooves making a tapping sound on the ground. Pirouette: A turn on the haunches, with the horse's body moving in a circle but its feet remaining in the same spot. Lateral movements: Sideward movements such as shoulder-in and haunches-in.

Dressage is a challenging but rewarding sport for both horses and riders. It requires a high level of skill and training, but it can also be a great way to build a strong bond between horse and rider.

Here are some of the benefits of dressage for horses:

  • Increased flexibility and range of motion
  • Improved muscle tone and strength
  • Enhanced mental focus and concentration
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Increased bonding with the rider

Here are some of the benefits of dressage for riders:

  • Improved posture and balance
  • Increased core strength
  • Enhanced coordination and timing
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Increased sense of accomplishment

If you are interested in learning more about dressage, we recommend checking out the following resources:

  • The United States Dressage Federation (USDF):
  • The International Equestrian Federation (FEI):
  • The Dressage Foundation:


Dressage - United States

USA - Clubs and Associations

USA - Region 1 - Clubs and Associations - Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington DC

USA - Region 2 - Clubs and Associations - Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Wisconsin

USA - Region 3 - Clubs and Associations - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Carolina, Tennessee

USA - Region 4 - Clubs and Associations - Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota

USA - Region 5 - Clubs and Associations - Arizona, Colorado, Eastern Montana, New Mexico, West Texas, Utah, Wyoming

USA - Region 6 - Clubs and Associations - Alaska, Idaho, West Montana, Oregon, Washington

USA - Region 6 - Trainers, Riders and Training Establishments - Alaska, Idaho, West Montana, Oregon, Washington

USA - Region 7 - Clubs and Associations - California, Nevada, Hawaii

USA - Region 8 - Clubs and Associations - Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont

USA - Region 9 - Clubs and Associations - Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas

USA - Trainers, Riders and Training Establishments

Dressage - International

Dressage - Australia - Victoria

Dressage - Australia - New South Wales

Dressage - Australia - Northern Territory

Dressage - Australia - Queensland

Dressage - Australia - South Australia

Dressage - Australia - Tasmania

Dressage - Australia - Western Australia

Dressage - Austria

Dressage - Belgium

Dressage - Canada

Dressage - Denmark

Dressage - France

Dressage - Germany

Dressage - Ireland

Dressage - Italy

Dressage - Netherlands

Dressage - New Zealand

Dressage - Scotland

Dressage - South Africa

Dressage - Spain

Dressage - Sweden

Dressage - Switzerland

Dressage - United Kingdom

The Making of a Dressage Trainer

Life as a Dressage Trainer in Three Countries from Horse & Rider Books
Life as a Dressage Trainer in Three Countries from Horse & Rider Books

The following is an excerpt from Life as a Dressage Trainer in Three Countries, by Gunnar Ostergaard, with Pam Stone

With a consistent address, and a string of students and horses to train, I was beginning to settle into my life at Frederiksdal. I felt content and confident in my ability, as all the horses in my training were developing according to my expectations. The apple of my eye was Lotus, a Hanoverian mare imported from Germany. In those days, that was pretty impressive, as it was quite expensive to import horses from Germany. She was a beautiful mare who moved well enough to be competitive in dressage and had the bonus ability of being able to jump.

With happy anticipation, I entered Lotus in my first show since arriving back in Denmark. To be honest, I felt a little cocky. After all, I had been trained in Germany, was doing well in Denmark, and had a talented horse. Convinced that I would win, I rode what I thought was a very good, error-free test, and left the arena with a smile on my face and a pat for the mare.

When the scores were posted, I was gutted. I finished third. At the bottom of the sheet the judges had written, “Rider is sitting crooked.” How could that possibly be? How could I have not felt that? I was mortified, and wished the ground would open up and swallow me whole. It is said that pride goeth before a fall, and it certainly did with me. That day, I wasn’t just served a slice of humble pie, I was given the whole thing.

My self-esteem in tatters, I wandered around the showgrounds to watch the other classes. I had heard of a show-jumping trainer named N.K. Hansen, who had an envious string of wealthy clients, good horses, and skilled riders. I spotted Hansen riding a horse that was notorious for refusing, but with N.K. in the saddle, that was not an option for this horse. I watched him soar over jump after jump.

One of the things that was becoming apparent in Denmark was that I was expected to teach jumping as well as dressage. I had jumped, and competed in jumping—it was required to earn my bereiter certificate—but my focus in Flensburg had been dressage. In Denmark, however, you both jumped and rode dressage.

Life as a Dressage Trainer in Three Countries

There was only one thing to do: find a book on it; memorize the details such as distances and combinations, as well as teaching methods; and then try to sound as if I knew what the hell I was talking about. In the end, I absorbed the material, and sounded quite convincing.

While my students weren’t on the road to becoming professional show jumpers, they improved, and our lessons went well. Luckily, these students only jumped once a week, and the indoor wasn’t nearly big enough for advanced jumping!

I enjoyed adding more jumping to my own personal repertoire, even if I didn’t always come home with a ribbon. Lotus, with her abilities in both dressage and jumping, also possessed the frustrating ability to regularly drop a rail somewhere on course, thus earning four faults at competitions.

I finally found success on a Thoroughbred cross named Tonka, who had courage in spades. He was fearless. His owner found Tonka intimidating, which gave me the opportunity to take the horse to a few shows. The one I will never forget was at one of the more impressive venues in North Zealand—the place to be in Denmark, if you wanted to seriously pursue the horse industry—and this competition was for professionals only.

In this particular class, N.K. and I were the last two left in the jump-off, and it seemed we were going to end up with a tie, as the rails had been raised to the highest point possible on the standards. Then some genius had the idea to place beer crates under the standards to raise them higher. Impossible, today, to think that anyone would even dream of allowing such a thing, but perhaps the beer in the crates had all been consumed at the show, so no one cared. In the end Tonka and I cleared the triple bar at 6’ 4” (1.95 meters). It was the first and last time I would jump that high.

Things felt as though they were beginning to snowball in a very good way for me. One particular event that would have a profound effect on my life and career was reacquainting myself with Gunnar Andersen. I contacted him fairly soon after arriving at Frederiksdal. We agreed that Wednesday would suit us both, and so I made the half-hour drive, and found him as affable and approachable as I had remembered.

That first Wednesday turned into a weekly visit, and I truly felt from the beginning that he was taking a special interest, even putting me on his Grand Prix horses, which was heaven on earth. This man, the face of Danish dressage for forty years, seemed to have taken it upon himself to become my mentor.

Life as a Dressage Trainer in Three Countries

Gunnar seemingly had no ego; he remained both humble and respectful all the years I knew him. It was never about money with Gunnar —he had no desire to become a businessman, he simply lived his passion, and he was particularly keen on producing hot-blooded Thoroughbreds. While European Warmbloods were making their mark on the competition scene, particularly in Germany, Gunnar remained faithful to his Thoroughbreds, and said that in order to bring home a ribbon, they had to be “twice as good to beat the Germans.” And many were. His list of Thoroughbreds that made the Danish Team was long: Atmospherics, Inferno, Souliman, and C’est Bon.

I lived for Wednesdays—I couldn’t get enough. One Wednesday was particularly memorable. There was a terrific snowstorm, and I crawled along the road in my Beetle. I nearly turned around three times, as the snow was above the hubcaps and the wipers were doing little to keep the flakes from freezing across the windshield. When I finally limped into the parking area, I got out of my car, trudged through the snow, and shoved open the massive barn door, blinking as my eyes adjusted from the blinding snow to the low light of the indoor. Before me was Gunnar, puffing away on the pipe in his mouth and performing the most exquisite piaffe I had ever seen. The gleaming white of Talisman’s coat, as bright as the snow that swirled around me outside, was filigreed by the morning light now streaming in...It was like watching a movie: horse and rider framed in the doorway, moving from piaffe into passage and back into piaffe—classically correct and utterly breathtaking. With his trademark droll humor, he glanced over at me and remarked nonchalantly, “Huh, didn’t think you’d make it.”

That this man would take me beneath his wing and give me the opportunity to ride all those horses...horses that he had trained and competed with renowned success. Gunnar was unbelievably generous with his knowledge, and never made a big deal out of handing me the reins of one of these international Grand Prix horses saying, as if offering a little kid a pony ride at a fair, “Here, you can try a ride on this one.”

These were halcyon days. I was receiving training I could have only dreamt about with Gunnar, establishing a steady business for myself, and developing a social life.

This excerpt from Life as a Dressage Trainer in Three Country is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books. To order a copy in print or audio, go to:

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