show jumping & Dressage

The most sensitive parts of the horse when ridden are the mouth and the loins, particularly in jumping. The rider’s hands control the forehand while the legs act on the hindquarters.


The most sensitive parts of the horse when ridden are the mouth and the loins, particularly in jumping. The rider’s hands control the forehand while the legs act on the hindquarters. As speed is increased the seat is raised slightly from the saddle, with the back straight and the trunk and hands forward, the lower thighs and the knees taking the weight of the body and gripping the saddle, leaving the legs from the knees down free for impulsion. Contact with the mouth is maintained evenly and continually, the rider conforming with every movement as the horse’s head goes forward after takeoff and as it is retracted on landing, the hands always moving in line with the horse’s shoulder. In order to give complete freedom to the hindquarters and to the hocks, the rider does not sit back in the saddle until at least two strides after landing.


The horse is a natural jumper, but, if ridden, schooling becomes necessary. Training is started in an enclosed level area by walking the horse, preferably in a snaffle, over a number of bars or poles laid flat on the ground. When the horse has become accustomed to this, its speed is increased. As the horse progresses, the obstacles are systematically raised, varied, and spaced irregularly. The object is to teach the horse: (1) to keep its head down; (2) to approach an obstacle at a quiet, collected, yet energetic pace; (3) to decide how and where to take off; and (4) after landing to proceed quietly to the next obstacle. The horse should be confident over every jump before it is raised and should be familiarized with a variety of obstacles.
Only thoroughly trained riders and horses compete. Very strenuous effort is required of the horse, as well as of the rider who does not by any action give the horse the impression that something out of the ordinary is impending. If possible the horse is warmed up by at least a half-hour’s walking and trotting before entering the ring. The horse is guided toward the exact centre of every obstacle, the rider looking straight ahead and not looking around after takeoff for any reason, as that might unbalance the horse. The broader the obstacle, the greater the speed of approach. Although a few experienced riders can adjust the horse’s stride for a correct takeoff, this should not be necessary with a well-schooled horse. The rider is always made to conform with every action of the horse, the only assistance necessary being that of direction and increasing or decreasing speed according to the obstacle.


Originally intended for military use, dressage training was begun early in the 16th century. The international rules for dressage are based on the traditions and practice of the best riding schools in the world. The following is an extract from these rules of the Fédération Équestre Internationale:

In your dressage journey, no doubt you will encounter challenges in your training. Your horse might be having problems with a particular exercise. For example, when asked to lengthen the trot, perhaps his stride becomes faster rather than longer. Or maybe he consistently picks up the wrong lead. For these problems and others, the diagnostic solution lies in the practical use of the Pyramid of Training.

The Pyramid is made up of six concepts.

  • Rhythmk
  • Relaxation
  • Connection
  • Impulsion
  • straightness
  • collection


The object of dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and the ability of the horse. As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with its rider. These qualities are revealed by the freedom and regularity of the paces; the harmony, lightness, and ease of the movements; the lightening of the forehand, and the engagement of the hindquarters; the horse remaining absolutely straight in any movement along a straight line, and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

The horse thus gives the impression of doing of his own account what is required of him. Confident and attentive, he submits generously to the control of his rider. (Used with permission of the publisher.)

Campagne is the term used for elementary but thorough training, including work on the longeing rein. This long rein, also used for training young or difficult horses, is attached to a headpiece with a noseband called a cavesson. The horse is bitted and saddled and is schooled in circles at the end of the rein. It is an accessory to training from the saddle, which is always best. Basic to campagne is collection: teaching the horse to arch its neck, to shift its weight backward onto its hindquarters, and to move in a showy, animated manner. Other elements of campagne include riding in a straight line, turns, and lateral movements.

Haute école is the most elaborate and specialized form of dressage, reaching its ultimate development at the Vienna school in its traditional white Lippizaner horses. Some characteristic haute école airs, or movements, are the pirouettes, which are turns on the haunches at the walk and the canter; the piaffe, in which the horse trots without moving forward, backward, or sideways, the impulse being upward; the passage, high-stepping trot in which the impulse is more upward than forward; the levade, in which the horse stands balanced on its hindlegs, its forelegs drawn in; the courvet, which is a jump forward in the levade position; and the croupade, ballotade, and capriole, a variety of spectacular airs in which the horse jumps and lands again in the same spot.

All of these movements are based, perhaps remotely in some instances, on those that the horse performs naturally.

The concepts of the Pyramid


When the Purpose of the test refers to a horse that “moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm,” it is referring to the rhythm found in the Pyramid of Training. According to the USDF definition, “rhythm is the term used for the characteristic sequence of footfalls and timing of a pure walk, pure trot and pure canter. The rhythm should be expressed with energy and in a suitable and consistent tempo with the horse remaining in balance and self-carriage appropriate to [his] level of training.”


Relaxation is the quality the Purpose of the test refers to when it states “that the horse’s muscles are supple and loose.” The USDF Pyramid of Training explains, “Relaxation refers to the horse’s mental state (calmness without anxiety or nervousness), as well as his physical state (the absence of negative muscular tension). Usually, the mental and physical states go hand-in-hand. The horse learns to accept the influence of the rider without becoming tense. He acquires positive muscle tone so that he moves with elasticity and a supple, swinging back, allowing the rider to bend him laterally as well as lengthen and shorten his frame.


The Second Level tests require “a greater degree of straightness, bending suppleness, throughness, balance and self-carriage.” Straightness is “improved alignment and balance. A horse is said to be straight when the footfalls of the forehand and the hindquarters are appropriately aligned on straight and curved lines and when his longitudinal axis is in line with the straight or curved track on which he is ridden. By nature, every horse is crooked—hollow on one side and stiff on his other side—thereby using one side of his body somewhat differently from the other.” It is only possible to correctly collect a horse that is straight. The pushing and carrying capabilities of the horse can only be effective when the hind legs step evenly under his mass. The demands of the tests from Second Level to Grand Prix require that the horse have the ability to increasingly collect and lighten his forehand.


The quality of collection is first addressed in the Purpose of the Second Level tests when it states that the horse “shows that through additional training [he] accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection), shows the uphill tendency required at the medium gaits and is “reliably on the bit.” Collection is described in the Pyramid of Training as “increased engagement, lightness of the forehand, self-carriage.” Further explanation states, “The horse shows collection when he lowers and engages his hindquarters, shortening and narrowing his base of support, resulting in lightness and mobility of the forehand. Because the center of mass is shifted backward, the forehand is lightened and elevated [and] the horse feels more “uphill.” [His] neck is raised and arched, and the whole topline is stretched. He shows shorter yet powerful cadenced steps and strides.”


When the Purpose of the test states “accepting the contact with the bit,” it refers to the connection step in the Pyramid of Training defined as “acceptance of the bit through acceptance of the aids.” Further explanation states, “The energy generated in the hindquarters by the driving aids must flow through the whole horse and is received in the rider’s hands. The contact to the bit must be elastic and adjustable, creating fluent interaction between horse and rider with appropriate changes in the horse’s outline.


When your horse shows the above basics of rhythm, relaxation and connection, you will be able to perform a correct Training Level test, and you are ready to embark on a First Level test. The Purpose is “to confirm that the horse, in addition to the requirements of Training Level, has developed thrust (pushing power) and achieved a degree of balance and throughness.”


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