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Katie Lee competing on Hillgarth Red Ray

Good conformation is important for a dressage horse 

The conformation of a horse is one of the most important considerations when buying. Conformation means how a horse is put together and is vital to the way it moves. A horse that moves well is less prone to wear and tear and should have a longer working life than one that moves badly. A good mover is also worth more money as a competition horse. Very few horses have perfect conformation but the buyer should always aim high. More info here.

Basic exercises

You need a good instructor if you want to compete at dressage as even top international riders have trainers. Basic exercises should include:

  • 10 minutes walk at beginning of session on a loose or long rein - this can be in arena or a short hack. Helps to warm up and loosen out horse as well as getting fluid moving in joints.
  • Rising trot on large curved tracks, i.e. 20m circles, figures of eight, changes of rein across the diagonal.
  • Teach horse to take rein forward and down.
  • Half-halts when riding from one transition to another, to shorten or lengthen stride, to warn horse of new movement, etc.
  • Halt and immobility - Train horse to stand square and stay still.
  • Half circles and returning to track.
  • Serpentines - help develop looseness and teach horse correct bend.
  • Turn on the forehand - beginning of lateral sideways movements.
  • Rein back.
  • Leg yielding - good for looseness and for teaching rider co-ordination of aids.
  • Shoulder-in.
  • Half pirouette or half-turn on haunches.


Remember the 4 C's on Competition Day

I am 17 and I took an interest in dressage at about 14. Hillgarth Red Ray (who is a 15.1hh 10yr old Welsh Section D) and I have competed at National level at Preliminary & Novice level finishing in the top twenty. We have won at Regional level in Prelim & Novice competitions. We are currently working at Elementary & Medium with our instructor this season and hope to qualify at Elementary for the National Championships.

The week before a competition is the busiest time and the most important. The horse and I must be in the right frame of mind all the time and make no slip ups to carry on a competitive head leading to and at the competition. Practice makes perfect! Luckily for me, my horse is "natural" giving me an advantage as I don’t have to do any plaiting, even though he is fully shampooed & conditioned the day before.

Before buying a dressage horse the biggest piece of advice would be not to rush! You and your horse must be in full harmony throughout training and the test. Before buying you must have that special "connection" with the horse.

Competition day can be incredibly stressful. Remember the four C's. Remain Cool, Calm & Collected, and in Control. (By Katie Lee)

Good conformation is important for dressage
Available as a greetngs card. © Jürgen Lenzen - Fotolia.com

Search amazon.co.uk for dressage books & DVDs

Tips for Buying a Dressage Horse
  1. Soundness
  2. Trainable temperament
  3. Good strong dark feet
  4. Good paces/movement
  5. Horse stands up proudly
  6. Good self-carriage
  7. Good self-balance
  8. Kind eye
  9. Good back for saddle fitting
  10. Instant liking of horse

(By Patricia Lalor, BHSII. T  SM, Horse Sport Ireland Tutor)

School Exercises for Flatwork and Jumping (Eleanor Ross) - Horse and Pony Info recommend this useful manual. It is practical and well set out with the aids, exact measurements and a diagram for each movement in the arena. Good for riders working on their own and for instructors who are teaching a ride.