GLOSSARY OF DRESSAGE TERMS*

DRESSAGE FUNDAMENTALS

A head position in which the horse avoids acceptance of the contact by putting the muzzle forward and upward, also usually retracting the poll.
Lack of evasion, resistance, or protest; acquiescence. Used in reference to the horse’s willingness to allow the maintenance of a steady contact, the application of the aids, and/or the placement of the rider’s weight.
Energy, vigor, liveliness (referring especially to that of the hind legs).
USDF Identifies Balance as, “Relative distribution of the weight of horse and rider upon the fore and hind legs (longitudinal balance) and the left and right legs (lateral balance). The horse is in good balance when the base of support is both narrowed laterally and shortened longitudinally (“unstable balance”), thus making it mobile (especially the forehand) and susceptible to small external influences (of the rider). Loss of balance means sudden increase of weight onto the forehand and/or to one side (lengthening or widening the base of support).”
The lateral arc in which the horse’s body appears to form a uniform curve from poll to tail. Attributes of bending include lateral flexion at the poll, stretching of the outer side of the body, lowering of the inner hip, and adduction of the inner hind and outer fore legs.

It is important to note that “bending” in a horse is achieved by a number of very incremental displacements, rather than an actual bending of the spine laterally. In general a rider should consider the spinal area behind the shoulder to the loin as straight (thorax to lumbar). The cervical vertebrae in a horse (neck) IS relatively flexible of course.

Recognizing the thoracic to lumbar vertebrae as being only incrementally flexible laterally will help you understand why a rider should endeavor to sit straight and square in the saddle and why pressure from the seat easily impacts the horse.

The balanced, rhythmic flow or the measure or beat of movement. USDF describes cadence as: “The marked accentuation of the rhythm and (musical) beat that is a result of a steady and suitable tempo harmonizing with a springy impulsion.” Also see “Gaits” as they describe the required rhythms.
The posture of the horse, most easily evaluated when viewing the horse’s profile or outline.
The ultimate goal of all gymnastic training is to create a horse which is useful and ready and willing to perform. For the horse to meet these conditions, its weight, plus that of its rider, must be distributed as evenly as possible over all four legs. This means reducing the amount of weight on the forelegs, which naturally carry more of the load than the hind legs, and increasing by the same amount the weight on the hind legs, which were originally intended mainly to create the forward movement. Collection requires greater muscular strength, so must be advanced upon slowly. When in a collected gait, the stride length should shorten, and the stride should increase in energy and activity.

By training and developing the relevant muscles, it is possible to increase the carrying capacity of the hindquarters. When a horse collects, more weight moves to the hindquarters. Collection is natural for horses and is often seen during pasture play. A collected horse can move more freely. The joints of the hind limbs have greater flexion, allowing the horse to lower the hindquarters, bringing the hind legs further under the body, and lighten and lift the forehand. In essence, collection is the horse’s ability to move its center of gravity to the hind-end.

State in which there is no blockage, break, or slack in the circuit that joins horse and rider into a single, harmonious, elastic unit. A prerequisite for Throughness.
The reins are stretched so that they form a straight line, not a loop. “Correct contact” or “acceptance of contact” is determined by the elasticity of the connection between horse and rider.

Contact is the soft, steady connection between the rider’s hand and the horse’s mouth. The horse should go rhythmically forward from the rider’s driving aids and “seek” a contact with the rider’s hand, thus “going onto” the contact. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find its balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each of the gaits. The poll should always be the highest point of the neck, except when the horse is being ridden forwards and downwards.

The contact should never be achieved through a backward action of the hands; it should result from the correctly delivered forward thrust of the hind legs. The horse should go forward confidently onto the contact in response to the rider’s driving aids.

The bold self-assurance with which a horse performs; normally goes hand-in-hand with the trust he/she has in partnership with the rider.
Increased flexion of the lumbosacral joint and the joints of the hind leg during the weight-bearing (stance) phase of the movement, thus lowering the croup relative to the forehand (“lightening the forehand”). Engagement is “carrying power,” rather than “pushing power.” A prerequisite for self-carriage / impulsion.
Avoidance of the difficulty, correctness, or purpose of the movement, or of the influence of the rider, often without active resistance or disobedience (e.g. tilting the head, open mouth, broken neckline, etc. Bit evasion is a means of avoiding correct contact with the bit.).
Impulsion is the movement of a horse when it is going forward with controlled power. Related to the concept of collection, impulsion helps a horse effectively use the power in its hindquarters. To achieve impulsion, a horse is not using speed, but muscular control; the horse exhibits a relaxed spinal column, which allows its hindquarters to come well under its body and “engage” so that they can be used in the most effective manner to move the horse forward at any speed.

The concept and term was first written about by practitioners of dressage, but an ability to move with impulsion is a desired goal in most other equestrian disciplines. Impulsion occurs when a horse is under human control and is one of the desired goals in horse training, but it may sometimes be exhibited by a horse in a free and natural state. Impulsion allows any horse gait to be more elastic and light, and also provides the animal with the power needed to perform complex movements, including the piaffe and the airs above the ground.

Schwung: A horse is said to have impulsion when the energy created by the hind legs is being transmitted into the gait and into every aspect of the forward movement. A horse can be said to be working with impulsion when it pushes off energetically from the ground and swings its feet well forward. Impulsion is created by training. The rider makes use of the horse’s natural paces, but “adds” to them looseness, forward thrust (originating in the hindquarters) and suppleness (Durchlässigkeit). Impulsion not only encourages correct muscle and joint use, but also engages the mind of the horse, focusing it on the rider and, particularly at the walk and trot, allowing for relaxation and dissipation of nervous energy.

Aside from being the description of a “gait in which the lateral pairs of legs move in unison” – like the pacing race-horses (not a dressage gait). Pace refers to named variations within a gait. For instance, at the walk: collected, medium, extended, and free; at trot and canter: collected, working, lengthening, medium, and extended… characterized by stride length amongst other requisites identified under section “Dressage Gaits (Variations)”.
A trot in which the phase of support of one diagonal pair of legs is prolonged, while there is a hesitation in the forward travel of the other diagonal pair of legs, giving a floating, hovering impression. Also called “hovering trot.”
A German visualization of the general progression of training. Same as Training Scale (Europeans use the word Scale [Skala, Scala] in the sense of ascending staircase or steps. See Pyramid of Training.
A brief release of the contact, wherein the rider in one clear motion extends the hand(s) forward along the crest of the horse’s neck, then rides for several strides without contact. The purpose of riding a release is to demonstrate that, even with loose rein(s), the horse maintains its carriage, balance, pace, and tempo.
The second level of the pyramid is relaxation (looseness). Signs of looseness in the horse may be seen by an even stride that is swinging through the back and causing the tail to swing like a pendulum, looseness at the poll, a soft chewing of the bit, and a relaxed blowing through the nose. The horse makes smooth transitions, is easy to position from side to side, and willingly reaches down into the contact as the reins are lengthened. Only if the horse is physically and mentally free from tension or constraint can it work with looseness.
Held together, forcefully shortened, or physically tight.
Rhythm, gait, tempo, and regularity should be the same on straight and bending lines, through lateral work, and through transitions. Rhythm refers to the sequence of the footfalls, which should only include the pure walk, pure trot, and pure canter. The regularity, or purity, of the gait includes the evenness and levelness of the stride. Once a rider can obtain pure gaits, or can avoid irregularity, the combination may be fit to do a more difficult exercise. Even in the very difficult piaffe there is still regularity: the horse “trots on the spot” in place, raising the front and hind legs in rhythm.

No exercise or movement can be good if the rhythm falters; and the training is incorrect if it results in loss of rhythm.

A horse is straight when the hind legs follow the path of the front legs, on both straight and bending lines, and the body follows the line of travel. Straightness allows the horse to channel its impulsion directly toward its center of balance, and allows the rider’s hand aids to have a connection to the hind end. It is developed through systematically training and supplying both sides of the body equally. Most horses are crooked, rather like right and left-handed people.
Range of motion of joints. Pliability, flexibility. The opposite of Stiffness. A horse’s suppleness is largely determined by genetics but may over time be improved or negatively impacted through training.
The moment or phase of the trot or canter in which the horse has no feet on the ground.
Rate of repetition of the rhythm, the strides, or of the emphasized musical beats—beats per minute, as may be measured by a metronome (in walk and trot, the footfalls of both forelegs are typically counted [two beats per stride], and in canter the footfall of the leading foreleg is typically counted[one beat per stride]). Note: OFTEN confused with Rhythm, Cadence, and MPM/stride length.
Wellenbewegung-pferdA ‘through’ horse is perfectly submissive, allowing the rider’s aids to go freely through the animal, with the reins influencing the forehand, and the riders’ seat and legs influencing the hindquarters. When completely through, the horse is soft and elastic, with a connection from back to front, balanced and relaxed. It is supple and attentive to the rider’s aids, and will willingly respond at the slightest touch, not only to the driving aids, but also to the restraining aids.

Throughness is often compared to a circuit of energy between horse and rider: the rider’s leg aids encourage energetic movement in the hindquarters, which push the back upward, which in turn allows for connection with the front end and the bit, and the connection felt in the bit transmits a feeling of energetic movement back to the rider’s hands. Of course, this is a question of “feel”, meaning a very soft reaction in the rider’s hands. If a rider gives driving aids and the horse responds by putting a lot of weight into the rider’s hands, the horse is not “through” at all, but unbalanced and dependent on the hands of the rider to keep itself in balance.

Throughness is most important in dressage (essential for impulsion), but a through horse can make riding easier in ALL equestrian disciplines. Diagram Source: Klaus Schöneich Zentrum für Anatomisch richtiges Reiten® & Schiefen-Therapie®. Authored by Renate Blank.

Tilting or tipping of the head, sometimes called lowering one ear. An evasion. A NOTE of consideration: I have seen occasions where a rider’s inconsistent contact (stronger contact on one side or another) will also create a head tilt … in this case it really should be described as a nose tilt. That is to say: sometimes a head-tilt is not an evasion at all, but can be indicative of an uneven contact that needs to be addressed with the rider.
The topline is literally referring to the line of view along the top of the horse, or the profile from the poll to the tail along the top of the crest of the neck, and down along the spine.

The horse stretches or lengthens longitudinally along the topline by stretching, reaching, and arching the neck and lifting up and rounding the back. The horse can stretch its topline independently of the height of the neck.

DRESSAGE MOVEMENTS

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At its most subtle, the Half Halt is a moment where you close then release (long pulse) your seat, leg, and hand aids to increase the attention, and improve the balance of your horse in preparation for any transition/movement.
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Throughout the dressage levels, circles are incorporated into the movements to show varying levels of balance and carriage. The 20-meter circle is one of the most important training figures in dressage, and is seen in the earliest tests (Intro) through Grand Prix. Any circle should be round, not pear shaped. Other standard circle-sizes are: 15-meter, and 10-meter. More advanced ‘circles’ are Volte and Pessade. MORE
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One of the first ‘yielding’ lateral exercises in the development of horse and rider. It is a suppling exercise as well as being a fundamental lateral movement at its core that will greatly improve the horse’s longitudinal and lateral flexibility. At the same time the rider is introduced to learning how to balance and control the sideways driving aids and the outside (holding) aids by feel and timing. Later in training the leg-yield is used to not only supple, but also to encourage self carriage in the horse by changing bend level and angulation.  … MORE
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DRESSAGE GAITS

A 4-Beat gait. At the walk, the horse has three feet on the ground and only one in the air at any time. The horse places each foot on the ground in turn; first a hind leg, followed by the foreleg on the same side, then the other hind leg and finally the remaining foreleg. Ideally, the advancing rear hoof oversteps the spot where the previously advancing front hoof touched the ground.
A 2-Beat gait. At the trot, opposite fore- and hind feet hit the ground together in unison (diagonal pairs). From the standpoint of the balance of the horse, this is a very stable gait, and the horse need not make major balancing motions with its head and neck.
A 3-Beat gait. In the canter, one of the horse’s rear legs – the right rear leg, for example – propels the horse forward. During this beat, the horse is supported only on that single leg while the remaining three legs are moving forward. On the next beat the horse catches itself on the left rear and right front legs while the other hind leg is still momentarily on the ground. On the third beat, the horse catches itself on the left front leg while the diagonal pair is momentarily still in contact with the ground. The more extended foreleg is matched by a slightly more extended hind leg on the same side. This is referred to as a “lead”.

Except in special cases, such as the counter-canter, it is desirable for a horse to lead with its inside legs when on a circle. Therefore, a horse that begins cantering with the right rear leg as described above will have the left front and hind legs each land farther forward. This would be referred to as being on the “left lead”.

A 4-Beat gait. Like a canter, the horse will strike off with its non-leading hind foot; but the second stage of the canter becomes, in the gallop, the second and third stages because the inside hind foot hits the ground a split second before the outside front foot. Then both gaits end with the striking off of the leading leg, followed by a moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground (when all four feet are off the ground in the suspension phase of the gallop, the legs are bent rather than extended).

A careful listener or observer can tell an extended canter from a gallop by the presence of the fourth beat. A controlled gallop used to show a horse’s ground-covering stride in horse show competition is called a “gallop in hand” or a hand gallop.

DRESSAGE GAITS (VARIATIONS)

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* REFERENCES: United States Dressage Federation, 2011 USDF Glossary of Judging Terms; German Training Scale for Horses; German National Equestrian Federation (1990) – The Principles of Riding; Advances Techniques of Riding (1987) – Official Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation.