Dressage has been the premier form of equestrian training for hundreds of years. A horse with proper dressage training will take lead and direction from its rider while appearing graceful and effortless in its movement. This "horse ballet" has been a competitive sport in the Olympics since 1912 and continues today as a popular sport on a variety of competitive levels.
Choosing the proper horse is the first step. While any breed of horse is technically allowed for competition in Dressage, thoroughbreds and warmbreds are preferable. The larger Baroque breeds are the most commonly seen, especially the Lipizzan.
Training the horse in the classical dressage form is key. Your horse must be able to perform a series of figures and movements at your direction with ease at a steady tempo, an even gait and a level stride. Your horse must master the three standard exercises. Those include transitions - the gait to gait of the horse; movements - your horse's sideways movement; and figures - these are circles and serpentines.
Once your horse has mastered the movements of classical dressage training, you're ready for the arena. There are two standard sizes of arenas for competition. The standard size measures 20x60 meters, and the small measures 20x40 meters. Around the rail of the performance arena are large letters marking points where dressage tests are to be performed.
Very specific dress and tack is worn for dressage competition. The horse wears very little tack or training equipment during performance. An English-style saddle is typically required. The mane is typically braided on the horse, usually to the right side; but if it falls naturally on the left, it can be braided that way also. The tail should be left unbraided and cut straight across or "banged". Generally the horse must have an appearance that is clean and impeccably groomed.
The arena is entered with you riding your horse as soon as the judge's bell has sounded. You enter the arena on one end and the judges sit on the exact opposite side of the arena. You walk your horse straightforward, stop in the middle and salute the judges. You then proceed with your performance pattern and end by returning to the center of the arena, saluting the judges and then exiting.
Dressage riders and horses are scored on a 0 to 10 scale, with a 10 being excellent and a 0 indicating that the horse didn't perform at all. The horses are judged based on their rhythm and regularity, relaxation, contact and impulsion. Riders are scored on their effectiveness, balance and position while riding.