Dressage, from the Federation Equestre International rulebook:
The object of dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen: thus, achieving perfect understanding with his rider.
These qualities are revealed by:
a) the freedom and regularity of the paces;
b) the harmony, lightness and ease of the movements;
c) the lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating in a lively impulsion;
d) the acceptance of the bridle, with submissiveness throughout and without any tenseness or resistance.
The horse thus gives the impression of doing of his own accord what is required of him; confident and attentive, he submits generously to the control of his rider; remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.
This walk is regular, free and unconstrained. His trot is free, supple, regular, sustained and active. His canter is united, light and cadenced. His quarters are never inactive or sluggish. They respond to the slightest indication of the rider and, thereby, give life and spirit to all the rest of his body.
By virtue of a lively impulsion and the suppleness of his joints, free from the paralyzing effects of resistance, the horse obeys willingly and without hesitation and responds to various aids calmly and with precision, displaying a natural and harmonious balance both physically and mentally.
In all his work, even at the halt, the horse must be ‘on the bit’. A horse is said to be ‘on the bit’ when the hocks are correctly placed, the neck is more or less raised and arched according to the stage of training and the extension or collection of the pace, and he accepts the bridle with a light, soft contact and submissiveness throughout. The head should remain in a steady position, as a rule slightly in front of the vertical, with a supple poll as the highest point of the neck, and no resistance should be offered to the rider.
Dressage is a French term which means, literally, 'schooling of an animal'; dressage means "to dress", to train. In the horse world, it describes a systematic and sequential method of training a horse, with the ultimate aim of producing a mount that is confident, obedient, and gymnastically able to perform the tasks required of him.
It is a system of suppling, balancing and obedience work that prepares a horse for future pleasure-riding or competition, Western or English.
Dressage as a training method had its roots in antiquity and probably began as a way of training war horses to increase their strength, stamina, and obedience. As early as 250 BC, the Greek commander Xenophon wrote a manual of horsemanship in which he described training techniques and movements very similar to those used today. The system emphasizes a gradual and humane approach to training, beginning with simple, basic exercises and progressing slowly to more difficult movements as the horse develops mentally and physically.
In dressage training, The goal is to gradually help the horse learn to carry more of his own weight and that of his rider on his hindquarters. This strengthening of the hindquarters results in lightening of the forehand and a horse that is much easier to steer and to stop. It is a matter of physics: the horse
uses himself more efficiently, and because of the exercises, his strength is also instantly available to the rider.
"And when he finally becomes completely independant of the reins and
receives his impulses exclusively from the riders seat, then self carriage,
the dream of every rider, is accomplished." ~~U.Burger. 1959
(Translation by Dr. Thomas Ritter)
"A sizeable portion of the riding task lies in coming to grips with oneself."
Erik F. Herbermann, The Dressage Formula.