Dressage is a captivating equestrian discipline that combines technical execution and artistic expression. Rooted in ancient traditions, dressage competitions showcase elegance, precision and harmony between horse and rider.

Most riders associate dressage with advanced horse and rider combinations performing intricate movements, but riders of all levels can participate in dressage competitions.

Cross-training in dressage can also benefit riders from other equestrian sports. Dressage training aims to improve communication between horse and rider while enhancing the horse’s natural movement and athleticism.

Dressage doesn’t have to be complicated. This guide is here to help riders and spectators understand everything they need to know about the discipline. Keep reading to learn more about dressage history, competition, movements, levels, training, and horses.

What is Dressage?

Dressage is both a sport and an art. This training method develops the horse’s rideability, balance, and strength. Dressage horses and riders perform specific movements to showcase their training in competition.

According to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) , the international governing body for equestrian sport, “The object of dressage is the development of the horse into a happy athlete through harmonious education.”

“As a result, it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with the rider.” [7]

History of Dressage

The word dressage comes from a French term that means “training.” Initially developed by militaries to train cavalry horses, dressage traces back to ancient Greece.

Dressage later evolved into an art form during the Renaissance, with the competitive sport emerging in the 19th century. [1]

Xenophon: Forefather of Modern Equestrians

The ancient roots of dressage originated with the writings of Xenophon, a Greek military commander born in 430 BC. Xenophon wrote On Horsemanship, the earliest surviving work on the training of horses. [1]

In ancient times, militaries needed to produce obedient, responsive horses to ride in battle. Countries refined their training programs over centuries, eventually founding military riding schools. These forms of equestrian military training are the earliest predecessors of modern dressage fundamentals.

Classical Dressage

The Renaissance gave rise to classical dressage, a new approach to riding as a sophisticated art. Some military schools transitioned to well-known centers for classical riding, where riders perfected their craft and performed exhibitions for nobles. [9]

These riding schools developed more advanced dressage movements. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the most famous riding school dedicated to preserving classical dressage traditions. [9]

Competitive Dressage

Dressage first appeared at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. Only military officers could compete in the sport, which was initially based on obedience tests used by the military. [2]

By 1936, dressage competitions included most of the modern movements seen today. The sport grew in popularity after the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games when women and civilian men became eligible to compete. [2]

The 2024 Paris Olympic Games will include the equestrian sports of dressage, jumping, and eventing. Dressage has been part of every Olympics since 1912 and is already confirmed for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

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Dressage Organizations

Dressage governing bodies develop rules and regulations for competition. These organizations also accredit officials, provide educational opportunities, and promote dressage at the national and international levels.


As the international governing body for horse sports, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) establishes regulations for all international dressage events and championships. The FEI also approves equestrian programs at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Dressage is one of seven recognized FEI disciplines. Disciplines recognized by the FEI include:

  • Dressage
  • J