While riders usually want to focus exclusively on training, riding, and competing, becoming a dressage judge can offer many advantages, both in terms your own expertise and your contribution to the sport as a whole.
The Impact on The Sport
The benefits of judging stem from the fact that navigating through the numerous requirements and parameters of the USEF judging program gives you a deep understanding and appreciation of what judges really bring to the table. Most riders see that judges have to deal with frustrated riders who blame them for their low scores, but being a dressage judge is so much more than that.
Judges are given a unique opportunity in the sport: they get to impact how the dressage world views, talks about, and conducts dressage riding, training, and even teaching. Many riders who later become judges have attested to the fact that even though judging is a big commitment in terms of time and resources, it is certainly a worthwhile and rewarding experience to invest oneself in the education and development of the community and sport they love. At the end of the day, your role as a judge is to shape the future of the sport by rewarding good training and guiding the rest of the riders on how they can do better next time.
The Impact on Yourself
Dressage is also one of the few sports where you have to prove that you can perform what you will ultimately be judging. In other words, not everyone can become a judge. You must first apply to enter a judging program and you must prove your competence of the sport by having earned scores above the level that you will be learning to judge. For example, you can start by getting your USDF “C” license. This is a great way develop a good eye for what simpler things, like a straight entrance or a balance transition should really look like. Studying the Judging Terms in the USDF Glossary will also give you a whole new perspective on what kind of comments you should be offering to competing riders. Instead of sharing your personal or general opinion on what a rider could improve on, you will develop specificity in your observations and formulate informed, more helpful comments.
Aside from developing an appreciation for correct basics, judging dressage shows can also help you become more attentive to the basics of the Training Scale instead of just focusing on the description of the movement. As a judge, you will always be an advocate for the horses. Hence, you will learn not only to correct the rider’s position, but also to assess how the aids affect the performance of the horse. You will learn to always keep a close eye on rhythm issues, and you will be able to differentiate clearly between impulsion issues and submission issues.
At the end of the day, becoming a dressage show judge will improve and refine your skills as a rider. You will not only gain a clearer perspective on what quality riding should look like, but you will also have the opportunity to see first-hand the impact attention to detail and fine-tuning. Obtaining both of these perspectives will undoubtedly help you know where you, as rider, can continue to work on and where the sport in general should be moving towards in the future.
Dr. Cesar Parra owns and operates Piaffe Performance, a premier dressage training facility in Whitehouse Station, NJ. For more information, please visit his professional website.
The key to fostering and maintaining a long and healthy life for dressage horses is balance. As a rider, having a keen sense of balance entails riding your horse in a way that empowers the horse’s body, as opposed to putting more weight and stress on the horse’s frame.
Unfortunately, horses are naturally built to have a few balance issues, even without the weight of a rider. Hence it’s up to the rider to manage those issues and achieve the desired balance for the horse. Once the rider is able to do that, he or she will notice how their horse will automatically feel free to move forward and perform beautifully without enduring any tension.
Specifically, the balance issues horses tend to suffer from are longitudinal, also known as back to front. Naturally, horses are inclined to be more eager with the forehand than they are with the hindquarters. Moreover, they are innately build on the forehand because of their large, protruding head and neck. This tendency leads the forehand and the hindquarters to not always be coordinated with one another. Ever wonder why your horse tends to initiate movement with just his front end? Back to front balance issues – this is why.
Most horses are pretty unconscious about their hind, so they end up dragging their hind end as if it was a trailer being pulled by their front. Another way to think about this is: your horse’s front end acts like the pulling engine, while your horse’s hind end acts as the pushing engine. This becomes a problem when the pulling engine is dominant in the moment of an upward transition. If this happens, the horse gets a bit too long in the frame, it gets hollow in the back with its shoulders down, and sometimes uneasy in the hand. Whereas, when the hind end is the dominant force, it causes the horse to cover ground and has the effect of lifting the forehand.
You might be asking– so if the horse is innately built to have balance issues, how can I, the rider, improve or better yet, solve these issues? The best tools a rider can use are half halts and transitions. Through these exercises you can train the horse to respond with his back and hindquarters to your seat and leg aids.
For example, when it comes to the half halts, the rider can gently teach the horse to wait with his forehand and work more specifically with the hindquarters. While the half halt can take on many meanings, the primary message from the rider to the horse is “balance under me.” The best balance will be achieved when the center of gravity of the rider is directly over the center of gravity of the horse, and the horse is able to step with his inside hind foot directly under that mark.
When it comes to transitions, the rider is essentially sending the same message to the horse as with the half halts (“balance under the me.”) For example, when you teach your horse a downward transition, you are essentially teaching him to wait with the forehand and carry the weight with the hindquarters. On the other hand, when you introduce him to an upward transition you are encouraging him to thrust and reach with the inside hind leg under your center of gravity. Both kinds of transitions help the horse carry the weight from the front to the back, hence improving their balance issues.
Ultimately, how you optimize your dressage horse’s balance is going to be up to you, the rider. Depending on your assessment of your horse’s strengths and what he can improve upon, you will decide what you want from your horse’s hindquarters. Perhaps it’s power, posture, or your horse’s reach. Regardless, you will adjust the exercises accordingly, always keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to improve your horse’s overall balance, head to toe.
Dr. Cesar Parra owns and operates Piaffe Performance, a premier dressage training facility in Whitehouse Station, NJ. For more information, please visit his professional website.
As many of us already know, in the sport of dressage the muscles of a horse and a rider must work together almost like linked chains. If executed correctly, these muscles will form lines that will pull along several tracks within the body. Having these lines present in the riders’ minds, especially while riding, will undoubtedly enhance ease and control for both the rider and the horse. Two of the most talked about lines are the ones that can potentially bring balance to the front and the back of the body. These lines are called the superficial front line (SFL) and the superficial back line (SBL).
Aside from the superficial front and back lines, riders should also take into consideration lateral lines (LL). These are the lines that run down the sides of the body, starting at the ear and ending at the outer arch of the foot. The lateral lines meet SBL and SFL along the lines of a rider’s suspenders. Without having stability of these four lines, riders will not have ability to stack their midlines over the horse, therefore compromising posture, steering, and overall riding execution. But when riders do in fact activate and manage to control all four lines, they begin to share a powerful muscle-chain-to-muscle-chain connection that can easily lead the team to success. This muscle-chain-to-muscle-chain connection can be tricky to acquire, but with the help of repetitive isometric exercises and practice, it can definitely be achieved. Here’s how:
Step 1: Find a firm chair and sit on it. Make sure your seat bones are pointing down, your feet are flat on the floor, and your legs are slightly apart. Observe the symmetrical V shape that forms between your inner thighs.
Step 2: Place the edge of your hands on one of the suspender line boards. Make the outer third of your body shift towards your midline by slightly rotating your body to advance that specific board. Keep in mind that the board that joins the back and front of each suspender line divides your torso into three parts: right, middle, and left. Firm up your body and move it over.
Step 3: Come back to a neutral position.
Step 4: Repeat Step 2 and observe how the symmetrical V shape that forms between your inner thighs changes. The side of the thigh that has advanced in Step 2 becomes larger and stronger, while the other side becomes shorter and weaker.
Step 5: Continue to perform this exercise while riding in walk. As you repeat, make sure that as you are bringing one board closer and closer to the horse’s midline, you are also letting the other one get away from it. Depending on your horse’s personality, he may respond differently to steering, but for now, let that be the case.
Step 6: Once your awareness of each board has improved, go ahead and practice with both boards on. Always remember to put on the board of the weaker side first, and keep it in place. Then proceed to put on the other board. Your middle third will be squashed by each board and will be made narrower. By making your middle third narrow you will allow each board to line up with the inside edge of the horse’s back muscle, which is the main goal.
As you continue to exercise and master the skill of this position, you will become accustomed to the unnatural sensation of your posture. At the end of the day, grabbing such control over your lateral lines is the kind of stabilization you need to get to if you want to be able to effectively ride both sides of your horse.
There’s never such thing as too much preparation, especially when it comes to getting you and your horse ready to perform spectacularly during show season. Here’s a handy month-to-month list you can use as you take each and every step forward towards success. If you happen to work around different calendar dates, feel free to adjust them according to your pre-season and season dates. Good luck!
December: A time of relaxation and evaluation.
This is the perfect time to assess where you and your horse are at. Have both of you benefited from the downtime? Are you mentally and physically ready for what’s to come? Here’s when you should start thinking about what kind of work both of you should be focusing on moving forward.
January: Plans begin to take shape.
During December you started thinking in broad terms about what kind of work you want to do, but now it’s time to get more specific. Early in January, talk to your trainer about what level you should be preparing to show. By late January, you should be able to adequately perform every test run you want to show.
This is also an important month because it’s the time you should be renovating all your memberships, such as your U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF), U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF), and Group Member Organization (GMO).
February: Show dates are published; lock in those dates!
When receive the current Omnibus, begin to plan out your show season according to your region’s released dates and locations. If you haven’t received an Omnibus, get in touch with your GMO.
In terms of planning out your show season, there are several factors you should take into consideration. The most important thing you need to figure out is your individual goals. Depending on what they are, your plans can take many different forms. For example, if you want to qualify for regional championships, you must participate in at least two shows. Other elements to factor into your plans are calendaring (how many shows you want to do a month) and lodging (the sooner you book hotels, the better).
Because every region varies when it comes to dates, the best way to help you stick to this checklist is by assessing the time between your prep and your show. Let the countdown begin!
Two months to the show: Rules & Uniform
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this for, it’s important your read up on the USEF Rulebook, because believe it or not, some of these rules tend to change quite often.
You want to make sure you’re abiding by every rule, so when the day of the show comes, you’re not disqualified due to a tiny detail you simply didn’t know about. Moreover, attire is a big part of the rulebook. Not only should you make sure the attire fits the requirements, it’s also important that it fits your body. Try it on and test it out. You and your horse must be comfortable in it, or it could inhibit your performance.
One month to the show: Memorize dressage tests.
This month, the most important thing you need to focus on is memorizing your dressage test. Memorize everything; don’t leave anything to the reader.
Two weeks away: Ride your tests.
Now’s the time to ride your tests. Up until now you’ve probably been practicing pieces here and there, but now you take it from the top and ride the whole thing. Doing so will give you a much better sense of what to expect the day of the show and what last minute tweaks you should be working on.
One week away: Strategize this week’s schedule.
Plan out this week so that your horse peaks the day of the event, not earlier. By now you should know your horse better than anyone else. You know when he feels better and when he needs a break. So be very careful how you plan out the schedule during the week leading to the show.
At the show: The big day!
Hopefully you and your hose have worked really hard in the days leading up to today. Do your best, and don’t forget to enjoy every second of it!
The foundation of dressage is a riders position and balance. How you hold yourself atop a horse will affect everything from direction and speed to rhythm and tempo. Moreover, a properly balanced rider means aids of communication to the horse can be made clearly.
Sounds simple enough, but as anyone who climbs atop a horse for the first time will discover, finding and keeping your balance on a live, moving animal is no easy task. As a result, beginners often grip on tightly with their legs to try to stay upright, and they tend to hang onto the reins at all times. The result is, I suppose, one way of achieving balance, mainly because the horse won’t go forward or bend.
A better way to achieve balance is by unifying a riders movement with their horse, so the two move as one. The more in sync the pair are, the more swift and complex of movements the rider and horse will be able to achieve. Finding the right positioning is essential to quality dressage.
The Dressage Seat
Because positioning is so crucial to directing the horse, the first thing a rider should check if they feel that their horse isn’t picking up on their exact instruction is their own position in the saddle.
In classical terms, the dressage seat is formed by the two seat bones and the pubic bone, which together form a triangular base of support for the rider in the saddle. The rider then, must develop the ability to engage the appropriate core muscles to stabilize this base and allow the hips to move in tandem with the horse’s back muscles.
When engaging the core, you should really be evaluating three parts: lower core (pubic bone to belly button), middle core (belly button to sternum), and the sternum upward through the top of the head. The higher you move up the levels, the more core stability you will need, and the greater awareness you will need of each of these parts.
If you do not engage your core properly, your limbs will try to compensate for what your core fails to balance. For example, if your mid section is slightly leaning to left, your right arm or leg will unconsciously try to compensate, sacrificing your ability to give proper aids.
By maintaining good posture and alignment in all of these areas, you increase your effectiveness in the saddle as well as your ability to use independent, balanced aids.
Once the proper seat is established, we must also make sure that we have a ear-hip-heel alignment. If a rider grips with their knees or sits with their upper body too far back, this alignment can suffer. As the name suggests, the idea is to have the riders ear, hip, and heel in vertical alignment as one rides.
As riders begin to tackle more difficult movements in dressage, this alignment becomes increasingly important.
Moving As One
Your horse will always follow your weight. For example, if you are sitting heavier on one seat bone or collapsed through your hip, the horse is going to follow your seat, no matter what your leg, arm, or mind may be telling him/her to do.
We should see that the joints in the horse’s body reflect the joints in the rider’s body. At all times, a rider must know how much of an aid he/she is using and what the response is from the horse.
Diagnosing Problem Areas
If a rider is having trouble identifying where they are losing connection, an easy way to diagnose the problem is to look at the horse. Horse-and-rider pairs usually reflect one another’s dysfunction, meaning a horse with a tight back often has a rider with a tight back and/or hips, a horse that is pullings usually correlates to a lack of balance in the rider or the combination of horse/rider, etc.
Posture Off the Horse
It is impossible to walk through life with terrible posture, only to come to the barn and perform perfect dressage positioning. Students must train themselves to be aware of their posture at all times (not during training.)
Beyond simple laziness, our modern lifestyles are making proper posture more difficult. Things like working at a desk all day or spending hours behind the wheel during your commute often result in a forward head positioning, rounded shoulders, tight hamstrings, and sore lower backs.
It’s important to incorporate stretches and exercises throughout the day to reinforce proper posture and counterbalance the effects of these often unavoidable daily tasks. Yoga, pilates, and strength building exercises can all help develop a better posture in dressage and in life.
If a rider has a good seat, alignment, and an engaged core, that rider is more likely to be effective. Expression, balance, and suppleness are created when horse and rider can communicate without interruptions caused by poor positioning. Your ability to stay correctly positioned, even as you and your horse are learning, is what will lead you both to dressage success.
In the January 2010 issue of Dressage Today magazine, Dr. Cesar Parra was featured in an article titled the “3 Stages of the Training Pyramid” where he explained how Piaffe Performance uses the Training Pyramid in daily work.
In the below video, Dr. Cesar Parra demonstrates an abbreviated training session with Grandioso moving through progression toward collection.
During Phase 1, Dr. Parra guides Grandioso as they begin stretching through the topline in walk, trot, and canter. During Phase 2, they begin building impulsion, working on transitions both between the gaits and within the gaits. The session ends with the horse stretching into the contact, swinging forward into the hand and showing relaxation.
This type of training is very similar to how the average person would work out in a gym or on a track. It’s a progressive process that requires time and repetition in order for the horse to build strength and mastery of each movement and transition. As with the mastery of any physical task, warming up, cooling down, correcting mistakes along the way, adding in more difficult movements as one adapts, and recovery are all important to building up the best quality and healthiest movements of the horse over time.
It’s important to keep an eye out for new mistakes as higher levels of coordination and control are required. As you can see in this video, with greater collection the neck of the horse can begin to get too short. This is neither uncommon nor unfixable. It simply requires awareness of the tendency and continued reinforcement of proper form over time. As the horse gets stronger behind, this will happen less and less.
As Dr. Parra rides, he always keeps an eye on the ground to identify and correct mistakes as quickly as possible. The more immediate the feedback, the swifter the process will be to fixing the issue.
Mistakes should never be seen as a reason to avoid a piece of work with a horse, but rather an opportunity to work with their specific shortcomings and weaknesses to build them up. With consistent, quality training, Grandioso will become a stronger athlete and be able to perform these tasks with less and less effort.
Dr. Cesar Parra has decades of experience competing and training for dressage. He competed for his native Colombia at the 2004 Olympic Games, the 2002 and 2006 World Equestrian Games, and the 2005 FEI World Cup Final. In 2003, he placed fourth individually at the Pan American Games and, in 1999, he won a Pan American team silver medal.
Now a U.S. citizen since 2008, he continues to both compete in dressage while also running a premier dressage training facility based in both Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, and Jupiter, Florida called Piaffe Performance.
When done correctly, dressage should result in a balanced, harmonious display of teamwork between horse and rider. In the beginning stages of training, dressage helps horse and rider communicate with each other by developing balance, strength, flexibility, and accuracy (elements of the Training Scale.) At its highest level, dressage improves the horse’s ability to use its own body, resulting in seemingly effortless movements that appear light, almost as if the horse is floating across the arena.
Communication between an experienced horse and rider becomes so subtle that the horse often appears to be performing on its own without visible input from the rider. They can perform more spectacular movements, such as the collected and extended gaits, lateral movements, and collected work such as the pirouettes, passages and piaffe. The Lippizan Stallions of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna demonstrate the “haute ecole” or highest degree of training in dressage with the infamous “airs above the ground.”
Dressage tests are designed to show off the horse’s abilities and evaluate its proficiency in training. Because reaching the highest levels of dressage can take years of practice and dedication, there are multiple levels of tests (each increasing in difficulty) that riders and horses of every age, experience level, and mastery can participate in.
Each test has it’s own prescribed series of movements that the riders horse must perform. Tests for the lower and middle levels of the sport are designed by United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), a national governing body of equestrian sport, of which there are 5 levels. The levels go as follows:
Training level: Tests 1,2, 3 & 4
First level: Tests 1,2,3 & 4
Second level: Tests 1,2,3 & 4
Third level: Tests 1,2 & 3
Fourth level: Tests 1, 2 & 3
More challenging tests meant for upper level horses and riders are designed by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), an international equestrian sport association, and they are used in international competitions around the world. The tests go as follows:
Prix St. Georges
Grand Prix Special
The FEI has also designed two tests for Young Riders (ages 15-21) that are roughly equivalent to the Second and Third level’s.
Horses in Olympic competition use the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special tests, and they perform a Musical Freestyle where the horse is required to do flying lead changes every stride, full pirouettes at the canter, piaffe and passage, as well as demonstrating extension and collection at all gaits. It is commonly believed throughout the industry that it takes an experienced trainer with a talented horse at least seven years to train the horse to perform at the Grand Prix Level.
At all levels, competitors ride in front of a judge who observes and evaluates their execution of each movement. While the competitor is riding, the judge’s secretary, or scribe, writes down a numerical score corresponding to the execution of each movement along with the judge’s comments. At the end, the judge gives scores rating the general impression of the horse and rider and their performance overall. The secretary add’s up the total at the end.
Scores range from 0 (not performed) to 10 (excellent). Going off course results in a point penalty. The winning ride is the one with the highest percentage of possible points for that particular test. Winning scores are typically in the high 60’s or 70’s, depending on the level of competition. Competitors are typically given a copy of the judge’s scores and comments to take home with them, so they can improve their weaknesses for future competitions.
Scores are based off of a number of qualities including accuracy, energy, relaxation, consistency, rhythm, tempo, balance, and submission. The judge also considers the horses movement and the rider’s positioning and use of their body. As rider and trainer become more well versed in each movement, the horses expressiveness becomes a factor in scoring.
For a Musical Freestyle where riders chose their own music (typically instrumental), movements, and choreography. Freestyle rides are judged on technical accuracy, use of the music and movements, artistry, and artistic expression.
Two additional types of dressage competitions are the Pas de Deux and the Quadrille. A Pas de Deux consists of two horses and a Quadrille four. Horses perform together, often to music, synchronizing their choreography and movement with the music, their riders, and each other. Participants are judged based on choreography and synchronization, as well as technical and artistic merit.
Dressage can seem like a complicated and nuanced sport from the outside, and it certainly has those elements, but anyone with an interest and desire to learn absolutely can. Before diving into anything too specific, it’s important to first understand the basics of dressage, as well as what trainers and students around the world refer to as the “Training Scale.”
In dressage, the rider uses his/her weight, legs, and seat to guide the horse. These means of influence are known as the riders “aids”. In order to use the aids correctly, the rider’s body must be aligned with the horse correctly and they must be properly balanced.
From the side, an observer should be able to see the ear, shoulder, hip and heel of the rider in a straight line at the halt. From the back, the rider should sit evenly on both seat bones and an observer should be able to see that the length of the stirrups are the same.
By shifting the riders hips and weight, the rider “ask’s” the horse to move in the direction he/she desires, and step using their gaits of choice. When imagining how to guide the horse, riders should imagine that the horses hips will do what the riders hips do, and the horses shoulders will mimic what the riders shoulders do. Rider and horse move in practically synchronized ways.
Most trainers use what we call the Training Scale.
The German Training Scale is as follows:
Relaxation (sometimes called Suppleness or Looseness)
Though the pyramidal shape leads many to believe that each step it meant to be following progressively, building off the one before it, there is actually lack of unity in Germany regarding how the scale is applied. Some trainers utilize it as a series that they gradually walk their students through one by one, while others see each piece of the pyramid simply as part of the bigger picture of what makes up a great rider, without regards to order or placement on the pyramid.
It is difficult to find the origin of the Training Scale, but the most popular theory is that it originated over a century ago in the Spanish Riding School, whose training is based on the work of the Frenchman, de Ia Gueriniere. Some believe it was derived from the works of Caprilli, others from Sigmund von Haugk. Olympic judge, Nick Williams, researched the scale and determined it’s approximate age to be 100 years old in 2012, with its first mention in the 1912 revised edition of the German Cavalry Manual, the “Heeresdienstvorschrift” (or HDV as it is abbreviated.)
On October 5th, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) announced that it is planning on reviewing and possibly reforming Annex XIII of the Dressage Stewards Manual. A working group will be in charge of thoroughly reviewing the current training methods laid out in the manual.
It has not yet been determined exactly who will be part of the final line-up of the review group, but it will include representatives from the International Dressage Riders Club and the International Dressage Trainers Club, the FEI steward general representing the International Dressage Officials Club, a veterinary expert, and a representative of the FEI Dressage Committee.
The decision came about during an all-day meeting of the dressage committee and stakeholders at the FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In attendance either in person or via teleconference was:
FEI President Ingmar, De Vos,
FEI Dressage Committee Chair, Frank Kemperman,
Deputy Chair, Thomas Baur of Germany,
Maribel Alonso of Mexico,
Luis Lucio of Spain,
athlete representative Anna Paprocka-Campanella of Italy,
Dressage Judge General, Stephen Clarke, who is also president of the International Dressage Officials Club (IDOC),
Steward General, Jacques van Daele,
head of the dressage department ad interim, Carina Mayer,
Association of International Dressage Event Organizers Secretary General, Federico Padron, and German member, Klaus Roeser,
IDOC club secretary, Olivier Smeets,
president of the International Dressage Trainers Club (IDTC), David Hunt,
IDTC’s Linda Keenan and board member, Sjef Jansen,
International Dressage Riders Club President, Kyra Kyrklund, and Secretary General, Wayne Channon,
president of the European Equestrian Federation, Hanfried Haring,
Vice President of the European Equestrian Federation, Ulf Helgstrand,
dressage analytics expert, David Stickland
The group will be responsible for reviewing stewarding, including the monitoring of pre-competition training techniques, education, support and respect for officials, competition formats, and judging. They have been tasked with finalizing their recommendations in the coming months before presenting to the FEI Bureau for final approval.
FEI Dressage Committee Chair Frank Kemperman summarized,
This was a very constructive meeting. There was a lot of solid debate and interesting proposals about stewarding and judging. It was very good to reach agreement on the formation of a working group to review and, if necessary, revise Annex XIII of the Dressage Stewards Manual.”
FEI President Ingmar De Vos added,
We had some very good open and frank discussions which resulted in great input from the stakeholders today, especially on the proposal to introduce new formats in the sport for future Olympic Games and FEI championships.”
The FEI Dressage Committee may come up with some additions to their proposals to be put forward at next month’s FEI General Assembly in Puerto Rico.
In the Western World, the earliest work to incorporate principles of classical dressage is Xenophon’s On Horsemanship, who wrote about training the horse through kindness and reward.
Before the 15th century, training methods were comprised of mostly brute force, but during this time, riding started to take on it’s first notes of artistry. During the Renaissance, riding as an art developed further, mostly as a part of the general cultivation of the classical arts that was going on in general during this time. By the Victorian Age, indoor riding had become a popular and sophisticated activity performed by riders and horses with years of training and experience. Gueriniere, Eisenberg, Andrade, and Marialva wrote their treatises on technique and theory around this time.
As the equine of the past was used primarily by the military, it makes sense that the mastery of horse-riding would be incorporated into the Olympics as a means of testing the military horse for exceptional obedience and maneuverability, as well as the ability to jump obstacles.
The modern Olympics commenced in 1896 with equestrian events appearing in the 1900 Paris Games, but it wasn’t until the 1912 Stockholm Games where the ‘military test’ first appeared. The sport slowly evolved into the separate disciplines of dressage, eventing, and stadium jumping, first coming into full formation in 1912.
The sport remained male dominated and predominantly military for the next few decades. It was the United States Cavalry at Ft. Riley working with the schools in Europe that brought dressage training out of military to civilians in the United States.
After the US Cavalry was disbanded in 1948 was when the focus of dressage really shifted from military to civilian competition and sport. Women began to practice dressage for the first time, and in 1952 the first women were allowed to compete in the Olympics. In 1973, the United States Dressage Federation was formed.