What Is Standing In Your Way?

Sometimes we can get stuck on the treadmill of life and start to observe others lives as better than ours or we compare other situations to our own with the grass is greener mentality and social media is a fabulous place to get stuck with comparinitis. I don’t think anyone is immune to this, however how you can stop yourself getting sucked into a bad frame of mind is by having clear and focused goals in which you are striving towards.

You see when you are on your path and you are commited to it, you don’t get stuck into comparing, you can simply observe others, appreciate we are all on different journeys and not have it affect you. In order for this to happen though you need to step out of comparing and start to take action to help make your own goals a reality, we can’t just wish for them.

To get started, you can clarify your priorities and get your life on track by asking yourself these two simple questions:

What do I truly desire?


What is standing in my way?

These two questions really get to the crux of the matter, because they ask you to be direct and honest way. They nudge you to open the dialogue with yourself about your deepest desires and the habits that may be blocking their path.

These simple questions are where you get started.

What follows is completely up to you.

You may be saying to yourself that things aren’t that easy. Your life just isn’t that simple. There is x, y, and z to be considered. And what about this thing over here? Or that other thing over there?

I’ll be honest, we all have our roadblocks, obstacles and our doubts and fears. Especially when it comes to big life decisions and making a radical change in the way we structure our lives. We let our big “buts” stand in the way of what our heart truly wants.

Maybe your “but” is large, heavy, and well developed. Maybe you’ve taken that “but” to the gym every day for the last decade, reinforcing those excuses over and over until you feel like you can’t move anymore.

Well, now’s the time to start shrinking that “but”!

Rearranging your life so that it more closely reflects your priorities is where you start. We all know, on a deep level, what things are really important to us at the end of the day, and what things light us up inside. We also happen to be really good at spinning off into worst-case scenarios and allowing our fears to keep us stuck, letting each year fly by on autopilot. and allow our days to be on the treadmill of just life.

Until one day something big happens that makes us take a reality check. A loved one dies, the stock market crashes, morgage rate changes or we get a scary diagnosis.

These catastrophic events always throw our priorities into line,  but what if we could mindfully clarify them today without the need for something big to happen?

What if we could decide right now what kind of life we want to be living, and make the courageous leap into making that happen.

Don’t wait for a tragedy to strike or for a personal loss to be your wake up call.

Make the changes you want to make now.

All it takes is two little questions.

What do I truly desire?


What is standing in my way?



How Much Exercise Should I Be Doing Around My Riding?

In this article I will let you know the answer to common question of  “is horse riding is exercise”. Plus ideas on how you can improve your fitness for any equestrian discipline.

I often get asked this question given my background and what I do and my answer very much depends on what sort of horse riding, but in general yes it is exercise.

But what first defines exercise and what sort of horse riding?


Is horse riding exercise?

You see exercise and movement can be classed as the same thing, then there is the exercise that gets your heart rate up, typically called cardio and then there is exercise like HIIT training and weight lifting. Not to forget exercise like yoga. All these different forms of movement have different effects on the body and are different types of exercise. So given that movement and exercise can be classified as the same thing yes horse riding is exercise. However, the sort of exercise it is needs to be defined.


What type of horse riding

There are so many different types of horse riding, from dressage, eventing, show jumping, western, barrel racing, endurance through to someone who just likes to hack out on weekends. All require various forms of fitness in order to achieve the desired results. One thing is for certain however across all disciplines of horse riding is that the rider must develop coordination skills to move the body with the horse in order to stay balanced in the saddle. This requires a level of core strength appropriate to the level of riding.

Is horse riding exercise

Which muscles does horse riding work?

I have written an article here about the 8 Key Muscles Involved When We Ride specifically for dressage but similar principles apply across all riding. In order to be able to move with the horse, a rider requires a combination of stability, suppleness and stamina.  With the central core being the most important to help the rider keep a neutral spine and feel stable in the saddle while protecting the spine. Along with this, the rider requires good adductor strength along with glutes, quads and hamstrings.


Is riding a cardio workout?

Cardio can be defined as exercise that keeps us around or under the 70% HR of our full capacity. Meaning it’s not high-intensity sprints and it’s also not sitting doing nothing. So movement like walking, light jogging, dancing, swimming and bike riding can all be classified as cardio because of the intensity in which you do it. However, each of these exercises can be moved from “cardio work” into high-intensity work if you were to add in hills, interval sprints or more resistance.

The way I explain light cardio is where it is movement in which you can hold a conversation at, so going for a walk with a friend and being able to chat and catch up.

More intense cardio is where you can say a few words but you also need to catch your breath.

Then high-intensity work is where you can’t talk, you need to get oxygen first and catch your breath.

Everyone’s fitness is different and how you respond to a workout may be different to someone else. So what makes you breathless can be different from the next person. That being said there are lots of different styles of riding. Some riding whereby you are able to chat with a friend while going on a hack, or the more intense like doing a competition dressage test, show jumping or a cross country course.

So to answer the question, yes horse riding is a cardio workout, but at what intensity it fully depends on the level and type of riding you are doing and the fitness of the rider.


Why is horse riding good for you?

Horse riding is a fabulous way to improve your core strength and stamina, however in order to be great at it, you also need to dedicate time off the horse to help you with this also and not solely rely on the horse riding as your only source of movement/exercise, more on how to do this soon.


How many calories do you burn?

Depending on the style of riding, your metabolism and how fit you are can all affect the number of calories you burn. But on average if you were to ride a horse for a 45-minute schooling session in walk, trot and canter you are likely to burn around 200 calories. The more intense the ride, the more calories you will burn.


Can you lose weight?

Horse riding itself is a great way to exercise and move your body. However, as I mentioned before it shouldn’t be solely relied on as your only form of exercise and movement. Especially if you are trying to lose weight. Weightloss is something that is improved in the kitchen and by improving your lifestyle choices. Getting in a foundation of movement off your horse each day is a fantastic place to start.


What sort of exercise should I do to improve my riding fitness?

When it comes to exercise off our horse too often we put it into the too hard basket and do too little or we do the extremes and overtrain. The key to getting your exercise right is to first understand that your body thrives off movement. It needs you to move and have movement scattered throughout your day. This helps improve your posture, fitness and energy.

It also needs you to keep your muscles strong and your body in even balance. A weak left side or a tight right hip is very quickly highlighted when on a horses back. So your exercise you do should be about improving symmetry, rider strength and balance.

I am sure you have seen what happens to a muscle when you break a wrist, they shrink. If you don’t use it you lose it and if you overuse it you abuse it. So it’s about balance and choosing exercises that enhance what you are trying to achieve as a dressage rider.

Is horse riding exercise

First, ask yourself are you getting a foundation of movement into each and every day.

And how much riding are you actually doing?

If right now you are only walking very minimal, can you build up to 5000 steps and adventually 10,000 steps per day and can you build this foundation of movement into your every day life. Then when it comes to your riding are you riding 3 days a week leisurely or do you ride 3 horses a day 6 times a week. You see each of these scenarios requires different advice.

Just like a house needs a strong platform to build from, so does your health. So create as much of a movement base lifestyle in and around your work and look for more opportunities in your day to move more. Because sitting all day at a desk isn’t doing much to help your riding and while I am not suggested you throw away your job, what I am suggesting is awareness of how you sit at your desk, how you spend your breaks and the exercise you do to bring balance to your posture to help enhance your riding.

Even if you work 8-5 at an office, there is still weekends and hours in and around work that you can move. So make the choice to take advantage of those hours and care for your body with more movement to enhance your rider fitness. Combine that with your riding and you have a recipe for success.

Get all the tools you need to take your riding to the next level by downloading our free guide here

Here are a few more articles similar to this that you may find useful to help you with your horse riding fitness.

Improve your cardio fitness for riding

7 Exercises To Improve Lower Body Strength And Balance

6 Leg Exercises To Improve Dressage Rider Leg Strength

Improve Your Rider Strength With These 6 Exercises

7 Simple Ways To Improve Your Core Strength For Dressage Riders  

How The Office Chair Affects Your Core Strength

Equestrian workouts to improve your riding fitness



Equestrian Workouts To Improve Your Riding

Here are some great equestrian workouts. Whether you are a dressage rider, show jumper, eventer, or simply someone who loves to hack out over the weekend, here is an introduction to equestrian workouts that will improve your riding and overall fitness.

Having some form of fitness in the saddle is important for all equestrians not just for the extra stamina and fitness, but also for the suppleness and stability you need to feel secure in the saddle. That’s why I am have dedicated this entire website with equestrian workouts and educational articles to help you improve your riding fitness while off the horse.

Riding is a great form of movement, and the general upkeep of horses means you are most likely active every day. This is fantastic! However, what is often overlooked is how you are performing as a rider.

Equestrian Workouts To Improve Your Riding


Improving your equestrian fitness

You can spend all your time thinking about your horse’s health, how they are performing, what they are eating, and getting the balance right within their training schedule. Yet as riders, we often forget to pay attention to our own fitness.

In order to prevent injury in our horse, you are ensuring they are using their body correctly, they are building the right strength and stamina through their body to be able to utilize it no matter what equestrian discipline you concentrate on.

You as the rider should be exactly the same.


Workouts specific to equestrians

Taking care of yourself as a rider isn’t just about fitness. It’s about ensuring you are using your body correctly so that you prevent injury and can continue to ride for many years to come.

It’s not just about being fit. Alignment is crucial for both horse and rider, so too is our posture and balance.

The common thread amongst all equestrian disciplines is the ability to move with your horse and be stable in the saddle. This requires you to have strong core control, balance and co-ordination.

Then there is the need to ensure your posture and alignment is helping you prevent undue wear and tear. Just like horses have one side they find easier, so do we as riders and your role when you are off the horse is to ensure you are doing your best to work on your posture and alignment so that when you are riding and you add the forces of the horses movement to your body, you aren’t creating any extra stress which can lead to injury later on.


Your posture as an equestrian

Our environment and how we move each and every day affects our posture. So no matter your riding discipline, pay attention to your alignment and have a look at this article here. Then be sure to get an understanding of neutral spine and apply this to your activities and daily life off the horse.

Even if your goal isn’t to win a championship title, staying injury free so you can enjoy your horse riding for many years to come should be important to you.

workouts for equestrians


Improving your equestrian fitness with specific workouts

Riding in general, requires a specific form of stamina, stability and suppleness to do it well. Your body requires good core muscle strength to help you stabilize well in the saddle. Using specific strength training that targets your core stability will not only help with posture but also improve your confidence in the saddle.  Here is a great Equestrian core workout to get you started today along with this one here that has core exercises designed for horse riders.


Avoid injury as an equestrian

The lifestyle we lead when taking care of horses can take a toll on the body if it doesn’t have adequate posture and stability to protect its joints. Stacking bales, carrying buckets of water, lifting saddles, and general riding is all movement for our body.

As riders, it’s not that we need to be able to do extreme workouts, olympic lifts or the splits. However an equestrian workout routine that is specific to the unique requirements of you as a rider is important. This is what I am dedicated to bringing you. Horse riding is in my blood and with my degree in Physical education and sport science along with my scientific core and back training I am narrowed down what makes us equestrians unique and this entire site is about providing you with the tools to improve your riding.

My passion is dressage, but what I share applies to all disciplines, you only have to read all the reviews from our members who do our program to find out the results it delivers.

So to get yourself started, be sure to download our free guide with tips on what you can do today and then try this Equestrian leg workout here. 


Stretches for equestrians

Along with this unique strength and stamina comes a need for suppleness and mobility in the saddle. Here are a selection of some of my favourite stretches for equestrians here…


Equestrian Workouts

Here are a selection of more free equestrian workouts that you can do at home today. For more check out our 12 week online training program that helps you take your riding to a whole new level. You can learn more about it here and read all the reviews from participants around the world here. 


I hope this gives you some tools to start with.

Wishing you all the best with your riding!


Improving Your Dressage Basics

Keep improving your dressage basics and gain an understanding of what the judges are looking for at each level of your dressage test.

I have certainly ridden my share of dressage tests and the last couple of seasons since being back competing with my young dressage horse I have learnt a lot about the dressage basics and really gone back to building this foundation first. So today I wanting to share why improving your dressage basics is really important and how you can do just that.

You see in order for me to really improve, I have taken the time to get a solid understanding of the sport of dressage today and be a student. This was to really understand what it is that we are actually trying to do when training horses to do the dressage movements and improving our horse’s way of going.

So I wanted to share with you what I have learnt and how I have improved our marks as the season has gone on.


Improving Your Dressage Basics

When you start out on your dressage journey, the first thing you really focus on is remembering your test. I definitely have had my fair share of course errors and most of them were simply nerves related. In some cases my only goal of the competition was to simply get on, ride and come home again. That was a win.

However as the seasons progressed and my relationship built with my young horse, remembering the test got easier and I was then able to start to fine tune things a little bit more and think about riding a good test…..not just completing it and staying in the arena and crossing my fingers he would load onto float the way home again.

Before you understand how to get a better score, it makes sense to start with understanding how dressage scores work and what the judges are looking for.


Improving Your Dressage Basics

Understanding how dressage scores work and why the dressage basics matter

What is a good dressage score?

On average overall scores of 70% or over for a dressage test are considered very good, scores of 60-70% are considered good and if a horse and rider are consistently scoring 60%+ at a level of dressage competition this indicates they may be ready to move onto the next level.


How do dressage scores work?

The higher the percentage, the higher the score in dressage. However, in eventing dressage, the score is calculated by dividing the number of points achieved by the total possible points, then multiplied by 100 (rounded to 2 decimal points) and subtracted from 100. Thus, a lower score is better than a higher score.

Each movement within a dressage test is scored out of 10 with a 10 being excellent. There are also movements within a test that have coefficients meaning the score is doubled. So before you do your test understanding which movements count more than others is a worthwhile thing to know. Often it is movements like free walk which show how relaxed the horse is.


Understanding what the dressage judges are looking for

Another part of improving your dressage basics is understanding the purpose. Within each level of dressage, there is a purpose from level one through to Grand Prix. It is this purpose that the judges are basing their impressions on. Then each movement has a directive of what the judges are looking for with that specific movement. See here in the Dressage New Zealand Offical Test book 2013, beside each movement there is a directive comment. Understanding these will help you with your test riding and how you ride each movement.

How To Improve Your Dressage Basics

So once you have mastered the art of memorising your test look into the finer details of each movement and work on what the judges are actually looking for from horse and rider and basing their marks off.

For example movement 1 of level 1, entering your dressage arena isn’t just about doing a straight line, the judges are looking for “the quality of the trot. The straightness on centreline. The bend and balance of the turn.” You see, the judges are looking at the horse’s body and how it is moving, not just the movement itself.


The purpose of dressage and improving at each level

The other part of each level is a purpose and again often overlooked when your goal is just to remember your test. It is, however, a very useful paragraph to read and really understand what the goal of your level is and what the judges are looking for and what to aim for when looking at fine-tuning your test and horses way of going. These outlines are usually sitting at the front of your test book. Or visit website of USDF (united states dressage federation) FEI, British Dressage or NZ equestrian for Dressage NZ information.


Purpose of the Level 1 dressage tests

“to confirm the horse has developed and maintains a rounded natural outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarters whilst maintaining a steady rhythm and contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”


Purpose of Level 2 dressage tests

“to confirm that the horse has developed an established rounded outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarter and achieved a degree of balance, straightness and throughness. The horse should be in steady light contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”


Purpose of Level 3 dressage tests

“to confirm that the horse, having demonstrated that it has achieved through correct training the suppleness and muscular development so that it accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection), shows a higher more rounded outline and the uphill tendency required at the medium gaits and is reliably on the bit and therefore able to show sufficient engagement to carry out the movements with necessary amount of collection required.”


Purpose of Level 4 dressage tests

“to confirm the hrose has now developed the increased rhythm, suppleness and impulsion to collect and extend its paces, maintain a light, uphill outline enabling it to show a dress of cadenced paces and perform direct transitions smoothly and with precision”


Purpose of Level 5 dressage tests

“to confirm the horse has now developed and can maintain the increased rhythm, suppleness and impulsion to collect and extend its paces, maintains a light, uphill outline thus enabling it to show a greater degree of quality and cadence in its paces enabling it to perform with greater engagement and collection.”


Purpose of Level 6 & 7 dressage tests

“the horse now has the increased rhythm, suppleness, straightness, throughness and impulsion to collect and extend its paces, maintain a light, uphill outline enabling it to maintain cadenced paces necessary to perform the more difficult movements of FEI tests.”


So now when you look at each movement directive like movement 1 of level 1, also think about the purpose of level one. The centre line movement needs to show the horse moving freely forward with active hind leg and no resistance.  The horse needs to be in front of your leg and there is no lack of balance with all three paces of walk, trot and canter and a nice rhythm and balance.


Improving the accuracy of your dressage test by improving your dressage basics

Next comes mastering the art of accurate tests through practice and understanding the shapes and where they all sit within a dressage arena. One thing I have found incredibly useful is the diagrams as part of the Dressage test book. Looking at where each movement starts, finishes and the shape of the movement as well as the bend.

See here an example from the Dressage New Zealand 2013 Official test book, but you can also find these all over the internet if you are having trouble.

Learn how to Improving Your Dressage Basics

Assuming a circle goes from marker to marker is one of the first mistakes I used to always make. So before I do any new test I make sure I have a real understanding of where it should be and the exact size and placement in the arena.

You can lose so many marks by not riding accurately and this really is an art to practice and something you can easily fine tune if you put the focus into it. Plus you can do a lot of this off your horse by really studying each movement and its position in the arena.

Don’t underestimate the power of accurate lines that are in a correct rhythm and balance with the right bend (easier said than done). This is what will help you score those higher marks in your dressage test. So practising these when your schooling and putting attention into the details at home really does pay dividends.


I have found that the more I pay attention to the finer details the more my tests have improved. These finer details are all things that you can spend time doing off your horse as well as on. It is essentially homework and studing your test movements by looking for those hidden gems of purpose and directive that are provided with your tests.

So to summarise here are my top tips on how you can improve your dressage score.


Top tips on how to keep improving your dressage basics

Learn your dressage test well

This includes the purpose of the level, the directives of each movement and where the coefficients are.


Improve your basic accuracy

Be accurate, understand where the movement falls within the arena layout. Make sure 10m circle are 10m and your 20 circles hit the sides of the arena where they should.


Never stop learning

Understand the basics of each level, study the tests and be a student hunting out ways to grow. Read your test results and feedback the judges are given you.


Enjoy yourself

Remember to smile, enjoy yourself and stay kind to your horse. Even if you’re full of nerves and smile can go a long way.


Practice, Practice + Practice

This goes without saying but practice how you wish to ride the test off the horse as well as on. Video yourself doing the test, watch yourself through the judges eye and see if you are meeting the purpose and directives. Score yourself and work on improving each score.


I hope you have found this useful, I believe there is so much we can learn along the way and one of the biggest mistakes is stopping that learning and growing process. So even if you have been competing for years or maybe you have hit a roadblock. Have a real read of your test book, video yourself, get guidance and start to put together the pieces of the puzzle that are missing.

The more you do this, the more you will find those little hidden marks that can make all the difference in your final score.

Want to learn more about how you can help your riding? Download our free guide here.



What Is Dressage And How Do You Get Started

In this article I wanted to share exactly what dressage is and provide you with the tools and education on how you get started.

Dressage is something that I have loved ever since I was a little girl. The magic of seeing a horse and rider dance together is truly a beautiful thing to watch. It requires an incredible relationship between horse and rider and many years of training. Both the horse and rider are athletes and I remember a coach once saying to me dressage is like training a ballet dancer or gymnast, but you can’t talk to them. It takes years of trust and clear communication to help build that gymnast strength and confidence up.


What Is Dressage?

Dressage itself is a way of training and riding your horse. The actual word “dressage” is French and evolved from the verb dresseur meaning to train. There are many different equestrian disciplines of horseback riding from classical dressage, western riding, through to jumping, reining and eventing to name a few. Dressage itself is an Olympic discipline and it is enjoyed all around the world through the various levels with Grand Prix being the highest level that is performed internationally and Grand Prix musical freestyle being the real crowd pleaser as this is where the movements are performed to music.

When riding a dressage test the horse and rider are judged on how they perform a series of movements that are in accordance with the level they are competing in. The degree of difficulty of each level increases from training level through to FEI (Federal Equestrian International) levels, which are the same tests performed in every nation worldwide.

The dressage tests are performed in a 20 meter x 60 meter arena with a smaller arena being used at some levels. Within the test there are separate movements that flow from one movement to the next, each movement is marked from 0-10. 10 being excellent, 5 sufficient and 0 no movement was performed. At the end of each test, the dressage judge also gives four general impression scores for the performance. All the points are then added and divided by the total possible score to give a percentage mark for that test performed by horse and rider.

According to the United States dressage federation (USDF ) “Dressage became an Olympic Sport in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm with only military officers eligible to compete until 1953 when the rules evolved to allow both civilian men and women to compete. The growing enthusiasm for the sport, supported by increased access to knowledgeable military and foreign trainers, finally brought together 81 pioneers of dressage in 1973 to found the United States Dressage Federation.” Today dressage is worldwide with both men and women competing on a level playing field within the sport.


What is CDI Dressage?

CDI is an acronym for Concours Dressage International, which is a dressage competition recognized by the FEI. CDI competitions (“international” shows) have several additional requirements above those necessary for competing in USEF/USDF recognized shows (“national” shows).

Many top level riders will compete internationally to be able to get to more CDI events and gain more exposure at these bigger competitions. For example New Zealand riders will often head to Australia for the extra CDI level competition as there aren’t many CDI level competitions within New Zealand’s calendar season.


How To Train A Dressage Horse

When teaching any horse the object is to have the horse respond to our aids. Stop, go, left, right, back and so on. All horses in order to ride safely need to have an understanding of basic aids and in the training of a dressage horse the understanding of these aids are built through movements and layers added upon them as strength develops. Not all horses will make it to the top level grandprix. However the dressage training of the horse no matter their breeding is to help the horses build balance, symmetry and strength so that it can use its body properly, the actual training of dressage and its foundations will help all horses.

Ideally, when training dressage, the horse must have three free balanced, elastic and regular gaits which are: a four beat walk with no moment of suspension, a two-beat trot with a moment of suspension between each diagonal beat and a three beat canter with a moment of suspension following the 3 beats. It is the goal of a rider to help develop a happy horse and maintain these 3 balanced gaits through the systematic training of dressage. By helping to develop a horse’s flexibility, responsiveness to aids, and balance the riders helps make the horse stronger and more pleasurable to ride.


What are some of the dressage movements

The discipline of dressage is like ballet on horseback. The horse and rider work together to perform movements that seem effortless and that flow gracefully from one to the next. This form of riding takes a high level of athletism and good communication between horse and rider.

Just like ballet for humans or any sport there are some physiques that will naturally find it easier than others. Within the dressage test there are movements that are speed changes within each gate and then there are movements that are lateral that requires the horse to move in a direction while maintaining existing gate and balance. Then there are movements that require the horse to sit more and use their hind legs more. Some horses have an ability to “lengthen” easily, while others naturally have an ability to “sit” easily.


What are the levels of competition?

There are various levels in which you can compete dressage and most competitions will cater for all levels. The highest level being Grand Prix level, which can be seen at the Olympics and World Equestrian Games. When you compete, you are competing against yourself, as well as others taking the test. The goal of the competition is to always improve your own score and get a good idea of where your training sits and a measure of what you can improve on by using the judge’s feedback.

Each level has various movements in which are appropriate for that level, here is a brief summary of what gets introduced as you move up the levels within New Zealand Dressage tests.

Intro: walk, trot, canter and 20m circle

First level: 20 meter circles, 5-metre loops in trot and give and take of the reins

Second level: sitting trot movements introduced, leg yield in trot, 15 meter canter circle, 10 meter trot circle, change of lead through trot, rein back, lengthened strides in trot and canter

Third level: half turn on haunches, collected trot, collected canter, medium trot, 10 meter canter circle, shoulder-in & travers, counter canter

Fourth level: collected walk, trot circles 8 meter , extended walk, extended trot, extended canter, half piroutte in walk, trot half pass, canter half pass

Fifth level: 8 meter canter circle, single flying change, half volte 3-5 meter in collected canter, three flying changes every fourth stride.



What do dressage scores mean?

When the judge is scoring your dressage test, they are wanting to give you a 10 for excellent according to the description of that movement. However, 10s are very rare. Overall scores of 70% or over for a dressage test are considered very good, scores of 60-70% are considered good. With often scores over 65% being a qualifying mark to enter national level competitions. If the horse and rider are consistently scoring 65%+ at any level of dressage competition this indicates that horse and rider are generally ready to move onto the next level.


What are judges looking for during a Dressage test?

When you enter a dressage competition each level test has a purpose. It is this purpose that the judges use as a baseline for scoring your performance. For example in the New Zealand Dressage Test book for 2013, the purpose of Level 1 test is ” to confirm that the horse has developed and maintains a rounded natural outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarters whilst maintaining a steady rhythm and contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”

As you move up the grades the purpose of each higher level test changes as the demands of the movements grow and the horse’s strength, balance, symmetry and ability to carry more weight on hind legs all improve.


What to expect at a dressage competition

When riding a dressage test, you will be scored by a judge sitting at the end of the arena behind the marker C. In some competitions there will be 3 judges with the other two being down the long side of the arena behind E and B. The judges will give you a score on every element of the dressage test as you ride. The look to how well the horse is moving for the purpose of that level in which you are riding. They will also look for obedience, suppleness and accuracy.

Before you enter the dressage arena, you will hear a bell or in some cases the car horn toot. This is the judge letting you know you can now enter the arena to perform your test. You will then enter and salute the judge, after halting and saluting the judge, you will ride the movements of your test using the letters around the arena as your guide.

You will be asked to ride at different gaits and variations of speed within the gaits. When starting out and at the lower levels you don’t need to remember the test, you can have a caller on the side of the arena call it out for you. It’s a good idea though to know your test in the case for some reason it’s windy, the caller is late or you just simply can’t hear them. Then once you have finished the movements of the test you will halt, salute the judge, and leave the ring. At the end of the dressage competition, you will receive your scorecard, with a final score. Use this time to take a look at the judges comments and find areas in which you wish to improve on for next time.


Training your horse for a dressage test

When training your horse it’s important to train them slowly and in accordance with their personality. Just like humans, they learn differently and they all take different amounts of time to build strength and suppleness. So the best place to start is to get a dressage trainer who can help you on the ground teach your horse the right aids and help you communicate and build your relationship together. Understand the Dressage Pyramid Of Training, will also help you with your training and what you are trying to work on.

While you are training learn your tests and the movements required. Practice riding your test and mastering each movement. Practice the test and improve your horses response to the aids giving. But be patient with your approach and listen to your horse as you are training. Also be sure to mix your training up so you aren’t in an arena all the time. I love to use video to see how my riding looks. Its a great way to self- analysis and pick things up in between your lessons with a trainer.


Training yourself as well as your horse

Dressage is a team sport so as much as you focus on your horses training and getting it in balance to improve their posture and strength, be sure to work on your own suppleness, stamina and stability and don’t forget about the importance of the right mindset. Taking just a little bit of time to work on your own wellbeing can really make a big impact on the time you spend in the saddle. Have a look at our free guide to get some useful stretches and tips to get you started today.


Benefits of Dressage

Dressage is the foundation of most horse riding disciplines. It is the basic training of aids and all horses can benefit from a foundation of dressage training. Choosing to focus in on one discipline will allow you to master the art of that discipline further. It was for this reason I fell in love with dressage, I was doing eventing at the time and my jumping only improved as my dressage improved.

If you compete in dressage you will find the challenge comes in trying to improve your score by mastering the elements of what dressage is all about and the purpose of the test level you are competing in. Each movement when you ride has a description of what a 10 would look like, so when we ride its important to know the description of each movement and what the judge is looking for. This understanding will also help you with your everyday training and being able to progress through the levels.

The main thing to remember no matter what discipline you do it’s about doing what you love and enjoying spending time with your horse. So if dressage isn’t your thing, understanding a little bit about what dressage actually is it will help you enjoy your riding more if you have clearer communication with your horse and an understanding of the basic aids and then able to build your relationship with your horse more clearly.


Want to learn more?

Dressage Arena Layout and Set Up Here

What Is The Dressage Pyramid Of Training

How To Build A Dressage Arena


Why Do We Need Strong Lower Abs For Riding?

Your lower abdominals are the most important abdominals for you to recognize. Often the laziest to wake up and the hardest to recruit, however, once you have woken them up they play an incredibly powerful role in the stabilization of your pelvis. The reason they are often dormant is that too often people rely heavily on their rectus abdominis to do all the work (6 pack) and unfortunately, these guys aren’t the most efficient at stabilizing your spine and pelvis.

This is why we focus on your core, front back, middle, inside, outside and side to side. If you chop off your head arms and legs, this is what is left. Your core. The entire centre of your body and getting it to work as an entire functional unit every single muscle.

The base of this core is where it all stems from, if your lower abdominals aren’t switched on correctly this will pull everything out of alignment. Alignment is critical on your horses back, you want to be correctly balanced on your sit bones so that your seat can move effectively with the horse. If it is tilted too far forward you will have an arched weak lower back, and you won’t be able to correctly move your seat with the horses back. Also if your seat bones are too far back you will be leaning forward and tipping the horse on the forehand.

Our balance effects the horse’s balance. So the more even you are balanced through your core the more evenly balanced the horse will be. A strong core is required in order for you to be able to sustain correct posture while you are riding. The best place to develop this core and posture is off the horse. It doesn’t have to take hours of your time, in fact, once you have built up strong core maintenance is easier than you would think, you just have to put in the effort to establish that base. When working on your entire core as a complete unit you build up your strength from the inside out. You develop all the little solar muscles that support your spine and pelvis.

When your lower abdominals are working correctly within the core unit you are also able to create more alignment from hip to heel. This will allow you to have more strength for half halts, collection or to help bring a horse up off their forehand.

When building your core strength you want to be creating strength from the inside out. Developing your lower abdominals as well as your entire core, so that it can work as a functional balanced rider on the horse.

Get yourself started today by downloading our free guide here.




What Is The Dressage Pyramid of Training

Gain an understanding of the dressage pyramid of training is and where it originated from. Plus insight on how to train each level of the scale of training.

The Dressage Pyramid Of Training or Scale Of Training is a term you will hear a lot within the world of dressage. It was developed from the German cavalry, “Heeresdienstvorschrift H.Dv. 1912,1937,” and the term “Skala der Ausbildung” (literally translated “Training Scale”) started being used in the 1950s.

The manual outlined the principles and goals for the training of a horse. It provided a detailed training plan as guiding rules for the training of a military horse that is still used today around the world by riders, coaches and as part of the judging foundation of dressage competitions we know today and commonly referred to as the German Training Scale.

What Is The Dressage Pyramid of Training


Dressage Pyramid Of Training

The H.Dv. defined the training steps as follows:

• accustoming the horse to the rider’s weight

• rhythm, relaxation

• development of thrust and development of the gaits, contact

• straightness

• throughness, keeping the horse on the bit and in a frame

• development of carrying power, collection

• origination of elevation

• working frame (standard rule)

• dressage frame (may be asked only for a brief time).


How To Use The Dressage Pyramid Of Training

Today these classic principles are applied to present-day training of the dressage horse and used as a platform to illustrate the different steps that are crucial ingredients to the correct training for the horse and rider from young horse through to grand prix and international levels.

Each of these steps can be developed at different stages depending on the horse, however, the scale is to be used as a reference for understanding the general progression and interactive development from the beginning of the training through to assessment of how the training is progressing.


The Dressage Pyramid Of Training

• Takt (Rhythm)

• Losgelassenheit (Relaxation)

• Anlehnung (Contact)

• Schwung (Impulsion)

• Geraderichten (Straightness)

• Versammlung (Collection).

Dressage Pyramid of Training

How The Dressage Training Scale Works

None of the six elements of the training scale stands by itself. They all work together and interact and depend on one another. Each quality of training is systematically incorporated into the training of the horse.

There is a flow between the elements, and you have to be open to listening to your horse as to what needs to be considered next. The goal of training a horse is to reach the best possible level of throughness and obedience by teaching them to carry more weight in hind legs as they move through the different levels of training.

Phase 1

Rhythm, relaxation and contact form the initial phase. In this part of the training, the horse is getting accustomed to the rider and his aids. This phase is used for the warm-up in daily work.

Phase 2

Relaxation, contact, impulsion and straightness serve in the development of driving power (thrust) of the hind legs. In this phase, the horse is asked to work more from behind and step diligently forward to the bit. This phase focuses on versatile gymnastic work to build horses flexibility and strength. When the horse is straight it can then use its back correctly and move with more freedom.

Phase 3

Impulsion, straightness and collection aim to develop the carrying power of the hind legs. The horse is supposed to bear more weight over his hindquarters, which is mandatory for true collection and elevation. Of which are necessary to reach higher goals in dressage training.


The United States Dressage Federation (USDF) explains each of these areas as per the following:

Rhythm (With energy and tempo)

“Rhythm is the term used for the characteristic sequence of footfalls and timing of a pure walk, pure trot and pure canter. The rhythm should be expressed with energy and in a suitable and consistent tempo, with the horse remaining in the balance and self-carriage appropriate to its level of training.”


Relaxation (with elasticity and suppleness)

“Relaxation refers to the horse’s mental state (calmness without anxiety or nervousness), as well as his physical state (the absence of negative muscular tension). Usually, the mental and physical states go hand in hand. The horse learns to accept the influence of the rider without becoming tense. He acquires positive muscle tone so that he moves with elasticity and a supple, swinging back, allowing the rider to bend him laterally as well as lengthen and shorten his frame. A horse showing the correct responses when allowed to chew the reins out of the hands is relaxed.”


Connection (with acceptance of the bit through acceptance of the aids)

“The energy generated in the hindquarters by the driving aids must flow through the whole body of the horse and is received in the rider’s hands. The contact to the bit must be elastic and adjustable, creating fluent interaction between horse and rider with appropriate changes in the horse’s outline. Acceptance of the bit is identified by the horse quietly chewing the bit. This activates the salivary glands so that the mouth becomes moist and production of saliva is evident. The softly moving tongue should remain under the bit. The quality of the connection and balance can be evaluated by ‘üeberstreichen’, releasing the reins (to demonstrate self carriage) or by allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the hands (to demonstrate relaxation).”


Impulsion (Increased energy and thrust)

“Impulsion is the term used to describe the transmission of an eager and energetic, yet controlled, propulsive thrust generated from the hindquarters into the athletic movement of the horse. Impulsion is associated with a phase of suspension such as exists in trot and canter, but not in walk. It is measured by the horse’s desire to carry himself forward, the elasticity of his steps, suppleness of his back, and engagement of his hindquarters. Impulsion is necessary to develop medium paces, and later on, with the added ingredient of collection, extended paces.”


Straightness (Improved alignment and balance)

“A horse is said to be straight when the footfalls of the forehand and the hindquarters are appropriately aligned on straight and curved lines and when his longitudinal axis is in line with the straight or curved track on which he is ridden. By nature every horse is crooked, hollow on one side and stiff on his other side, thereby using one side of his body somewhat differently from the other. This also causes uneven contact in the reins. Appropriate gymnastic exercises develop the horse’s symmetry. This allows him to engage both hind legs evenly and prepares him for collection. This process improves the lateral as well as the longitudinal balance of the horse.”


Collection (Increased engagement, lightness of forehand, self carriage)

“The horse shows collection when he lowers and engages his hindquarters– shortening and narrowing his base of support, resulting in lightness and mobility of the forehand. Because the center of mass is shifted backward, the forehand is lightened and elevated; the horse feels more ‘uphill’. The horse’s neck is raised and arched and the whole top line is stretched. He shows shorter, but powerful, cadenced, steps and strides. Elevation must be the result of, and relative to, the lowering of the hindquarters. This is called ‘Relative Elevation’. It indicates a training problem if the horse raises his neck without displacement of his center of mass to the rear. This is called ‘Absolute Elevation’ and can, if pervasive, adversely affect the horse’s health and his way of going. Collection with Relative Elevation will enhance the horse’s selfcarriage, so that he can be ridden almost entirely off the seat, and the aids of the legs and especially those of the hands can become very light.”


The Purpose Of Dressage Tests

As the horse builds on its strength and balance the purpose of each dressage test develops. For example according to the Dressage New Zealand Official 2013 test book, the Purpose of the Level 1 test is to “to confirm the horse has developed and maintains a rounded natural outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarters whilst maintaining a steady rhythm and contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”

For Level 2 the Dressage New Zealand Official 2013 test book states “to confirm that the horse has developed an established rounded outline without restriction, moves freely forward without collection but with active hindquarter and achieved a degree of balance, straightness and throughness. The horse should be in steady light contact with the bit without tension or resistance.”

For competitive dressage the more you move up the levels the more the purpose of each dressage test builds on itself in accordance to the dressage training scale. With impulsion and straightness becoming more important within the dressage tests at the higher levels. Our goal as a dressage rider to try and achieve this when performing the movements within each level test and with our dressage training at home.

When the horse is then schooled successfully through the foundations using the pyramid of training as a guide. The horse is then said to have throughness and obdience to the aids while maintaining rhythm and relaxation which is the whole aim of the Dressage Pyramid of training.


Dressage Rider Training System

Dressage is all about you the rider and the horse. It is a team sport and this is why we developed a training system for you as a rider. It is designed to help you work on your own symmetry, balance, coordination and suppleness while you are off the horse. With the aim that when you are riding you can sit in good posture and control and be able to focus on your horse during that time when you are in the saddle. To get yourself started, take a look at our free guide here.


How To Build A Dressage Arena

In this article, I will guide you through step-by-step how to build a dressage arena.

If you are wanting to build a dressage arena yourself, or simply want to understand the process involved and the decisions you will need to make, this guide is for you as I take you through step by step our arena construction. I will explain the mistakes we made, and the considerations you need to make to get the dressage arena of your dreams.

Please note there are many ways to build a dressage arena, and this is by no means a definitive guide. I am certainly no arena expert. It is simply the process we took and the lessons we learnt. Take what you feel is most relevant to your situation and apply it as you see fit. What I can tell you is that we are thrilled with the end result of ours. Here is how we did it.


How To Build Your Own Dressage Arena

I grew up dreaming of having an arena in front of my house. We had recently purchased land and were about to build our house on it. It made sense to put the dressage arena in at the same time, to utilize the heavy equipment that was to be there anyway for creating the level construction pad for the house.




Small arenas or large arenas

The first big consideration is the shape of the dressage arena, and it’s drainage. These go hand in hand. The natural fall of the surrounding land has to guide your decision-making and how much room there is. Because how the arena will drain away water is one of the biggest considerations you need to be aware of.

The standard dressage arena size being 60 meters x 20 meters, so this was what we aimed for. Smaller arenas are often used when building with limited space, so as much as I could I wanted to get my arena 20 by 60 to have the ideal dressage ring for training in.

There are a couple of different shapes your arena can take…

1 – Road-like camber – The highest point of the dressage arena is in the middle, and it slowly slopes down to the edges of the arena. The water flows to the sides and out, versus sitting in the middle.

2 – Single slope – The dressage arena itself is completely flat, but tilted on a slight angle, either width-ways or long-ways (or even both) to allow water to drain from the area.

How to decide which is right for you? The look of it is a consideration. We chose the camper, with a slight single slope to the lower side of the land. But also think about where the water is naturally wanting to flow on your land, and allow for this where possible to make drainage of the arena easy.

how to build a dressage arenaYou will need the use of a laser level to know exactly what the heights are, so you know that the water will drain. A simple eyeometer test is not good enough. Your eyes can be surprisingly deceptive!

Side note: Raised Dressage Arena Versus ground height dressage arena

Having a raised dressage arena that sits above ground height means that the water is guaranteed to drain off the arena itself. However we didn’t like the look of this, plus it would involve more earthworks and preferred to have the arena to be the same height as the surrounding land. This meant we needed to be more precise with our drainage. We will cover this soon.


Machinery Required

Excavator/Digger – To pull out the bulk of the top soil and clay until getting to the level height that we wanted our dressage arena to be, a digger was definitely the best option. Using a bobcat at this stage would have take much longer, and when you are paying $100+ per hour for the machinery and driver, you want to be efficient with your time! You can see in the photo that some sections of the land has been cut down by about 1 metre (3 feet). This is a large volume of dirt to be moved, that a bobcat would simply take too long to do.

Bobcat – Once the bulk of the dirt was removed, the bobcat was the best machinery to get the flat or cambered clay base at the exact right heights. A bobcat with a great driver can achieve a precise finish quickly.


Dressage Arena edging and fencing

Once the clay base was prepared, it was time for us to consider the edging and what we were going to do with the sides of the arena.

I wanted my dressage arena to have a nice timber edging with a hedge around the outside and arena letters. To do this we used ground treated timber on the bottom rail and normal timber on the top. This will prevent the wood from rotting. We also used screws instead of nails because as the timber dries in the sun it wants to warp. Often nails aren’t strong enough to prevent the twisting, so we used long screws on all our rails and then painted it black.

Truck access during construction is important. You will save on freight costs if larger trucks can access your site, so if you have a gate, be sure to make it wide enough for a truck and trailer to be able to enter your arena with ease. We had our entrance to arena down the long side as this is where it naturally suited our property layout.


Getting your base fill layer down

The job of the base fill is to make a hard level surface to support the fill above that the dressage horse will schooling on (what I’ll call the footing layer). It was this base layer that caused me the most confusion in my research. I found there were lots of different opinions as to what was best. Ask around and find out what others have done where you live. It may also depend on what is available in your area.

The key point is you want a layer that compacts to a hard base that doesn’t absorb the water like a sponge. The water will drain down through the top footing layer then hit the hard layer and drain out of the arena according to the cambered or sloped fall that you have. If you don’t compact this base layer, it could get churned and mixed up with the footing layer, creating a big soupy mess once it’s rained and then ridden on!

We used a pumice base, getting approx 80mm deep across the surface of the arena. This equaled 4 truck and trailer loads. It’s amazing how much material is swallowed up into an arena. You don’t realize it until the trucks start turning up and one load barely makes a dent!


Compacting the base layer, Making it like a road

As emphasized, a crucial part of the arena is having this base layer hard. It needs to be built like a road. So once the bobcat had spread out our pumice base layer, making sure to keep the slight cambered slope down the center line, we hired a steamroller and spent half a day rolling over it until it was rock solid.

compacting our dressage arena


Adding the Arena Footing Layer

There are a few different options with what type of material you can use for your top footing layer.

Sand – Sand comes in a variety of shapes; the granules can be sharp and angular, or they can be rounded. Beach sand is not what you are after. This type of sand doesn’t bind together and will be too soft to ride on. Instead, you want sand that binds together and is angular in shape when you look at it instead of being round. This provides a firm, yet forgiving surface for the horse. We used No.2 sand which seemed to be the consensus of the best material to use locally. The No. 2 is the granule size of the sand, so it is a bit larger and coarser than fine-grained beach sand which would be graded as No.1. We used the same amount of sand as we did pumice. So this was again 4 truck and trailer loads with the aim of it being 80mm all over the arena. We got the bobcat driver to again spread this footing layer of sand around, keeping the same camber shape.

Shredded Rubber – is an optional extra you can go for. I have ridden on arenas that use shredded rubber as the top footing layer. Generally the shredded rubber gets put on top of the sand footing layer, so this is an added expense. But the benefits are that it can prevent the sand from blowing around in high winds, and it also makes the surface more springy for your horse. Some people also prefer the look of the black rubber instead of white/grey sand. We didn’t want the added expense of this (but may in the future look into this), plus my husband had grand visions of the dressage arena being multi-purpose for playing beach volleyball, or beach cricket on. He hasn’t played any of those sports on there yet though lol.

Fibre – then there is the option of a fibre top, admittedly I don’t know much about this or its availability locally. What I do know however is that many people rave about fibre surfaces and its huge overseas, so this maybe something we add on later as the current surface ages.

how we built our dream dressage arena


Dressage Arena Experience

It took us 1 year fom the time we cut our dressage arena area to the time we filled it with pumice and sand. This time delay meant we could watch where the water drained in heavy rain, and see if there was any pooling anywhere. As long as there was no pooling then I could ride on it. I also spent this year putting in plants around it. I chose Buxus Microphllya, as it is resistant to the buxus diseases we get here.

At this point we realised we needed to put some soak holes in because there were corners of the arena where the water couldn’t escape from. So those soak holes went right into the corners of the arena with a small drain taken water out. These work fantastic (but occassionally we do have check its not clogged up with leaves from the big tree)

how to build dressage arena


The Cost To Build Our Own Dressage Arena

To be honest I don’t have an exact cost of the dressage arena build, because we cut a few corners with using diggers while the house was being done, and we took a year to complete it. As a rough estimate I know it was more than $5,000 but less than $10,000 all up. Bearing in mind my husband did all the edge building and we hired the rollers to drive it ourselves. Building a small dressage arena may take up less space and materials but at the end of the day the 20 by 60 arena is what most dressage test competitions use, so I am so grateful to have this available at home and to of had the space to be able to put this in and of course a very handy husband 😉

My next wish is to add arena mirrors down the short side of the arena to help me stay on track with my schooling.

dressage arena

I hope you found this useful. Like I mentioned, there is more than one way on how to build a dressage arena. And the materials used may be very specific to your area. So ask around. Visit other people’s arenas and get local knowledge. This is what we learnt in the process of building this arena ourselves, and we couldn’t be happier with the end result, even if it did take us a year to complete it :).

dressage arena

Here are some other articles you may find useful to help you on your dressage journey.

What Is Dressage And How Do You Get Started 

What Is The Dressage Pyramid of Training

Dressage Arena Layout



Stop Caring What Others Think

The world of dressage and horses in general, has a lot of people with opinions and strong ones! Heres the thing, just as everyone has a mouth, everyone has an opinion and if you ask for someone’s opinion, be prepared to have it thrown on you. Be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly, because you asked.


So how do you not worry about others opinions?

You simply don’t ask. What someone else thinks of you is none of your business. Now I’m not saying don’t ever ask opinions, there is a time and a place. The key is to choose when to ask and who. The problem lies when we let other peoples opinions and worry about what other people think hold us back from getting out there and just doing it.

In dressage, we are trotting down a centre line and asking someone’s opinion on how our training is going at this level. We have paid to enter into that show, to get a trusted and experienced persons opinion. So in that time and place, that opinion matters and that is a time where you take the feedback and grow from it. No matter whether it was good or bad.

As hard as it is though, you have to remind yourself who opinion matters and to shut down that voice in your head who is worrying about what other people think.

I am certainly not immune to this and putting yourself out there every day online I care. The problem is I care far too much about what people think, but at the same time, I equally don’t care, because I care more about helping people and more about achieving my dreams. You see you have to prioritise and those thoughts will always come streaming in, but I have learnt to pop them on mute and stay true to my goals and what I want to achieve.

It takes practice and I don’t think anyone is immune.


Setting Goals

Remind yourself why you are doing it and what your goal is. If your goal is to just head out to a competition and arrive safely back home again on the other side.Then that’s what you focus on, nothing else and enjoy making that happen and enjoy being out and about giving it a go. Learn from that experience and build upon it. The more you just get out there and do it, the more confidence you will gain, the more experience you and your horse will gain and the better the two of you will get together. Sometimes chasing our goals is scary, but the truth is facing those fears is what helps us grow and everything we want is usually on the other side of fear. So embrace being uncomfortable. This is where the magic happens.


It’s about your journey.

I guess my point of this post is about getting on a journey that sits right for you. Too often we let fear get in the way and I don’t want this to happen to you. I want you to thrive and have fun along the way. Life is short and if your goal is to be the best dressage rider you can be, then you have to be brave and get out there. So read books, get great instructors, search out the knowledge and advice to help you on your journey. No matter where you are at. Then get on that road and work on YOUR path to success. Surround yourself with the people that will help you get there and only listen to those opinions that matter. Ignore the rest.

It can be way to easy to get stuck and stop growing because of the fear of what other people think. We let that fear stop us going out and competing because you fear you aren’t good enough or you fear what other people are saying.
Those people that matter are saying how awesome it is to see you out and about. Those people that don’t matter, you don’t care what they think, because it’s none of your business. Remember everyone has an opinion. The key is to surround yourself with people who support you and encourage you on your journey. Those that have positive things to say and those people that you trust.

Make the journey one you love and enjoy every minute with your amazing horse. It’s building your relationship with your horse that truly matters at the end of the day.

Build your confidence up off the horse and surround yourself with a supportive environment to help you succeed. Get started today with our free guide and start working on your riding fitness off the horse. Download it here.


Dressage Arena Layout

When you first look at a standard dressage arena layout, you will notice letters around the outside perimeter. They are not in alphabetical order, but instead, look like a random bunch of letters. They do however have a reason for being there. Let me explain what they all mean.

These letters are set out at pre-designated intervals around the outside edge of the arena, this helps the dressage rider follow the correct path while riding tests or simply having a lesson with trainer.

These markers help clarify where movements should be performed and as a rider you perform these movements from point to point. It gives you are clear understanding of where you are within the arena and as you work through your dressage test where the movements start and finish from.

Dressage Arena Layout


Arena Size

There are two sizes for dressage arenas, with the first small dressage arena being a 20 meters x 40 meters arena and the second 60 meters x 20 meters arena (or 20 by 60). Arena sizes can vary according to the competition and who is organizing. In New Zealand, however most Dressage competitions use the larger size dressage arena, with the exception of some classes occasionally run in smaller arena. To the best of my knowledge often some of the Para classes use the small arenas for their competition.


An example of large arenas versus small arenas. The layout is similar with the exception of a few letters between the two different arena sizes.


Here you will see the two different size dressage arena layouts, the letters within the arena that sit on the center line aren’t visible on a physical dressage arena, however the outside letters around the short and long sides of the arena will be physical markers and the entrance to the arena at A which sits on the short side of the dressage ring.


What Do The Dressage Arena Letters Mean?

dressage arena

There are a number of different theories as to what the Dressage letters mean and here are two of the common stories suggesting their origin and where they originated from.

Theory 1:

It is also believed that markings found on the walls of the Royal Manstall (stables) of the Imperial German Court in Berlin suggest that the letters indicated where each courtier or rider’s horse was to stand and wait for their riders.

Theory 2:

The German Cavalry is also known to have had the arena letters spaced around a 60 meters x 20 meters space. This was between the stable blocks in many Germany Cavalry barracks. Although the absolutely definitive origin of the letters is unknown, it seems that there are two main theories both of which originate in Germany.

The markings found on the walls of the Manstall were:

A Ausgang (Exit).

K Kaiser (Emperor).

F Fürst (Prince).

P Pferknecht (Ostler or Groom).

V Vassal (Servant/Squire/Equerry).

E Edeling/ Ehrengast (Chieftain or Honoured Guest).

B Bannertrager (Standard Bearer).

S Schzkanzler (Chancellor of the Exchequer).

R Ritter (Knight).

M Meier (Steward).

H Hofsmarshall (Lord Chancellor).

When competitive dressage began, arenas were measured at 60 meters x 20 meters and these dimensions were first adopted for the 1932 Olympic Games in which cavalry officers competed their dressage test. They competed predetermined sequences and movements to demonstrate progressive training methods of the dressage horses much as they are today in dressage competitions.

The earlier tests were specifically designed to test the skills of riders and their mounts. Collected and extended paces were required, pirouettes, rein back and flying changes were also included. They also had the task of negotiating five small obstacles including a barrel which was rolled toward the approaching horse and rider! Until late as 1952, Olympic dressage was restricted to male-only riders.

Here is an example of a pipe dressage arena set up at a local dressage competition. This is the larger dressage arena size of 60 meters x 20 meters.


How To Remember Dressage Arena Letters

There are a number of different ways to remember the outside letters of correct dressage arena layout and for me personally growing up I used the saying “A Fat Black Mother Cat Had Eight Kittens” this was for the smaller size arena, then you add in RSVP. I have certainly heard my fair share of sayings and here are just a few more common ones you might like to use.

All King Edwards Horses Carried Many Brave Fighters

All King Edward’s Horses Can Manage Big Fences

All King Edwards Horses Can Move Beautifully Forward

All King Edwards Horses Can Make Big Farts

All King Edwards Horses Can Move Bloody Fast

All King Edwards Horses Canter Merrily By France

All King Edwards Horses Can Make Beautiful Foals

So when it comes to understanding the dressage arena layout, you do need to know where the markers are and practice performing those movements in your test on the markers. So much of your score with dressage is about the accuracy, so understanding the dressage arena layout is the great first step and you can certainly practice this all at home.

I love to look at other riders doing their tests and youtube is fabulous for this. Take a look at Charlotte Dujardin, Isabell Werth or Carl Hester ride and their accuracy is amazing. This is often where marks can be really lost, so really getting to know your arena, the layout and riding from marker to marker and using your corners to help set the horse up can make the world of difference.

Dressage Arena with a dressage rider

What to learn more about dressage arena construction or build one yourself at home?

Check out my article here all about the do’s and don’ts of building a Dressage Arena.

Want to work on your dressage riding off your horse?

Improve your mindset, posture and overall energy so that you can be the best rider you can be.

Check out all the free resources on my site and feel free to reach out anytime. My goal is to help you perform at your best and by paying a little attention to your own health and wellbeing you can truly start to shine in the saddle.

We are in a team sport and when we take the time to take care of ourselves as much as we do our horse, it means that when we are in the saddle we can be fully present and be the give our best to our horse.

Dressage is all about symmetry, posture, alignment and suppleness, so it makes sense that we focus on this within our ourselves as well as in our dressage horse.

Get started with our free guide here.

Get the FREE Fitness Guide

specific to Dressage Riders

  • identify your imbalances & weaknesses
  • allow your horse to move more freely
  • improve your stability in the saddle

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This Guide will help you...