A Review of Dressage Movements Through The Levels

Updated: Feb 9

I wanted to breakdown the main dressage movements all in one place for riders in the sport looking for a little more exposure. I broke down the movements by level.


First Level

Leg Yield

Competitively done at the trot, the leg-yield first appears in US competition at first level

Leg yield is one of the very first movements a horse and rider will learn. A correct leg yield will have very little bend in the body but allows for very slight flexion of the poll and jaw in the direction opposite of travel. The horse will step sideways and forward, crossing the outside legs with the inside legs both in front and behind.


Gait Lengthening

Done in the trot and canter, lengthened strides first appear at first level.

Lengthening the trot or canter shows the ability of both horse and rider to adjust the horse's stride length without disturbing the balance.


Stretchy Circle

The stretchy circle is performed at the trot from intro to first level in the US. The rider takes their horse from a balanced trot and offers their reins, encouraging the horse to stretch into the bit and over their back, but maintains the horse's balance and doesn't allow the chest to drop as they drop their head and neck.



Second Level

Shoulder-In

In Shoulder-In, the inside hind leg follows the track of the outside front leg with slight bend in the opposite direction of the horse's movement. The horse's forehand will be shifted towards the inside while the hind legs stay traveling straight along the rail. The shoulder-in is often regarded as the primary collecting exercise as when done properly, it helps both horse and rider connect from inside leg to outside rein.


Renvers

The same general angle as shoulder-in, where the haunches stay along the rail and the shoulders move to the inside but the bend is to the outside, opposite of shoulder-in.


Haunches-In/Travers

The haunches-in is the opposite of shoulder-in, i.e. the shoulders continue traveling along the rail and the haunches move to the inside, maintaining bend in the direction of travel.


Counter-Canter

The counter-canter consist of cantering on the typically incorrect lead, maintaining slight flexion towards the horse's leading leg but the horse should stay almost straight in the body and remain balanced and soft.


Medium Gaits

Medium trot and canter require a more uphill balance and larger step than the preceding gait lengthening but not as much strength and carrying power as an extended gait.



Simple Lead Changes

A simple lead change requires a balanced canter transitioning directly to walk for 2-3 steps and the picking up the new canter lead.



Walk Pirouette

In the pirouette, the horse's shoulders travel around the hind end maintaining a four-beat walk through the movement. The hind legs continue moving, with the outside hind leg stepping around the inside hind leg, creating a very small circle with the hind legs and a larger circle with the front and bending in direction of movement.


Third Level

Half Pass

Half Pass can be thought of as a travers/haunches-in traveling diagonally across the arena. It can occasionally be mistaken by lower level riders with a leg yield, as both travel laterally across the arena but the half pass has bend in the direction of movement while the leg yield has bend in the opposite of the direction of travel.


Extended Gaits

Extended trot and canter require the horse to fully extend their front and hind legs, making their stride as large as possible while carrying an extremely uphill balance and maintaining engagement.

Flying Lead Changes

A flying lead change is when the canter lead is changed mid-air between the horse's stride. Lead changes are meant to be balanced and "clean" meaning the lead in the front legs and hind legs of the horse change at the same time.






Fourth

Canter Pirouette

In the pirouette, the horse's shoulders travel around the hind end maintaining a canter throughout the movement. The hind legs continue moving, with the outside hind leg stepping around the inside hind leg, creating a very small circle with the hind legs and a larger circle with the front and bending in direction of movement.



FEI

Zig-Zag

A canter zig is a half-pass performed at canter requiring a combination of lead changes and half-passes varying in steps and steepness by level.


Piaffe

Piaffe is the highest collection a horse can have in the trot, maintaining a two-beat trot on the spot. The hindquarters are lowered and the hind legs and extremely engaged with the back lifted and remaining supple


Passage

Passage is an ultra-elevated trot with noticeably more engaged hind quarters and more flexion to knees and hocks.



Tempi Changes

A tempi change is a flying lead change occurring in succession at a specific stride count. There are four's, three's, two's and one's. Four tempi's would require flying lead changes every four strides where one tempi's would require a change every single stride.


* Note *

just being able to do the individual movements does not mean you are ready to compete at a certain level. You want to look at the quality and ease at which you can do those movements in a more stressful environment as well as how well you can put everything together into a cohesive test.




Can you spot all of the movements in these tests?


Grand Prix


Fourth Level


First Level


Grand Prix movements time stamps below:

Extended Trot - 0:51, 6:01

Extended Canter - 3:55, 5:10

Piaffe - 1:41, 2:25, 2:48, 6:08

Passage - 2:16, 2:35, 2:55

Extended Walk - 3:24

Pirouette - 4:03, 5:20

One-Tempi's - 4:24

Two Tempi's - 5:39

Half Pass - Canter - 4:44

Half-Pass - Trot - 1:11, 2:02

Half-Pass - Passage - 1:23, 1:49

Fourth level movements time stamps below:

First level movements time stamps below:


Several Helpful Articles that explore the details, aids and common errors of these movements a bit more:


https://www.britishdressage.co.uk/our-sport/all-about-dressage/paces-and-movements/

https://www.fei.org/stories/lifestyle/teach-me/dressage-101-novice-counter-canter-leg-yield

https://www.fei.org/stories/lifestyle/teach-me/dressage-movements-101-intermediate


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