The word dressage comes from the French word dresser, to train. To the untrained eye it looks easy, but like many equestrian sports, it serves the needs of a diverse range of horse lovers. It's an Olympic equestrian sport; yet a basic training discipline for the backyard horse. Dressage teaches a horse to be obedient, willing, supple and responsive. The horse freely submits to the rider's lightest "aids" or body signals, while remaining balanced and energetic.
The object of dressage is the harmonious development of the horse in both mind and body, and every horse, regardless of its type or use, can benefit from this training. More and more is asked of the horse as it becomes mentally and physically ready to respond to these demands. The graceful movements performed in competition may look effortless, but are the result of years of training. The aids should be virtually imperceptible. A squeeze of the calf, a closing of the fingers, a shifting of the rider's weight in the saddle should be all that is necessary to tell the horse what is required.
Dressage requires the horse and rider to combine the strength and agility of gymnastics with the elegance and beauty of ballet. The result is truly the best blend of sport and art. The highlight of a dressage competition is the Musical Freestyle in which the rider creates and choreographs to music an original ride of compulsory figures and movements.
Cross Country Phase
Cross country jumping is a test of endurance, skill and agility following a prescribed course through forest and fields. The horse and rider are required to negotiate natural obstacles like logs, ditches, streams, banks, hills, and fences. The course may be over 2 miles (4000m), although at the lower levels the distance and pace will be much less.
The goal of cross country jumping is to jump a clear round with no penalties for disobediences, falls,or rider errors. An optimum time is posted and competitors must complete within this time window. While the goal of some competitors may be a ribbon, many compete for the thrill of completion.
Fitness is a very important element, not only to compete successfully, but safely. A tired horse or rider can mean obstacles are negotiated poorly, resulting in stumbles or falls. Tired muscles can become strained. The horse must be controllable in open areas and be a confident jumper.
Rider fitness is as important as horse fitness. Eventing is a demanding sport and not for the faint of heart. One must put in hours of schooling with a horse on the flat and over fences to ensure that the horse is absolutely obedient. Schooling over a cross country course with an experienced coach is imperative to learn pacing and safe negotiation of a course.
Cross country jumping is a physical and mental challenge for horse and rider. It is a great confidence builder to successfully complete a cross country course.
Show jumping tests the technical jumping skills of the horse and rider, including suppleness, obedience, fitness and athleticism.
In this phase, 12–20 fences are set up in a ring. These fences are typically brightly colored and consist of elements that can be knocked down, unlike cross country obstacles. This phase is also timed, with penalties being given for every second over the required time.
A stadium jumping course is usually more technical than a hunter course, incorporating tighter turns and trickier lines.
The purpose of the stadium jumping phase is to test the horses fitness and obedience. After completing the difficult cross country test, the horses must still be able to jump carefully without knocking down rails, and to stay within the time limit.
Penalties acquired in the stadium jumping phase are added to the competitor's cumulative score from dressage and cross-county. This is the rider's final score. The competitor with the lowest score after all three phases is the winner.