Decifering Dressage: A Guide For The Rest Of Us

Apr 08, 2009 22 Comments by

dressage-leg-yieldEvery equestrian discipline seems to have its own lingo, its own priorities, and its own movements. I don’t know that any is more confusing than dressage.

I’m trained to ride hunters. I know all about jumping impulsion, oxers, rollbacks, broken lines, and hunter carriage. We also always worked in a little basic dressage, asking our horses to round up and carry themselves more and move away from our legs.

But it was only a few years ago that I learned a haunches in was not the same as a leg yield. And then they started throwing in those foreign names just to make it even more confusing.

I’ve spent the last few years attending dressage clinics at Equine Affaire, reading Practical Horseman articles, and otherwise studying up on the topic just to get these most basic elements of dressage figured out. I’m finally starting to really get it after watching Steffen Peters and George Williams at Equine Affaire.

It’s taken a long time for me to solidify the differences, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned for all you other riders in non-dressage disciplines who are wondering the same thing.

Differences Between the Basic Movements Used In Dressage Training

I discovered that the biggest differences between sideways movements in dressage is the direction of the bend and which legs cross.  Here are some definitions:

leg-yieldLeg Yield: your horse moves slightly sideways away from your leg while flexed in the opposite direction from which he’s moving. His body remains straight with a slight flexion at his poll. Both front and back legs should cross as he moves. For example, you are on the rail going to the left. You ask for slight flexion to the right and push him away from your right leg so that he is on an angle with his head closer to the wall.The horse’s movement is always more forward than sideways.

Turn On The Forehand: a type of leg yield. Your horse pivots on a point directly under his poll, bent the opposite direction from which he’s moving. If you do a turn on the forehand to the left, he is bent to the right and moving away from your right leg. A key point here is that he pivots on a point under his poll as opposed to a front hoof, which means that his front legs are supposed to move as well as the back. Front and back legs should cross as he moves.

shoulder-in1Shoulder In: the horse’s body is bent around the inside leg, causing his front end and hind end to move on different tracks with the front legs crossing as he moves. The inside hind leg is placed in front of the outside hind. In a shoulder in when you are moving around the ring to the left, your horse should bend around your inside leg with his front legs to the inside of his hind end.

haunches-outHaunches Out/Renvers: the horse moves with his haunches on the outside track and his shoulders on the inside track and is bent in the direction he is moving. He should be bent so that his feet are moving on three tracks with the hind legs crossing. For example, if you are moving to the left around the ring, he would be bent to the right and moving off of your left leg with his tail closer to the wall. If you stood directly in front of him, the three tracks would be the right hind, left hind/right front, and left front.

haunches-inHaunches In/Travers: the horse moves with his haunches on the inside track and shoulders on the outside track, bent in the direction he is moving. Again, his feet are on three tracks with the hind legs crossing. For example, if you are going to the left around the ring, he would be bent to the left, moving off your right leg with his head closer to the wall. The three tracks would be the left hind, right hind/left front, and right front. Travers is the basis for many of the upper level movements, including the half pass and the canter piroutte.

And there you are! All of these are finally starting to make sense to me, and I hope they are to you too. If you are a non-dressage rider and still don’t quite get it, please ask your questions in the comments. If you are a dressage rider, please leave a comment and let me know how accurate these explanations are, or answer questions. I really look forward to hearing all of your feedback on this topic!

Additional Resources

Dressage, Equine Affaire, Featured, Riding and showing, Training

22 Responses to “Decifering Dressage: A Guide For The Rest Of Us”

  1. greyhorsematters says:

    The best book and videos I’ve ever read and watched are Phillipe Karl’s, “Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage”. The book was easy to follow and sometimes humorous and the videos are wonderful for learning how to start and ride horses correctly in dressage. If you get a chance you should really give them a look.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    With the leg yield is there is no bend in the horse’s body. There is a slight flexion at the poll opposite of the direction the horse is moving but hardly noticeable. The body of the horse should be straight from nose to tail but able to move sideways at an angle.

  3. Jackie says:

    GreyHorseMatters – I’ll have to keep my eye out for that. Sounds interesting!

    Elizabeth – thanks for the clarification. I updated the explanation on the original post.

  4. This Week In Horse Blogs | Deanna Castro's Professional Horse Blogazine says:

    […] Decifering Dressage: A Guide For The Rest Of Us – Regarding Horses […]

  5. RhondaL says:

    Great article! In the very early days of my blog, I wrote a Newbie’s Guide to Watching Dressage for the Olympics.

    But I know that I just skimmed the surface. A lot of spectators, unless they ride or have taken lessons, don’t come close to understanding the complexity used to achieve those seemingly simple movements. Reportedly, at the Olympic dressage events in Hong Kong, spectator numbers slipped each day into the event and some still there fell asleep in the stands.

    Even though a lot of us would have sold our cars to get there to sit in those stands. :)

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Here is link to very good articles by Volker Brommann published in Practical Horseman on the lateral movements (they are at the bottom of the page).

  7. Jennifer Ch. 05 2 | Free Adult Stories says:

    […] Basic Dressage Movements: Leg Yield, Haunches In & Out, Renvers … […]

  8. Jackie says:

    I have not been doing dressage long at all and I found out that I absoulutly love. although I have to agree it is very confussing when you first start out. it took me awhile before I understood what ther basics of dresage even were, but now that I have discoved how far one could go with it. when done well it can be the most buetiful types of ridding out there.
    I have ADD so this is great, it lets me focus on a lot of things at once. I did my first show at the KY snow bird show at the KY horse park last december and I loved it was the best and least stress full show I have everbeen too. I did intro A and B traning level and placed six in intro test A.

  9. farm5607 says:

    I was so excited to find this info ! I have been trying to start dressage riding for four years. I have worked with several trainers but I have trouble understanding as they seem to think I know a lot more than I do. I have looked for plain english tapes everywhere but don’t think the exist.I am having trouble with a couple things if you don’t mind, haunches in: if my horses has his haunches on the inside and shoulders on the outside how could he bend in one direction or the other? Also the horse on three tracks, what does this mean? I know what tracking is. Thanks. I would love to work with some one to help me.

  10. Jackie says:

    Glad you found this helpful! It took me a while to get it all figured out myself, and I’m still not really a dressage rider! But it’s making more and more sense. Here’s an example that should help explain your haunches in bend, and track questions:

    Say you and your horse and going around the ring to the left, and you want to ask for haunches in. You are going to ask your horse to move his hips to the inside off the track (or path) while keeping his front feet on the path. He is still going to be bent to left, so while his hips are coming to the left, his head and neck are also slightly flexed to the left. He is bent around your inside leg while your outside leg pushes his hips off the rail. His feet are moving along three separate tracks. If you were to stand behind and watch him, you would see his front right foot on one path, his front left and back right feet further to the inside on another path, and his back left foot furthest to the inside on its own path.

    Does that make more sense?

  11. Bebo abuse says:

    i dont take part mself but my Daughter would like to start up, she is 12, is there anyone who can recommend a training for this agegroup in the Leicestershire area? i woul dlike her to participate as she loves horse riding but would like t get into dressage?

  12. Emmy says:

    luv it just wat i wanted. Thx

    From Emmy

  13. Terri says:

    Jackie, I have recently stumbled onto your website in search of help working with my very difficult TWH who oddly enough has been trained in beginning dressage, my first experience at it as well. Sounds odd, but I was in over my head with this guy who I’ve had since he was 3 months old. He’s now 5 and was trained last winter at a place I chose due to their location to where I work so I could be there for his training every day, indoor riding ring and good reputation. All that said, he is the most oppositional defiant horse I’ve ever met. He’s back at the same barn again this winter so I can ride every day and I do. The trainer is usually riding another horse when I’m there and is usually barking out “free advise” while I’m riding but I feel like I spend ALL of my riding time (after 20 min of long lining) dealing with his defiance. He’s smart, knows what I’m asking and is able to do it but usually deliberatly chooses to disobey: cutting corners short, falling in, darting away from the rail after doing well for several strides, ignoring leg & whip aids etc. He’s very athletic and the trainer says often that “he has so much dressage potential”. I’ve had horses my entire life, plenty of accidents and broken bones due to my own ignorance and at my age now, I wanted to finally learn to ride correctly have a horse that I could ride and enjoy without the drama. This horse boarding/daily riding is a treat I give myself because I work long/hard stressful hours in the mental health field, most of the time it’s not so fun with him because I can’t relax when riding, always dealing with challenging behavior. The ideal would be for him to respond light to my leg/reign aids and stop challenging me ALWAYS.

  14. Bytes Land says:

    One of the most important things to remember about dressage is that it is about accuracy. And if you practice your dressage test too much on your horse it will start to anticipate the movements, and for that you will most likely get marked down. Only practice your test once or twice on your horse to see what you need to work on. The rest of the time work on the different movements. Work on the transitions, 20 meter circles and other things that might cause trouble in your test. For you practice your test all you can. When you are sitting and daydreaming think about you and your horse doing you dressage test perfectly. Your sitting up and looking very elegant all of your transitions are perfect and so on.

  15. Umzug Berlin says:

    Hi there, I found your blog by the use of Google at the same time as looking for a comparable topic, your site came up, it appears to be like good. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  16. dressagenut says:

    here is a site that has video demonstrations of each movement REALLY helped me understand them because i could visualize it happening

  17. whipwalk says:

    If the haunches in was done on the rail to the right, would it still be called renvers? Is this arbitrary terminology in regards to the direction of travel? Or is it the position of the hips relative to the body?

  18. Lillybell says:

    I liked it, sure helped me. i dont like dressage too much, but it’s still pretty cool. I’m only just starting, i’ve found out that my horse loves dressage and western pleasure, so this sure helped me learn some moves. :)

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  20. 123abc says:

    great i have 3 horses and 1 like dressage

  21. horselove3000 says:

    Thanks to this guide I know lots of dresssge moves! I’m only 11 but my dad is a horse breeder and I have 13 horses 7 of them are being trained to do eventing. They don’t need to know the names of some moves but I do and now I know! Plus my gray dapple named Country Girl has won 3 ribbons because this guide. Look for me in the shows too. I’ll normative will ne ridding a Chestnut thourgh breed, a pallomino, a brown thourou breed, a white lippizin, a gray dapple quarter horse( country girl), or a black and white paint! Watch for my again.

  22. Researching dressage | Equestrian from Crete says:

    […] Decifering Dressage: A Guide for the Rest of Us […]

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