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The History and Origin of Dressage

The word Dressage is derived from the French verb dresser - meaning to train, to adjust or to straighten out. Systematic training of the horse dates back to at least the fifth century B.C., although it was not applied to the horses until the eighteenth century. For some centuries much of horsemastership and horsemanship were tradition of the Royals and the ruling classes and horse dealers (the Nomadic races), the Greeks found a new use and involvement, that of the military.

Xenophon 430-350 B.C. - The famous Greek officer, philosopher and politician Xenophon, wrote two books on the subject - On the Art of Horsemanship and on The Cavalry Commander. These two books have become classics and some of Xenephon's theories are still in practice today. In particular the philosophy of obtaining the best from a horse by quietness and understanding.

In Ancient times though most of the training was directed towards the manoeuvrability of the cavalry horse, the aesthetic side was not completely neglected as Xenophone described advanced movements such as the piaffe. Sadly much of his teachings were lost with the decline of the Greek influence and the rise of the Roman Empire when horses were used mainly for war or jousting. Because of poor saddlery, heavy armour, severe bridles and spurs made of iron wheels and spikes the size of a mans hand, the horse was forced into unnatural movement. The use of large cumbersome, musclebound horses became the classical tradition and the straight legged technique of riding evolved. These ideas continued into and throughout the Middle Ages.

Frederico Grisone - It was not until the Renaissance in the early sixteenth century that Italy revived an interest in the equestrian skills. Frederico Grisone who was familiar with Xenophon's work, established the first of the new , modern style, equestrian academies, where the teaching of children from aristocratic families supposedly learned the elegant skills of horsemanship. Displays of scientific riding were carried out in a laid down man`ege. However, Frederico Grisone advocated the use of artificial devices and the old military style, with a straight leg and fixed hand forcing the horse into intricate school movements. At the time The Neapolitan School and its first off shoot the Spanish School of Riding taught the most generally accepted system of training the Cheval d'Ecole and the Cheval de Guerre.

Antoine Pluvinel de la Baume - From the early seventeenth century Antoine Pluvinel de la Baume (q.v.) founded a riding school in Paris, which was attended by the future Louis X111. The first thing the King asked was, "What do you expect first of your pupil?" De Pluvinel answered, "That he be an elegant rider"("Qu'il soit bel homme de cheval.") The King then asked "What distinction do you make between an elegant rider and a good rider(bon homme de cheval)?" Pluvinel answered, "I make a great distinction because it would be very embarrassing to be a good rider without being an elegant rider. It is, however, possible to be an elegant rider without being a good rider." Pluvinel taught that horses need to be treated with understanding and respect - quote: "There is a saying that the horse should enjoy himself in his work, otherwise neither the rider nor the horse would be able to give an elegant performance"

William Cavendish, the first of the few Englishmen who have made any impact on classical riding, opened a school in Antwerp in the seventeenth century. He was a friend of King Charles 11, and later became the Duke of Newcastle. Cavandish, quoted as being 'a brilliant horseman', is best remembered for his book - A General System of Horsemanship in All its Branches. He was the first person to make use of the shoulder-in although the introduction of this movement is more usually attributed to the Frenchman Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere.

Gueriniere known as one of the most influential horsemen and trainers of all time, was a firm believer in Xenephon's philosophy of achieving results by kindness. He is best known for his authoritive book on the classical methods of riding and training - Ecole de Cavalerie published in 1729. Unfortunately, though he was a genius on horse back, his use of language was not very disciplined, which provoked misconceptions that caused Parocel, his illustrator to draw the wrong diagrams. To understand de la Guirniere's aims of shoulder-in, his words need to be read very carefully. His principles are still in use today and were adopted by the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Only horses of Spanish descent were used in the school hence its name. It was founded by the emperor Maximilian 11, who was responsible for the building of The Stallburg (Imperial Stables) in 1572.

The Spanish Riding School is the only institution left in the world whose sole purpose is to preserve the classical form of riding. In the early nineteenth century the Napoleonic Empire threatened the survival of classical equitation in France. A new school was opened in Saumur in 1814 in an effort to preserve the art of classical riding. It was initially used to train the cavalry but later became an advanced training centre for civilian horsemen. The famous Cadre Noir corps of instructors still teach and demonstrate classical equitation today in Saumur and around the world.

Over the centuries the use of Dressage has changed from improving the agility of war horses to improving the aesthetic quality of Court life to the present day where it is increasing in popularity as a competitive sport. Its popularity has spread from Continental Europe to Britain and the rest of the equestrian world. In 1912 it was introduced as an Olympic competition when Sweden took all three individual medals as well as the team Gold. Continental Europe still dominates the Olympic scores however the rest of the world is beginning to feature more often.

The F.E.I - The Dressage standard recognised by the F.E.I. Object and General principles are as follows; "The object of Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible, but also confident, attentive and keen, thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider."




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