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Mastering the Refined Art of Dressage: A Journey Through the Levels

Dressage is a sport that requires the rider and their horse to work together in harmony, showcasing the animal’s grace and athleticism through a series of precise movements. In this article, we will delve deeper into the various levels of dressage, the tests that accompany them, and how to progress through the levels.

Understanding Dressage Levels

Dressage is a progressive training method where the horse learns to carry themselves, improve their balance and become more responsive to the rider’s aids. In the United States, dressage is divided into six levels, from Training Level to Grand Prix.

The different levels of dressage emphasize the horse’s level of training, from the basic balance and suppleness of Training Level to the complex and refined movements of Grand Prix. Each level has specific tests that showcase the horses and riders technical expertise and difficulty.

US Dressage Levels

In the United States, the dressage levels are classified as Training Level, First Level, Second Level, Third Level, Fourth Level, and Grand Prix. Each level is designed to require more skill, accuracy, and precision from the horse and rider.

Training Level is the introductory level in the United States. It is designed to test the horse’s and rider’s ability to maintain a steady rhythm, relaxation, and connection.

The movements at this level are designed to be simple, such as circles, serpentines and changes of direction. First Level is where the movements become more complex, emphasising impulsion and straightness.

There are movements such as leg yielding, shoulder in, and transitions between gaits. Second Level asks for more from horse and rider.

It requires more engagement, bringing the horse more onto their hindquarters. The movements are harder still, with canter loops, collected trot, and half turn on the haunches.

Third Level is where dressage really starts to get difficult. The tests require collection, uphill balance and lack of stiffness.

The horse is required to perform movements such as flying changes, half pass at the trot and canter pirouettes. Fourth Level is where the horses really begin to show the extension and suspension required to progress to the highest levels of dressage.

The horse should be able to perform true collection, showing advanced lateral movements like half-pass, shoulder-in, and tempi changes. Piaffe and pirouettes at this level are also expected.

The Grand Prix level is the pinnacle of dressage competition. The tests include highly advanced movements such as piaffe, passage, and the one-tempi changes.

Dressage Test

Each dressage level has a specific set of tests that the horse and rider must perform. The tests are designed to challenge the horse and rider’s skills, from the basic rhythm and suppleness of Training Level to the collection and engagement of Grand Prix.

Each test is scored by a judge, who considers factors such as the quality of the horse’s gaits, impulsion, submission, and the rider’s position and effectiveness. The score is based on a scale from 1 to 10, with the higher score indicating better execution of the required movements.

Moving Up a Level

Moving up a level in dressage requires progress in the horse and rider’s skills and accuracy. The horse should have greater impulsion, better balance and suppleness, and must be able to perform the advanced movements required at the higher levels.

The rider must also have the experience and expertise required to perform the movements at the next level. They should be able to ride with greater accuracy, correctness and subtlety, enabling their horse to perform with more finesse.

When considering moving up a level, riders should ensure they understand the level’s requirements and focus on the areas that may need improving. Clinic lessons can help riders focus on the areas that need work and gain valuable feedback from professionals.


Dressage is a beautiful and elegant sport that should be enjoyed by all who enter it. It requires considerable dedication, skill and expertise to progress through the levels.

Understanding the various levels of dressage and the requirements for each level is essential if you want to improve at it. We hope this article has provided you with the knowledge and tools to take your dressage journey to the next level.

3) First Level (Novice)

First Level is the second step in the six-level dressage system in the United States. It follows the Training Level and showcases the riders and horses’ progression in their skills, accuracy, and suppleness.

In First Level, riders are expected to demonstrate an improved connection between their horse and themselves, emphasizing the impulsion, balance, throughness, and connection.

Concepts Required

First Level tests build on the concepts from Training Level, requiring an increased level of impulsion, balance, and throughness. Impulsion is the energy that propels forward motion, where balance is the horse’s ability to carry themselves with the correct posture, distributing their weight evenly and maintaining their center of gravity.

Throughness is the connection between the horse and the rider, where the horse responds willingly and softly to the riders aids. An essential concept to consider at this level is Connection.

A Good connection means the horse is working from their hindquarters, through their body to the reins, and finally to the rider’s hands. It is important to remember that the horse should remain supple and relaxed through these movements.

Purpose of Test

The First Level tests purpose is to showcase the horse and rider’s improvement in balance, thrust, and consistency. The tests are designed to evaluate the horse’s ability to maintain a consistent pace, with a clear four-beat trot and a swinging, supple back.

The horse should also be in a neutral position, neither behind nor ahead of the vertical. At First Level, all trot work is sitting.

The rider should demonstrate balance and harmony by maintaining a steady pace, demonstrating control over transitions and straightness in all movements. The tests also include an increased number of accurate circles, serpentines, and changes of directions.

4) Second Level (Elementary)

After mastering the First Level, the next challenge is the Second Level. This level is also known as Elementary, and riders and horses are expected to perform more advanced movements, emphasizing straightness, collection, suppleness, and balance.

The purpose of the test is to refine the horse’s balance and suppleness while demonstrating proper engagement and collection. The Second Level movements are trickier than the First Level as they require more precision and a more extensive range of skills.

Concepts Required

The concepts required in Second Level become more advanced than the previous levels. Straightness is an essential concept at this level, where the movements require technical precision through proper and progressive use of the aids.

Collection is another essential element emphasized at this level. The horse is expected to engage their hind-end, which brings their weight onto their back legs, where they can perform a wider range of technical movements.

Balance and suppleness are still important elements required. The horse must be supple through transitions and changes of direction, maintaining balance in all movements.

The rider must ride with subtlety and efficiency to make sure they can engage the horse’s hindquarters and maintain their balance.

Purpose of Test

The purpose of the Second Level tests is to evaluate the horse’s and rider’s performance of more advanced and technical movements. The rider should be able to perform transitions smoothly and maintain balance while showing progression towards true collection.

Movements Required

The Second Level tests have a wider range of movements than the previous levels. Movements demonstrated at this level include collected trot, medium trot, collected canter, medium canter, rein-back, circles, counter-canter, shoulder fore, travers, renvers, and half-pirouette.

The collected trot and canter are a significant element of the Second Level test. The horse is expected to maintain a high degree of collection, showing balanced transitions between collected and medium trot or canter.

The horse should be able to perform shoulder-in, traverse and renvers movements, maintaining straightness, with a degree of suppleness in all movements. Counter-canter is also a movement required at this level, where the horse will execute the canter in a wrong lead before a change, demonstrating their suppleness and balance.


As we have seen, Dressage is a sport that requires discipline, patience, and persistent training. As riders progress through the levels, the requirements become more challenging, and the movements more precise and technical.

The emphasis on impulsion, balance, throughness, straightness, suppleness and collection grows with each level, while maintaining these concepts at the foundation of dressage. Riders and horses will master the concepts required at each level through consistent training, dedication, and proper application of the dressage aids.

5) Third Level (Medium)

Third level represents a significant step-up in dressage competence and the level of athleticism required from riders. Riders aiming to compete at Third Level must have a great deal of experience and have mastered the fundamentals of dressage.

They must be able to perform advanced movements with precision and maintain their horses balance and collection throughout the test.

Concepts Required

The movements required for Third Level are technically more challenging as they enforce the concepts of better balance and increased collection. Successful riders must execute advanced movements such as flying changes and half-passes with precision and consistency.

The horse’s obedience to the rider’s aid is crucial to performing the complicated maneuvers. The horse must be able to carry their weight on their hindquarters while being supple and relaxed through transitions and direction changes.

This level requires the development of true talent and skill to communicate with the horse, demanding a high level of correct position, suppleness, sensitivity, and balance.

Purpose of Test

The purpose of the Third Level tests is to evaluate the rider’s advanced technical ability to execute complicated transitions and demanding movements like half-pass and flying changes. The tests emphasise the suppleness and fluency throughout all parts of the test with an emphasis on the degree of collection and the balance of the horse.

Movements Required

Third Level tests require collected and extended walk, trot and canter, as well as changes of tempo and direction. The horse is expected to perform precise, correct 20m circles, half-circles at a canter, and seamless transitions between each gait.

The counter-canter is required, which is an essential building block for learning flying changes. The pirouette is another movement demonstrated at this level, where the horse makes a tight turn tightly around a single front leg.

It requires a great deal of skill and suppleness from the horse in its execution. The flying lead changes are a time-honored essential at this level as they involve a strenuous change of direction, demonstrating the horses balance and athleticism.

6) Fourth Level (Advanced)

Fourth Level is the penultimate level of dressage and showcases a level of power, precision, and expertise that few riders can master. It requires technical execution, connection, obedience, and a higher degree of collection than the previous levels.

Riders who have mastered Fourth Level are true athletes with advanced skill sets.

Concepts Required

The movements required for Fourth Level are technically tough and evaluate the level of precision, obedience, and connection. The horse must be able to demonstrate strength and power in their gaits with a high degree of collection, displaying a great level of suppleness and subtlety.

The rider must have control over the horse, yet implement a delicate application of the aids to achieve the desired results. Each movement must be executed with precision and fluency, all while maintaining a high degree of suppleness, balance, and collection.

Purpose of Test

The Fourth Level tests aim to showcase the horse’s and rider’s advanced level of skill. The test demands partnership, connection, and the utmost obedience, among all other requirements.

The movements require the horse to demonstrate strength, power, and balance, requiring advanced communication between the horse and rider.

Movements Required

Fourth Level tests require the horse to perform a range of demanding movements, including piaffe, passage, half-steps, counter-canter, half-pass, counter change of hand, and pirouette. The gaits must be powerful and ground-covering, with excellent engagement of the hindquarters and carrying the horse’s weight on the hind end.

Half-steps at the trot and passage are movements performed to show a high level of collection, strength, and balance. Piaffe, on the other hand, is a highly advanced movement performed in place with a great amount of collection.

Pirouettes executed at this level are more demanding than in previous levels, requiring a greater degree of control and balance.


As we have seen, dressage is a complex sport, with each level demanding a higher degree of precision, skill, and execution. The demands increase with each level, with riders and horses alike needing to demonstrate a high degree of technical competence, athleticism, and partnership.

Those who succeed at the highest levels of dressage require a great deal of commitment and an unrelenting motivation to excel. 7)


Dressage is a sport that requires the mastery of horsemanship and technical skill. It takes years of dedicated training to reach the upper levels of competition and success.

The US Equestrian Federation sets the dressage rules and regulations, including the six levels of competition.

The Dressage Levels

Each level has its own set of tests and requirements that riders and their horses must meet, focusing on gradually more demanding training for the horse and technical skills for the rider. Riders must develop a deep understanding of the horse’s behavior, psychology, and physical ability to train their mounts effectively.

Training, Mastery, and Horsemanship

Dressage has been described as a true partnership between horse and rider. It takes a great deal of time, work, and dedication to reach the highest levels of dressage.

True mastery comes only to those who have, over the years, developed their horses to become supple, strong, and powerful performers, well-schooled in the basics of dressage. It also takes a great deal of horsemanship.

Dressage tests require a high degree of control and precision, testing both the rider’s technical competence and communication with the horse. The rider must be able to apply the aids effectively to achieve the desired results.

Competition Circuit

The competition circuit provides an opportunity for riders to showcase their skills, their partnership with their horses, and their ability to deliver technical competence in their performances. They compete not only against other riders but against themselves, pushing themselves to improve their technical skills and execution with each performance.

The competition circuit not only provides a way for riders to improve their skills but also has a social aspect. Competitions bring riders together, allowing them to network and share their experiences in the sport.

The culture of dressage is rich in tradition and camaraderie, as riders come together to support each other in their quests for success. In conclusion, dressage is a unique and challenging sport that demands a high degree of technical competence and horsemanship.

Riders who succeed in this discipline demonstrate a deep understanding of the horse, as well as a technical mastery of the movements required at each level.

The Dressage Levels offer riders a clear path to progress in their skills and technical expertise. The competition circuit provides a venue for riders to showcase their abilities and build their reputations.

But ultimately, it is true partnership with the horse, built on trust, patience, and dedication, that is at the heart of this beautiful and demanding sport. In this article, we have covered the six levels of dressage competition and the concepts, requirements, and movements necessary to succeed in each level.

The importance of training, mastery, and horsemanship was emphasized, as well as the significance of the competition circuit in showcasing the skills and expertise of

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