Dressage Terms

As you begin your journey in dressage training, it’s important to understand the terms and phrases you’ll encounter. Here are some of the most common terms used in dressage circles.
Home / Articles / Dressage Terms



This is a horse position in which the horse avoids acceptance of contact by putting its muzzle upward and forward, also usually retracting the poll.


Another form of the horse avoiding contact, the animal becomes rigid or unyielding in the neck and poll and/or jaw, but the head carriage may still appear superficially correct. This is usually accompanied by a retraction of the poll.


Aids are the cues a rider gives to the horse to let the horse know what he or she wants the animal to do. There are natural aids (the leg, the hands, the seat, and the voice) as well as artificial aids (the bit or hackamore, the spur, the whip, and the crop, bat, or “stick.”


This is an evasion in which the horse pulls back from the bit/contact, thus avoiding stepping forward into the contact. The head may or may not be behind the vertical.


In this head position, the horse’s nostrils fall behind an imaginary vertical line dropped from the horse’s eye (i.e., chin toward chest.)


This is the tautness or stretch of the reins. Done correctly, there should be elasticity of the connection between horse and rider, indicating acceptance of contact.


This is avoidance of the difficulty, correctness, purpose of the movement, or influence of the rider, often without active resistance or disobedience (such as tilting the head, opening the mouth, breaking the neckline, etc.) Bit evasions are a means of avoiding contact with the bit.


The horse will react willingly to the rider’s aids with confidence, immediacy, and correct behavior.


This signifies acceptance of contact, without any resistance or evasion, and the topline is stretched and lateral and longitudinal flexion are present as required. The horse’s face line is, generally, slightly in front of the vertical.


This is a very collected trot in place, without any forward or backward movement.


The horse is turned through 360 degrees, whether by walking, cantering, or piaffing, by pivoting around the inside hindleg.


This is the occipital crest of the horse’s skull, the highest point. In more common usage, however, the term refers to the longitudinal or lateral flexion at the joint between the skull and the first cervical vertebra.


The state in which the horse carries itself in balance, without taking any support or balancing on the rider’s hand.



This is a clear “four-beat” gait, with footfalls following one another.


A trot is a “two beat” gait, in which diagonal leg pairs move at the same time, followed by a moment of suspension.


The final gait is a “three-time” gait; the hind leg strikes off followed by the opposite and diagonal foreleg. Then, the opposite foreleg, or the lead leg, strikes, followed by a moment of suspension.



The horse will remain “on the bit,” with its neck raised and arched with the poll at the highest point. The horse’s strides will be shorter, but it will maintain its rhythm. This pace is meant to develop and improve the animal’s balance and equilibrium, engaging the horse’s quarters and improving its ridability by way of self-carriage and lightness.


Somewhere between the collected and the medium pace, you will find the working pace. This pace shows proper balance, with the horse remaining on the bit and moving forward with even, elastic steps.


This pace exhibits a moderately lengthened stride with impulsion from the hind quarter, and is found between working and extension at the trot and canter, or between collected and extended at the walk.


Demonstrating the strength of its impulsion of the hind quarter, the horse covers as much ground as possible within a given gait.


Long strides, a relaxed back, and a lowering and stretching of the head are hallmarks of the free walk. This pace demonstrates complete relaxation, and can be ridden with little or no contact. The horse is encouraged to carry its head and neck as low as it wishes.


Finally, we have the terms used in the training scale. Competitive dressage training in the United States is based on a progression of six steps, as developed by the German National Equestrian Foundation. This system is arranged in a pyramid fashion, with “rhythm and regularity” at the start of the pyramid and “collection” at the end. The levels are interconnected, so don’t think of them as a rigid format of “Start this, then do that.” Without further ado, here are the different terms used for the training scale.


The horse’s rhythm, gait, tempo, and regularity should be the same on both straight and bending lines, through lateral work, and through transitions. Rhythm refers to the sequence of the footfalls. The footfalls should only include the pure walk, pure trot, and pure canter. Regularity of the gait means how even and level the stride is.


Relaxation, or looseness, in the horse can be seen in an even stride that swings through the back and causes the tail to swing, much like a pendulum. There should also be looseness at the poll, a soft chewing of the bit, and a relaxed blowing through the nose.


Contact is the result of the horse’s pushing power, never by the pulling of the rider’s hands. The horse should have the same contact in both reins, and the rider encourages the horse to stretch into soft hands allowing the horse to lift the base of its neck, coming up into the bridle and following the animal’s natural head motion.


This is the pushing power of the horse, created by storing the energy of the forward reaching of the hind legs under the body. Impulsion is properly achieved by relaxation of the horse, correct driving aids of the rider, and the flow of energy through the horse from front to back and back to front. This encourages correct muscle and joint use, as well as engaging the mind of the horse so that it focuses on the rider and, particularly at the walk and trot, allowing for relaxation and dissipation of nervous energy.


A horse is straight when the hind legs follow the path of the front legs, both on straight lines and on bending lines. This allows the horse to channel its impulsion directly to the animal’s center of balance, while also allowing the rider’s hand aids to have a connection to the hind end.


Collection is at the apex of the training scale. It may be used to refer to collected gaits, which can be used to supplement less vigorous work. It also involves difficult movements, such as flying changes, in more advanced horses. Collection requires greater muscular strength, so it should be advanced slowly.