It takes many years of patient, progressive gymnastic training to develop the strength and elasticity horses need to perform the grand prix movements of dressage at its highest levels. They are exceptional athletes. Look for them to be light, balanced and moving smoothly from one movement to the next.
The Grand Prix test is composed of a standard series of movements that everyone must do in the same sequence (see drawings). The choreography of the Grand Prix Freestyle, however, is determined by the rider, who chooses his or her own music and rides the movements any place in the arena. Horse and rider pairs are judged on two aspects: technical correctness and artistic interpretation. Judges focus on rhythm, energy and elasticity; harmony between rider and horse; choreography, use of the arena and inventiveness; degree of difficulty and calculated risks; music and interpretation of the music.
Grand Prix dressage horses should look light in the rider’s hand, relaxed, flexible, powerful and rhythmic in all movements. They should be able to lengthen (extend) and shorten (collect) the frame easily. The following drawings will help you identify movements and understand how they should be performed.
Definition: The trot is a two-beat gait in which the horse’s diagonal steps are separated by a moment of suspension–when all legs are off the ground. In the collected trot, the horse is ridden forward in short, active, powerful steps that remain relaxed. In collection, the horse’s frame elevates and his neck arches.
Look for a steady, two-beat cadenced rhythm as active hind legs flex and engage to carry enough weight so that the forehand (shoulders, head, neck and forelegs) lightens.
Definition: In the extended trot, the horse covers as much ground as possible by lengthening his frame and his stride as a result of impulsion coming from his hindquarters.
Look for a lengthening of the trot steps and of the horse’s frame, while at the same time keeping a steady, two-beat rhythm. He should maintain his balance and tempo. You will know he is successful if he can increase his scope powerfully without losing the suppleness necessary for smooth transitions in and out of the extension.
Half Pass at Collected Trot
Definition: The half-pass is a movement in which the horse moves forward and sideways along a diagonal path. The horse is bent around the rider’s inside leg, and he looks in the direction he is moving. (See top drawing)
Look for the outside legs crossing over the inside legs easily and gracefully. The horse should be bent consistently in the direction of travel and be balanced, as demonstrated by his relaxation and the regularity of his rhythm.
Definition: The passage is a trot that is more collected and elevated than the collected trot. It is characterized by pronounced cadence and a prolonged period of suspension.
Look for the elasticity and regularity of cadenced steps. Although the passage is a difficult movement, the horse should look proud and energetic, and the work should look easy, not labored.
Definition: The piaffe demonstrates the highest degree of collection in trot. The horse gives the impression of trotting in place.
Look for the ease and fluidity of the horse’s steps along with the lowering of the haunches as a result of his activity and engagement. The balance and smoothness of the transitions between piaffe and passage are a substantial part of the scoring.
Flying Change of Lead
Definition: A flying change is a movement executed in the canter, which is a three-beat gait with a period of suspension. In the flying change, the horse changes his leading leg during the moment of suspension. At the Grand Prix level, the horse and rider are required to demonstrate flying changes every other stride (called two-tempi changes) and every stride (one-tempi changes).
Look for the changes to be straight, light, balanced, rhythmic and fluent. Flying changes are easy to see and count. While doing the tempi changes, the horse is often described as looking as if he is skipping.
Definition: The pirouette is the most highly collected movement done in the canter. In a full pirouette, the horse executes a 360-degree turn around his inside hind foot, which should return nearly to the same spot each time it leaves the ground. The radius of the turn is approximately the length of the horse’s body.
Look for a slight bend in the direction of the movement, steady balance, lightness and ease. The horse should take between six and eight strides to complete the pirouette in a comfortable balance. In the Grand Prix freestyle, double pirouettes are allowed.
About the artist: The artwork of Sandy Rabinowitz has appeared in magazines, text books, children’s books and U.S. Dressage Federation brochures. She has been illustrating “Solutions,” appearing on the last page of Dressage Today magazine since January 1997. She also wrote and illustrated Driven Dressage with the Single Horse for the American Driving Society. She has been a dressage rider for nearly 30 years and lives with her family in Hamden, Connecticut.
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