The History of Dressage

Dressage is the epitome of elegance and is the art of riding in harmony with the horse, rather than against it. But how did this most beautiful of riding styles originate? Read on for a brief history of dressage and the origins of what we now know as an Olympic Sport.

The history of dressage begins in Ancient Greek times when it was used as a form of training to prepare a horse for the battle environment. The first recorded writings on classical dressage training were in a work named ‘On Horsemanship’ by a Greek Commander, Xenophon (c. 430-354 BC).

The Moves

In classical dressage, there were a number of moves developed which some believe to be specifically designed for use on the battlefield in order for the rider to evade capture or fight more easily. These movements are called Airs Above The Ground and include the levade, cabriole, courbette and ballotade.

Each of these moves requires the horse to leave the ground, exposing its vulnerable underbelly which leads many experts to believe that instead of use in battle, these techniques were probably developed for use off the the battlefield purely to improve the horse and rider’s skill and strength.


Horses trained in classical dressage were done so to be able to endure the strains of the cavalry and possess the stamina to last in battle. For this reason, training focused on improving a horse’s strength and longevity as illustrated in the phenomenal power required to perform the Airs Above The Ground mentioned above.

Training and Technique

In classical dressage, the training focused around a light hand and independent seat. The reason for this was purely a military one. If a cavalryman was fighting on horseback, it was imperative that his hands were kept free. Therefore techniques were created so he could control his horse with his seat, legs and posture and use his hands for his weapons.

The Evolution of Dressage

Dressage became popular with the nobility and was not only a favoured pastime, but also a way for the aristocracy to showcase their elevated status through elegant pageants and displays.

In 1572, the Imperial Spanish Riding School of Vienna was established using the the training system developed by the masters of the time. This system forms the basis for all dressage training today. 

With the decline of horses as a military asset, dressage became more focused around competitions and in 1912 it became an Olympic Sport when it first featured at the Stockholm Games.

Since then dressage has developed into a hugely popular equestrian sport with competitions taking place around the world attracting thousands of followers.

Dressage Horse Transport

Throughout the history of dressage, not only has the sport evolved, but so has the world we live in. Now, with competitions taking place across the globe and journey times so short, horses perform national and international journeys on a regular basis – especially with Olympic Horse transport.

NRT International is a horse transporter with many years of experience and expertise in transporting top-level horses of all disciplines to worldwide destinations.

If you are looking for help with dressage horse transport, get in touch today on 01638 663155, or click here to browse our website.

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