Spectator's Guide

Dressage horse and rider

Although dressage takes may be interesting to watch without knowing anything about it or horses, it is truly appreciated when spectators have some background knowledge of what they’re watching. By checking out this Web site, you’re off to a great start in gathering more information about dressage! Here are some other basic guidelines to take with you and keep in mind the next time you go to a dressage show.

Proper Rider Seat and Aids

A good rider will have a good seat, meaning that while riding there is very little movement in the hip joints and the pelvis. The seat is essential because it helps control the horse's movement. Weight should be distributed evenly on both seat bones and feet should be facing forward with toes up. From the side, there should be a vertical line through the ear, shoulder, hip and heel. The head should be looking straight ahead.

Also, remember that less is more when it comes to dressage, meaning that “the less you see the rider do, the better, because that means he is communicating with his horse quietly and his horse is attentive -- they are working as a team." Also, a rider should never use his or her voice to aid a horse. (2)

Look for Geometry

A horse performing good figures will be completing round circles and straight lines, which is deceivingly harder than it looks on horseback.


A good dressage horse will have gaits with rhythm. There should only be the three gaits mentioned in the movements section: the walk, trot and canter. Also listen up for the consistency of that rhythm, which the rider controls.

Look at the Lips

Check out a horse’s lips. A good sign of an attentive and comfortable horse is the white foam surrounding them. A horse secretes saliva when relaxed, which appears on the lips as the white foam.

Alternatively, a horse that is tense becomes rigid in its back and neck, meaning it moves more stiffly. Another sure sign of a tense horse is a tail that constantly swishes and pinned-back ears.

Keep Behavior in Mind

Just like humans need to focus, so do horses. Riders appreciate it if spectators are quiet during rides and remain about 15 meters away from the arena. Also remember that horses are always unpredictable and that you should never approach a horse without asking its rider for permission first.

For a more comprehensive spectator's guide, visit the United States Dressage Federation's Spectator's Guide.

Source for this page: 2.