History of Dressage

The Civilization of Horses

Although it is not known exactly when the first horse was ridden, horses have been a part of humanís history for centuries. Ancient horses, smaller than todayís breeds, were used to pull wheeled vehicles in the valleys of ancient Syria and Egypt around 1500 BC. The first horsemanís manual was written in about 1300 BC, when horses were mainly used to pull chariots. A system of training horses was first documented by the Greek writer Xenophon, as horses had to be obedient and maneuverable.

Development of Dressage

Dressage has existed for many centuries in the form of training horses for competition. There is even some evidence that some of the maneuvers used in dressage were developed by the ancient Greeks. However, it wasnít until the Renaissance that dressage flourished. As horsemanship became an art, the first riding school was set up in Naples in 1532 by Federico Grisone, a Neapolitan nobleman. As the horses performed intricate movements, it was from his academy that the modern form of dressage evolved. It wasnít until 1735 that the Spanish Riding School, geared toward the fashionable nobility, began in Vienna and replaced an earlier riding school established in Versailles in the 16th century. Today, the Spanish Riding School is one of the greatest in the world, where classical dressage movements are still taught and performed.

Nearly 30 years later, the French Cavalry set up a riding school in Saumur. The Cadre Noir, as the group of officers was known, was renowned for their dashing riding across the country and in the art of dressage. It has greatly contributed to dressage over the past two centuries, as the French technique uniquely employs lighter and more humane techniques.

In Europe, competitive dressage has been developing since the beginning of the 20th century. It was included in the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, however, at this point it was more of an obedience test derived from military tests and not as well known. By the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the standard rose dramatically to include most of the modern movements. At this point, riders were predominantly male and in the military. The focus of dressage shifted in 1948 when the U. S. Cavalry was disbanded and the sport began to grow in popularity. 1952 marked the first year women were allowed to compete in the Olympics.

Sources for this page: 1, 2 and 3.