What is French Classical Dressage

Dressage is dressage….right?

In an ideal world, yes good training is good training, no matter what title you use or what saddle you put on your horse. However in modern times, dressage has differentiated into competitive and classical styles which unfortunately have become very different from one another.

So what makes French Classical Dressage so unique?

Ground work

Ground work is used much more extensively in French Classical Dressage than in many other styles. I’ve discussed groundwork before, so I won’t go into to much detail here, but ground work is used to open the lines of communication between horse and rider and to teach the horse what is expected of him before we get on his back.

bethany71webLightness & true self carriage

French Classical Dressage requires everything to be done it the lightest way possible. Nothing is ever done through force or with gadgets. Cues from the rider are almost invisible. The horse must be in true self carriage, something that is rarely seen in today’s competitive world. This means that the horse is carrying himself by his own free will, rather than being forced into position and then held there by the rider or by artificial aids. The goal is to create a willing partnership with the horse, and this can never be done through force.

These French Classical principles can be applied to any style of riding, whether you want to do competitive dressage, jump, ride western, or just have a good trail horse. Applying this to your riding will help you achieve a happier, more enjoyable relationship with your horse.


Mental aspect of riding

French Classical Dressage, unlike most other styles of riding, take into account not only the physically but also the mental side of horseback riding. This includes:

This may sound a little hokey and New Age but visualization really does work with horses. This means that before you ever ask your horse to do something, you have a clear picture in your head of exactly what you are asking for. For example, if you want your horse to trot, you decide when you want him to trot, what direction to trot, and what rhythm of trot. You have a clear picture in your head that way you know exactly what you want. For if you don’t know what you want, how should your horse know?  You must be determined to do exactly what you have decided to do. A horse can tell if you are wishy washy about something. Horses look for determination in someone before they will choose to accept their leadership.

Energy and Emotions
Dominique Barbier’s wonderful book, Dressage for the New Age, states that “your horse is your mirror”. What does this mean? Your horse will reflect your emotions whether it be anger, frustration, anxiety, happiness, peace, or joy. Horses are masters at being able to read our emotions. One example of this can be seen in a spooking horse. If a rider sees something that may potentially spook her horse and then starts focusing on that object and how it will scare the horse, then there is a pretty good chance that the horse is going to spook. However if the rider calmly ignores the object, there is a good chance that the horse will ignore it as well. The horse will reflect his rider.

DSC_5746Horses will also reflect your energy level. Have you ever been in a hurry to get your horse tacked up and for some reason your normally very well behaved horse suddenly just will not stand still? This is because he is reacting to your increase in energy. Horses are very in tune with the energy around them. It is what helps them survive and escape danger. You can use your energy level to influence your horses energy. If this is a new concept for you, it takes some practice to get the feel for what I am talking about. It requires you to look inwardly and become more in tune with yourself. Only then can you influence your horse in a positive manner. It is worth the effort though! I am able to do transitions, both upwards and downwards, with my horse completely at liberty using only my energy level.

The more you are able to do mentally, the less you will have to do physically. This is when the fun really begins!


To learn more about how to achieve a better relationship with your horse, visit our website or blog, where we feature information about French Classical Dressage training, as well as care and maintenance of the horse!