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I Was Wrong About The Dressage Rider Pyramid

the dressage rider pyramid header

I became aware of the existence of the Dressage Rider Pyramid during the L program, and I must admit that after I gave it a cursory glance, I thought, “this is stupid.”

However, while doing some research for another article, I once again stumbled across the Rider Pyramid, and upon reevaluation, I realize that I was wrong. Terribly wrong. This pyramid for riders makes sense. Because the focus is on the essential basics, it maps out the path to a successful relationship with your horse, giving you a roadmap to becoming a better rider.

In order from the base of the Pyramid to the top:

Fitness and Balance: You are an athlete. An athlete who trains with a 1,000lb partner. The Dressage Rider Pyramid states that the rider should be able to trot or canter for 10 minutes without stopping. This makes sense; good riding starts with stamina. If you show, a Dressage test lasts several minutes. Now include the warmup. You need to feel fresh as you enter at A. If you don’t show, but love the discipline of Dressage, imagine making an important breakthrough only to stop when the magic happens because you are out of breath.

If you can post or canter for 1 or 2 minutes, great! Good place to start. Work up to 10 minutes. If you only ride a couple of times per week, don’t expect your time in the saddle to be enough. Pick up some other form of cardio fitness outside of the barn.

Balance involves the ability to sit in the middle of the horse, independent of your reins, and not interfere. Lunge lessons can come in handy for this. Outside the barn, consider Yoga or Pilates.

Independent Body: Most riders have very little body awareness. Especially if they have ridden the same horse for a long time. You and your horse have a “dance” going and what feels normal does not mean it is correct. In order to ride effectively, you need to be able to divide your body (aids) into four quadrants that function independently. Think about your trainer’s most overused phrase, “Inside leg to outside rein!” Dressage is a complex sport; your brain needs to be aware of what your body is doing, and of what your body needs to be doing.

Awareness of Horse’s Posture: The horse is also wired to do what feels normal and comfortable. He doesn’t gallop around thinking, “I need to bring my left hind through more in order to balance better.” He just moves around in whatever is comfortable and easy. Dressage is the art of gymnastically developing the horse to build balance and soundness through shaping his posture. Once you can be aware of your own body, you can, in turn, be aware of your horse’s body. Is he straight? Is he leaning? Is he crooked in his haunches? With your increasing fitness and with the help of a good trainer, you can become more aware of what the horse is doing.

Controlled Seat and Hands: Develop your seat and hands so that they communicate to the horse without interfering. I’ve read lots of explanations of this. They are all too long and complicated. In a nutshell: Don’t ask the horse to go with the leg and with the body, but tell him to whoa with the hands. In addition, don’t tell tell him to go, but throw away the hand. In my experience, if your horse is mad and acting out, the cause is likely your restricting hand. If your horse is trotting fast, long and flat, the cause is likely that you throw your reins away. The lovely thing about horses is they will tell you when you are doing it right. Magic happens.

Judgement and Training: Knowing when a performance is correct. Knowing how to make it better. Having a strategy to get there.


No one has ever achieved this level to perfection. Each day you step into the stirrup is an opportunity to learn. Each day, the horse presents a mirror of how you train and ride. Each day there is something to improve. This level is about having developed enough feel, and the ability to listen to your horse that you have the confidence to evaluate your progress, to know what works and what does not work, and to continue to improve. It is the ability to sooth your inner monkey that overthinks and criticizes and instead listen to the feedback your horse is giving you.

We are all somewhere on the same journey. Dressage is about mastering oneself, physically and mentally so you can help guide your partner in this wonderful sport that is also a dance.

117 thoughts on “I Was Wrong About The Dressage Rider Pyramid

  1. 😁😁😁👍👍👍

  2. You have to train a lot to be a dressage rider

    1. I had no idea about these kind of things!!!!

      1. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to ride this way!

  3. What a beautiful horse! <3

  4. I loved the last section on day by day, and a new opportunity to learn.

  5. Interesting post, didn’t know that much goes into horse riding

    1. Very informative.

  6. Such a gorgeous horse, and informative article!

  7. interesting thank you

  8. I had never heard of the Dressage Rider Pyramid prior to this article.

  9. good information!

  10. Very interesting read

  11. I loved this article!! Thanks so much for this information!!

  12. It is totally easy to get caught up in the usual mannerism with your horse. When you hop on another, you become fully aware that you were just too used to each other. It is hard to remember that you are, in fact, an athlete. I never think of it. Thanks for the post!

  13. Great article.

  14. Thanks for sharing. Very beautiful horse

  15. So interesting! Thank you for this insight!

  16. This is very informative and interesting. I’ve learned so much from this post.

  17. So interesting about how your posture and attitude affects the horse, love this thanks!

  18. Always more to learn, thank you!

  19. I learned something today

  20. That horse looks so proud of itself, a gorgeous example. It’s the same with a lot of things the basics are just the beginning and have to be mastered before advancement to the next stage.

  21. Always enjoyed watching it, never thought about trying it

  22. This is very interesting. Thank you.

  23. Wow so much I really had no idea about! That horse is beautiful!

  24. Dressage is a dance and about self-mastery – beautiful description!

  25. There is usually a reason for everything in a competition – testing a particular skill, demonstrating training and technique, observing how well the rider handles the horse – and the dressage course is well equipped to do all these things. And more.

  26. beautiful horse and interesting to read about the dressage pyramid

  27. Very Interesting !

  28. cool article

  29. I’m not sure I could ever do this! Haha!

  30. Great article. Thanks!

  31. Not into dressage. Our horses are working horses, but some of the basics still apply.

  32. thanks great information!

  33. There is a lot to learn This is a very useful article

  34. Very interesting. I am learning alot from this blog.

  35. Thanks for sharing this article, great tips indeed.

  36. Thank you for the information

  37. It seems stupid but very important. A lot of small things/things you don’t notice go into being a great rider.

  38. Horseback riding is a lot more physical than you think! It requires strength, balance and muscular endurance.

  39. I never knew what dressage was until I saw a parody of it on The Colbert Report years ago!

  40. Thank you for your insight on this

  41. Great info. Very informative

  42. Very well informed read. Truly enjoyed. Thanks so much for sharing.

  43. Me too! who woulda thought,

  44. I never heard of the Dressage Rider Pyramid before now. Thanks for posting!

  45. Dressage is beautiful!

  46. great article

  47. Great advice that will help your horse become easier to ride with for sure.

  48. So cool and informative!

  49. Very informative, I really need to increase my stamina. Thanks

  50. Interesting read

  51. I love horses never got a chance to ride one but would love a chance too. Your horses are beautiful!

  52. A horse /pony has to get used to you, the rider, in order to figure out what you want and need from them. Good article.

  53. Recognizing and accepting your current skill level is both very difficult and important to do, as doing so will allow you to understand what steps you need to take next to improve. Thanks for this realization! it can be applied to more than just riding.

  54. There’s always something new to learn.

  55. This was all new to me thanks.

  56. So much more to learn!

  57. Pretty cool!

  58. Thanks.

  59. It was a pleasure to learn more about something that is so beautiful to watch.

  60. Great insight and some new ways at looking at training.

  61. wow- interesting

  62. This is new information to me.

  63. Wonderful read! Horses rule


  65. awesome

  66. Great post – there’s hope for us all

  67. Great to read this

  68. Very good info to have. Thanks for sharing

  69. This was a very interesting article that was very informative to me and my family.

  70. Great info.

  71. Yup dont override the horse, let him or her relax a little too!

  72. wow I had no idea

  73. I learned so much from this article! Thanks for the information.

  74. I don’t think many people really realize how many muscles you actually utilize when you ride, and how you have to train your muscles to ride well.

  75. Wow great info regarding the Dressage Rider Pyramid!

  76. Wow. Very informative! Thank you!

  77. cool

  78. I take lessons 2x a week with a high level trainer. Sometimes she rides to help teach him because he and I are both going up the pyramid for the first time. It’s amazing how much a trainer can help both horse and rider individually see the error of their ways. They remind one of the pyramid and always going back to basics. It’s easy to fall back into the old ways too! Lol

  79. the horse show are good here and they hlep train people them right to ride

  80. very interesting

  81. very good structural article as always thank you

    1. Most dressage riders I see have such passion in what they do 💜

  82. Thanks for another great article!

  83. Great info

  84. Horses have always been so fun to look at, good on your for revisiting an old opinion of yours!

  85. Stunning article

  86. Great info thank you!

  87. I love this guide to becoming a better rider. It’s a very effective way to ensure I’m meeting the set requirements. Additional skills will be built and grow from this foundation

  88. So true! Each day is a day to improve!

  89. Truly great advice for athletic training.

  90. so much to learn and remember

  91. Fascinating. Horse and rider as an athletic team.

  92. Great read & super informative! thanks for sharing!

  93. Horse riding is definitely great exercise so doubt about that

  94. Thanx for the great advice!

  95. Learning a lot reading this blog

  96. i try it once riding a horse and it was fun

  97. Did some dressage when I was younger just so much fun!

  98. That was insightful and I can say I learned somethings too

  99. These creatures are so amazing to me and your articles are great

  100. Very factual and informative thank you!

  101. i had never heard of this before. so good to know!

  102. Very interesting

  103. You are so right about getting so used to your own horse – then you get on another and it is sooo different! This was a very interesting article!

  104. I am learning so much reading your posts. Great post!

  105. You have alot of helpful info I did know this before but not everything your info helped a lot since I own horses this will be handy to me if I ever decide to show him

  106. Forwarded this post to my daughter, she loved it!

  107. You learn something new every day! Thanks!

  108. I’d never heard of the pyramid before this , great article ! I love learning new things!
    Gorgeous horse !

  109. It does sound very hard to be a rider.

  110. “Dressage is the art of gymnastically developing the horse to build balance and soundness through shaping his posture.” I read this a couple of times and then slowly read it. I had never heard this before. I like riding horses but I admit to not knowing a lot about it.

  111. Great information!! I had no idea!

  112. Thanks for writing this blog post and letting readers of it know what you think the proper dressage pyramid is. As someone who doesn’t know a whole lot about how to train for dressage, I found the blog post to be very informative. And if I were to get more involved with dressage in the future, I would definitely come back to this blog post.

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