The word “dressage” is derived from the French word meaning “training.” Its origins can be traced back over 2000 years, when the Greeks used dressage as a means of training for war. During that time, fighting on horseback is advantageous and so it was very important for the horse to be in sync with its rider. Dressage would entail movements such as pirouettes, piaffes, and courbettes — those which can be used in the battlefield.
While the Greeks didn’t use dressage saddles when riding horses, it is said that they used jointed snaffles to aide their maneuvering. The beginnings of a proper dressage saddle would be developed by the Assyrians about 700-800 BCE, and consisted of a cloth attached around the horse’s girth.
The art of dressage declined during the Middle Ages when soldiers began to use armor to protect themselves. Their horses would be covered in heavy armor that weighed from 50 to more than 150 pounds, therefore hindering any complex movements that classical dressage entailed. The dressage saddle evolved into a stronger piece of equipment that could reliably support an active soldier. The cantle and pommel became higher so that the rider wouldn’t be unseated. The seat was padded with wool or horsehair and covered in leather — something similar to the dressage saddle of today.
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The Renaissance period saw the comeback of dressage as warfare made the transition into firearms for combat. Armor was significantly reduced as one could engage the enemy from a great distance. The battles in this era called for chargers — horses swift in movement so that strategic formations within the army could be executed. Dressage once again comprised of critical action on the part of the horse.
It was also during the Renaissance that the design of dressage saddles began to branch out. In England, as foxhunting became popular, so did it call for a modification of the saddle structure. The pommel and cantle had to be lowered so that jumps would be safer and more comfortable. The flap’s angle was also adjusted so that the equestrian saddle could achieve a better position during a high jump.
The dressage of today came about during the Twentieth Century in the standards of Olympic sports. Rather than being used for war, dressage has become a competitive sport practiced by all countries in the world. Men and women of all ages are now welcome to take part in this activity that is both fulfilling and enjoyable. It is regarded as a time-honored tradition that encourages lightness, balance, and harmony between the rider and his horse.