Exploring the Scientific Side of Dressage

A research team including Dr. Hilary Clayton reviewed existing studies quantifying elite dressage performance as the group works to establish a classifications system for paradressage.
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Exploring the Scientific Side of Dressage
The team has already described certain individual dressage movements—such as passage—from a scientific perspective. But now they’re looking at a more global view of the entire dressage test to gain a clear, objective definition of “performance” in elite dressage. | Photo: Dirk Caremans/FEI
The ideal dressage horse has supple and relaxed movements, with a pronounced beat. He’s free from resistance and works under light, even, and elastic contact from the rider, with a level of “thoroughness” with the horse functioning in one piece. His steps give the impression that he springs off the ground, and he has energy that is created and contained, but without resistance.

If you’re a dressage judge, trainer, or rider, this is what you need to look for, at least according to the U.K.’s competitive dressage organization, British Dressage, as described in a recent version of their “Scales of Training.”

But as artistic as this might sound, this definition lacks objectivity, say equine biomechanics experts. Although the art of dressage merits full respect and should be maintained, it’s also important to have scientifically sound measurements to help bring a solid, objective view to what makes good dressage, said Sarah Jane Hobbs, PhD, of the University of Central Lancashire Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences, in the U.K.

To form scientific explanations for what we see and appreciate in the dressage ring, Hobbs and a team of researchers have been investigating dressage from a biomechanical point of view. That team includes Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, Dipl. ACVSMR, FRCVS, professor and McPhail Dressage Chair Emerita at Michigan State University, in East Lansing

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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