Dressage Terminology

The Gaits

Walk – A clear “four-beat” gait with footfalls following one another. View Video

Trot – A “two beat” gait where diagonal leg pairs move simultaneously followed by a moment of suspension. View Video

Canter – A “three-time” gait where the hind leg strikes off followed by the opposite and diagonal fore leg and then the opposite foreleg (a.k.a. – the lead leg) followed by a moment of suspension. View Video.

The Paces

Collection – The horse remains “on the bit” with the neck raised and arched with the poll at the highest point. The horse’s strides are shorter but he maintains his rhythm. This pace is designed to develop and improve the horse’s balance and equilibrium, engage the horse’s quarters and improve his ridability through self carriage and lightness.

Working – This pace falls between the collected and medium gait. Shows proper balance, the horse remains on the bit and moves forward with even elastic steps.

Medium – The pace between working and extension at the trot and canter or between the collected and extended walk showing a moderately lengthened stride with impulsion from the hind quarter.

Extension – The horse covers as much ground as possible within a given gait, thus demonstrating greater impulsion of the hind quarter.

Free Walk – This walk demonstrates long strides, a relaxed back and a lowering and stretching of the head and neck illustrating complete relaxation. It can be ridden with little or no contact. The horse is encouraged to carry his head and neck as low as he chooses. View Video.


Walk – Halt – Walk – The horse begins in a “marching” walk, is asked to halt momentarily and then is asked to continue on in a “marching” walk.

Trot – Halt – Trot – The horse begins in working trot, comes to the halt momentarily, before proceeding in trot. View Video.

Trot – Walk – Trot – The horse begins in trot, comes back to the walk for approximately one horse length and immediately proceeds in trot. View Video

Variations on the Gaits

Passage – This is a very collected, cadenced trot that is characterized by elevated movement of the knees and hocks, as well as a defined engagement of the quarters. The toe of the raised foreleg should come to the middle of the cannon bone of the opposing foreleg. The horse should remain calmly on the bit with a raised arched neck and head close to vertical. The poll should be the highest point of the arch. View Video.

Piaffe – This diagonal movement is highly collected and cadenced as with the passage; however, it is done “in place.” The horse’s raised foreleg should again be raised to the middle of the opposing foreleg’s cannon bone. The raised hind leg’s toe should be slightly above the fetlock joint of the opposing hind leg. The piaffe should always remain lively and animated with the horse’s body moving up and down in a relaxed, supple and cadenced manner. As with passage, the horse’s neck should be arched with it’s head in the vertical position.

Counter Canter – Cantering deliberately on the lead opposing the circle direction (i.e. – right lead canter while riding a circle to the left or vice versa). This is often used to balance the horse because he is maintaining his natural flexion at the poll to the outside of the circle and positioned to the side of the leading leg.

Change of Lead – Horse is brought from a canter to a few strides of trot and then asked to canter again on the opposite leading leg.

Simple Change of Lead – The horse is brought back to a walk immediately asked to show a few clearly defined walks strides and then asked to depart in canter using the opposite leading leg.

Flying Change of Lead – (aka – Flying Change of Leg) The horse changes leading legs closely following the moment of suspension after each stride. This can also be executed every 2nd, 3rd or 4th stride, as well as when changing direction on the circle.

Transitions – An upward or downward change of gait or pace at a given marker. These should not be abrupt and the horse should remain calm and maintain position.

The Movements

20-Meter Circle – A circle that is 20 meters in diameter and that ends in exactly the same place it started. View Video

Change of Direction – The horse changes his bend of his body in conjunction with the direction in which he is moving. The horse should maintain his current pace without resisting or losing his rhythm.

Rein Back – The horse moves backward in a straight line by moving legs in diagonal pairs. This is a two-beated movement. View Video

Half Halt – A nearly invisible simultaneously action of the hand, seat and legs used to capture the horse’s attention and regain balance. View Video

Halt – The horse stops all movement with all 4 feet equally balanced underneath the horse. The horse should remain relaxed, attentitive, straight and on the bit.

Shoulder-In – The horse should be slightly bent around the rider’s inside leg – away from the direction of movement – (approximately 30 degrees) in collected trot. The inside front leg should cross over in front of the outside front leg. The inside hind leg should remain on the same track as the outside for leg, thus stepping under the horse’s body as he moves. The horse should be traveling on 3 tracks and maintain his cadence as he moves. View Video

Shoulder Fore – This exercise is performed similar to the Shoulder In but with a lesser degree of angle (by approximately 1/2) than the previous. It is used to supple the young or stiff horse and to aid in the development of straightness. It is a movement of the horse’s shoulder to the inside. View Video.

Travers – The horse is bent around the rider’s inside leg, and looking in the direction of travel with the outside legs passing in front of the inside legs. Travers is performed at either the collected trot or collected canter with the forehand remaining on the track. The walk can be used for introducing this movement. The quarters leave the track at the beginning of the travers and are not returned to the track until the end of the travers. Upon returning to the track, there should be no counter flexion of the poll or neck. In this movement, the head will remain closest to the outside of the arena or wall. View Video.

Renvers – This is the opposite of the travers with the tail remaining closest to the outside of the arena or wall.

Leg Yield – The horse exhibits a slight flexion of the poll away from the direction he is traveling. The inside legs should cross in front of the outside legs with the rider being able to see just the inside eyebrow and nostril. This movement is the precursor to the shoulder-in and half pass seen in the more advanced tests. The horse should remain supple and relaxed during the execution of this movement. View Video

Half Pass – The horse bends slightly around the rider’s inside leg with the forehand moving slightly in advance of the hind quarters as the horse travels across the diagonal. The outside legs pass in front of the inside legs and the horse is looking in the direction in which he is traveling. The horse should maintain his elasticity, cadence and impulsion throughout the execution of the movement. View Video

Turn on the Haunches – This movement is similar to the pirouette in that the horse’s forelegs move around the horse’s hind legs.

Pirouette – This movement is generally performed at the collected walk or canter where the horse’s forehand circles around the hind limbs at a distance equal to the length of the horse. The horse should be slightly bent in the direction that he is traveling. He should remain “on the bit” maintaining his cadence as he travels. The horse should not deviate from his direction by moving backwards or sideways. This movements can also be performed as a 1/2 pirouette or 1/4 pirouette.

Serpentine – The horse performs half circles followed by straight lines. The horse should be parallel to the short side of the arena as he crosses the center line. View Video.

Volte – This is a 6, 8 or 10m circle. The term circle is used if the diameter is greater than 10m.