So is there a difference between Driven Dressage and Ridden dressage?

The biggest difference is the fact that in driven dressage your horse has to do everything that a ridden dressage horse has to with a carriage attached to his body.  The extra weight that the driven horse has to pull while doing all of the elements of dressage can be overwhelming, to say the least.

Lately, there has been a lot of conversation about moving up through the levels and how long it takes one to be proficient at a level before moving up. Let me try to break it down for you!

In ridden dressage you work your way through levels:

  • Introductory – Walk, trot, canter, rein change
  • Training – move more freely, shallow loop canter, stretch circle trot, canter to trot diagonal
  • First Level – use of hind end, 10m circle trot, 15m circle canter, lengthen stride at trot and canter, leg yield, counter canter
  • Second  Level – more power in the hind end, collection, medium paces, Travers, simple changes, 10m canter circle, half turn on haunches
  • Third Level – horse has established uphill balance, transitions at collected medium and extended gaits, flying changes, half pass trot, Renvers, half pass canter
  • Fourth Level – suppleness, power, precision, collected canter, walk pirouettes, multiple flying changes, tempi changes, partial pirouette canter
  • Prix St-George, Intermediate I & II, Grand Prix – these are the USEF levels so when you get here you need to know it all.

In driven dressage which was based originally on ridden dressage, there are fewer levels to get through but it is just as hard to get there!

  • Training – working trot, working walk, walk stretching, 40m circle trot, 20m half circle
  • Preliminary – working trot, working walk, lengthen walk and trot, 30m circle trot, 3 loop serpentine, 20m half circle
  • Intermediate – working walk and trot, lengthened walk, collected and medium trot, 20m circle at a trot and collected trot, 10m deviation, 2 loop serpentine, 40m canter circle, 20m deviation, 30m circle collected
  • CAI1, CAI2, CAI3 – these are the USEF levels

Now that you have an idea of what your horse has to learn at each level, let’s consider what it will take you to get your horse there!

If you buy an already trained horse that has been trained to the intermediate level, that’s great!  But if you have never done any dressage you will need to learn before you can properly ask your horse to do what he knows.  If you don’t know how to ask the horse to do an extended trot then he won’t do it even if he knows how.

On the other side of the coin, if you are proficient in dressage and your horse is not trained in it, then when you ask your horse to do that extended trot he will not know what you are talking about.

Whether you are doing driven dressage or ridden, you both need to know what you are doing to be able to do that extended trot.

Most horses need to be at least five to be able to physically and mentally do any dressage above training level. For example, I drove my Friesian Sporthorse in his first ADT at the age of five.  At this point, he still lacked focus and patience to be able to do a complete dressage test. After returning home I decided that I would wait another year before I would try another event.  He needed the time for his mind to catch up with his body.

For those of you who have a good dressage background then you are ahead if you purchase an already trained driving horse that is driving at the upper level.  Those of you who have never done dressage before will need to have lessons to learn.  Blind leading the blind is not a good idea when you are driving a horse!

How long does it take to train an upper-level driven dressage horse?  This all depends on the horse and what his ability is.  Like in any horse modality some horses are more proficient than others.  A lot of a horse’s ability has to do with their body type and how they are put together. For example, Quarter horses make the best cow horses because that is what they are bred for.  The most sought-after combined driving horses are Dutch Harness Horse, Welsh Ponies, Morgans, Haflingers, Hackney, and German Riding Ponies.  These are all great breeds but remember each horse is an individual, so each needs to be assessed for their ability to do dressage.

Now that you have the basics as to what’s involved in getting your horse trained in dressage I will talk about timetables in which to go from one level to the next.

“There is no set timetable!”

As with us humans, we do not all learn at the same pace and neither do the horses.  When I train a horse it is always at the pace of the horse I am working with.  Your horse will only learn as fast as he is capable. Some of the horses get the lesson faster than others so you need to train at the horses’ pace.

The same goes for the humans involved in this sport.  It is not a race to move from one level to the next. For those who are just getting into the sport, an event can be overwhelming, to say the least!  The five or six tests in each level are there to help walk you through the levels.  If you and your horse cannot do all of the tests at one level, getting an above-average score, then you are not ready to move up. When you are driving a proficient horse that does great in dressage but you are having problems in marathons and cones, then don’t let anyone tell you, you have to move up.  If they have a problem because you place first in dressage, then it is their problem.  

It means that they need to work harder!

There are three parts to combined driving, it is not just dressage so your horse and you need to learn all three parts to be successful in the sport.

I have seen too many drivers over-facing their horse, as well as the horse over-facing the driver. If you are just out to have fun and want to stay at a level that is comfortable for you then do that!

Three of my driving horses I have taken to the top of their driving careers. My current horse, Pinegrove’s Sailor Boy, took six years of training and competing up the levels to reach FEI (Federation Equestrian International) level. 

You need to have patience, time, and knowledge to get a talented horse to the top!