Dressage Classes at Nationals

By Donna DeYoung

How many Andalusian horses compete at the IALHA National Championship?

Well, a few hundred ... But how many of those actually compete in dressage? This article will show how many Andalusians are competing in introductory level and training level compared to the other levels at our National show. You may be surprised. We'll also cover what is required at each level of dressage.

First of all, a topic of debate in 2004 was that “all” the International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association (IALHA) Nationals Show classes were changed to "National Championship” classes. Some have become “Grand” National championships. In the past, some classes were general classes (and less expensive). A debate over this change brought out the following comment: 

“Congrats to the IALHA Board---they have successfully sullied the reputation of IALHA dressage classes.”

Yes, one of the most obvious changes in 2004 was to the dressage classes. All are listed as “National Champion” in 2004. The classes offered include USDF Introductory Level Test 2; Training Level Tests 1, 3 and 4; First Level Tests 1, 3, and 4; Second Level Tests 1, 3, and 4; Third Level Tests 2 and 3; Fourth Level Tests 2 and 3; FEI Prix St. Georges, Intermediare I and II; Grand Prix; and Musical Freestyle and Kur. 

Classes not requiring qualification include Training Level Test 4, First Level Test 4, Second Level Test 4, Third Level Test 3, Fourth Level Test 3, and all levels above Fourth Level.

In 2002, there were 4 entries in introductory level, 20 entries in training level, 12 in first level, 3 in second, 1 third, 1 in FEI Intermediare, 2 in musical freestyle, and 1 in musical Kur.

The year before that, there were more than 10 in intro level, 20 in training level, 12 in first level, 3 in second level, 1 in third level, 1 in FEI Intermediare, 2 in musical freestyle, and 1 in musical Kur.

As you can see, the majority of Andalusians showing at our National shows are competing in Training level or Introductory level.

What is Dressage and How are the Levels Different?

Dressage is performed in a 20 by 60 meter arena. There are six standard levels (introductory, training, first, second, third, and fourth) and four international levels (Prix St. George, Intermediare I, Intermediare II, and Grand Prix.). The tests are scored from 0 to 10 with 10 being excellent.

There are two tests in the introductory level. All work is done at the walk and trot with no cantering. Dressage trainers bascially scoff if you say you want to ride in Introductory level. The emphasis is correct bend, relaxation, submission, and the horses’ understanding of the rider’s aids. Required movements are medium walk, free walk, and rising (posting) trot. Your horse performs on either straight lines or a 20 meter circle. Pretty simple, eh?

Training level develops the horse further so that his muscles are supple and loose and he moves freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm accepting contact with the bit. Canter work on 20 meter circles is added at this level. In addition, the horse is asked to stretch his neck at the trot and make some changes of bend during the trot. Doesn’t sound too hard, either? There were 20 horses competing at this level at the 2002 IALHA National show.

In first level the horse is developing his pushing power and also has balance and throughness. The horse and rider will perform 10 meter trot circles, 20 meter serpentines, and trot lengthenings while posting. Canter work is done on 15 meter circles and straight lines and is also lengthened. By the end of the first level tests, a leg yield (sideways) and simple lead change (through the trot) is introduced. Most horses should be able to do these movements if they are expected to carry a rider on their back! Twelve horses competed at this level in 2002.

Second level progresses beyond first level by asking the horse for more collection, requiring medium paces, and at this point the horse should be “reliably” on the bit. Transitions between medium and collected gaits are judged, and shoulder in, haunches in, rein-back, and counter-canter are all added to the tests, as well as simple lead changes in canter. Here’s where the competition really begins to mean something! No Andalusian horses competed at this level in 2002 at Nationals, while 3 competed in second level in 2001.

In third level the horse demonstrates each movement in medium and extended paces with a clear distinction between the paces. All the while showing rhythm, suppleness, acceptance of the bit, throughness, impulsion, straightness, and collection. Half pass and flying lead change at the canter are added. Now THIS is a horse that should be a joy to be ridden! There was only one entry at the IALHA Nationals at this level in both 2002 and 2003.

Fourth level requires a horse to have lightness, cadence in the transitions, a half pirouette at the walk, and a quarter pirouette at the canter. Multiple flying lead changes every few strides are added in Test 3. Scarcely a handful of Andalusian horses are competing on this level nationwide. One horse competed at this level at the 2002 IALHA Nationals.

The Prix St. George level of international competition requires a half-pirouette at the canter and flying lead changes every third and fourth stride. The Intermediate I level requires a full canter pirouette and flying changes every 2nd stride. The Intermediate II level requires piaffe (1 m forward allowed). The Grand Prix requires piaffe, passage, and flying changes every stride.

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