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Dressage Levels Explained

Understanding the different dressage levels may seem a little confusing at first, but if you look at them logically and systematically, they make a lot of sense. Dressage levels are a way to universally classify at what level or how advanced a horse and rider are in their training.

Here are the dressage levels as they differ according to country.

The United StatesThe United KingdomGermanyThe Netherlands
Introductory LevelIntroductory Level  
Training LevelPreliminaryEB
First LevelNoviceA*, A**L1, L2
Second LevelElimentaryL*, LL*M1, M2
Third LevelMedium & Advanced MediumM*, M**Z1, Z2
Fourth LevelAdvancedS*ZZ
Prix St. GeorgesPrix St. GeorgesS**ZZ-Licht
Intermediate I & IIIntermediate I & IIS***Miden Tour
Grand PrixGrand PrixGrand PrixZware Tour

As one progresses through the various levels in dressage, the tests become more complex and challenging both physically and intellectually. The horse and rider must graduate from one level before moving on to the next. Dependent on country, classifications may differ in terms of naming and basic structure, but for the most part, expectations remain more or less parallel throughout.

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The Different Dressage Levels

At lower-level dressage competitions, each country is governed by their show-body or federation responsible for producing the tests and overseeing the sport within their region.

For example:

  • In Great Britain, dressage and testing is overseen by ‘British Dressage’
  • The United States has the ‘United States Dressage Federation (USDF), and the ‘Unites States Equestrian Federation” of (USEF)
  • South Africa is governed by ‘Dressage South Africa’ (DSA)
  • In Australia, the ‘Australian Dressage Committee’ in conjunction with ‘State Dressage Committees’ govern dressage and testing

In upper-level international dressage competitions, such as the Olympics and Paralympics, and the World Equestrian Games, the FEI issued the tests (Fédération Équestre Internationale), also known as the International Federation for Equestrian Sports.

Who is the FEI, and what do they do?

The FEI was founded in 1921 and is the world governing body for multiple equestrian disciplines. These disciplines include dressage and para-dressage, show-jumping, eventing, endurance, reining, vaulting, driving, and para-driving. The FEI establishes and maintains international regulations for competitions and approves the schedules for National and International competitions and games.

The main goal of the FEI is to steer and develop global equestrian sports in a modern and sustainable manner. They provide structure and do their part to guarantee the integrity and welfare of the athletes (both horse and human), ensure a fair and ethical partnership with the horse, and offer equal opportunity.

A General Idea of Dressage Levels

As previously mentioned, how the different levels are names may differ according to country. Still, the basic structure and movements performed in the tests within each corresponding level will remain relatively similar with only a few minor differences. Thesa differences can be found in the breakdown of the tests, the number of tests within each level, and even the size of the arena required for some of the tests.

A dressage arena can come in two sizes, 20 meters x 60 meters, the standard size, and 20 meters x 40 meters. The arena size may vary according to the age or level of the competitors, and some Para classes use the smaller arena; however, the larger 20-meter x 60-meter arena is the internationally accepted size for competition.

Some differences regarding the US, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, are illustrated below.

The United StatesThe United KingdomGermanyThe Netherlands
Introductory LevelIntroductory Level  
Training LevelPreliminaryEB
First LevelNoviceA*, A**L1, L2
Second LevelElimentaryL*, LL*M1, M2
Third LevelMedium & Advanced MediumM*, M**Z1, Z2
Fourth LevelAdvancedS*ZZ
Prix St. GeorgesPrix St. GeorgesS**ZZ-Licht
Intermediate I & IIIntermediate I & IIS***Miden Tour
Grand PrixGrand PrixGrand PrixZware Tour

FEI Tests

There are further divisions within the FEI tests used for the upper-level international Dressage events. Please see below the order of these tests, in ascending order:

  • Prix St. Georges
    • Intermediate I
    • Intermediate A
    • Intermediate B
  • Intermediate II
  • Grand Prix
  • Grand Prix Special

There are also several special tests which include those for:

  • Pony Dressage
  • Young Riders
  • Young Horses
  • Freestyle tests
    • Intermediate
    • Grand Prix

Movements within the Various Dressage Levels

Within each level, the horse and rider pair are expected to perform and correctly execute specific movements and exercises for the sake of mastery and to move on to the next level. As horses and riders master one level, only then can they progress on to the next. For example, in the Training (Preliminary) level, a horse would be asked only to perform a basic test made up of simple walk, trot, and canter movements. They must show an ability to move in an active yet relaxed manner in a straight line and on a balanced 20-meter circle.

Once the horse is accomplished in the above, this will indicate that he is adequately strong, supple, and mentally prepared to move on to further, more physically and mentally challenging tests. He will now move to the next level, ‘First Level’ (Novice), where further movements such as rein back and riding a smaller 15meter circle are introduced and included in the tests. As a general rule, when they score consistently in the 60 percent range, they are ready to advance further.

Although the movements and expectations of the tests within the same level are similar, they differ in terms of placement of various movements within the tests. In one test, you may be required to perform a transition at A, at the arena exit, where the horse may always become distracted and attempt a quick escape from the arena. In another, the transition is expected at C, where the horse might be more relaxed.

Each level may include movements from the previous levels, in addition to the introduction of any new ones. Directives are always printed on the test sheet, enabling the riders to see exactly what is expected of them anf their horse in each movement.


Beside each movement, there is a section entitled “directives.” The directives state what should be achieved in each exercise and how it needs to be executed. They explain what the judge is looking for in the particular movements and what you should be working toward with your horse at the specific level. It is wise to pay attention to this section when practicing a test in preparation for a dressage competition. They give you a great indication of what precisely to work toward.

In addition to the marks given per movement, additional marks are also awarded for other more general attributes. These include:

  • The horse’s gaits
  • Submission by the horse to the rider
  • The impulsion of the horse
  • The rider’s performance

Expectations within each Level

Below is a basic rough structure of what you will find when looking at the different dressage levels starting at the most basic and working toward advanced, as well as a few directives guidelines from each level. You will notice that the directive criteria evolve through the levels. In preliminary, the trot needs only to be regular, whereas later on in Medium, the judge is looking for self-carriage and engagement.

There are a series of tests available within each level, for example, Preliminary 1, Preliminary 2, etc. In general, the lower-numbered tests are considered to be easier than the higher-numbered ones.

Freestyle (Also known as Musical Kur)

In a freestyle test, the test sheet provides a list of movements that need to be executed and the directives for each movement. The riders choreograph their own unique test, which is ridden to the music of their choice. Freestyle tests include the following levels: Novice; Elementary; Medium, and Advanced.

Young Horses and Para-Dressage

There are special tests for Young Horses as well as Para-Dressage riders.

The Pas de Deux, and the Quadrille

“Pas de Deux” means “step of two” in French. The term is also used in ballet to describe a dance duet, and in dressage, it is also just that. In the Pas de Deux, two riders ride together performing the test as a pair. They execute the dressage movements in the test either abreast (next to each other) or as if in a mirror image of each other. The Pas de Deux is almost always accompanied by music.

Both the USED and British dressage include Pas de Deux in competition. The scoring system works similarly to that of freestyle dressage. The choreography must showcase movements and exercises required at the particular level in which the duet enters. In terms of judging, marks are awarded based on the choreography, choice of music, and harmony displayed by the pair.

In a Quadrille, there is a minimum of four riders, although often there are more, and always an equal number of riders as some of the routine will be performed in pairs. The riders perform together as a team, moving as a single unit. Like the Pas de Deux, movements are choreographed to music and performed as ballet.


A single judge will sit at C at the lower levels, together with their scribe, and mark each rider in a class. In the higher levels, a panel of seven judges is placed in different positions around the arena, ensuring that each movement is judged precisely from every angle. The seating positions of the judges are as follows; C, E, B, K, F, M, and H.

When judging a test, the judge will assess each movement separately. For example, the rider will be given a mark for their entry; is the horse straight on the center line and moving actively forward in a relaxed manner? Once this movement is complete the rider will move on to the next movement. This will receive own mark, unrelated to the movement before, or the one that c omes after. And so forth. SSo, the rider can score a 3, followed by a 9, and then followed again by another 3.


Below is the score structure guideline used by judges when awarding marks.

  • 10 Excellent
  • 9 Very good
  • 8 Good
  • 7 Fairly good
  • 6 Satisfactory
  • 5 Marginal
  • 4 Insufficient
  • 3 Fairly Bad
  • 2 Bad
  • 1 Very bad
  • 0 Not executed

Beside each mark, there is a ‘comments’ section where the judge may wish to leave a comment on a particular movement. They may outline areas where the horse and rider need to improve or complement the pair on an outstanding ride.


Some marks are multiplied by 2, giving them more weight toward the overall mark. These are awarded for movements or attributes considered to be particularly important for the horse’s training and progression in training and toward the next level. The marks awarded for general attributes, as mentioned above, are also scored using a coefficient.

If a competitor scores an overall mark of 60%, they are considered to be accomplished enough to consider moving on to the next level.


Dressage levels are used to universally classify at what level or how advanced a horse and rider are in their training. The term ‘Dressage’ is a French word that means “training,” which is an ongoing and evolving process. The purpose of dressage is, through proper training, to create a strong, well-balanced, well-trained, and obedient mount, able to perform with willingness and apparent ease. By using the dressage tests, one can ensure to follow the correct steps in their training.

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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