Keystone Dressage & Combined Training Association


About The KDCTA



The Keystone Dressage & Combined Training Association (KDCTA) was established in 1976 as a Group Member Organization of the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) and the United Stated Equestrian Federation (USEF).  This groups mission was to promote Dressage and Combined Training in our area.  Although considered small as compared to other USDF GMOs, we have grown from just a handful of members to now close to fifty supportive members and the organization is still devoted to promoting Dressage & CT in Central Pennsylvania.  KDCTA members range from youth riders and adult beginners to the more advanced and experienced.


The KDCTA holds monthly meetings in which all members are invited and encouraged to attend.  Often there are educational type programs held during these meetings, which are very beneficial to members.  The KDCTA's website has been added to keep members updated on projects and events sponsored by the KDCTA as well as the KDCTA Facebook page.  These activities include clinics, educational programs, Drill Team, two annual schooling shows, trail rides, field trips and other club activities.  The KDCTA meetings are a good way to get involved in activities with other people who share interest in horses and horse-related activities.


Mounted and unmounted clinics are scheduled on a regular basis to provide members opportunities to become more proficient in their riding and horsemanship skills.  The monthly programs are presented on all sorts of horse related topics.  The Drill Team is open to all members, mounted and unmounted.  The annual schooling shows offer Dressage classes, where tests are scored on the horses' obedience, desire to move forward and suppleness; Musical Freestyle and Musical Rides, where the rider(s) designs the pattern to ride to music; and Jumping and CT classes, where the horse and rider negotiate a series of jumps.  We also include fun classes at our shows such as trail classes, suitability and equitation classes, as well as many members' favorite - the Costume Class, which is always a big hit!


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What is Dressage?

The word "dressage", derived from a French term meaning training, is not only a widely used method of training horses, but also a competitive equestrian sport where horse an rider strive for perfection in the performance of complex "test" patterns (much like in figure skating). An English style of riding, dressage is one of the three equestrian sports in Olympic competition.

Greek General Xenophon first recorded the basic tenets of classical horsemanship in a book around 400 B.C. It was further developed at the royal courts of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spanish Riding school in Vienna, Austria, with its' beautiful white Lipizzan stallions, is perhaps the most familiar institution dedicated exclusively to the classical art of riding. While once an activity of royalty, today dressage has evolved into a discipline and competitive sport accessible to all horses and riders.

Dressage is the Foundation of Any Style of Performance

Today's horses perform in many diverse activities. But no matter what type of task a horse is asked to perform, the qualities it has learned, or has not learned, in its basic training will affect whether it is enjoyable and rewarding to ride.

A horse with qualities such as obedience, balance, and sensitivity to light aids will do its job well, whether destined for the Grand Prix dressage test at the Olympics, or life as a jumper, pleasure horse, or show horse.

Riders sometimes try to produce these qualities with force or devices, but the result looks artificial and reduces the horse's athletic ability. Dressage training methods develop the horse without force or devices, utilizing what we know of the nature and structure of the horse.

Dressage is not "magic". Through learning how, when and why to apply specific training exercises, you can make dressage work for you.

Dressage Is Basic Training

A gradual, logical system of strengthening and suppling exercises, dressage may seem to belong only in the white-fenced arenas at dressage competitions. Yet, the aim for dressage is to develop the ability, suppleness and obedience of the horse--qualities desired in any horse, no matter what its eventual use will be.

How is it possible to use dressage training as the basis for any type of performance? Dressage develops the specific muscles of the horse that enable it to work off its hocks, control its head position and rate its speed quickly and obediently. In addition, dressage develops relaxation and communication between horse and rider so the horse can respond to light aids, is safe and a pleasure to ride, while retaining its spirit and natural brilliance. Through dressage, the horse of any breed becomes an athlete that can fluidly shift its balance and pace.

Dressage as a Competitive Sport

Dressage has long been a competitive equestrian sport throughout the world and especially in Europe, where Germany has dominated international competition for decades. Dressage first became an Olympic sport in 1912. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the United States Dressage Team proudly brought home the Bronze medal.

Although only a very small percentage of horses have the physical conformation, strength, and temperament to succeed in international competition, riders can set their own training goals and begin competing at the lower levels. Throughout the United States, local organizations such as PVDA, sponsor dressage competitions designed to encourage riders of all levels of experience to compete against other riders as well as against themselves, testing the progress of their training against a standard of excellence.

The Rewards

There is a great deal of discipline to dressage, but there is also great satisfaction in noting the progress you and your horse make as a team. Whether your horse will become a pleasure mount, a working horse, or a competitor in the dressage arena, it will benefit tremendously from a basic background in dressage. As a plus, learning to perform dressage exercises correctly will also improve your seat, coordination, and feel as a rider! Dressage is not aimed at turning out "30-day wonders" that pass as trained horses for a little while before going sour, but at creating a foundation which will result in a horse that is smooth, supple, and a pleasure to ride throughout a long and useful life.

Dressage Terminology

Cadence - The hind legs must "swing through" and engage well underneath the horse. The moment of suspension is more clearly defined.

Collection - When a horse is working in collection the quarters take more of the load. The haunches (hip and stifle joints) are flexing more and the hind legs step more under the horse's center of balance. This lightens the forehand and allows greater freedom of movement. The strides become shorter without losing energy and activity. The horse looks and feels more "uphill." In the trot as well as in the canter, the impulsion needs to be fully maintained, rendering these gaits more expressive and cadenced.

The horse's anatomy is such that it carries most of his own weight on the forehand. This situation is adversely effected by the rider's position directly behind the shoulders. Therefore, it is also in the interest of soundness and safety of the footfalls if the hindquarters are induced to carry more of the weight. Consequently, it is advantageous for every horse to go in a certain measure of collection.

Contact - A soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth. A correct, steady contact allows the horse to find it's balance under the rider and find a rhythm in each gait. Contact must never be obtained by pulling back with the reins. It must result from the correct development of the pushing powers of the horse. The discreetly driving aids of the rider cause the horse to step into the hands with confidence.

Elevation - Relative elevation is relative to the horse's ability to collect at any particular stage of his training according to his conformation.

Impulsion - The energy created by the hind legs transmitted into the gaits and into every aspect of the forward movement. Impulsion is the result of the correct influence of the rider, utilizing the natural gaits of the horse and combining them with relaxation, and the development of the horse's pushing power and throughness.

Rhythm - The regularity and the purity of the steps or strides in each gait, covering equal distance and of equal duration. The metronomic "beat" of the horse's footfalls. It should not vary.

Rhythm and Regularity - Rhythm and regularity have to be maintained on straight lines, in all bending and/or lateral work, and during transitions. If an exercise or a movement is not regular it cannot be rated good. A training exercise is non-productive if it causes irregularity.

Relaxation - Relaxation has been achieved when the horse is willing to stretch his neck forward and down in all three gaits (allowing the horse to chew the reins out of the rider's hands). A relaxed horse moves with a swinging back and in a natural, regular rhythm without hurrying. The horse accepts the driving aids and allows a supple rider to sit comfortably.

Straightness - In a straight horse the pushing powers work directly towards the horse's center of balance. The forehand is in line with its hindquarters allowing the horse's longitudinal axis to follow the straight or curved line of the track. The rider's restraining aids will then pass through the horse correctly, via the horse's mouth, the poll, the neck, and the back through to the quarters and influence both hind legs equally.

Submission - The horse's willingness to conform to directions from the rider.

Suppleness - The horse's body is free of tension. He looks dimensional with clear muscular definition.

Tempo - The rate of repetition of the rhythm. Ideally, it appears easy and without tension.

Throughness - Throughness is the quality that allows the horse to move with relaxation and obedience equally in both directions, accepting easily the forward or sideways driving as well as the restraining aids. Throughness is the key characteristic of a correctly trained horse.

Sources: 1995 USDF Manual; 1995-1998 USDF instructor pre-certification materials.



What is Eventing or Combined Training?

Eventing could be termed an "equestrian triathlon." It involves working with a horse both on the flat and over fences. The three phases are: dressage, endurance (or cross-country), and show jumping. Over the centuries it has developed from the test of the ideal military charger. Eventing has now evolved into an exciting sport attracting interest from all levels of sports enthusiasts, from weekend hobby riders to professional international stars.


With its variation in levels and difficulty and wide range of competitions available all across the country, Eventing is a sport which provides competitive and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. Today, the sport is most known for its cross-country phase where horse and rider gallop over an outside course of solid obstacles which the horse has never seen before. At the uppermost level of competition, Olympic or World Championship, the endurance day consists of Phase A  - Roads and Tracks, approximately three and a half miles of walk and trot as a warm-up; Phase B  - Steeplechase, approximately two and one-eighth miles at a gallop over approximately eight steeplechase fences; Phase C  - Roads and Tracks, approximately seven miles of walk and trot as a cool down from steeplechase, and Phase D-Cross-country, approximately five miles at a gallop over a maximum of 45 obstacles that can be up to four feet high and ten feet wide (at the base). The horse's speed on this phase is over 20 miles per hour.


In both the 1976 and 1984 Olympic Games, the U.S. Three-Day team won gold medals, as well as individual gold and silver. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, the U.S. Three-Day team won the silver medal and Kerry Millikin of Massachusetts won the individual bronze medal. At the 1999 Pan-American Games, held in Winnipeg, the United States won the team gold medal, and the individual silver and bronze medals. In Sydney in 2000, with an Olympic record-breaking score, David O'Connor won the individual gold medal. Team USA, headed by the husband and wife team, David and Karen O'Connor, Nina Fout, and Linden Wiesman won the bronze medal, confirming the United States' position as one of the top eventing countries in the world.


In addition to the Olympic and Pan American Games, a World Championship is held every four years. Bruce Davidson from Unionville Pennsylvania won back-to-back world titles in 1974 and 1978-a feat that has not yet been repeated. Davidson added the bronze medal to his collection at the 1990 World Three-Day Event Championship in Stockholm, Sweden. Dorothy Crowell of Lexington, Kentucky followed in Davidson's footsteps, cinching the world silver medal at The Hague in Holland in 1994. In 1998 the U.S. Team won the bronze medal at the World Three-Day Event Championship in Pratoni, Italy. Just this year, at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, the U.S. Eventing Squad of David O'Connor, John Williams, Amy Tryon and Kim Vinoski captured the elite team gold medal; while Darren Chiacchia and Gina Miles each put in impressive individual performances.


The sport, however, is not limited to the international levels. It draws from a wide range of riders both in age and geography. We can boast of 75 year old riders competing in preliminary three-day events to youngsters of 10 and 11 at the entry level. J. Michael Plumb, a "middle-aged" rider, who continues to compete at the highest levels of the sport, has represented the United States at eight Olympic Games (including the 1980 Alternate Olympics). In fact, since the more experienced riders are frequently training young horses at the lower levels, our young (and older) riders often have the challenge of competing against an Olympian-they sometimes even beat them!


The members of the USEA are a fiercely loyal and dedicated group of people, true horseman. We are proud of their training and hard work, for at every level, including the entry level, our competitions provide a challenging test of discipline, ability and sportsmanship.

The Three-Day Event Explained

Day One: Dressage

The First test is called a "dressage" test. Dressage is a French word meaning training. Originally designed to show the horse's capability on the parade ground in performing various movements involved with reviewing troops, today the dressage test comprises a set series of complicated movements performed in an enclosed arena. Precision, smoothness, suppleness and complete obedience show off the horse's gymnastic development. Ideally it should look as if the horse is performing of its own accord, carrying its rider in complete harmony. The test is scored on each movement, rather like the scoring in figure skating, and the overall harmony and precision of the whole exercise are taken into consideration.

Dressage is also very important to the three-day event rider for the purpose of conditioning the horse's muscles for the endurance test. They become fit, strong, and elastic to lengthen and shorten at a gallop. The purpose of the dressage test is to demonstrate the intense training the horse and rider have achieved to perform each movement with balance, suppleness, and precision timing. The horse is extremely fit and the energy that is contained within the horse is incredible. Therefore, it is a remarkable feat in itself to control this energy and have the horse use it to his fullest advantage.

Day Two: Endurance/Cross-Country

The second discipline in the three-day event is the endurance test. The object of the endurance test is to prove the speed, endurance and jumping ability of the true cross-country horse when he is well trained and brought to the peak of condition. At the same time, it demonstrates the rider's knowledge of pace and the use of this horse across country.

The endurance test includes four phases: Phases A and C, Roads and Tracks; Phase B, the Steeplechase; and Phase D, the Cross-Country. Each phase must be completed in a set time. Phase A of the roads and tracks is a warming-up period, usually done at a brisk trot, for the purpose of relaxing and loosening up both horse and rider. Phase A leads directly to the start for Phase B, the steeplechase. This phase is ridden at a strong gallop to achieve an average speed of 24 miles per hour with six to eight jumps. At the end of the steeplechase, the horse and rider go directly into Phase C, the second roads and tracks. This phase is very important for allowing the horse to relax and recover and to get his wind back to normal. The pace is usually a quiet trot, interspersed with periods of walking and an occasional relaxed canter. Some riders also dismount and run beside their horse during this phase.

The end of Phase C brings the pair to the ten-minute Vet Box prior to starting out on Phase D, the cross-country. Here the horse has a compulsory ten-minute rest allowing a panel of judges and veterinarians to check the horse's temperature, pulse, respiration, and soundness. If, in the opinion of the panel, the horse is not fit or sound enough to continue, he must be withdrawn from the competition. At this time the horse is sponged down, the tack is adjusted and he is prepared for the next phase. Those passing the inspection go to the start box ready for the most exciting phase of the whole endurance test.

The cross-country course is approximately two and three quarter to four miles long, is comprised of some twenty-four to thirty-six fixed and solid obstacles of great variety, and is ridden at a good gallop. Cross-country courses require horses and riders to be bold and smart and they also test stamina. Each combination of horse and rider must complete all four phases in order, on time and with as few penalties as possible. Phase D completes the endurance test of the three-day event.

In Olympic and World Championship competition, the total mileage to be covered on the speed and endurance phase can be up to twenty miles. The cross-country phase is the phase that appeals most to spectators and riders alike. It is the ultimate challenge to prepare a horse for this rigorous test. Unlike other sports, where only the human will and body are pitted against the clock, in eventing, or combined training, two minds and bodies have to work as one. As an additional attraction, eventing is the only high-risk Olympic sport that permits men and women to compete as equals. There are no separate divisions. Some of the top riders in the world today are women from many nations.

Day Three: Show Jumping

The third and final test takes place in the jumping arena. After the demands of the speed and endurance phases, horses undergo a thorough veterinary examination for soundness before they proceed to the show jumping phase. A series of colored fences in an enclosed ring have to be negotiated before the full three days of competition are finally over. The final phase tests the stamina and recovery of the horse after the endurance phase and shows that it is fit enough to continue work.

In the words of the F.E.I.* rule book: "The test on the third day is not an ordinary show jumping competition...Its sole object is to demonstrate that, on the day after a severe test of endurance, the horses have retained the suppleness, energy and obedience necessary for them to continue in service."

The show jumping course requires very exact riding; it consists of between twelve and fifteen show jumping obstacles, which normally include at least one combination, two spread fences, and in some cases a ditch or water jump. (A water jump on a show jumping course is a real test for a horse. On the cross-country course a horse is required to jump into water--on the show jumping course he is required to jump the entire obstacle without putting a foot into the water.) As is often the case with horses, they amaze us with their intelligence and ability and rise to the challenge admirably.

The show jumping courses are designed to test the horse's and the rider's ability to negotiate a variety of fences of differing heights, widths, and technicality. This requires the horse to be balanced and supple for tight turns and short distances between fences. He must be able to lengthen or shorten his stride in an instant. Therefore, the rider must know exactly where he is on the approach to a fence, and have an obedient horse that will respond to his commands. For the spectator, this sport is both exciting and breathtaking to watch, as just one single rail knocked down can change the standings dramatically.

At the end of the competition, scores for all the competitors are totaled. Each test is scored individually and the penalties accrued are added together for the final results. The lowest score is the winning score. In the case of a team competition, the individual scores of each of the four team members are added together. If all four team members have completed the competition the best three scores count and the team with the lowest team total is pronounced the winner.


F.E.I. - The Federation Equestre Internationale. The FEI is the sole authority in Dressage, Show Jumping, Three-Day Eventing, Driving, Endurance Riding and Vaulting.





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