Dressage is a specific type of equestrian showmanship where a controlled horse will respond quickly and smoothly to commands given in a subtle manner. At the basic level the horse must show a particular relaxed carriage, response to the bit and obedience at a walk and trot. At the highest levels, dressage becomes what is often called “horse ballet.” It not only is a method of riding and instruction, but is characterized by the use of warmblood horses, where riders dress in a prescribed, formal manner, use a specific saddle (similar to English), and hold themselves in a certain seat.
Equestrians with a background in English riding may have an advantage at the beginning levels because of similarities in style. However, anyone with an understanding of horses, and some natural ability in riding should be able to adapt and learn dressage. Most professional dressage riders begin working as grooms. In the UK, there is an apprenticeship scheme to provide structured training for hopeful dressage riders. Riders are accepted as positions become available.
To become a professional full-time rider is a challenge. At the Spanish Riding School of Vienna one new pupil is taken each year, and the fastest rise from beginner to Chief Rider was 20 years. It is more likely that a dressage rider may find part-time employment at a large stable where additional skills such as horse training, instruction of riders, and showing of horses for sale will be incorporated into the responsibilities. Positions may include room and board, flex time, and benefits. Experience in other styles of riding such as hunting and jumping is a great advantage.
To obtain employment as a dressage rider, even in a part-time capacity, usually a minimum Third Level experience is required. To reach this level, a rider can begin at local competition levels, or take advantage of training clinics. A beginner might offer to work at a horse barn in exchange for dressage lessons.
Any activities which give a person more dressage experience can help him or her advance. These will certainly include showing and might include coaching, or judging. Dedication and persistence will be required to become a professional dressage rider.