Dressage Arena Layout
When you first look at a dressage arena you will notice letters around the outside perimeter. They aren’t in alphabetical order, but instead, look like a random bunch of letters, but they do in fact have a very clear reason for being there.
These letters are set out at pre-designated intervals around the outside edge of the arena, this helps the dressage rider follow the correct path while riding tests or simply having a lesson with trainer.
These markers help clarify where movements should be performed and as a rider you perform these movements from point to point.
Dressage Arena Layout And Size
There are two sizes for dressage arenas, with the first being a 20 x 40 m arena and the second 20 x 60 m arena. Arena sizes can vary according to the competition and who is organizing. In New Zealand, however most Dressage competitions use the larger size dressage arena, with the exception of some classes occasionally run in smaller arena.
Here you will see the two different size dressage arena layouts, the letters within the arena aren’t visible on a physical dressage arena, however the outside letters around the perimeter will be physical markers.
What Do The Dressage Arena Letters Mean?
There are a number of different theories as to what the Dressage letters mean and here are two of the common stories suggesting their origin.
It is also believed that markings found on the walls of the Royal Manstall (stables) of the Imperial German Court in Berlin suggests that the letters indicated where each courtier or rider’s horse was to stand and wait for their riders.
The German Cavalry is also known to have had the arena letters spaced around a 60x 20m space. This was between the stable blocks in many Germany Cavalry barracks. Although the absolutely definitive origin of the letters is unknown, it seems that there are two main theories both of which originate in Germany.
The markings found on the walls of the Manstall were:
A Ausgang (Exit).
K Kaiser (Emperor).
F Fürst (Prince).
P Pferknecht (Ostler or Groom).
V Vassal (Servant/Squire/Equerry).
E Edeling/ Ehrengast (Chieftain or Honoured Guest).
B Bannertrager (Standard Bearer).
S Schzkanzler (Chancellor of the Exchequer).
R Ritter (Knight).
M Meier (Steward).
H Hofsmarshall (Lord Chancellor).
When competitive dressage began, arenas were measured at 60m x 20m and these dimensions were first adopted for the 1932 Olympic Games in which cavalry officers competed. They competed predetermined sequences and movemnts to demonstrate progressive training methods much as they are today. The earlier tests were specifically designed to test the skills of riders and their mounts. Collected and extended paces were required, pirouettes, rein back and flying changes were also included. They also had the task of negotiating five small obstacles including a barrel which was rolled toward the approaching horse and rider! Until late as 1952, Olympic dressage was restricted to male only riders.
How To Remember Dressage Arena Letters
There are a number of different ways to remember the outside letters and for me personally growing up is was the saying “A Fat Black Mother Cat Had Eight Kittens” this was for the smaller size arena, then you add in RSVP. I have certainly heard my fair share of sayings and here are just a few more common ones you might like to use.
All King Edwards Horses Carried Many Brave Fighters
All King Edward’s Horses Can Manage Big Fences
All King Edwards Horses Can Move Beautifully Forward
All King Edwards Horses Can Make Big Farts
All King Edwards Horses Can Move Bloody Fast
All King Edwards Horses Canter Merrily By France
All King Edwards Horses Can Make Beautiful Foals
So when it comes to understanding the arena set up, you do need to know where the markers are and practice performing those movements in your test on the markers. So much of your score with dressage is about the accuracy, so understanding the dressage arena layout is the great first step and you can certainly practice this all at home.
What to learn more about Dressage Arenas or build one yourself at home?
Check out my article here all about the do’s and don’ts of building a Dressage Arena.