Dressage Arena Layout
Discover the correct dressage arena layout and what the dressage letters mean. Learn an easy way to remember them too!
You will notice letters around the outside perimeter when you first look at a standard dressage arena layout. They are not in alphabetical order but look like a random bunch of letters. They do, however, have a reason for being there. Let me explain what they all mean.
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 a trainer.
These markers help clarify where movements should be performed, and as a rider, you perform these movements from point to point. It gives you a clear understanding of where you are within the arena and, as you work through your dressage test, where the movements start and finish from.
There are two sizes for dressage arenas, with the first small dressage arena being a 20 meters x 40 meters arena and the second 60 meters x 20 meters arena (or 20 by 60). Arena sizes can vary according to the competition and who is organizing. In New Zealand, however, most Dressage competitions use the larger arena, except some classes occasionally run in a smaller arena. To the best of my knowledge, some Para classes often use the small arenas for their competition.
An example of large arenas versus small arenas. The layout is similar except a few letters between the two different arena sizes.
Here you will see the two different size dressage arena layouts, the letters within the arena that sit on the centre line aren’t visible on a physical dressage arena, however, the outside letters around the short and long sides of the arena will be physical markers and the entrance to the arena at A which sits on the short side of the dressage ring.
What Do The Dressage Arena Letters Mean?
There are several different theories as to what the Dressage letters mean, and here are two of the common stories suggesting their origin and where they originated from.
It is also believed that markings found on the walls of the Imperial German Court in Berlin’s Royal Manstall (stables) suggest 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 60 meters x 20 meters space. This was between the stable blocks in many Germany Cavalry barracks. Although the 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 60 meters x 20 meters, and these dimensions were first adopted for the 1932 Olympic Games in which cavalry officers completed their dressage test. They competed in predetermined sequences and movements to demonstrate the progressive training methods of the dressage horses, much as they are today in dressage competitions.
The earlier tests were specifically designed to test riders’ skills and mounts. Collected and extended paces were required, and pirouettes, rein back and flying changes were included. They also had the task of negotiating five small obstacles, including a barrel that was rolled toward the approaching horse and rider! Until late 1952, Olympic dressage was restricted to male-only riders.
Here is an example of a pipe dressage arena set up at a local dressage competition. This is the larger dressage arena size of 60 meters x 20 meters.
How To Remember Dressage Arena Letters
There are several ways to remember the outside letters of the correct dressage arena layout. Growing up, I used the saying, “A Fat Black Mother Cat Had Eight Kittens” This was for the smaller size arena, then you add in RSVP. I have heard my fair share of sayings, and here are 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
In using the dressage arena accurately, 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 accuracy, so understanding the dressage arena layout is the great first step, and you can certainly practice this all at home.
I love to look at other riders doing their tests; YouTube is fabulous for this. Take a look at Charlotte Dujardin, Isabell Werth or Carl Hester’s ride; their accuracy is amazing. This is often where marks can be lost, so getting to know your arena, the layout and riding from marker to marker and using your corners to help set the horse up can make a world of difference.
How To Set Up A Dressage Arena Correctly
Setting up a dressage arena correctly is important for both horse and rider. It provides a safe and controlled environment for training and competition. Here are some tips on how to set up a dressage arena correctly.
First, choose a flat area with good footing for your arena. Avoid areas with uneven ground or rocky terrain. The surface should be firm but not too hard or too soft. Sand or other similar footing works well.
Next, mark out the arena with four corner markers. You can use cones, flags or other visible markers. Each side of the arena should be 20 meters wide and 60 meters long to meet the correct dressage arena dimensions.
Once you have marked the corners, run a string line to create the boundary. Then unless you are building a permanent frame, you can use a proper plastic arena or just some jump poles on the ground.
Next, add letters to the arena. These letters are used as markers for different dressage movements. You can buy pre-made letter markers or make your own using PVC pipe or other durable material. The letters should be placed at the appropriate positions around the arena.
For example, the letter A should be at the midpoint of one of the short sides of the arena. The letter C should be at the midpoint of the opposite short side. E and B should be placed at the midpoint of the long sides, and the remaining letters (F, K, H, and M) should be evenly spaced along the sides.
What to learn more about dressage arena construction or build a permanent one yourself at home? Check out how we did it here. I share everything we learnt with all the before, during and complete photos.
Dressage Rider Training System
Dressage is all about you, the rider and the horse. It is a team sport, so we developed a training system for you as a rider. It is designed to help you work on symmetry, balance, coordination and suppleness while OFF the horse. With the aim that when you are riding, you can sit in good posture and control and be able to focus on your horse during that time when you are in the saddle and not hold your horse back from achieving its potential.
To get started on your journey, take a look at our FREE Rider Fitness guide here and discover our system of training. Learn the four elements that go into you as a dressage rider and how you can begin to develop them today.
Dressage Rider Training is for you as a rider and to help you develop into the best rider you can be.
Here are some other articles you may find useful to help you on your dressage journey.
Dressage Horse Training
The secret to success is following a simple and proven system. So whether you are figuring out how to get started with dressage or a more advanced competitive rider, we cover everything from the young horse to competitive Grand Prix with our sister site, Dressage Horse Training.
Designed to help you navigate the dressage world and provide a proven system to improve your dressage at home and in the competition arena. Develop into the best rider you can be ON the horse, giving you the tools and skills to develop your horse training at home.
To get started, check out these articles