Cross-Training Challenge for Dressage Riders

Have you ever wished that dressage could be more…well, fun? If you’re up for a cross-training challenge with your dressage, you might enjoy tackling Prix Caprilli tests, which were used to introduce dressage and grow its popularity in this country in the 1950s and 1960s. Nowadays, you can find them on-line and at schooling shows.

In a nutshell, Prix Caprilli tests combine regular Training and First Level dressage movements with low jumps. Riders are judged the same as in a dressage test, with refusals and knockdowns penalized. Historically, several levels of Prix Caprilli existed with various arrangements of obstacles. Tests progressed by level, similar to today’s U.S.D.F. tests, with jumps ranging in height from low cross-rails to 2’9” fences. The discipline derived its name from the Italian cavalry instructor Federico Caprilli, who is credited with inventing the forward style of seat for jumping.

Since the existence of Prix Caprilli pre-dated the formation of U.S.D.F., many of the old tests have not survived. While some clubs write their own, many groups rely on tests created by Lendon Gray for her annual Youth Dressage Festival. Gray recalls riding Prix Caprilli tests as a young trainer on the Florida dressage circuit in the mid-1970s and wanted to encourage the combination of dressage mastery with good gymnastic jumping among young riders, enticing them to dabble in dressage. Interestingly, the tests have appealed more to her dressage students and encouraged them to incorporate some jumping into their schooling. This pleases Gray.

“It ended up being a way to encourage these dressage students to jump. It’s sad that today’s students don’t jump and are just doing dressage; that’s too narrow,” said Gray. She prefers to see riders cross-train more. The Prix Caprilli tests can help keep horses supple, more responsive, and forward than even the best laid day to day dressage drilling.

“I can remember when I was a kid and we would do our dressage on Mondays, then some jumping on Tuesdays, and so on. It never occurred to us to put the two together in the same arena. But that’s what this does,” Gray said of Prix Caprilli.

Today’s riders can choose from Prix Caprilli Introductory level, Training Level, or First Level. Aside from working over jumps, the tests closely resemble the USDF tests for each respective level. The Prix Caprilli First Level test, for example, includes lengthening within trot and canter, leg-yields, and a 20-meter stretching circle in trot rising. Judging for Prix Caprilli emphasizes overall rhythm, harmony, and accuracy throughout the test. A horse’s obedience and evenness of pace factor much higher than his jumping style, as does his acceptance of the bit. For their own schooling purposes at home, many students set the jumps as low or as high as they are comfortable with. Those with no jumping experience, for instance, might opt to lie poles on the ground rather than raising them to a scary level.

For Dr. Gail Hoff-Carmona, owner and director of Los Alamos Dressage Center, the nation’s first school of dressage, modern riders should use the concept of Prix Caprilli in their everyday schooling. A huge proponent of cross-training, Hoff-Carmona believes better equine athletes can be made by combining jumping with dressage as competitions once required as recently as the 1970s.

“The form didn’t matter so much. It was just the idea that a horse could jump as well as do dressage, which is something I really believe in,” said Hoff-Carmona, who to this day schools with cavalletti and gymnastic jumps on a weekly basis.

To try your hand at Prix Caprilli tests and add some cross-training to your dressage schooling, you can download the patterns for free at http://www.dressage4kids.com/files/2001/prix_caprilli_tst1.htm.

Enjoy and have fun. Chances are your horse will thank you for it!