The Mystery Behind the Dressage Letters
Markings found on the walls of the Royal Manstall (Stables) of the Imperial German Court in Berlin (prior to 1918) suggest that they indicated where each courtier or rider’s horse was to stand awaiting their riders. The Manstallstabled 300 of the Kaiser’s horses. The ‘Hof’ ( stable yard) was large enough for the horses and their riders to parade for ‘morning exercise’ or assemble for ceremonial parades. The ‘Hof’ was three times longer than the width, namely: 20m x 60m.
The markings 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).
The German Cavalry is also credited with establishing the letters. The space between the stable blocks in many German Cavalry barracks were measured 20m x 60m. This space was further used for assembly and ‘morning exercise’ and it is not unreasonable to think that the Cavalry would adopt similar markings as used in the Kaiser’s Manstall. However, the German Cavalry Manual,(HDV12, Reitvorschrift (R.B.) 1882, revised 1912 and 1937) shows a diagram of the Reit Bahn (indoor school) as 40m x 20m. With markings A B C D in the four corners and E F on the half school line. These markings were to indicate school figures for the training of riders and not for competition.
As the Cavalry Officers wished to compete with others, the 60m x 20m arenas became the standard size for Dressage competitions for the Olympics in 1932. The early rationale for competition was to use the marking in the long arenas where movements are to be performed in a prescribed series according to a laid down set of tests. These were to demonstrate their skills as riders, prove the progressive training methods and the natural athletic ability and willingness of their horse to perform the required movements in a relaxed and effortless manner. Initially, the tests comprised movements required for military mounted combat to test the courage, calmness and obedience of their mount. These consisted of collected and extended gaits, turning on the hocks, reinā€back and perform four flying changes on a straight line. They were also required to jump over five small obstacles, one of which was a barrel rolled towards the oncoming horse.
Up to 1952 only Commissioned Officers were allowed to compete at Olympic Levels; Civilians, including female riders could not compete at this level of Dressage. Following the disqualification of the Swedish Dressage team (1948) because one of the winning team was an Non Commissioned Officer, the rules were changed to include Civilian riders and female riders.