Back in the 1970s, my trainer took up the challenge made by The Chronicle of the Horse to send in a comprehensive definition of dressage. Those were the years--especially after the U.S. won a surprise bronze medal in the Montreal Olympics--when dressage really took off here, and the AHSA (now USEF) reported that dressage was the fastest growing discipline in the country.
Together (since my first language was English and his was not) we came up with the following definition, which was one of two selected by The Chronicle to be printed:
Dressage is a method of training with a logical communication system (aids), with the help of which a qualified trainer, through progressive gymnastic exercises, can decontract**, supple, and develop certain groups of muscles and de-activate others, accordingly, for whatever purpose a particular horse is intended, so as to educate the horse, both physically and mentally, to maximum efficiency and obedience.**"Decontract/decontraction" (used as the opposite of contract/contraction) is not really an English word. It is French, but we used it at my trainer's insistence. We commonly use the words "relax/relaxation" in the U.S., but as with many translated dressage terms, these words are close, but not exactly what we mean. In dressage the horse's muscles should be "ready, but not tense," which is not the same as relaxed at all. "Relaxed" is not ready. We were called out on this, too, by people writing in, but we never changed it. Trainers who speak six or seven languages and have dressage books in several of them can be rather stubborn.....or is it rather more correct???
-- by Suzanne May