– Moving up to Second Level

Training/First Level Frame
Training/First Level frame

Kimberly Cox, Assignment re: application for promotion of dressage judge status (to Basic).


  • Second Level is a significant step-up from First Level.
  • What are the differences?

The differences between competing at First and Second Level in dressage involves more than mastery of movements including: shoulder in, travers, simple change, counter canter, 10 meter circle, rein-back, medium trot, medium canter and turn on the haunches. Second level demands the horse demonstrates the beginning of collection, a necessary pre-requisite for medium trot and medium canter plus corresponding transitions back to collected gaits. (Kate Fleming-Kuhn, Dressage Today, March 28, 2015)

Second Level frame
Second Level frame

The “purpose” of test level is clearly stated at the top of each test sheet. The purpose of Second Level is: To confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, and having achieved the thrust required in First level, now accepts more weight on the hind quarters, (collection); moves with an uphill tendency, especially in the medium gates; and is reliably on the bit. A greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness, balance and self-carriage is required than at First Level. The written purpose at the top of each test states the overall judging criteria and expectation regarding the competitor’s performance. (Equestrian Canada Dressage Competition Handbook 2017 pg. 35)


The “movements” required at Second Level need to be shown with the rider’s correct application, as well as the horse’s willingness to comply with the aids for each movement. Achieving the consistent and correct execution of the required exercises and movements of Second Level dressage requires attention to “thrust” i.e. the horse moving forward, “in front of the leg” and accepting more weight on the hind quarters (collection) thus moving forward in a more uphill tendency than in First Level.

Other considerations when judging Second Level tests are derived from the purpose of the level. The purpose is stated at the very top of each test.:

  • Thrust (achieved in First Level)
  • Acceptance of more weight on the hindquarters (beginning of collection)
  • Moving with an uphill tendency especially in the medium gaits
  • Reliably on the bit
  • Greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, thoroughness, balance and self-carriage than at First Level

First Level Frame                                                        Second Level Frame

Photo credits:

First Level Frame, Dressage USEF Training Level Test 2 – ID 42153398 C Dennis Donohue/

Second Level Frame, Horse in Dressage Competition.JPG, from Wikimedia Commons

There is an emphasis on increased self-carriage, “the state in which the horse carries itself without taking support or balancing on the rider’s hand.” (USDF Glossary of Judging Terms)

The horse should be able to demonstrate enough collection to perform the required movements at second level.


The pushing power required at Second Level is created by riding the horse “freely forward, through a swinging back to an elastic contact. Correct riding of the movements (Second Level) will help develop the more advanced principle of carrying power (the weight bearing capacity of the hindquarters and straightness. (Vicki Hammers-O’Neil, USDF Connection, June 2003)


When judging Second Level tests, look for the beginnings of collection, entailing the horse’s ability to lower and engage the hind in order to show lightness and mobility of the forehand.  The rider at Second level should be able to influence the horse through the use of half-halts in this regard.


Considerations of required collection for Second Level:


  • True collection produces more power in the steps, not shorter strides.
  • Collection at Second Level is not at the same degree demonstrated at higher levels.
  • In medium gaits, the horse maintains a collected balance while lengthening the stride
  • Transitions between collected to medium gaits and back to collected gaits should demonstrate the horse is longitudinally adjustable.


In Second Level tests, there is a transition score from medium to collected gaits. The horse must demonstrate that it can remain in self-carriage during the transition and show a difference required by the test directives at the prescribed letter in the test.


The movements and what to consider:

Shoulder in
Shoulder in on Three Tracks


Shoulder in (Article E 1.13, 5.0, EC Rules 2017)


  • Correct and uniform bend through the horse’s body to execute the movement (correct angle ( ~30 degrees), bend and balance)
  • Three tracks, with horse’s legs parallel to the long side
  • Forehand brought to the inside track
  • Increased bend in horse’s hip, stifle and hock joints (engagement)
  • Hind legs flex and step further under the rider’s seat (collection)
  • Quality of the trot


Travers (Article E 1.13, 6.0, EC Rules 2017)

Travers or Haunches in


  • Three track movement with haunches to inside track
  • Horse moves into the direction of the bend
  • Horse’s neck to remain parallel to the track
  • Correct angle (~ 35 degrees), bend (slightly greater bend than shoulder in) and balance
  • Quality of the trot


Collected Trot (Article E 1.5, 4.3, EC Rules 2017)

  • Horse remains on the bit
  • Hocks engaged and flexed demonstrating energetic impulsion
  • Lightness of the forehand, thus demonstrating self-carriage


Medium Trot (Article E 1.5, EC Rules 2017)


  • Moderate lengthening of frame and stride
  • Engagement, elasticity, suspension, straightness and uphill balance
  • Clear and balanced transitions


Counter Canter (Article E 1.6, 4.7, EC Rules 2017)


  • Maintain a pure canter rhythm
  • Correct bend determined by the lead the horse is on
  • No loss of balance or activity in the canter


Simple Change (Article E 1.6, 4.7, EC Rules2017)


  • Three to five walk steps between canters for a higher score
  • Relaxed and on the aids during the transition
  • No trot steps or a maximum possible score of 6 (Janet Foy, Second Level with Commentary, YouTube – Dressage Hub Video)
  • Note: a degree of collection is required for successful simple changes between canters
  • Clear balanced and straight


Medium Canter (Article E 1.6, 4.4, EC Rules 2017)


  • Moderate lengthening of frame and stride
  • Engagement, elasticity, suspension and straightness
  • Uphill balance
  • Consistent tempo
  • Clear and balanced transitions in and out of the medium canter


Rein Back (Article E 1.7, EC Rules 2017)


  • Square, immobile and balanced halt
  • Correct count step backward moving with diagonal pairs
  • Horse stays “on the bit” throughout the movement
  • Clear transitions


Turn on the Haunches (Article E 1.15, 9.0 EC Rules 2017)


  • From a collected walk
  • Maintain activity of hind legs, forward thinking
  • Correct bend and fluency in turn
  • Quality and regularity of the shortened walk
  • Maintaining the walk rhythm throughout the turn on the haunches


Transitions (Article 1.8 EC Rules 2017)

  • Horse to remain calm, light and willing
  • Clear transition at the prescribed marker
  • Maintain cadence (except in walk)
  • Maintain rhythm during transitions within a pace


Half-Halt (Article E 1.9, EC Rules 2017)


  • Use to balance and gain attention of the horse
  • Coordinated action of seat, leg and hand aids of the rider
  • Required to shift weight onto horse’s hindquarters, thus increasing engagement and allowing a lightness of the forehand (collection)


Other considerations


  • Self-perpetuating gaits are a pre-requisite for correct half-halts and modest collection at Second Level (Beth Baumert, Get to Second Base, USDF Connection December 2012/January 2013)
  • Correctly ridden corners. Riding corners as ¼ of a circle (Lorraine MacDonald, Horse Sport September 2017, pg. 45)
  • Consistency of stride length and tempo in all gaits


  • “A horse cannot score well if he trails his haunches, and pulls himself along with his front legs while performing shoulder-in or travers, rather than carrying more weight in his hindquarters and driving the movement from his powerful haunches (thrust). (Denise Cummins, The Thinking Equestrian, March 25, 2016 (Article 1.19, EC Rules 2017)
  • Bend plus lateral movement = engagement (Jane Savoie, When is my First Level Dressage Horse Ready to Move up to Second Level and Beyond, August 3, 2009)
  • Clear and balanced transitions


Collective Marks

The progression from Frist to Second Level Dressage is significant. Two of the five collective marks at the bottom of each test are directly impacted by the rider’s equitation. “The Rider’s Position and Seat” and the “Rider’s Correct and Effective Use of the Aids” reflect the corresponding increase in expectation of improved tactful riding to achieve Second Level directives.

Second Level tests are required to be ridden in a well-executed sitting trot (rising for stretching circle). Correct and effective equitation impacts the overall presentation, including the impulsion and submission collective marks.

The ever increasing level of complexity written into the progression of dressage tests demands an equally advancing level of communication between horse and rider. There is an expectation that the rider be competent in delivery of half-halts and keeping the horse moving forward in front of the leg (thrust) to achieve the modest collection required at Second Level. This is “a work in progress” for many riders.

Moving up from First Level to Second Level Dressage requires more “feel” to utilize seat, leg and hand aids to shape the horse and maintain the uphill balance, maintaining the thrust and lightness of the forehand to produce a successful Second Level performance.