Dressage arena letters and what do they mean: A,K,E,H,C,M,B,F

I remember, quite a few years ago now, when I was learning to ride and how tricky I thought remembering everything was. My instructor bellowed across the arena "Change the rein across the diagonal please, K, X, M."

My instant reaction was: "WHAT?!" and on I trotted with a confused look across my face.

Learning to ride can be a challenging hobby, but remembering the letters of the arena can be just as tricky - however, if you want to do dressage then it is a must and all instructors will advise learning them as soon as possible to help your riding improve quicker.

Why do we have letters around the arena?

A dressage arena is marked around the edge with letters and you will find most riding schools and riders use these letters around their arena too.

The variety of letters are used during a dressage test or riding lesson to instruct the rider where to perform different movements such as changing the rein from K, across the diagonal to M!

In a standard dressage 20 meters by 40 meters arena, there are 11 letters used. 8 of these are around the edge, whilst 3 are "invisible" to the eye and along the centre line. A long dressage arena which is 20 meters by 60 meters has 17 letters. 12 of these are around the edge and 5 are invisible along the centre line.

How do I remember the letters?

The most common way to remember all of the most common letters in a 20 X 40 meter school, around the arena is to start off by remembering a simple rhyme. Still to this day there is speculation as to where and when the dressage arena letters were created and first used.

A - All
K - King
E - Edwards
H - Horses
C - Can
M - Manage 
B - Big
F - Fences 

A is situated at the bottom of an arena, whilst C is at the top.

Once you start to look at doing more complicated dressage tests then you will find they use a "long" arena, which is your 20 X 60 meters one. When this happens your arena letters become AKVESHCMRBPF.

"X" is one of the invisible markers but marks the exact centre of the arena in which you are riding in. If you struggle to remember where X is then think of it as the point that marks the treasure, the centre. In a standard 20 X 40 meter arena D and G are also invisible and either side of the X marker.

Where do the letters originate from?

It is believed by most that the letters were chosen because the German cavalry had a 20 X 60 meter area between the barracks which had letters posted above the doors.

Other theory 1:

It is also believed that markings found on the walls of the Royal Manstall (stables) of the Imperial German Court in Berlin suggests that the letters indicated where each courtier or rider's horse was to stand and wait for their riders.

The "hof" (stable yard) was believed to be large enough for the horses and riders to parade around for their morning exercise or to assemble for ceremonial parades.

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).

Other theory 2:

The German Cavalry is also known to have had the arena letters. The space between the stable blocks in many Germany Cavalry barracks were measured and believed to be 20m X 60m. This space would be used for similar activities mentioned above and it is thought the Cavalry would adopt similar markings as used in the Kaiser's Manstall. 

Don't worry if you're struggling to remember the letters around the arena, you wouldn't be the first and definitely won't be the last! If it helps then make up your own rhyme for the individual letters or follow the one mentioned above. 

The video above shows me performing a Novice level dressage test in 2012 for my universities equestrian team. All the dressage markers are shown and clearly visible. 

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