Starting out in dressage is daunting enough when you think about all of the movements that you and your equine partner need to be able to execute during the test.
But then there is the added stress of remembering which order all of those letters go in!
Luckily, there’s a few tried and tested tricks that have been helping riders remember the letters on the dressage arena easily.
A 20 metre by 40 metre dressage arena has 11 letters. Eight of these are around the outside of the arena with the remaining 3 being invisible and down the centreline.
In a 20 metre by 60 metre dressage arena there are 17 letters. 12 letters are around the outside with 5 invisible letters down the centreline.
A is always the bottom of the arena, where you enter on the centreline. C is always at the top, behind which sits the judge. X always marks the middle of the arena, on the centreline.
With this in mind, here are a few sayings that are used to easily remember the perimeter letters of an arena.
20 metre x 40 metre arena
All King Edwards Horses Carried Many Brave Fighters
All King Edwards Horses Can Manage Big Fences
A Fat Black Mother Cat Had Eleven Kittens
All Fat Brown Mares Can Hardly Ever Kick
Do Xtra Good
20 metre x 60 metre arena
All King Victor's Expensive Show Horses Can Make Really Big Pongy Farts
All King Victor's Exceptionally Stunning Horses Can Manage Really Big Plastic Fences
A Fat Palomino Broodmare Rarely Makes Calm Horses, Several Extend Vicious Kicks
Doing Lots Xtra Is Good
There are several theories about the origins of the arena letters and why they are in that order. Unfortunately, they are only theories but it is still fun to know what the reason might be.
One of the most popular theories is that the letters originate from the Imperial German Court in Berlin, in the early twentieth century.
The Royal Stables housed 300 of the Kaiser’s horses which were ridden each morning in the ‘hof’, or stable yard, for morning exercise and ceremonial purposes. This stable yard had a length three times longer than it’s width, the same proportion as the 60m x 20m arenas used for most modern dressage tests.
Around the yard were letters marking the where each member of the court’s horse should stand to wait for their rider. It is theorised that our modern dressage letters originate with these markers from the German court.
Another theory guesses that the letters come from the German cavalry who would ride in an arena surrounded by their barracks. Each of the barracks had a letter above the door and the soldiers used these letters to indicate where certain manoeuvres would be performed, just as in modern dressage.
The cavalry members decided that they wished to compete with each other, so the 20 metre x 60 metre arena that they used became the standard size for all dressage arenas, with the same letters from above the barracks used to mark the points of the arena.