Almost everyone in the dressage community can tell you the bloodlines of the horses winning in topsport dressage. Breeding programs in the United States have become increasingly popular and successful. Almost every page in dressage magazines boasts advertisements of well-bred, super athletic, descendents of top scoring dressage horses. If the price is right it is even possible to purchase a clone of one of these world-renowned athletes. With the availability of these super athletes burgeoning every year there are only two questions left to answer. Can I afford him? Can I ride him?
While it is true that to place successfully in dressage, a warmblood of quality breeding is the most obvious choice; however, to show successfully or to ride successfully, a top-bred warmblood is not the only option. In fact, depending on the experience and athleticism of the rider, a big, fancy moving horse can be intimidating and frustrating. This is fantastic for the professional that needs a horse to compete, but can be heartbreaking for the amateur that would really like to participate in more than just paying the bills.
This is not to dissuade riders from purchasing warmbloods, I am a big fan and, in fact own a Contango baby myself. This is instead to encourage owners of other breeds to continue in their pursuit of dressage, and to encourage prospective buyers not to rule out other breeds when selecting a suitable horse. Whether you have chosen dressage for competition or just to enjoy the ride, most all breeds can be successful and fun.
As the sport evolves the trend is moving towards the lighter boned, more elastic warmbloods that produce extravagant gaits. This is evidenced with horses like Totilis, a big moving warmblood that is setting world record dressage scores. While some fault his gaits, there is no denying he is influencing what is considered “popular” in dressage today. In order to refine the once heavier warmbloods breeders have skillfully introduced bloodlines of more “hot-blooded” horses. The result of this selective breeding is horses that display much more fluid, dramatic gaits; however, with these extravagant gaits comes the hotter nature of the lines that are bred in.
As an instructor of riders of all levels I would rather teach a person how to improve the gaits, and master riding on a horse that they are physically and mentally capable of handling. If that horse is a warmblood that’s great, it makes showing a lot easier. If it’s an Andalusian, Connemara, Thoroughbred, Appendix, Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, POA, Arab, whatever, bring it on. Don’t let the advertisements scare you, when you can improve the gaits of any horse and promote the relaxation that the old-style warmbloods are known for, you are in the running. See you at the score board!