Don’t let the Ads fool you…..

1 Connemara + 2 shows = 1 Bronze Medal


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!

21 thoughts on “Don’t let the Ads fool you…..

  1. Thank you! I was always under the impression that dressage was about the cooperation between horse and rider, not the horse’s naturally gifted gaits?! Silly me, lol.

    I learned dressage on Polish Arabs. I know some people think Arabs are perfect for dressage, I personally am not a huuuuge fan of their movement(hey, you know I only ride TBs, right?) but the point is, is the partnership there? Or just the movement and natural talent?

    1. That’s the beauty of it.. The Arab people can ride Arabs the TB people can ride TBs and everyone is happy! It seems that anymore people are discouraged from competing the non-traditional breeds in the dressage ring and it’s a bummer! You know you can ride if your scores are good on an Arab or a TB… and if you can train them through the levels with respectable scores even better!

  2. At Magnolia, Stacy Ryan rode a thoroughbred named Banker’s Note (Casey) for years. She competed that horse at Grande Prix level, and didn’t retire him until age 22. He sure was a looker!

  3. Maybe I’m being too ‘adult’ about this whole showing thing, but I thought the test scores are supposed to reflect the training of the horse/rider partnership, no matter the breed of the horse. I know, I know, there are also politics to be considered…and usually lots of them. What breed do you ride, who is your trainer, where is your farm, what level do you ride, even down to the amount of bling on your horse. And yes, I also understand that breed bias can rear it’s ugly head when comparing scores for movements. How could a QH or App or TB or …. possibly compare to a Warmblood?

    What I’m saying in my normal, round-about fashion is that I agree with you, Suzanne, and the other posters. Fancy breeding aside, ‘ride what you got’ and be sure your ride is the best that you can do! It is possible that a backyard-bred Heinz 57 grade horse named Horsey could score higher than Totilis – but not probable. It is also possible that I could afford Totilis or his ilk and enjoy riding their super gaits – but once again, it isn’t probable.

    What IS probable, though, is that my continuous learning with my current horse will take us Somewhere. It may not be everyone’s Somewhere, it might not even be my ideal of Somewhere, but if it makes ME happy then the pressure to acquire a fancy warmblood with lofty gaits that may be difficult to ride is moot.

    You don’t have to own a Warmblood. Remember, back in the 80’s, a small QH named 3’s and 7’s beat out a whole field of warmbloods for the American Invitational Show Jumping title. I was there. It wasn’t probable but it was possible.

    1. The great thing about dressage is to show successfully you don’t have to beat anyone! The judges have to base the scores on gaits somewhat, or the best trained Shetland pony would be promoted to the Olympics; however, a Shetland pony that can be ridden to relax his back, stretch his topline, show all the correct fundamentals may score in the low to mid 60%s and for a Shetland that’s sucess in the Dressage ring! If same pony can go through the levels to Grand Prix in the low 60% that’s a hell of a pony and a hell of a rider! He won’t beat Totilas- but I bet his rider can take him on trail rides and enjoy riding at the barn without fear of bodily injury, as well as being able to compete, and be proud at the National level! And you’re right, occasionally there are the ones that do beat the odds but regardless of placings, showing successfully is based on scores not placings, unless you’re determined to go to the Olympics. Most people are showing less than that would require, and if you show 10 shows a year that’s only 30 days at the showground. You want to make sure that you are enjoying the other 335 days as well! Life’s too short!!! Thanks for your comments and support!! It’s much appreciated!

  4. Its hard for some people to understand being successful or “winning” isn’t about actually winning. Could someone please come and explain that to my husband?

    1. I usually try to explain to “non-horsey” types in terms of other sports! Your husband plays golf, Totilas=Tiger! Usually if you explain that if he shoots his lowest score ever, it may not beat Tiger’s but Tiger spends all day and most of the night (when he’s not with the ladies!) praciticing golf! So he would still be happy with his low score and you will be happy with your high one!

      1. That reminds me of my eventing days. Back then, I had to explain to my parents that the goal was to come out of the three phases – specifically, the xc phase! – as clean as possible. Winning a ribbon was like a nice bonus. Like a marathon is to a lot of people – just something that you complete, and feel good about yourself.

      2. I love the marathon explanation, that is the best! Thanks, I’ll use that for sure!!! 🙂 I teach a lot young riders and have had a few parents that really pressure the kids and consider them not “competitive” if they don’t win. I had a mother once that was disappointed in her daughter that was eventing (and doing really well!) and she told me that she didn’t understand becaue she played tennis and was very competitive, so I asked her how many major tournaments she had won. She lightened up a little after that!

  5. I love seeing different horses in the ring. I have friends who show a Halfie and a Friesian, and it’s fun to watch. My old horse hated dressage, so I never made her do it much. Some just want to be jumpers, I guess.

    1. They do seem to tell us what they want to do don’t they! 🙂 You were kind to let her pick her path, too often I see people trying to get horses to do jobs they weren’t made for and it usually makes both parties miserable!

      1. Isn’t that odd? I have seen very accomplished – okay, “accomplished” – trainers push horses to their limits, destroy their tempers, leave them nervous wrecks, and call them dressage horses, all because they have nice gaits and talent. I have several talents that leave me personally unmoved. My current off-farm job being one of them 😉

  6. Hi Suzanne

    Thanks for your comment on my blog! Yes, Zac has been the best little guy!

    Totally agree with this post – dressage is just training and any horse can do it! 🙂

    Looking forward to reading and learning more since I’ve found your blog. 🙂


  7. Don’t you have the most respect for the competitors/students when asked how they did at a show come back with- “I scored a 65% and I got an 8 on centerline!! I messed up on my canter depart but we had a blast!”. The placing and ribbon meaning nothing compared to the ride!! That’s what its ALL about- you and your horse showing the best you have to offer of your hard work and training!! I always tell my students to stop competing and start showing. Suz had one of the most awesome QH’s ever “Socks” and they were an incredible team. Much like my QH Jitterbug, we didn’t have the “bigblood” movement but we were spot on accurate. Enjoy the ride and show what you’ve learned and your particular horses talents- you will always be a winner!!

  8. Glad to see you back!

    The last WB I will ever own died a couple months ago. I don’t like them, never have liked them, never will. I like TBs, they suit my personality better. Yes, WBs are bred for dressage and built for the sport and much of it comes naturally to them, but the “off-breeds” can do just as well if you’re willing to put in a little more effort. Dressage is a system of training, not a breed class. It is for every horse and every rider!

    1. Hey Shannon! Good to hear from you again! I too am a big fan of the TB. They just don’t stop on you and are probably the most beautiful of all breeds! Hope you are doing well and hope to hear from you soon! I’m about to go over and check your site!

    2. I just noticed this comment! I hope you’re doing well Shannon! I like tb’s myself! They never give up on you! I always love your comments- I agree dressage is not a breed class!! Thanks for posting! Peace

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s