Do You Need a Special Horse for Dressage?
Training dressage can be an end in itself, or part of the horse’s education in another equestrian discipline. Your ultimate riding goal will determine which equine type best suits your dressage needs.
Here are some common situations where dressage is ridden, and a look at the appropriate horses for them.
The Beginner’s Dressage Horse
You don’t need a fancy horse for starting dressage: he only needs to be sound and able to walk and trot.
Even canter is optional at the very beginning level of competition. To encourage riders to enter shows, the USDF (United States Dressage Federation) has created three Introductory Tests. The first two only require walk and trot, with canter added in the third.
You can then move up to the next level as your equine partnership progresses.
The More Advanced Dressage Horse
If you want to ride at the upper dressage levels, you’ll need a more specialized horse. His conformation (build) must enable him to perform lateral movements (forwards/sideways) and collected (more compressed) work. All three of his gaits must be pure, and he needs the temperament to deal with the stress of difficult, sustained work.
You have a choice of proven dressage breeds which include the German, Swedish or Dutch Warmbloods, together with the Thoroughbred. The Friesian, originally bred as a carriage horse, is also becoming a winner at dressage shows.
Dressage and the Event Horse
If you’re a budding event rider, dressage is only one of three competition phases – the others being stadium jumping and cross-country. It takes a very versatile, athletic horse to perform well on the flat and over obstacles.
As long as he is fit, any type of horse can compete in low level events. But for the speed and stamina demanded at the upper levels, your best breed is the Thoroughbred or a horse with at least ¾ Thoroughbred in him.
Dressage and the Show Jumper
Another breed with the necessary aptitude is the Irish Draught horse crossed with the Thoroughbred, known as an Irish Draught Sport Horse. The sensible brain of the Irish Draught combines well with the athleticism and swiftness of the Thoroughbred to produce talented jumpers.Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds often have the right build for show jumping.
You’ll enjoy riding dressage on these breeds while you improve their agility round a course of fences and develop their jumping strength.
Dressage for Western and Gaited Horses
Can you ride dressage with your Western or gaited horse?
The type of horse you need for riding dressage depends on your training goals. If you aspire to the higher levels of pure dressage, you’ll need a more specialized equine partner. But for the lower levels, or if you use the schooling as a foundation for other disciplines, your regular trail horse, jumper, gaited or Western horse should be more than capable.