Tips On Selecting And Finding Your Next Dressage Horse
Horse shopping can be an exciting time. Over the years, I have tried and schooled many different types of horses, from green 3-year-olds to seasoned schoolmasters. I used to think I only wanted horses with big moving, expressive gaits. However, over the years, I have realized that big fancy movement is no longer the #1 factor in my search.
A dressage horse can be a significant investment and costly purchase. Especially if you have competitive goals and dreams. Usually, budget, breed, age, horse's level of experience, and your own riding capabilities are the initial considerations when starting a horse search. But you should also consider the horse's developmental potential for dressage. Here are some expert tips when choosing a suitable dressage horse.
Overtime temperament has become my top consideration when purchasing a new horse. Rideability plays a primary role in determining the horse's ultimate performance potential. You want a prospect who is attentive and a willing partner. He should be alert but not overly nervous or spooky. The horse should be sensible and should have a natural willingness to go forward without constant nagging. For competition, the horse should have a notable presence and attractiveness.
Confirmation and Soundness
When looking at a prospect, there shouldn't be any concerns about the horse staying sound with your training expectations for it. Good confirmation is an important consideration for the horse's long-term soundness. The overall structure of the horse should be correct, and the "ideal" is an uphill frame with active hind legs. The horses' legs and hooves should be healthy and strong. Ideally, all four legs of the horse should be straight from the front and the rear view of the horse. Additional consideration should be made that the horse also moves his legs straight with minimal winging, paddling, crossing, etc.
Movement and Athletic Ability
The horse should have 3 correct gaits: a four-beat walk, preferably with overtrack, a two-beat trot in diagonal pairs, and a clear three-beat canter.
For a less experienced rider, the gaits should be clear and correct but should not be too large or overly expressive.
For a more experienced rider with upper-level competitive goals, the horse should have clear quality gaits with elastic movement, ample suspension, and active hind legs.
Where To Look For a Dressage Horse
You truly never know where your next dressage star will come from. I always recommend starting with your sphere of influence. Network with you and/or your trainer's equestrian contacts. Many people start their search by looking at online horse marketplaces or in Facebook groups to assess the current equestrian market and determine a reasonable budget. For young horses, going directly to a reputable breeder can be a good option. Lastly, many top riders still tend to look in European countries that have historical reputations for breeding top dressage horses, such as Germany or The Netherlands.
My current personal competition horses include a U.S.-bred young horse found through my sphere of influence and a Netherlands-bred young horse that I imported as a 3yo in 2021. I was overall very pleased with both processes and purchases.
Below are some of my personal recommendations of where to look for your next dressage partner: