By Larissa Cox
In my dressage training, I have had many conversations with people on what to look for in an ideal dressage prospect, and what the reality is for time and effort involved in training and reselling this prospect. The time and training for each horse is highly dependant on the owners, trainers, and riders involved. Each situation is different, and this article is merely meant as a suggestion of what to take into consideration when buying your dressage horse.
Although any horse can do dressage, to be highly competitive, I would suggest focusing on warmboods or warmblood-crosses for good prospects. Warmbloods are just build for the power, suspension, and animation needed in the sport. That being said, it is still important to keep in mind good conformation. Although some undesirable attributes, namely muscling, can be more or less “fixed” with proper work and physical therapies, certain conformational faults cannot. It will be more difficult for a horse that is slightly croup-high to appear to be travelling uphill in the ring. A horse with a small and weak hind-end cannot sustain the training needed for upper-level dressage, and a horse with a too obtuse angle in his shoulder cannot have the expressive trot as desired in competition. Buying a horse with good conformation, regardless of breed, should expedite the training process, and make the horse easier for resale. It is also extremely important when looking at dressage horse prospects, to keep in mind temperament. A horse must be willing to yield to rein contact when riding at all gaits, and appear submissive to the rider. This is not to say that the horse should appear dull. A great dressage horse should have a lively, energetic gait, yet still be respectful and responsive to their rider. In a green prospect, you would be looking for a willing and calm disposition in a horse.
In theory, a horse started at 3 or 4 could be competing at Grand Prix by 10 to 12 years of age. This is of course very highly dependent on the horse’s physical ability, his work ethic, and the riders and trainers involved. I do not believe a horse should be pushed up the levels strictly because “he is getting older”. This can be very damaging for a horse’s psyche, and could create severe problems for future training. That being said, a horse can be resold for a profit, even if it has not reached high levels of dressage. If past performance is any indicator of future performance, horses that have a very strong showing history, even if only in lower levels, will have a high resale value. Earning championships and reserve-championships at any recognized show will help raise the value of your horse. It is important to register horses in their respective breed clubs and dressage associations to achieve yearly awards. Considering the cost involved in keeping and training a horse, one might consider not putting in the effort to train a green horse to FEI levels before selling, but rather create a solid show record at lower levels to maintain a profit for resale.
Make use of a horse’s strengths instead of focusing on his weaknesses. It is important to remember that a dressage test encompasses all the horses gaits. If a horse has a strong trot, but a weak walk, do not stop trotting your horse! Perfect your horse’s naturally good gaits and do the best you can with the other movements. In terms of maximizing a horse’s strengths and minimizing weaknesses in the show ring, a well groomed and turned out horse and good rider always helps. A sloppy rider and a dirty horse is distracting for a judge. A clean and neat horse and rider shows the judge respect, and tells them they are there to win. A rider who is not balanced will also be a distraction. Instead of paying attention to the horses movement, they will be focusing on the bouncing rider. A rider with a good seat will be able to showcase the horse in all their gaits..Choosing the ideal prospect horse is an ambitious task, and requires the involvement of several people. Without good trainers and coaches, training of young prospect horses can be difficult and be mentally and physically damaging to the horse and the rider. However, when things go right, training can be enjoyable, and the value of the horse is increased.
This article was originally published in April 2009 for Deanna Castro’s Professional Horse Blogazine. Check it out here.
Image by Tigra1988 on Deviant Art.