Dressage is one of the most popular riding disciplines in the world. Here are our top picks for the best dressage horse breeds to be seen scoring high in the show arena.
What Is Dressage?
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The word dressage comes from a French word simply meaning “training”. The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) describes dressage as a high level of horse training where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.”
A horse and rider combination will perform different movements organized into ‘tests’ in competitions. Dressage has gained so much popularity that it is even recognized at Olympic games and the World Equestrian Games.
Dressage as we know it today has evolved from “The Rules Of Riding” book, originally published by Federico Grisone in 1550.
Horses are expected to perform willingly, calmly, and athletically while competing. They should respond efficiently to subtle cues from their rider. The rider should look relaxed and be able to communicate effortlessly with their horse.
Judges will watch a horse and rider combination perform and assign each movement a number from 0-10, 0 being ‘not executed’ and 10 being ‘excellent’. They will be given a final score at the end that will determine their ranking in the competition, anything above a 60% is seen as acceptable.
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Top Dressage Horse Breeds
Warmbloods are the most popularly found horses for dressage. However, almost all kinds of horses can be found at competitions, even ponies! Here are the most commonly found dressage breeds.
The Trakehner is a light warmblood breed of horse, meaning they are a refined version and often more spirited than other warmblood horses.
The breed was originally developed in 1731 in an East Prussian state in the town of Trakehnen.
Trakehners are known for being athletic, easily trainable, and having strong endurance. They are found in all kinds of equestrian competitions, but most often are seen performing in dressage competitions because of their sensitivity and intelligence. A horse of this breed called Peron helped the US team win an Olympic bronze medal in 1996.
They are also known for their “floating trot,” which is a trot full of impulsion and suspension. Trakehners are usually between 15-17 hands high and can be of any common color, even on occasion paint or roan.
Friesian horses resemble draft horse breeds. They make excellent dressage horses because they are much lighter, nimble, and more graceful than your average draft horse, while still carrying a strong presence.
These horses originated in the Netherlands. It is thought that they were in high demand during the Middle Ages as war horses. This is because they were agile, yet sturdy enough to carry a knight with his armor.
Friesians are commonly identified by their dark black coloring. However, some Friesians have been documented to be chestnut and bay. They rarely have any markings, and to be fully registered they may only have a small star marking on their forehead.
They can also be easily identified by their strong muscular bodies, arched neck, long manes and tails, and feathers that are usually left long on their legs. While they are known as being athletic and active, Friesian horses are also calm and gentle which makes them perform well in high-energy places.
Throughout history, Friesian horses were mostly used in war, agriculture, and farming. As their use in these areas declined with modern technology, they became more popular in recreation. Today they are often found in harness competitions and have recently become a favorite in the dressage arena.
Dutch Warmbloods are a breed that also originated in the Netherlands. They were developed through a breeding program in the 1960s.
These horses are known for being extremely cooperative and easy to ride. They are long-legged, athletic, and bred specifically with competition in mind.
Dutch Warmbloods have had tremendous success in the dressage ring. A Dutch stallion named Totilas held the world record for highest dressage score for years and has won three gold medals at the World Equestrian Games. The current world record holder is another Dutch Warmblood named Valegro. Dutch Warmbloods have recently won Olympics medals as well.
Many competitive riders love to ride these horses in eventing and hunter shows as well.
Holsteiners are thought to be the oldest warmblood breed, dating back to the 13th century in northern Germany. They have a small population (only making up 6% of the horse population in Europe) but are always found ranking high in dressage, jumping, and eventing competitions.
These horses have a wide variety in temperament. Beginner riders can easily find calm, steady, uncomplicated mounts, even some that would be considered lazy, a dream for nervous riders! However, competitors who want a bolder ride can find Holsteiners who are sensitive, strong-nerved, and reliable.
Holsteiners have a strong “engine” that makes them very successful dressage horses. They have a long list of ranking high in international competitions and have even won gold medals in Olympic competitions.
The Gypsy Vanner has become a very popular dressage horse recently, especially for amateur riders.
These unique horses were originally bred in Ireland. Romanichal travelers used them to pull their caravans of Vardoes, or wagons. After the second world war, they began to be bred more for riding and developed into the horses that we know today. They are still strong and sturdy horses but are much more agile.
They are commonly piebald or skewbald colored, making them easily identified in dressage arenas. It wasn’t until 2004 that the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) accepted the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society as an affiliate member. This means that registered horses were then allowed to compete at recognized dressage events and competitions.
Best Horse For Dressage
Many people and horses of all kinds have found success in the competitive dressage world. However, through many years of specialized breeding, some horse breeds stand out as top dressage horse competitors. These dressage horse breeds continue to dominate the dressage ring year after year, and it’s exciting to follow their careers and see what’s next for these high-level athletes.