Dressage is a sport that demands a high level of communication between the horse and rider. This is a relationship developed over time. It is so finely tuned by training and practice that subtlest reactions produce action.
Beginning of dressage
Dressage horses trace their beginnings to times when wars were fought on horseback. They had to be among the jostling and milling in the warzone. This needed them to keep cool and move in tight formations. They also needed to understand cues from their rider and have complete faith in him. These horses also required robust build and strong bones.
What began as a need in times of war has since developed into a sport. No longer are these magnificent creatures used in war. Due to their training and breeding, these horses are extremely sensitive to cues. Proper training and handling make these creatures ideally suited for an equestrian sport like dressage.
Different types of dressage horses
Warmbloods are considered best suited for dressage. A lot of European and German breeds of horses also make for good dressage horses. And then there are different breeds suitable for different levels of ridership. There are some breeds that are good for beginners while others can be handled better by experts.
Qualities needed for dressage horses
Dressage is not an easy sport by any means. It needs hours of persistent training and understanding between the rider and the horse. The horse needs to have a friendly temperament to sustain rigorous training. Some horses are naturally inclined to friendliness. They take on each challenge as training gets tougher. Others become irritable and uncooperative at tougher levels.
Desired results will come in only if there is perfect synergy between the horse and trainer. The main qualities that define dressage horses are mentioned below.
- Natural balance
- Fluidity of movement.
- Robust build.
- Intelligence to follow commands.
- Good carriage.
- Right attitude.
- Comfort with all gaits.
- Elegance and grace.
Of all the qualities listed above, it finally comes down to the last two, i.e., conformation and temperament.
Top names in dressage
The most important name that stands out in dressage is Valegro. At 16.2hh Valegro is a gelding who has stellar achievements to his name. He was ridden by Charlotte Dujardin and is a two-time World Champion in Dressage.
Totilas was a Dutch Warmblood stallion who remains one of the top names in dressage. At 17.1hh, he stood tall among competitors. With many world records to his name, he remains the gold standard of what a dressage horse ideally ought to be.
Best horse breeds for dressage
Let us have a look at some top breeds for dressage. These are not in a particular order. Nor is the list exclusive, obviously.
Originating in the Netherlands, this is one of the most popular dressage horse breeds. They range from 15.2 to over 17 hands in height. They are known for their long legs, easy athleticism, and wonderful temperaments.
These come in a variety of colors, black, grey, bay, and chestnut. This breed has exceptional balance and beautifully sculpted bodies. Look for a long neck, rectangular shape, supple gait, and light footedness when choosing one.
Dutch Warmblood horses have many Olympic medals and top equestrian honors to their credit. Some famous Dutch Warmblood names include Royal Kaliber, Ferro, and Brietling LS. And of course, Valegro and Totilas.
This dressage species is German by origin and ranges from 16 to 17 hands. They are strongly built and are very athletic in their movements.
Holsteiners are generally bay but also come in gray, black, and chestnut. Minimal white markings are preferred. In fact, they are considered perfect when there are minimal to no white markings.
Initially more into jumping than dressage, this breed has picked up on the dressage front and made remarkable strides. This shows that the breed is very amenable to hard work and possesses great flexibility and strength.
Holsteiners have since gone on to establish their superiority in the sport by winning multiple medals. Many Holsteiner male horses have names starting with C or L. This is in honor of Cor de la Bryere who perpetuated this line.
Another stellar dressage breed from Germany, this horse ranges from 15.2 to 17.2 hands. Their temperament and fluidity of movement make them one of the most sought-after dressage breeds.
These come in bay, black, chestnut, and grey with an abundance of chrome. They are extremely good jumping horses and are very adapted to dressage.
Their sheer physicality and bold movements mark them out as the perfect dressage choices. Westphalian horses have many Olympic medals to their stable, so to say.
Rembrandt is one of the most famous Westphalian who won gold in the Olympics in 1988 and the World Championships in 1990.
German in origin, this is a very athletic breed of powerful horses that are excellently suited for dressage. They have robust bone structure and are very adaptive to good training. They range from 15.3 to 17.2 hands.
In between them, this stud breed has won 11 Olympic medals in dressage. Not only that, they are one of the most successful breeds in various equestrian events the world over.
Initially used as cavalry horses and to draw coaches, they have since adapted beautifully to dressage. Their graceful movements and solid body structure lend easily to dressage. They understand fast and are willing to learn, which has helped this breed succeed in dressage.
Originating in the Netherlands, this breed ranges from 15.3 to 17 hands. It is one of the oldest breeds known to man.
Known for its beauty and calm temperament, this breed was rescued from the brink of extinction around the 19th century. Not only is it popular in dressage but also for riding or as a pet.
Friesian horses are supremely intelligent creatures that combine agility with power. It has a strong body with powerful bones and muscles.
This breed was originally developed in Prussia as a cavalry mount. The horses in this breed range from 15.2 to 17 hands.
They come in the standard colors of bay, gray, chestnut, and black. Trakehner horses are extremely strongly built with noble carriage and a good disposition. They are very sensitive and understand instruction easily.
This makes them very suited for dressage. Willingness to learn and adapt to a new challenge or sport is their hallmark.
A name that spells power, the Mustang is an American horse that traces its origin to Spanish explorers. The name originates from the word mustengo. This means an ‘ownerless beast’ in Spanish.
They range in size from 14 to 15 hands and come in bay and chestnut. The breed can have markings of different kinds which is okay.
Since these were originally wild horses, it was quite a task to tame them and then propagate the breed. However, once that step is crossed, their inherent temperament comes into play. These horses are very hardy and extremely adaptive.
Mustang is the perfect dressage horse for those on a budget. There are enough titles won by this breed to justify its place in the best dressage breeds list.
Tracing its origin to France this is another in a long list of European horses that are perfect for dressage. They range in size from 14 to more than 16 hands.
These are very intelligent creatures that are known for their ability to adapt and learn very fast. With their elegant looks and long strides, they are perfect for dressage.
Because of their innate intelligence and athleticism, it is well suited for movements in a tight space to cues of the rider. They can understand and respond very well to cues.
These horses come in bay, chestnut, and brown colors with a rare gray at times.
An Austrian-origin breed, they are one of the most successful dressage horses ever. Working with them seems as if they are naturally inclined to the sport. They range from 14.2 to 15.2 hands.
Distinguished looks set this breed apart. Lipizzan horses have a straight profile topped with a long head. These horses are mostly gray. Black is a rare color among them.
Their elegance of movement is legendary. With their muscular bodies and compact build, Lipizzan horses are built ideally for dressage. Their economy of movement is so renowned that they are a treat to watch. There is a Lipizzan Laurels Award instituted in the USA to recognize outstanding performances by this breed in dressage.
Of Spanish origin, the sheer beauty of this breed can take one’s breath away. They range from 15.2 to 16.2 hands.
Spotted patterns were very common among them in the past. Now they come mostly in gray. There are occasional blacks, dun, or chestnut.
A highly intelligent species, the Andalusian horse makes for an excellent dressage choice. It has the capability of understanding subtle commands and establish an easy connection. Its natural grace of movement makes it an ideal dressage species.
Dressage is a very specialized branch of equestrian sport. To use a cliche, choose horses for courses and enjoy the beauty of man-animal coordination.